Chukundi Salisbury wasn’t dreaming of becoming a comic book publisher. In fact, the former candidate for state representative was really just struck by a story he felt needed to be told.
“I didn’t really do this to be the next Marvel Comics or something,” he says.
He published because he saw a need that wasn’t being filled, in particular for Black boys in South Seattle who are about middle-school age.
More specifically, he saw a need a few years ago after he overheard a few interesting kid conversations from his own son and his friends on a trip to Camp Orkila, part of the African American Males Weekend set up by Chukundi Salisbury’s nonprofit 100 Black Parents.
Along with following his son’s strong interest in creating comics, that’s how Salisbury landed on the idea for publishing “The Adventures of Lil Bigfella,” the first in a planned series of comic books that are now being sold online at lilbigfella.square.site, along with posters and stickers. (Meanwhile, Salisbury is working on having them distributed in bookstores and classrooms, too, along with a curriculum and reader’s guides.)
He sees the story in the comic as a key tool in getting inside the heads of kids who are middle-school age – and really exploring some important and complex issues in a way that’s relatable and easily broken down.
“I already knew that representation matters,” says Salisbury. “And I see a real niche, and I see an opportunity for us to be able to tell some of these classic kind of coming-of-age stories and be able to address some of these issues and concerns that are across our community. But from a perspective of a young Black male – through interactions with police, interactions with your friends, interactions with adults.
“Those are just classic things, whether it’s ‘Archie’ or ‘Fat Albert’ or anything else.”
Salisbury notes that all of the comic’s characters are Black, along with one Latino character, the police officer. “A lot of African Americans and people of color, they love the book because it’s like, ‘Hey, we need more books with kids in it that look like my kid.’
Salisbury notes that he is also hearing a lot of positive feedback from white parents who are happy to have a book with all BIPOC characters for their kids, too.
The debut comic is the tale of Lil Bigfella, a child in South Seattle who plays with his friends on a co-ed basketball team, the Beacon Hill Tigers.
As they’re celebrating that their team will be playing in the championship game, something truly disturbing happens as they’re all leaving a pizza place. A cop in pursuit of a burglary suspect slams and pins the coach (one of the kid’s dads) to the ground and holds him there, at gunpoint, later releasing him with only a mild apology – “I apologize for the inconvenience” – after realizing the dad was not the suspect.
The middle-school kids are clearly frightened and traumatized by what just happened, and also have a lot of emotional processing to do after the horrifying incident. Coincidentally, one of the kids on the team has a dad, the co-coach, who is also a cop, which complicates the dilemma for the kids. The story, conceived a few years ago, tests the bonds of their friendship and really explores the issue of when and how to do the right thing.
Chukundi Salisbury created the comic book, with the help of local author Jeffrey L. Cheatham II and a team of illustrators, as a way to start discussions and really help children to process issues of race and racist police brutality.
He jokes that he’s “like a Stan Lee” on the project, since he conceived the storyline and laid it all out. “I’m just using this as a means to an end, a tool to be able to talk to kids,” says Salisbury. “I really feel like when we start talking about the school-to-prison pipeline… and other things, I know from my work in the community that we have to get to kids earlier…
“Everybody’s always talking about resources to make sure kids aren’t likely to reoffend. How about resources so we don’t get kids to offend in the first place?
“I just want that conversation to be a better conversation, so this is just part of my piece on it,” says Salisbury.
In 2020, Chukundi Salisbury was the candidate for state representative in the 37th District. He has also worked as a DJ and for Def Jam, and spent 20 years as a trails coordinator for the Seattle Parks Department.
He knows this city well, and of course, he also knows comics.
“I grew up collecting comics,” he says. “I used to go to Golden Age, every time I got some money, down in Pike Place Market. I collected Conans and my brother collected X-Men and Teen Titans and we would go. There wasn’t really a Comic-Con back when I was a kid, but we most certainly collected comics, so I am a fan of the medium.
“But I guess I’m more of a fan of using the medium as a way to influence.”
This story was first published on March 1, 2021.