Jazmin Truesdale is the brilliant creator, writer, and entrepreneur behind AZA Comics, a female-driven universe of superheroes. To celebrate the introduction of new characters in the AZA Universe (including a Janet Jackson-inspired character), I’m thrilled to share my conversation with Jazmin! We talk about her creative process, the importance of female superheroes, and the ways Jazmin has grown her brand, with a little bit of film and TV inspiration, of course!
I’d love to hear more about what inspired you to start this company and your brand, and what that journey was like for you.
It kind of kicked off when I was at a pretty low point in my life and just lost my job, living at home with my parents, and didn’t know what I was going to do. I found myself watching soap operas all day. And tweeting the writers of these soap operas. Like, ‘Please let me write for you.’ Because it was terrible. It went from there, to trying to find work, and then from that work, I ended up creating kind of my own things. I finished my MBA only like two years before. And I started off making a fitness company and working in training. I wanted to do a fitness game.
And I noticed the characters that I was creating for the game were like superheroes. I grew up reading comic books and watching sci-fi and all that stuff. That’s my shtick. And, I just kind of looked at the industry and just revisited comic book stores to see what was going on.
And at the time, this was like, maybe 2012, 2013, nobody was thinking about, no one was doing anything with their female superheroes. No one was thinking about women. They weren’t thinking about us at all. And I was like, ‘Okay, something needs to be done about that.’ So all the characters that I created, they were all women.
And in general, like I noticed in my creation, like my style, I tend to automatically put women at the center of whatever it is that I’m thinking of, whatever the plot is, a woman always seems to be at the center of that. So I talked to some of my friends about my idea. I’d come up with this concept of these different girls, and my friend circle is very diverse. I grew up with a lot of Latina friends, a lot of Indian friends, and just like, a very mixed group, and they were all like, ‘Yeah, that’s really cool. I mean, you should totally do an Indian superhero. And my Latina friends were like, yeah, you should do a Latina one.’ And then it turned into this whole thing where I envisioned this group of girls from different parts of the world, who were working together as a team. And from there, that just kind of kicked off the concept and the foundation of the AZA Universe and AZA Comics.
That’s amazing. And I love how you’ve incorporated women’s history and diversity into all of your resources and your media for the company. I was watching your “Herstory” video. Being such a TV person, I was so excited because in the ’90s section, I saw Clarissa. And then in the 2000s, I saw Raven. And I just thought, you know, in addition to the characters you’ve created, what you’re doing to preserve history, and to present it in a really creative way is just awesome.
Thank you. I’m a history buff. Movie, film, entertainment… I love that stuff. I grew up on it. My mom says that when I watched films, it was like I was studying it, and I could watch something once and know the dialogue perfectly. And that was like, that was always my thing. All my favorite actresses are like, dead. That era is long gone, like ’40s and ’50s. When other kids were reading Goosebumps or The Babysitters’ Club, I was reading Elizabeth Taylor’s biography.
That was my thing. So when I was creating the characters, a lot of it is like, almost my ode to these women who inspired me or impressed me, or I just felt like there was a part of them, a personality trait. Something, an impact, or whatever it was that I felt was necessary to complete this character to make them great.
If I see someone and I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome that they have this in them,’ I would take that and incorporate it into my character to really push, to really complete them and give them more of like a three-dimensional feel to them.
That’s really cool that you even say who some of the inspirations are for each one, so that, you know, people who get into the universe can actually do some additional research on those people if they want, which is great.
Yeah, for sure. Like even with the women’s history thing, my challenge to people was always like, how many women can you name in this video? See how many you can name. My goal over the next maybe two years is to actually break it down and do maybe like a little like 20 seconds, 30-second short on literally each of the women in that video so that when people go back and they revisit, they understand. ‘Well, why was Clarissa, you know, Melissa Joan Hart in there,’ it’s like, you’re talking about the early ’90s when computers were just starting, and Clarissa was a programmer, a teenage programmer, a girl, like, what are the chances of that? That’s actually pretty impactful, this thing that could have really been the catalyst for inspiring more girls to get interested in computers and go into tech with this really popular show. I look at not only the history of the person; the impact of that person, and what they did, as well. So like with the Janet Jackson one, I mean, I’m a huge fan ever since I was a kid, it was like my first crush when I was 5. I was like, ‘I want to marry Janet Jackson,’ that was my first crush.
