March 5, 2020
Comics to Inspire and Educate: Naseed Gifted on Creating P.B. Soldier
P.B. SoldierSource: P.B. Soldier: Awaken the God Within | Kickstarter
Frustrated by the lack of superheroes that “looked like his son,” engineer and educator Naseed Gifted created his own superhero: “P.B. Soldier.”
“P.B. Soldier” truly resonates with the reader by combining history, science, and real-world experiences in an enriching and educational 65-episode story arch.
“When you talk about imagination, you want people to be able to dream again,” Gifted said during our recent interview. “That’s what this whole project is about, having individuals be able to dream and see themselves in the story.”
During our phone call with Gifted, we learned more origin story for “P.B. Soldier” and its Kickstarter campaign that launched this month.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work
First of all, my name is Naseed Gifted, creative director of P.B.S. Media, which is “Phocused Black Star Media.” I’m an engineer, educator, and comic book writer for a sci-fi comic book series called “P.B. Soldier.”
Currently, I am also the principal of a comprehensive high school in Newark, N.J.
What inspired you to begin raising funds and awareness of S.T.E.M. field opportunities for students in urban areas?
It’s a part of my personal mission to develop the next generation of technology leaders. This is pretty much why I transitioned from becoming an engineer to education. Because of that, I look to inspire and expose the next generation of technology leaders. That’s pretty much been my whole mission.
There is under-representation in the S.T.E.M. field, based on research that black and Latinx only make up five percent of that workforce. All of those opportunities are being outsourced overseas because of the lack of qualified individuals.
When did you begin using comics as a way to inspire young students?
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That goes into looking into comics as an untapped medium to tell stories and also using it to make more complex topics – like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – more realistic.
Those are the reasons I looked to comics and that kind of goes into my origin story, as well.
You gotta look at how people learn as adolescents. When people learn as adolescents [they use] pictures associated with words. As you move up in age, concepts become more abstract.
Now what we’re doing is reconnecting those visual models so you can do a mental model with word association. That’s what comics do so clearly and easily.
Have you experimented with any other mediums for your work?
I haven’t experimented with any other mediums, but I’m definitely looking to move into animation with it.
I have worked with various groups, y’know especially with this platform, just to see how rigorous you can be able to work with various groups of diverse learners.
I worked with a group of students with autism to develop fantastic characters and unlock the hero within them using comics as the medium.
When you talk about association, you’ve got to have multiple entry points.
Could you tell us a little bit about the process of creating P.B. Soldier? How long did it take for you to write and produce it?
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It actually started in college.
When I was in college, we had a t-shirt line called “P.B. Soldier,” which later evolved into the comic book series. The first book was actually released in 2012.
I started working on the series in 2008. That was after an experience I had with my son.
I took my son to see “The Incredible Hulk” and we had a discussion about superheroes. He could name all of the typical superheroes: Batman, Superman, all of those individuals.
Initially, I got upset. After that phase went over, I looked to do something about it. I went on a journey to learn how to create heroes for the black and Latinx community.
I didn’t really know about it – I’m an engineer/educator moving into this market. I’m not a traditional comic book artist who went to art school or anything like that.
I had to do a ton of things. I had to actually go back to school. I took some courses at NYU on storyboarding and animatics. I worked with a professor who’s the animation director at Nickelodeon, which was a great experience.
After a number of other things, I just started going to various cons. One con was ECBACC (East Coast Black Age of Comics) and I ran into this phenomenal artist named Mshindo Kuumba.
His work was so phenomenal, I told myself that I will work with him one day.
During that time, I pretty much worked with high school students, local artists, all of these different individuals.
I was sitting here constantly writing in my house. Like I said, it kinda started in 2008 and my wife is a flight attendant, so I’m constantly home with the kids.
While I was at home with the kids, doing my fatherly duties, I was just sitting here writing out the story for P.B. Soldier. I laid out a 65 [episode] story arch for the series.
Simultaneously, I was going to cons, seeing what was out there. I ran into that artist, Mshindo, and two years later I asked him to do my character development and he designed all of my characters for me.
I ran into another artist that I work with today named Abel Garcia, who is phenomenal. [Abel] did the inking, coloring, and designs for the book.
The rest is history, we’ve just been pushing everything else forward since then.
Were there any comics you were particularly inspired by while creating P.B. Soldier?
It was kind of inspired by my childhood experiences and a ton of research, but there were a couple books that I was reading at the time.
“Battle Angel Alita,” I read that whole series – the version that was out back then.
I had a lot of anime that inspired me – “Akira,” “Crying Freeman” – several Black Panther books, and X-Men.
Most of the stuff that we had rooted from, besides the comic material, were from real-world events. Some of the books I was reading about history and everything else were all infused into [P.B. Soldier], especially my passion for technology.
