© 2020 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Arts

St. Louis Filmmaker Works Favorite Black Comic Book Characters Into His Movies

"Static" and "Icon" were directed by David Kirkman. They're fan films based on the characters created by Milestone Media.
MOJO and Kevin Lindsey
"Static" and "Icon" were directed by David Kirkman. They're fan films based on the characters created by Milestone Media.

When David Kirkman was a boy, he loved to watch episodes of “Static Shock,” an animated series about a black teenage superhero who could shoot electricity out of his hands.

Kirkman was so taken by the show that he began making films. Starting in 2017, he brought the characters to life in his own film, “Static,” a live-action adaptation of the original. The film was uploaded on Youtube this year and has about 900,000 views and attracted the attention of Netflix, which had Kirkman screen the film at its headquarters. It’s also jump-started the 24-year-old’s career.

“I'm just a kid from Ferguson, right? And a few months ago, I was out in Netflix for a whole week,” Kirkman said.  

Six years ago, he had no idea that his future included making movies. Then a high school graduation gift changed everything. 

“I grew up wanting to do music and music production, and that was like my passion, that was my drug, that was my love,” Kirkman said. “But a shift happened for me. My senior year, my parents bought me a small DSLR camera, and I ended up making a feature film.”

Kirkman has no intention of releasing the film. But it was a valuable training ground. Now with a few films completed, he’s more than happy to share the work he’s made since then. That’s why he’s trying to get local theaters to screen his latest film, “Icon.”

Filmmaker David Kirkman founded Woke Nation Entertainment. His films have been screened internationally including in Berlin and London.
David Kirkman

The movie is based on the superhero Icon, an alien from another world who disguises himself as a black man when arriving on Earth. The character becomes a crime fighter in his community who takes on supervillains.

Like "Static," "Icon" was created by comic book company Milestone Media. The company, now owned by D.C. Comics, was started in the 1990s by African American illustrators and writers to introduce more black superheroes into the comic book world. That mission especially appealed to Kirkman, who started his own production company, Woke Nation Entertainment, to highlight storytellers from various backgrounds.

“Me being a black gay man, of course, I have no other option but to be inclusive,” Kirkman said. “That is just through and through, the bloodstream of our culture and our environment.”

But Kirkman and Woke Nation also are known for those comic book adaptations, commonly known as fan films. The genre consists of content created by fans of the series. Those films are especially popular on websites such as YouTube where content creators can easily upload the work online for fan communities to discuss. 

“With fan fiction, you don't have some huge studio with a mandate that has to touch a broader audience,” said Carl Reed, the president of Lion Forge Animation, a St. Louis based animation studio. “You actually get that fan love that knows the source material and that wants to share their perspectives on it.”

Some of Milestone Media’s founders have shared their appreciation of Kirkman’s work online, reaching thousands of fans.

Kirkman’s films have caught the attention of film buffs around the world. Last November, “Static” was shown at the Black Speculative Arts Movement in Berlin. The event highlighted Afrofuturistic work, science fiction rooted in the black experience.

Kirkman’s work has universal appeal, said Natasha Kelly, a curator for the event. She said Kirkman’s work has universal appeal but is especially important for black kids.

“Screening the film here for me was a way to show the kids here especially, ‘Hey, this is what you can do, this is something that Afrofuturism allows you to do,” Kelly said. “You can put your heart in a project and this is something that can come out of it.”

Kirkman hopes to capture that black imagination with each of his upcoming films. He’s working on “Static 2,” another Milestone Media adaptation, and he’s bringing the work on his own original content.

“My allegiance is definitely toward reclaiming the black imagination and giving voices to underrepresented people in our particular community,” Kirkman said. “That’s what’s important to me.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.