And so when I was creating the character Thema, I was listening to Rhythm Nation at the time because I had just bought all of these vinyls… and I was listening to Rhythm Nation and listening to the content of it. And just how, overall, she goes from talking about love and her own personal experience, talking about social issues from not only a global perspective, but also even from the Black community, like she thought about it and all of those areas. And it just, it seemed like something that I felt needed to be incorporated into the character. I was kind of struggling with, you know, really solidifying what her personality would be like, what is her impact in this universe? Why does she matter so much in the AZA Universe? And then that was kind of what solidified it.
So with this character, she’s the most popular of all the monarchs in the AZA Universe. And the reason why is because she not only focuses on empowering her people and stepping into her role as queen, but then also, leading up to this role as queen, she played a very big part in unifying the universe, going into places, helping them where they needed it, making sure that women and children had aid in different planets. That’s like the history of this character. And a lot of that came from listening to Rhythm Nation.
Oh, that’s so neat. And so, when you’re writing these stories, how do you find that inspiration? You know, in addition to the real lives where you’re pulling some of this from, how do you get inspired just to create these stories?
They just kind of come to me. Surprisingly, I don’t read a lot of comic books lately only because, when I started writing this, I didn’t want to be influenced. So I stopped reading comic books. I stopped watching superhero movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman. I waited my whole life for that movie, so I watched it.
But for the most part, I read a lot of science journals. I watch a lot of suspense thrillers. So when people read my stuff, they say that I write like a film writer. It’s like, you’re reading it and you can envision it on a screen. I guess that’s just the way my mind works. Like I’m almost directing a movie in my head as I’m writing it. And so, a lot of it comes from just, I don’t know, like it just sort of forms in my head somehow. I’ll see something in real life. I’ll see something in a science journal: this happened to some frogs… they call it parthenogenesis. It’s when you spontaneously get pregnant with no sperm involved, nothing, it happened to some frogs in a pond; something happened in the pond, and all those females started spontaneously having little baby frogs, asexually. I said, ‘That would be really interesting if that was on a planet.’ Like they all went somewhere, and, I don’t know, something was in the atmosphere and it killed off all the men because it just attacked their Y chromosome, and the women became enhanced. That’s literally how my mind will jump from looking at something, reading a science journal and then just sort of like, ‘Huh, I wonder what that would look like.’ And then it creates this planet, which is like a planet that I literally created for my character, Jase, and it’s kind of supposed to be like the origin story of lesbians. The AZA Universe is meant to be this mythology, this origin mythology of the human species and why we’re here on earth.
We’re originally aliens that came here from other planets and other realms in the AZA Universe. And that’s why we have the different ethnicities and stuff here on earth. So lesbians came from this particular planet where that parthenogenesis thing happened, the Y chromosomes were being attacked, the men who migrated there, all died, got ill, got sick, they died. That’s how that happened. So as people are reading more of the stories that I create, they’re going to see the origin things, like, ‘Oh, that could totally be a fictional reason for why this culture does this.’ Stuff like that.
Oh, that’s so cool. When you’re looking at each of the core characters, you’re seeing so many different possibilities. I like how you have the short descriptions of each one, like the mechanic, the fashionista. I think that’s really a great way to sum up what the shining traits of their personalities are. So when do you decide to expand and add these new characters, and what are some of the things that you consider when you decide where people fit into your story?
