Chris Coleman sat in Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse Inc. on Frankford Avenue, in a black T-shirt reading â€œ#SlayTheDay.â€
â€œBy day, I edit videos,â€ he said, â€œand by night, I edit childrenâ€™s books.â€
Kind of like Superman, but for writing.
The 25-year-old entrepreneur and Philly native is the founder of Â video production company Black Fox Labs and branding company Magic Moment Media. Heâ€™s also about to release the first book in a newÂ series, Adventures with Jade: The Microphone of Friendship. A Los Angeles resident now, heâ€™s back in town to do readings, schedule preorders, and reconnect with educators.
Jade follows a 6-year-old who transports herself to the kingdom of imagination with her stuffed panda, Rhythm, who comes to life. Jade then uses her musical training to save the day and find the microphone of friendship.
For this young, male author, the motivation behind a childrenâ€™s book with a female lead is threefold. Itâ€™s a response to a big need, itâ€™s Disney-inspired, and itâ€™s a nod to his Philly roots in education.
Coleman wasÂ prompted to write the book after watching Disneyâ€™s Moana.Â â€œI started Â researching how many characters are diverse and female in superhero stories, especially for children,â€ he said, â€œand that number is very slim.â€Â He cited a 2011 Florida State University study showing that from 1900 to 2000, only 31 percent of childrenâ€™s books featured a female character as the protagonist or central character.
In 2015, the Cooperative Childrenâ€™s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed 3,200 childrenâ€™s books published in the United States. Only 14 percent had a lead character of color.
Numbers like those are the motivation behind 12-year-old Â Marley Diasâ€™ #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, which she said she started because she grew tired of reading about only â€œwhite boys and their dogs.â€ A similar frustration fueled the creation of the We Need Diverse Books organization, founded by author and former attorney Ellen Oh.
But the cross between representation and education is in Colemanâ€™s blood. Itâ€™s a Philly thing. He grew up in West Oak Lane. â€œItâ€™s easier to come back here and be able to network, reconnect with some of the teachers I had before,â€ said Coleman. In 1967, his grandparents Bill and Liller Green founded theÂ Ivy Leaf School, geared toward African Americans. They were motivated, Coleman said, because many werenâ€™t receiving quality education. What began as a nursery school expanded into a K-8 private school.
â€œItâ€™s really cool to see their impact in the city,â€ said Coleman. The school, which closed in 2008, held a reunion last month at which former students gathered and thanked his grandmother, who is now 88.
AmongÂ the things his grandparents emphasized, he said, was reading. In fact, 90 percent of their students read above their grade levels on standard achievement tests. Their children and grandchildren (who were also students at Ivy Leaf) were no different.
Growing up, Coleman was a big fan of Japanese comics, particularly manga. When the popular and long-running manga â€œNarutoâ€ ended, he had a dream about four kids creating their own manga.
He thought, â€œWhy not write my own stories about diverse characters and bring it into this next generation of storytelling?â€ he said.
The result was Beta Crew: Saving Kodon, published last year, which follows four kids from Philadelphia who are transported to another galaxy where superheroes come to life.
The crew consists of Â Jason King, who is African American; Courtney Garcia, who is Mexican American; Klaus Smith, who is mixed-race; and Nike Chung, who is Â Asian American. In the story, they must use newfound powers to make their way back home.
Fellow author Julia Bates read Â Beta Crew: Saving Kodon and an advance copy of Adventures with Jade and loved the books because, she said, they â€œare truly intersectional and represent kids that childrenâ€™s books often donâ€™t have.â€
Bates, a graduate student in communications at Arizona State University, is researching representation and messaging in childrenâ€™s books. She said sheâ€™s found that â€œchildren who see themselves as superheroes are more engaged in learning and are more excited about it.â€
â€œHeâ€™s relatable in his writing,â€ she said of Coleman. â€œHeâ€™s learned how to break down themes in a way that children understand, and it really reaches them.â€
And not only children. Auburn Hernandez, Â 25, Â read an advance copy of Jade to her friendâ€™s 6-year-old son and found herself connecting with the story.Â â€œIt actually took me back to a time in my life when I was in fourth grade and was bullied,â€ said Hernandez. Â â€œI walked up to her and said, â€˜I know youâ€™re being a bully Â because there are things going on in your life,â€™ and now sheâ€™s one of my Â best friends.â€
Colemanâ€™s work will also be multiplatform, combining technology and traditional storytelling. Jade comes with a mobile app, a recording of a song, a digital coloring book, and a heroâ€™s certificate.
â€œBooks are an experience and arenâ€™t just meant to be read,â€ he said. â€œAt least for this generation and how kids use technology. Theyâ€™re born with it, so if youâ€™re just giving them a book to read, theyâ€™re going to get bored.â€
ForÂ a self-published author, getting out books can become costly. Coleman funded the illustration of the book, paid an editor for revision, and paid a singer-songwriter to write a sound track. Last week, he launched a Â KickstarterÂ campaign with a goal of $40,000 to print the first 1,000 signed copies and to finish the app.
But though Coleman is a new-school entrepreneur, his ambitions are still old-school.
â€œHonestly, I want to be like Disney, because, even though heâ€™s dead, when you say, â€˜Disney,â€™ you donâ€™t think of the person but the company who created these beautiful projects,â€ he said. â€œI want my work to be timeless.â€