“ Planting Artmada flags on foreign lands with smoking hands. Our light spans, fantastic 4-ever like comic emissions, By the time the beams hit your vision, our past is your present position.. ” – M.D Geist
It was a cold, brisk night in the city of Philadelphia and flurries of snow were already kissing the ground…
Actually, that’s a lie. I really don’t remember what day it was that I met Shawn Alleyne, let alone what the weather was like. I do remember walking near Broad and Chestnut in Philly with another friend of mine (also named Sean) when we bumped into Shawn A. and his wife, Monique. Introductions were given and somewhere along the line I landed at a one year anniversary function for Shawn’s comic book group, Xion. The rest is a blur of comic book conventions, rap battles, and playful insults where, somehow, a friendship was born.
It wasn’t until I saw some of Shawn’s work that I was truly blown away. No, seriously. The pictures I post here do his work no justice until you see it in person, in carefully constructed portfolios with hot piece after hot piece. And don’t think I’m exaggerating just because I want to make this article sound good, or just because I consider Shawn a friend. Actually, I’ll be the first to tell you that he’s more like a friendly nemesis that I happen to talk to on a regular basis. Still, you’ll hear no exaggerations on my part as I share with you the story of Shawn’s life, one that I think will resonate with artists anywhere.
It was a cold, brisk night on the island of Barbados…
Yeah, I don’t know what kind of night it was there either. I do know that Shawn was born, raised, and fell in love with comics there. “My father was the one who got me into comics,” says Shawn. “He used to dabble with art and was the one who sat me down with a Daredevil comic and made me watch him draw.” Clearly, that one moment opened a path that would define the rest of Shawn’s life. Coupled with another, reading his first Spider-man issue, Shawn’s love for comics was destined to grow as he started grabbing any that he could get his hands on.
Shawn credits his upbringing in Barbados for giving him a unique range of cultural and economical experiences that he now tries to incorporate into his stories. Shortly after moving to the states with those memories, Shawn knew that he wanted to draw forever. But the reality of the comic book industry haunted him like it did most comic book artists just starting out. “Everyone said there was no money in comics—they said be an architect…a garbage man…ANYTHING besides a comic artist,” Shawn says. “But the glorious days of the late nineties of Image were too alluring, and with everyone and their mother putting a book out, I realized it was specifically comic art I wanted to invest in.”
So what did Shawn do? In an economy that was going straight to hell in a nicely decorated hand basket, Shawn decided to quit his day job and do art full-time. Sound crazy? Not really. What’s crazy is that he’s finding a way to make it work when everyone told him otherwise.
…Not without some pitfalls and hard-learned lessons, though. “It’s been a helluva challenge, and continues to be in some way or another,” Shawn admits. “What people sometimes forget is that this is still a business. So what I had to do to survive was try to learn something new from every experience and adapt.” And he did just that. When Shawn started out, he attended as many conventions as he could, large and small, to get his art out there and network with other people. It didn’t happen overnight, but soon the clients started rolling in and business started to pick up.
As a result, Shawn currently has an inventory of projects longer than Santa’s naughty list. I asked him if he just curls up in the fetal position every night and cries himself to sleep. The answer is yes. Yes, he does. “But it comes down to learning to say no to some stuff, communicating with clients, long nights, and barreling through,” he says. “All of which I’m still in the process of learning slowly but surely.”
Shawn has admitted to me in many phone conversations that he learns something new after every convention that can help him step his game up as a business-man. He says the biggest challenge about conventions is, “making sure you stick out amongst all the competition that’s out there. There are some really talented people at these shows, especially the bigger ones, and to succeed there has to be that balance of a good product, good marketing, and good people skills.” The biggest piece of advice he has to give to anyone who is just getting started in the convention arena is to be honest with yourself. “If you know in your heart your product may not be ready, don’t go to the shows. Once you’ve passed that hurdle, start with a couple of smaller cons and work your way up. This will help you learn how to work under pressure; learn how to deal with people; seeing firsthand what people like or don’t like; expand your fan base and allow you to build a network with fellow creators. In a nutshell the best way to maximize your potential at these shows is simple: be friendly and draw pretty stuff.”
Pretty good advice, if you ask me, and all pointers he uses as he works on one of his newest properties, Street Team. A “team-up” book that is a collaboration with four other creators, Street Team combines their respective independently published characters into one gritty, urban-vigilante type book in the vein of Batman and Daredevil. Shawn adds his talents as co-writer, editor, and inker on the first book.
He has also worked as Art Director on a property called Knight Seeker with writer Eric Cooper and artist, Blair Smith, as co-creator of Surian Seed with Raheem Mander, and Artmada, a collaborative sketch book with artists Tremaine Worrell, Will Jamaison, and Kamau Mshale.
And I have one more bit of juicy info for you. If you guys didn’t know, Shawn is like a secret underground rap prodigy. When he’s not drawing, he’s eating emcees for brunch. Those bars I inserted as a tag-line under the title of this article? He wrote that, right around the time he was contributing to the Artmada sketchbook. Likening his style to the raw, intricate lyrics of Canibus and the street poet, story-telling abilities of Nas, Shawn is honing his skills in another artistic form besides drawing that is just as ridiculous. I should know. I battled him, lost, and then had to spend the night at his house.
But who knows, I might let you guys in on the upcoming re-match.
Check Shawn out at one of the many links below, and if you’re attending, be sure to check him out at the New York Comic Con (Oct. 13 – 16).
Shawn Alleyne is a freelance illustrator, comic book artist, and self-proclaimed lyrical wordsmith genius. He is currently open for commissions and freelance work. Shawn is also the founder of the Xion Network, a comic book group that started in Philadelphia and has now expanded to New York City (of which I am the branch Co-Manager along with branch Manager, Sha-Nee Williams). To join the mailing list, please contact us at the email listed below.
Shawn’s Personal Information
He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Xion Network
Philadelphia Branch: email@example.com (ATTN: Shawn Alleyne)
NYC Branch: firstname.lastname@example.org (ATTN: Sha-Nee Williams or Takeia Dunlop)