I kind of let it marinate on my brain for a while. So they kind of, they spawn from the development of the original characters. So for example, I created the original five, The Keepers, and from their stories, I always, every time I create a character, I go back to, basically to the point that they’re born. And I just think of, why is this person the way that they are? And I just, re-imagine some sort of history, some sort of life they’ve lived that culminated in them being this person that I created them to be, and from there, a lot of times characters will pop out. So for example, with Amaya, one of the spin-off characters for Amaya is Jase. Jase is the character I was telling you about who comes from the lesbian planet.
Pretty much, her character was created because with Amaya, her being an orphan at 10 and basically in the streets of Korea, her abilities coming into play and learning how to travel to different universes as her powers grew. And she was able to open portals. She runs into this girl who kind of low-key visits her, teaches her the tricks of the trade of being a realm hustler, which is like a slang for an intergalactic bounty hunter, that’s kind of her job. So she meets this girl who teaches her how to do that. And they become best friends. That character spawned from that story.
And then from another character, Kala, the spin-off character, Genie, that came from, again, her story. This girl was living on this island in the Gullah, and she’s on this island by herself. She has no friends? This doesn’t make any sense. Let me create a character that’s like her best friend growing up. It oftentimes spins out of the necessity of the plot, the necessity of a person’s story.
I’ll think of a character that needs to fill a hole for another character. And then, boom. There’s a whole spin-off. ‘Cause I, when I create the character, then I’m thinking about, ‘Okay, well what’s their backstory? What kind of personality are they? What do they have?’ And then it kind of dawned on me, ‘Oh, maybe I should put Genie and Jase together when they meet’, ’cause I always think about the interpersonal relationships between the characters. So then when I create a new character, I’m like, ‘Okay, well, what’s their role going to be in this group now that I’ve added them? Are they an antagonist? Do they fit well in the group? Like, what’s going on?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, well, maybe I could put Genie and Jase together, like in a couple.’ And from there, it turned into a spin-off. It became another thing. … The creative juices get flowing and then it turns into a thing.
It looks like you even have kind of a prequel [series] with the minis, going back to when they were younger, which is super cute. I love that.
Yeah. That came from the moms. I had a lot of a young moms who were reading the books, and they were like, ‘Oh, this would be really cool if you had something that my daughter who’s like five, you know, I can read to her.’ And then that’s what kicked off the kids’ series. I had a lot of requests for that.
Between, like you said earlier, Clarissa, and the Gullah culture, my Nickelodeon people are going to love this because so many of us watched Gullah Gullah Island growing up. When I get to read more about that culture, it’s so interesting and I love those stories. So that’s so cool that you have a character that’s connected to that.
Yeah, that’s also my culture. I have a whole part of my family that’s from the Gullah-Geechee area of South Carolina and all of that. And I’m just really discovering it myself. Like my Nana, she did a whole background history on all of us and discovered that my like great-great grandmother, that’s where they came from. And when my step-mom who writes the kids’ series, she was the one who kind of gave me the idea, because I was thinking about Kala…where she’s going to be from, where’s she going to live? She plopped from this planet, you know, when she’s a baby, when her mom brings her here, where is she living? And she was like, ‘Oh, maybe she should be from the Gullah area. And I was like, ‘That’s perfect!’ You have so much rich history and culture there, that it’s perfect, and it’s also isolated where, she can be an alien, I guess, and not really be caught and not really be discovered. It was a perfect thing. And then from there, it allowed me to really connect more to my roots and learn more about my history and the culture and incorporate that into her character, even down to the slang that she uses, a lot of millennial Gullah slang. That’s fun as well.
And how cool for you to put yourself like into these characters in different ways. That’s so awesome. I was just wondering, you know, when, when you look at the unique circumstances of the world that we’re living in and some of the challenges that, that kids and teenagers and young women go through uniquely today, what’s maybe some advice you would give to someone who wants to create, whether it’s a universe like this and the comic book realm, or someone who wants to be a writer. What are some of the things that have kept you going in your business?
