Florissant teen creates comics to increase Black representation in pop culture
St. Louis University High School freshman DeJuan Strickland says he always wanted to create his own comic book hero.
He was able to do that in 2021, when he self-published the comic book "Tech Boy." Strickland has since published the second in the series — "Science Girl" — with a goal of furthering Black representation in comics.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Sarah Kellogg spoke with the 15-year-old about not only his comics, but his efforts to eliminate school lunch debt.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Sarah Kellogg: When did you first come up with the idea of making a comic book? How long have you wanted to do this?
DeJuan Strickland: Well, I wanted to make "Tech Boy" and my series for forever. But when I really started to take the initiative into making my comic book was actually when I saw “Black Panther" for the first time.
I was inspired by Chadwick Boseman and his role in "Black Panther." After seeing him on the big screen, it made me realize that there was a lack of positive Black representation in movies, TV shows and books.
So, in order to increase our representation, I decided to go in and take matters in our own hands and create my very own comic book series that star male and female Black protagonists.
Kellogg: So then tell me a little bit about the process, from where it started and your idea, to being able to actually do it from idea to book.
Strickland: I've always had the idea. I went to my mom and told her about it. She thought it was awesome. And then when she saw the dedication, and writing it all out in full, she was like, ‘Wow, he's like, really serious,’ and she loved it.
In the pandemic, we used the stimulus check to help to go and fund the books because illustrations, the barcode and everything is really expensive.
And I'm really appreciative of all the support on the books. It’s really great.
Kellogg: You said you've had this idea and wanted to expand Black protagonists in comic books, tell me like, why "Tech Boy" and "Science Girl," why these science and technology led characters?
Strickland: My love for STEM really sparked with the Color Coded Kids program. It's a program my mom put me in where I learned to code my first-ever video game. And ever since then, when I realized that all the video games that I've been playing as a kid, I could actually, like, create those things. That just really sparked my love for science, technology, engineering and math.
And I wanted to implement that into my characters as well, which sparked the idea for "Tech Boy" and later on "Science Girl" being STEM-related and having the powers of technology and science and biochemistry.
Kellogg: Why do you feel like your comic books are a fit for the classroom?
Strickland: Well, as a kid when I went to libraries, I found it hard to really see myself in a lot of the characters in the library and feel represented.
And one of the key aspects of my book is I want people, and kids especially, to see themselves in my own characters within "Tech Boy" and "Science Girl," to see themselves and remind themselves that they are superheroes as well.
Kellogg: You have done a lot of work toward lunch debt elimination. What made you want to start that initiative?
Strickland: Well, it started with an incident in fourth grade, where my lunch balance went zero, and I didn't have enough money to pay for school lunch that day. So, I sat at a table and watched other kids eat their lunch, while I couldn't eat anything that day. And that day, you know, it's just really a bad feeling.
I was fortunate enough for my mom to be able to pay it the day after. I realized later on that kids might not have that ability to get that all situated after that.
So, after I created my business and everything, I wanted to start an initiative so that kids don't have to experience that same feeling or that situation.
So it made me start Team Tech Boy Lunch Heroes initiative, which I raised money to go and offset negative lunch balances at school so that kids don't have to experience that or have their lunch balance have zero because I feel like that kids need to eat.
And what's also cool about it is I also have a pool of money, so that when kids don't have enough money to pay for their lunch the school can pull from that pool of money and they can be able to eat.
Kellogg: How do you feel that these initiatives, this goal to eliminate lunch debt, ties in with your comic work?
Strickland: That's a great question. And I think the best answer to that is I’m, kind of, in sort of a way, kind of being a superhero, I guess.
And it's really kind of funny, because my whole thing is making superheroes.
I guess I’m kind of like my comic book characters I'm creating, and I think that's really amazing.