In his classic essay, “Racism and Science Fiction” Samuel R. Delany suggested discrimination in science fiction publishing would decline when “black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total.” Delany’s remark suggested the cost of bias will eventually be outweighed by the economic benefit of inclusion. He is likely disappointed as recent media studies have shown low minority representation, even as successes in television and film have demonstrated the demand for diverse content exists. While the big and small screen is the central concern, animation can easily be included in this narrative. Disney says diversity is important and recent films have incorporated diverse characters. Nonetheless, the call for animation to do more has grown as minority parents search for affirming content they can share with their children. Enter Damion Gonzales, a creator with a vision that offers something at once new and familiar. Gonzales’ T.A.S.K. animated property has the look and feel of a traditional action adventure animated series, but owes it origin to deeper concerns linked access, representation, and family. I reached out to Gonzales, another member of the studio called the The Operative Network, to learn more about his creative journey.
JC: You studied with Zeno Obi Constance. Arguably his work can be understood in a broader narrative of African cultural enrichment in the 1970s. How much of that ideology legacy is infused within your work?
DG: Zeno is pretty much a second father to me. He came into my life in that period just after high school. When we first encountered each other I was pretty much aimless because I wasn’t really one of those kids that wanted to be a lawyer or doctor. I guess I was wired differently even though I’d attended one of the country’s top schools. Zeno was teaching a playwriting class as part of a government youth program and seeing nothing else that interested me, that’s where I went. He immediately transformed my life and had a profound effect on my world view. I had no idea what Pan-Africanism was and only a cursory, “history-for-school,” understanding of Black Power and the 70’s Black Power Revolutions in Trinidad & Tobago and the U.S. I had no concept of the effects of colonialism on children of the diaspora, on myself…on the way I saw myself and my place in the world. Under Zeno’s tutelage the connections became much more apparent. Directing and acting in the plays of an individual such as Zeno for 10 years leaves an indelible print on whatever you create afterwards. Even today there are characters and thematic elements in T.A.S.K. that have their origins in conversations we had when I was 18 or 19.
JC: From an American perspective, Afrofuturism is linked to a political and social rooted in African-Americans self-discovery and cultural recovery. However, that movement has been criticized for its emphasis on masculinity. Do you think the cultural lens you acquired in the Caribbean has made you more aware of feminist perspective?
DG: I was lucky that the first play I ever directed was Zeno Constance’s “The Ritual,” where upon learning that one of their classmates may be pregnant, five black teenaged girls use a ritualistic theatrical device to examine Afro-Caribbean womanhood. It’s a piece I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with time and time again over the years and each time I learn more from it. Women of the diaspora have had to do amazing and sometimes terrible things to survive and provide. Women leaving loved ones behind to go to the U.S., Canada and the UK to provide for a whole family back home is still quite common. That takes a strength and level of selflessness that can’t be denied. The opportunity to give those voices a forum, a space…that was very enlightening and rewarding.
JC: How do you define yourself as a creator?
DG: I’d like to think of myself as a storyteller. I’ve been many different types of artist/creator over the years but telling a story has always been at the core. I started acting at the age of 8 and was heavily into theater from my late teens right through my 20’s with Zeno. At that same time I was also a Hip Hop artist and producer. My venturing into the world of comic styled characters and stories came from being a long-time fan – now a father, who wanted his child to be able to see herself in the type of stories that he and now she loves. Now I’ve ventured into animation, but I’m still telling the story.
JC: How has your creative journey led to you to animation as a medium? What can you do there that you cannot do in comics?
DG: I’ve always loved cartoons. I think anyone of our generation who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons has that soft spot. Deciding to venture into animation came out of taking stock of conditions on the ground in a manner of speaking. I’ve been an avid comic book fan since the late 70’s and I really considered the idea of doing a comic first, but taking into consideration that I’d be an unknown creator of color, creating a product for a shrinking market…I had to think about how impactful the product would be and how impactful I wanted it to be. Creators today have to really come to terms with how the market, the business and audience have changed since the days of our earliest fandom. Brand awareness is half the ballgame now and animation certainly works in terms of reaching an audience that you might not reach by simply doing a comic. I’m certain that I’ll come full circle and do a T.A.S.K. comic within the next couple years, but now that nearly 6,000 people have seen the T.A.S.K. animated trailer we’re not starting from zero.
JC: You have cited your daughter as a major motivator for your T.A.S.K. project. What does it mean for you to create a diverse animation project like this for her and at this cultural moment?
DG: As a father, I can’t lie…it feels really great. She knows what it took to get us to this point, and she is really proud knowing that she was the spark. She’s also at this point where who she is, is validated or denied every moment, depending on the direction she faces and what’s there to see. Creating a space for her where she has the ultimate validation…even if it’s in a fictional setting, means so much. She doesn’t need to see Wonder Woman in the mirror, she’s Glitch of T.A.S.K. How cool is that?
JC: Looking deeper, what will make people come back to T.A.S.K as a creative endeavor? DG: Characters and stories, that’s always been the core. Zak (my co-creator/co-writer, best friend) and I have plotted and written events in T.A.S.K. way in advance and there’s a real emotional weight to the stories. You will want to come back to see how events shape and change these characters. They are going to react to events and evolve as “people” as their world changes. I think that’s really exciting and I think people want that. I certainly think kids will like it. They aren’t expected to stay the same as the world changes around them so why should their fictional characters? I also think about some of the best long form animated shows and of course the Naruto series comes to mind. Fans watched the kids in that series grow up and deal with situations both fantastic and mundane and the way those characters evolved within the framework of that great saga is truly astounding to me. If we can even accomplish the tiniest bit of that then I’ll be really happy. Of course there’s also the fact that our cast of characters reflects the world’s diverse population. I think that’s something that can’t be understated. I think the audience is ready to see themselves as more than just one-offs in the superhero genre. We’re flipping the whole thing on its head here.
JC: What is the question you never get asked, but always want to be asked?
DG: Hmmm…”I have this 6.5 million dollars just sitting around, would it be enough for you to produce your first season?” No one has asked that one yet. I’ll certainly let you know when they do though.
JC: How can fans contact you?
DG: I and T.A.S.K. are on Facebook. I’m also on Twitter and if all else fails I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh and last but not least here’s the T.A.S.K. animated trailer!