First and foremost, don’t ever give up. Like, don’t give up, ever. It’s something that I’ve literally been working on for almost 10 years. It dawned on me how long I’ve been, I conceptualized this in 2013ish and made the decision to do it because I didn’t see a reason why not. It’s something that you learn, you hit bumps, obstacles and stuff along the way. But the reward is great because you learn and you grow with each thing to develop into whatever that artistic person is that you’re meant to be. So I’d say, you know, just throw yourself in it, go for it. But then also at the same time, learn as much as you can to prepare yourself for whatever it is that you’re trying to become. Like me, I didn’t know what kind of a writer I was going to be.
So I just kind of thought about how I wanted people to feel when they read my stuff. And so when I’m writing, one of the hardest things, I guess a lot of publishing companies, they couldn’t really properly categorize what I did because my books aren’t really comics, but they’re not graphic novels. They’re like a mixture of traditional prose. And then the action scenes or what I now consider to be important scenes are illustrated like a comic book. It ended up becoming my artistic style as I started developing this thing because that’s just how I felt the story needed to be told. And that’s unique to me.
So I would tell girls to just stay true to themselves. Stay true to their artistic integrity of how they see something, how they want it done. If you want it done this way, do everything you need to do to make sure it’s done that way, ’cause that’s going to be your signature. That’s going to be the thing that makes you unique and stand out from other artists, and people appreciate you for the art that you created.
We have a lot of men who read my stuff, as well. I would say my readership is like 40% dudes. And I was shocked by that…apparently they liked the images in between. They liked the format and I was actually very shocked by that.
Wow. That’s so cool. Well, yeah, there’s just so much in it that’s something everybody could enjoy and, you know, this is a big time with introducing a new character. And I’m curious as you look ahead, what are some other things that you maybe have in the works that you could share or, other avenues you could see developing within this brand?
Right now the big thing is just making the most content that I can and definitely putting out more books. I’ve been writing like crazy during this pandemic. I have almost like a six-book story arc planned. My creative juices have been really going from this first book. I’m glad I didn’t write everything right after I finished the first book because the story I have planned in my head is nothing like what I was thinking four or five years ago, it’s more elaborate. It’s so much more than what I thought. And all of that came with time, learning, me growing and developing as a writer, taking time to learn, to write, because I’m like, my background is medicine and finance. No one in a million years would have thought I’d be doing this with my life.
But, I guess also, probably from that insecurity, I dove into learning as much about writing as I could. I would say it’s a lot of content, even putting myself out there, like I did my first reel, like maybe two days ago. I don’t like putting myself out there, I don’t like being in front of cameras, nothing. But I noticed people really respond to me when I do, when I show a picture of myself. I always tend to the focus on the characters. I don’t ever really put anything about myself out there, but apparently people always ask me questions about me, and they respond really well to me. So I’m just kind of putting more of myself out there. Kind of showing it a little bit of what’s in my head as we’re working on some visual effects people for some interesting videos, so people can see what is going on with my head when I’m writing stuff. Definitely more content, more herstory. A lot of the herstory stuff has been just kind of sitting on my creative soul for a while.
Like that herstory video, the five minutes of women’s history in like a hundred years and five minutes, that was weighing on my soul for about a year. I wanted to do it. And I finally just did it, it took me like a week to put it together and gather all the information and do all the research and everything. And I was so proud of myself. It was like the first video I ever really did. And I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I think I can do this now.’
I have a little short coming out for Valentine’s day to formally introduce Genie and Jase to everyone. That was also something weighing on my soul, watching some shows and I know that they killed off the lesbians all the time. Like they put them together and they kill one of them off. I’m like, what is going on? Apparently, that was a big thing. People have been complaining about it. They call it the lesbian death syndrome or something.
That’s what gave me the idea to put Genie and Jase together. I was like, ‘Oh they’re going to be a really dope couple. They’re gonna be end game, I’m not going to kill them off.’ And people can kind of ride this ride on their love story, all the action and everything in between. That’s coming up.