A brave new comics world

12 Jul 2006

>> Anthony Stanberry (centre), Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Justin Stanberry, Executive Director and 
Jermaine Smith, Director of Music Development

An interview with Anthony Stanberry of Freeze DNA

Walking into Freeze DNA’s creative King West office recently, I discovered what can probably be best described as a vivacious hub of passionate artistry and genuine love of craft. I meet Anthony Stanberry, CEO of Freeze DNA. The very talented artist, and graduate of the George Brown College graphic arts design program, has been drawing since he was five years old. Like most kids though, it was more of a pass-time. He and his brothers, and Freeze DNA co-founders, Jermaine and Justin have always had a love for comics. Growing up, they were into Marvel comics, Bugs Bunny, the Transformers and many other cartoons. But one thing they were conscious of is that they rarely ever saw any Black characters.

The three brothers decided to do something about that. A few years ago, they began developing the idea for a Black comic book series called Blac Ice. Originally, however, Blac Ice was used mainly as a marketing tool to display the full scope of their design abilities in support of their graphic design business Freeze DNA. Their company offered services like stationery and business card design and such. But the Blac Ice concept allowed them to develop and showcase their talent for development of original concepts, character development, and following through a creative process from concept stages to a finished piece.

Showing a great deal of perseverance and focus, the three brothers worked several jobs part-time while keeping their vision alive. They not only had a love for comics, but also a clear mandate to create a brave new world for Black comics. “What happened is that we realized there was a void in Black and urban superheroes where either they were every sort of stereotype like criminal types … or there weren’t really any hat had kind of a West Indian background … so we kind of used ourselves as the characters.” Says Anthony Stanberry.

So what’s behind the name “Freeze DNA”, I ask him. “Freeze was actually my nickname in college. A lot people thought I was a little bit cold. Not cold in a bad way but kind of right to the point” says Anthony. When thinking about the company name, he also thought about the fact that Canada is a cold country. Finally, the “DNA” part comes from the company’s original mandate as a design and advertising enterprise.

When launching the first issue of Blac Ice in the early 2000’s, Freeze DNA received a lot of initial interest from the U.S. The following south of the border was spurred by a feature that a popular Black comics website ( www.blacksuperhero.com ) did on them. People were interested in the way the characters related to the day-to-day black experience. “I guess the overall concept is that if you think about a good superhero, you don’t think of a good “White”  superhero” says Anthony Stanberry. The trick is to reflect Black culture in their daily lives. For instance, one of their popular characters is a young girl called Latisha. She’s a Jamaican-Trinidadian but she speaks French. As Anthony goes on to say: “What we really want to do is have books and stories that relate to us but at the same time are relatable to anyone independent of background. But it still has a really solid feel. Kind of like with Sponge Bob or something like that. … We want our products to have that same feel like it could have been from Warner Brothers but at the same time have that urban feel. I guess you call it urban anime.”

The three brothers behind Freeze DNA are still close to the roots of their Brampton childhood world filled with a true love for comics. They believe in passing on and promoting quality and culturally relatable comics to the youth. Anthony Stanberry tells a great story about watching his young son drawing one day. He was making his own comic book. So the he thought: “What if I created an instruction book, showing kids how write and draw comic books?” Nothing of the kind existed at the time. So he came up with the idea of starting the “Create Your Own Comic” Series. Soon, they started teaching comic art classes starting in Brampton. As the classes got more popular, they began offering them in Toronto and later on expanded to cities like Hamilton, Peterborough, Niagara Falls, Kitchener, and others.

Through their hard work, their comic book series are growing in popularity. They are in final talks with Zellers to have their Blac Ice series available in stores across the country. Anthony Stanberry appreciates the fruits of Freeze DNA’s labours but says that it has, and continues to be, a hard road not traveled by the weak. As one of the only creators of Black comics in North America, they are in a good position to grow. But Anthony realizes that there are responsibilities that come with that. “Yes it’s a good position, it’s just that it’s a little bit tricky now. I think the thing is, especially when we’re doing a superhero book … the main trick is to have it where you address some situations … There’s been a lot of violence in Toronto in the last year or so, and so we don’t want to glorify violence. But at the same time, you have to show ways that you solve problems and try to work around that. For example, in Blac Ice, we try not to use guns. So you may have laser beams or powers of some sort where they project energy but it’s not an actual gun. … I think that’s been more of he challenge for us. … to have a book of great caliber (like X-Men and others) while staying away from violence.”

To learn more about Freeze DNA and Blac Ice, visit their website at www.freeze-dna.com

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