What are you most excited about for the first volume of P.B. Soldier?
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I’m so excited about the completeness of the story.
When we were initially writing the story and introducing it to individuals, we got the feedback from the fanbase. Based on the feedback, and being that we were introducing this whole computer science and programming aspect, we saw there was a need to be able to use that as a platform to introduce these S.T.E.M. topics so we were more blatant about pulling that out.
From an educator standpoint, we talk about Common Core Curriculum standards and where they actually fell in the [P.B. Soldier] story without taking away from, but using it as a way to say, “Look, if you want to teach this in the classroom here’s a way that you can be able to use it.”
That’s what the first volume does. We developed a whole “Hackers Guide” that accompanies it, so if you’re interested in computer programming, we have a resource guide that you can use to develop code.
Where do you plan on distributing the volume once it’s released? Will it be in public schools throughout New Jersey, nationwide, etc…?
Well the plan, of course, is to release it through multiple mediums: through the colleges and universities, [as well] as the public schools throughout New Jersey and nationwide.
That’s why the Kickstarter platform and the campaign is so, so important. The more funds that we’re able to raise, the further we’ll be able to take this whole platform.
We’ve actually been doing these educational conferences at universities where we show how you can build lessons using comic book content.
When you talk about comics, a lot of people think that it’s “low-level work” and you could use it for middle school, but there are advanced placement applications.
They’re using graphic novels in your AP Literature class, AP Language class. There’s actually an AP Physics lesson, “How Spiderman Taught Me My First Physics Lesson.”
That’s one of the platforms I’ve been touring the country with, taking something as horrific as Gwen Stacy’s death in “The Amazing Spiderman 2” and breaking it down to the physics contained in that to use it to teach a lesson.
That’s something we’re going to be building out even further with the whole P.B. Soldier platform, but we already take some of the more popular stuff and show how you can design a whole lesson from that.
Now with the P.B. Soldier volume, we’re going to do more with how you can use it to teach S.T.E.M., history, and social and political issues within the urban community.
The main thing with education is connecting the information [to students] with what’s real and relevant to them. That’s why [P.B. Soldier] is based in the real world. Even though it’s sci-fi, some of the technology is not far away.
Do you see there being any additional installments or volumes in the P.B. Soldier series?
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Yes. As I told you, we have a 65 episode story arch laid out, what we’re looking to do is volumes one and two.
Each volume will contain three episodes, and each episode is broken into two parts.
The first episode of P.B. Soldier, which is a 45-page book, is really two parts but we put it all into one because you can’t put it into two parts with your first issues, so we put it in an extended comics.
But the rest of them are 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5. So volume two will have 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, and 6.5.
Since we launched the series, our female character Jazen has gained a lot of popularity, so we finished her story with a 120-page volume that’s ready to launch after we’re done with this Kickstarter.
What feedback has P.B. Soldier, or any of the lesson plans you’ve demonstrated, received from students so far?
We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback with regards to it, but we want to do more of a case study.
I’ve looked at research on how children work with traditional learning and how that compares to what comics have done.
The research says that the test results from a student who just used a textbook v.s. a comic book medium is almost similar.
But what happens when the student learns with something they’re actually engaged in, like a comic book platform, they don’t just finish using that concept after the test is done.
Versus an individual who learns chapter one [from a textbook] and then after the test, they don’t even touch that material anymore.
There’s more of a deep-dive [with comics], that’s what the research is saying. What I’m looking to do with the case study is see how the series, as well as the lessons, engage [students] and how they’re able to go deeper into the learning.
What do you find most rewarding about your work, as the creator of P.B. Soldier and as a high school principal?
The most rewarding thing is I don’t feel like it’s work.
I’m really passionate about doing this as a project and developing a legacy. When looking at mediums like DC Comics, their characters have been around for 75 years, going on to a hundred years.
I’d like to be able to say that something I thought about while watching my children in 2008 lasts 100 years passed its creation. That’s the most rewarding part of building a legacy.
And then being able to leave something for my children and the children behind, that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it, you preserve, you dedicate yourself and work through it.
I never even thought that I could get to this point. Once again, I always tell my audience I’m not your traditional comic artist, I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t do any of these things. But through grind, hard work, retraining myself from my engineering background, it’s allowed me to enter this realm and see some success.
Do you have any additional comments or final thoughts to share?
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Those who have read this interview, we’d definitely like for you to tune in to our Kickstarter campaign that’s happening right now for “P.B. Soldier: Awaken the God Within.”
We’re looking to do a lot of great things and expand into animation, eventually.
Head on over to the P.B. Soldier Kickstarter to get more involved with the series.
Be sure to follow P.B. Soldier on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with the latest updates pertaining to the series!
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