Keeping It Clean

 Diverse comic book company creating stories for all ages.

by Michael Erazo

Photographs © 2016 by Off Shoot Comics

    Back in 2008, David Clarke began attending CSUN and at the same time he reluctantly joined a study group for young men, his pastor insisted on. That is where he met the leader of the group, Walter Bryant. Attendance was low to nonexistent, which gave the two the opportunity to talk about Voltron, Marvel, and comic ideas. The two hit it off so well Clarke convinced Bryant to join together so they could start writing for comics by 2011.


    Clarke began with a YouTube channel Codename Epic, which was later rebranded as Day Zero but were faced with an issue. When deciding the final name for their company they said they wanted their comic book universe to have people with powers but they could not call them mutants or meta-humans as Marvel and DC own the rights. “We needed our own things, something that was different so we figured an offshoot,” said Clarke. “So we call our people off shoots. We didn't have a name so you know what, let's just call ourselves Off Shoot Comics until we come up with something different and after five years we haven't come up with something better since.”


    Alongside their passion for comics they also share that they are both African Americans who are sons of pastors which has influenced their storytelling to generally abstain from strong language, excessive violence, and explicit material. Thus, this has gotten the attention of parents attending comic conventions with their children. Clarke says, “parents in particular really like Off Shoot Comics because most comic book companies tend to fall on having super bloody stuff or partially dressed women to sell. They want that big visual. Parents look for our booth since we don't have that.”


    Bryant explains, “We produce content that the entire family can enjoy. Our stories are complex enough that adults can find them entertaining and children aren't running into mixed messages.” Alongside being the head editor and author of novels for Off Shoot Comic, he is a married father of three working as a respiratory therapist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “I have to admit that balancing my personal life with my work life and Off Shoot Comics life has been difficult.”


David Clarke also said he works a full-time job at a child care resource center as a facility specialist and is working on a MBA in nonprofit management. “It's a busy job,” said Clarke.


    One of the series they have written “Heroes R Us” is a comic that deals with a toy store that sells super powers. Clarke says, ”Not everything we do is specifically targeted towards children. Our stuff can be read by anybody. That's what we are going for.”


    Since 2013 they launched their campaign “Anyone Can Be A Hero” where they take their artists and writers to orphanages and foster homes to help kids create their own comics, which are then compiled into a book and sold at conventions. The children are also taken to the conventions. Clarke recalls, “The kids loved it. This is the first time the kids have ever been to anything like that. We take this stuff for granted but this was new to them. They have never seen Captain America's shield in real life.”


    Clarke sees the campaign being a meaningful pursuit, “We've already made an impact on a lot of the kids. One that sticks out to me the most was a girl who had cuts all up and down both of her arms. Kind of a hard street kid. Didn't want to hear about any comic books or do anything, but by the end of the event she and her friend teamed up to make a sentient robot whose conscious was a floating head from Mars, and they had fun. Her work ended up being the cover for the book. Some of the girls that we've dealt with have been prostitutes. There are no faces on our website as some of these girls are being looked for by pimps or at risk. For Walter and I, this was something that was totally new and out of our comfort zone but I think it's something that needs to be done. After our first event at Maryvale we were like, I think that this was part of our calling. If we do nothing else with comics I think this is something worthwhile. They've been to all their this, that or the other but for a few hours they’re not that and told they are a creator. A lot of them are talented.”


    Clarke said one of the people who ran the program said they were grateful that their was a lot of men in Off Shoot Comics, as it is good to show them for them that not all guys want to use or hurt them. When Clarke heard that he said, “I hadn't even thought of the different levels we could possibly be impacting these people.”  
    Off Shoot Comics is represented by a firm called More Zap Productions. Eventually, their goal is to have their comics and novels be picked up for animation, TV and movies. They also desire to bring in new talent into the industry.  “People who have a hard time being accepted elsewhere can get a shoot here,” said Clarke. “For example we have one artist Seth Bryant, he’s our youngest artist at 11 years old. Most companies would not have given him a shot without experience but how are they going to get that experience if nobody gives them a shoot. It's our way in changing the industry by giving more people a chance. We want the symbol of Off Shoot to mean something more than just entertainment.”

As a Christian, Clarke holds the belief that, “If I couldn't tell my church I did it, then I wasn't going to do it. We keep things clean because we believe God is watching. Last thing I want to do is die and get to heaven and God says, ‘ I saw what you did there, not happy with that’ I'd like to get some of the world but keep all of my soul. Some people see Christian themes in our writing and we don't mean to put them, but then again we're pastors to kids and that's going to happen. It does effect our [comic] universe works. All our books take place in the same world like Marvel and DC. One of our characters from my first novel “Break Down” has my first Black main character. In the book, the character has his Off Shoot power but also has a secondary power he gets from God which is like an allergic reaction to demons. What we realize was if we have the actual Christian God in this universe that means some of the rules have to change. In our manga ‘Soul Family’ they use God weapons and spirits. Well if God exists that means the Gods in the japanese world  have to be false Gods which added a whole new dimension. We had to go back and rewrite a lot of things. It made [our] world more interesting. We had to reconcile it with our beliefs. We don't compromise our belief for the art, we compromise the art to our beliefs. He assures readers that ‘they're totally enjoyable if you're not a Christian.’”


They don't regard their work as Christian literature but don't deny that it may have religious overtones.  “We do want to show that Christians can have fun too because the best Christian comic book out there is [a] Bible Man,” Clarke says. “Before I die, that can't be the most well known Christian comic book. The Church of Satan released a kids book, if they have a book with the pentagram and the goat head on it, as Christians we got to step it up. The next battlefield is entertainment. My undergrad at CSUN was sociology and one thing we learned was your perception creates your reality, so if you could control what people are perceiving, you’re controlling the reality. If all people are seeing are shows like Lucier and Mr. Pickle [satanic dog on Adult Swim], all they are seeing is negativity and violence then that's going to create the reality, so we want to shift that in a different direction.”


    The company is very diverse, consisting of writers and artists from several different races who are lesbian, gay, transgender and non-believers. “You don't see this kind of make up for a comic book company. We don't discriminate. Jesus didn't hang out with only saints.”