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Jamar Nicholas changing face of superheroes for next generation

Meet the West Philly cartoonist who's changing face of superheroes for next gen
Meet the West Philly cartoonist who's changing face of superheroes for next gen 03:12

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- An award-winning cartoonist from West Philadelphia is changing the face of superheroes in comic books while inspiring the next generation.

What starts as a black-and-white sketch transforms into one-of-a-kind superheroes of color.

Inside award-winning cartoonist Jamar Nicholas' comic series "Leon the Extraordinary," an ordinary kid redefines what it means to be a superhero.


The mission is personal.

"I get to tell really fantastic stories about a kid whose superpower is common sense," Nicholas said.

Nicholas created Leon, a Black superhero, nearly 20 years ago after realizing growing up that he didn't see superheroes who looked like him.

"For a long time," Nicholas said, "we haven't seen heroes that look like him. I won't say I'm the first, but I'm really glad to have the lenses on me to tell really positive stories like a character like this."

Now, Leon is one of many diverse characters, part of a continuing graphic novel series with Scholastic's Graphix.

"Being able to have that book be in front of kids all over the U.S. and the world is fantastic," Nicholas said. "And I always wanted kids to be able to read my stuff and how cool is it that I made him up out of my head." 

By putting his imagination on paper, Nicholas taps into his childhood. bringing him back to what it would have meant to his younger self if a book like Leon was around.  

"If I was 10 years old and I was able to go into a library and pick up Leon," Nicholas said, "I'd think, man, I think I would have shot just shot straight up to the moon. So, I'm going to make that space for kids."

Nicholas grew up in West Philly. He says he uses parts of his own childhood to influence events and even characters within his book.

"Just being from Philly and growing up the way that I did really informs how Leon looks at the world," he said. "So, I think being a city kid is a big part of his character." 

His work is getting recognized nationally.

He's won the Glyph Comics Award for best writer and the Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics in 2018.


"Black History Month to me means the celebration of achievements that happen all year long," Nicholas said, "but this is a moment to have a spotlight."

But it's his fanbase, little Black boys and girls, he takes pride in the most.

"I just heard this the other day, a kid said, 'this is my favorite book,' and that's fantastic," Nicholas said. "That melts anyone's heart." 

Proving that sometimes the most influential superpowers are the ones that stand out.

"Just because you haven't seen it yet doesn't mean it's not for you," Nicholas said, "so give it a shot." 

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