Shawn Alleyne is a freelance artist, writer, and inker, working primarily in comic books. He was born and raised in Barbados but moved to Philadelphia in his teens where he’s lived since. From an early age, he knew he wanted to be involved in art. He formed the comic book networking group Xion, bringing creators from all walks of life together. In between working on freelance projects, Shawn constantly seeks to grow as an artist and promote the independent scene.
He was influential in starting Artmada, a small crew of artists seeking to express their individual signatures and art styles. Shawn’s work is produced under his own Pyroglyphics Studios. Roughly translated the name means hot images.
In the last few years, Shawn’s profile has remained on an upswing. We caught up with him to discuss his upbringing, influences, and how he marries hip-hop to comic books.
What Sci-Fi movies influenced your works the most?
I have a few sci-fi movies that inspire my work, all for different reasons. My number one sci-fi movie influence is The Matrix, and that inspires me because it was so groundbreaking when it came out. It showed me you have to push the boundaries of a concept and to think bigger. I bought the artbook and the designs are some of the most fantastic I’ve ever seen. Also, I’m a huge kung-fu fan, so how they were able to blend sci-fi and martial arts and have these incredible fights was amazing to me. Speaking of fight scenes, that brings us to Equilibrium, another great sci-fi film (and highly slept on btw.) When I write I try not just to have cool elements and fancy visuals, I try to incorporate some social commentary and layers of emotional weight to the story. A few movies that inspire me in those categories are District 9, Looper, Unbreakable, and Serenity. Last, I like to challenge my readers and not spoon-feed them. Movies that make you have to really think like Inception, The Signal, 12 Monkeys, Sunshine, and Dark City fit that mold. I’m probably forgetting some but those are the ones that come to mind.
Can you give us an example of a character you created then rejected and why?
Well, there was this one character I was developing that was a direct result of my love affair with Daredevil. Instead of making him blind, his handicap was deafness. I thought I would throw another twist in there so instead of making him the typical pretty boy heartthrob, I decided he should be disfigured. Last, I was going to name him Gypsy, until I found out that word was a prejudicial slur. To me, it all just didn’t work and reeked of me trying too hard, so I rejected the concept. But who knows, maybe I need to bring him back for a tune-up…or a total overhaul.
What’s your process for creating a character? How do you know when it’s right?
I never know when it’s “right”. I can come up with a character, swear I have all the elements, then think of something super cool months later. The closest I get is when I’m finished filling out the main checkmarks on my creation list. The process of creating a character for me comes in 6 parts.
1) What does the character look like?
2) What is their personality?
3) What are their motivations?
4) If they have powers do I have something fresh (or at least a cool twist on their abilities?)
5) What is their backstory?
6) Do all of these elements work in tandem.
Once I have those 6 components I feel pretty good and I go from there. Of course, there are many other layers to a character as a whole, but I find these to be the key elements.
How do you incorporate hip-hop in your stories and why is that important to you?
Well, first I think it’s important to understand how encompassing hip-hop is as a whole. Hip-hop is a vibe…a culture… a movement. It goes deeper than just rap music and envelops other elements of graffiti, fashion, djing, breakdancing, knowledge of oneself, and urban community. I try to incorporate components of those themes that were possible in some form or another. It can be as simple as the b-girl stance of a sci-fi ninja wearing baggy jeans and protecting the city from corrupt cops, to alternate reality space gods rocking 5 finger rings and spreading knowledge to other planets. The reason hip-hop is so important to me is that it’s one of those art forms that marries all the things I love. In it’s purest form it’s supposed to mean something and can be quite powerful.
Historically do you feel Afro-Superheroes have been either stereotypical or caricatures?
I think they started like that, and that we still have a ways to go. I feel there are now some great characters and stories out there.
Caribbean folklore plays a role in your work. When you first heard those tales growing up did you visualize them in a comic book manner?
I’m ashamed to say I never saw these stories as comic book material. I was so blinded by the influence of the whitewashed comics I grew up reading that I never even considered for a second that my culture was relevant to comics. I absorbed American comics and then manga, thinking this is what comics were supposed to look like. It wasn’t till I went back to my birthplace of Barbados and met creators who were crafting comics based on Barbadian culture that the spark was lit.
Your late father had to be convinced that comic books were a worthwhile profession, yet he became immensely proud of you and your success. How did you convince him?
He saw me doing it. And with my father being a “proof is in the pudding” kinda guy, the facts spoke for themselves. And that’s the advice I give to anyone: If you want to prove to someone you are worthy of their support or prove someone wrong, or hell, even prove yourself wrong, put the work in and produce something. Anything! That’s the only way to convince people that you are what you say you are.
Your Black Panther piece was phenomenal, what did you know that you had to impart with the imagery?
Thank you. Well, I knew I had to get across how much power this man T’Challa wields. Not just physically- even though I normally like to accentuate the musculature on my figures and you can see from the pic he gets in a solid workout daily. No, I also wanted to show how confident, regal and commanding he is. Hence the kingly stance of dominance as he overlooks his land. I knew I had to draw him close up so you can almost smell the musk, make sure he was in his royal garb. I wanted the panther god spirit in the pic also but more to the background so that Black Panther remains the main focus. Another reason I wanted to show the Panther god is I wanted to spotlight the dichotomy of Black Panther’s world and the beautiful marriage of technology and spiritualism.
I love Aizan. What inspired her, where do you see her going and in an ideal world who would you cast to play her on-screen?
Once again, thanks, I’m glad you like her. My initial inspiration came from me wanting to create a character the average comic book person hadn’t encountered before. A woman that wasn’t the typical half-naked damsel in distress who’s only there as a supporting character to the hero. Inspiration for further development of her character also came from everything I listed above: my love of Caribbean culture (she’s Barbadian); the love of hip-hop culture (she’s an M.C and graffiti artist); and my love of martial arts(she’s a hi-tech super-powered ninja). Last but not least she’s based on my fellow Barbadian, the beautiful, entertaining musician Rhianna. So in a perfect world, Rihanna would be sitting in an actress chair with the word “Aizan” on the back for a big-screen adaptation. As far as where I see her going? Everywhere.