In August, 2015, a video went viral in online groups centered on comic books and superheroes. This video was a trailer for a comic book series called Raising Dion. Created by Dennis Liu and produced by Raven Jensen, Raising Dion follows a single mother raising her young son who has superpowers. Raven and Dennis were kind enough to be interviewed by ScifiPulse to discuss their backgrounds, the inspiration for Raising Dion, and their long term goals.
Yanes: When did you both know that you wanted be creative professionals?
Raven: I was interested in film from around the age of 10 when my sister and I would make home videos together, but it wasn’t until high school that I really took the idea seriously. It was an idea that grew on itself, at first I just enjoyed fooling around with cameras, then I started taking classes and then I got into my first film festival!
Dennis: Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a screenwriter. Then that changed to directing in high school. I don’t know why. I just liked writing. I used to fill notebooks with stories.
Yanes: Dennis, you went to The Taft School and NYU. How did this education help shape your approach to storytelling and production?
Dennis: I grew up in a town where there was this prestigious boarding school called Taft down the street. Every year, they take a couple town kids to go. I studied hard, took this test and luckily got in. We got a lot of financial aid, and I fell in love with filmmaking there in this video room called the Treehouse. It was hard to convince my parents that I wanted to pursue this as my full time career and they eventually agreed.
Yanes: Raven, how often do you have to deal with “That’s So Raven” jokes? Also, given that you’ve have graduated from NYU’s Tisch School, how has this education helped shape your approach to storytelling?
Raven: You know, it’s been a while since “That’s so Raven” was a daily concern, but I promise you there was a time! NYU has had a huge effect on my approach to filmmaking. To this day I work mostly with people I met during my time at school. I do have to say I learned the most from my peers, but that is because NYU does a great job of bringing the department together and creating a real sense of community and collaboration.
Dennis: I did not know that was a thing and will be sure to add it whenever we meet.
Yanes: While you both went to great schools, what are some lessons you wish you could have learned in college about being a creative professional?
Raven: While school does a great job of prepping you for collaborative storytelling and production, I felt very unprepared for the business aspect of the industry.
Dennis: I wish I watched even more movies. The cool thing to do was ditch school and make things with your friends. You have to respect the craft and what came before you. There’s just not enough time to do everything.
Yanes: Dennis, what was the inspiration for Raising Dion?
Dennis: I also wonder about nature vs. nurture. Are you born a certain way? Or do your surroundings, income, and circumstances change you? How much does parenting even really matter? I wonder if I’d be a good parent. Would I be able to take care of my kid? Make sure they’re a good person? Would I be able to make sure they don’t shoot up a school? Is that fate even in my control? Would I be able to raise a kid like Dion? And guide him the right way? Let me be clear – there is a cute kid in this story, because kids are cute. But this is not the kid’s story. This is the mom’s.
Yanes: Raven, what attracted you to this project?
Raven: When I came on board I was immediately attracted to the idea of a story focusing on the mom of a child with superpowers. I thought it was an angle on a classic story that had not been explored yet. I was also excited to work on a super hero film about a woman, and a minority woman at that. There are tons women of different races that are looking for a hero that they can relate to and you really just don’t see many out there.
Yanes: There are many single mothers in my family, so I can attest from experience that you did an amazing job making Dion’s mother feel authentic. How did you shape her character? Did you base her on any single mothers in your life?
Dennis and Raven: There was a lot of research done. Books, films, and firsthand accounts. The film 1979 Kramer vs. Kramer was a huge inspiration, but with a twist. Our moms were inspiration!
Yanes: A superhero is frequently defined by their power set. How did you go about determining Dion’s powers?
Dennis: I don’t want to give too much away. But, let’s just say everyone’s job in life is to find their true power. Mine is filmmaking. At one point it used to be playing the piano. At another point it was playing soccer. Some powers came, some powers left. You don’t have to be just good at one; I’m still great at music. But that’s the metaphor.
Raven: It was mostly about finding a good balance of powers, because we knew we wanted him to have a variety of powers as a child. I always thought it was a nice kind of allegory for childhood; all kids go through phases as they figure out who they are.
Yanes: Raven, the video created to promote Raising Dion is fantastic. Why did you decided to go for a live action adaption of the story to promote this comic book?
Raven: Video is a great way to quickly introduce an audience to the characters and concept behind the comic. It’s important that people just keep talking about it!
Yanes: On this note, given that the trailer was so good, have you both considered turning it into a web series or movie?
Raven and Dennis: The most important thing right now is that everyone blogs, tweets, and reads Raising Dion!! J
Yanes: The issue of diversity in comics (specifically, the lack of it) is too big to be ignored. What are your thoughts on this topic? And what do you both think can be done bring more diversity to comics and related genres?
Dennis: I think minorities have wanted for some time to be represented more in superhero stories. I thought about it, and I realized it was never going to happen unless content creators created new characters and universes themselves. I would love that you could just make Batman Chinese or African American and call it a day and no one notices – but we’re not there yet. Far from it. And there’s an argument to be made that, that shouldn’t happen anyways, because that’s not true to their character. But I hope people see the relationship between Nicole and Dion as really special and sacred.
Raven: It is obviously a huge issue, and we hope we are helping in some small way. I would like to think that other comic creators see the reaction to this and are encouraged to create some new heroes of their own! I think all it takes is for the men (and women) behind comics to see how excited people are by this concept and attempt to do the same. There is a huge audience out there longing to see more diversity, people have just got to start tapping into it.
Yanes: What are your long term goals for Raising Dion?
Dennis: Make sure Dion doesn’t make a mess with his breakfast every day.
Raven: It has been such an overwhelming response. The most important part now is everyone shares the content. The most important part of Raising Dion is to tell a great story and raise awareness for diversity in media.
Yanes: Outside of Raising Dion, what are other projects you two are working on that people should look forward to?
Dennis: I’m off to China for two weeks to pitch a feature film. Their market is booming over there and I love shooting there. I love the people and culture there.
Raven: I just got back from the deserts of New Mexico working on a post apocalyptic western, so keep a look out for that one!