D.J. Kirkland-DeJesus (B.F.A., sequential art, 2009) is an artist, manga devotee, and co-creator with writer Daniel Barnes of the hit graphic novel The Black Mage (Oni Press, 2019). A native of Charlotte, NC, Kirkland is committed to raising the profile of Black and LGBTQ artists and storytellers.
“There are not a lot of Black queer persons in our industry,” D.J. says. “If I can be an example for even one other kid, then I’ve succeeded.”
The Black Mage is a celebration of diversity and a condemnation of small mindedness. The main character, Tom Token, deals with the same issues marginalized children face growing up in their communities on a daily basis. Bullying. Stereotypes. Ignorance. Hate.
In addition to The Black Mage, D.J. has illustrated Oni Press titles including Dream Daddy (Oni Press, 2019) and Aggretsuko (Oni Press, 2020). D.J. also works at Viz Media as a digital publishing production assistant, where he ensures the quality of the firm’s anime shows before release.
I found my love of art at an early age. My mom and dad worked hard to give me the typical suburban childhood. Sometimes that meant I would be left with a box of crayons, reams of printing paper, and Sailor Moon cartoons to keep me occupied until dinner was ready. I loved drawing, and that turned into a love for storytelling.
My first art teacher was my friend’s mom, Mrs. Pittman. She was a local artist in Charlotte who hosted art classes for kids in the neighborhood. I was always coming home with little projects for my mom to hang up. When I was 13 my parents put me in more formal drawing classes.
I grew up watching anime, believing one day I would be the one creating the magic, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. When I first heard about SCAD, I learned they offered programs for both sequential art and animation. Since I wanted to make both cartoons and comics. I knew I wanted to go to SCAD.
Professor John Larison (M.F.A., sequential art, 1998) single-handedly defined my sequential art experience at SCAD. I love him with every piece of my being. He pushed me to be my best, and was a huge advocate for me. In quarters when I didn’t have classes with him, I would hang out with him during his office hours. Most importantly, he helped me showcase my work to ONI Press when editors from ONI visited SCAD to give guest critiques of student portfolios.
In 2015, I was at PAX West in Seattle and dropped by the ONI booth. Charlie Chu, their VP of creative and business development, asked: “Are you still interested in comics? We’ve got an open submission for a book called The Black Mage.”
The rest is history, but I wouldn’t have gotten that book if I hadn’t already met Charlie at SCAD. Daniel and I are now looking to continue the story of The Black Mage and take it from the page to the screen. I envision a kid in his house, crayons splayed out across the table, drawing Tom Token the way I drew Sailor Moon, and telling his parents, “I am going to do this when I grow up.”
By Robert Almand