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Superheroes from the Bronx

They do it for the love of comic art, to help change lives of the children in their community, and to rejuvenate comic art in the Bronx. Ed Mouzon and his partners are some of the key players in the independent comic art movement, started in the ’90s, that is responsible for reviving the deep-rooted comic art heritage in the Bronx.

The Bronx is his inspiration, Mouzon said. “I only need a pencil to doodle what I visualize in the streets of the Bronx.”

Mouzon’s draftsmanship is rich in details and colors, and his characterizations are filled with nuance. The 47-year-old said he has drawn 9,000 comic characters just by observing the streets. “The Bronx is a fertile soil for me,” he said.”These characters are us.”

In the early ’90s when the indie comic came into its own, a team of local comic artists, including Mouzon and his longtime friend Gary Camp, founded  Creative One Comics, an independent comic publishing group based in the Bronx. “We just sat at a round table, and said there will be no hierarchy among us, thus we shall call it ‘One’,” Mouzon said.

Their mission was to focus on intelligent storytelling and promote positive messages — and to stay “independent”.

They maintained a roving office with no permanent space for a studio. “Our studio is where ever we are,” Mouzon said. “We meet at our own areas. We connect with young artists at open door spaces. We do it at a dining table, or while watching a horror movie, I even do the planning during the train trips.”

Creative One Comics publishes many books about Bronx politics and society: The BlakelyverseAn Industrial Strength taste-testLa Mala NocheLittle Miss Strange, and Pozitron. But the remarkable breakthrough was Bronx Heroes — a three-part mini series and a political statement in the guise of a comic book.

Bronx Heroes was first issued in 2007. “It moved us the most, it brought us an audience,” said Mouzon. “It got us in conventions, but it was only a bridge to what’s next for us.”

The sweeping story-telling enthusiasm has brought Mouzon and his partners a ringside view of the United States and Bronx history. “History was the glue for all our Bronx heroes,” said Mouzon.

Camp, 42, said, “We take history events like the Great Depression, and the 70s when the Bronx was burning, and spin it in a way, on superheroes.”

Mouzon, a Bronxite by birth and upbringing, studied zoology in college in Massachusetts but is a self-taught artist. He attended St. Raymond High School for Boys at a time when budget cuts meant no art classes.

“I started drawing when I was 4,” he said. “I was a good visualizer.”

Comic art became for him an act of redemption and a sacred calling especially after he  had  tumor in his right eye when he was 14 that almost cost him his sight.

Mouzon eventually returned to St. Raymond to teach art.  “I teach visual art, filmmaking, and storytelling, but above all I give the kids the spirit on how to become successful,” he said.

“Mouzon is very attached to his students,” Camp said. “I appreciate him for keeping it to the kids.”

Mouzon said he wants his students to surpass him. One example is a former student he urged to study art at the University of Southern California. “This kid is an intern now at Disney,” Mouzon said.

Mouzon also works with community centers in the Bronx to promote art within the borough.

At the moment, he is working with The Bronx River Art Center and students from the Junior High School at Morrison Avenue on an environmental awareness comic book. “It’s called Bronx Go Green,” said Mouzon, who meets once a week with 15 kids to work on the environmentally themed heroes drawings. “It’s the kids’ initiative and effort,” Mouzon said. “I am only putting it together, playing the role of a publisher.”

Ed Mouzon and Gary Camp showing some comic sketches (MAHMOUD SABBAGH/The Bronx Ink)

Mouzon and his partners think of themselves as community activists.

“We are not making money,” said Camp. “We don’t work for DC Comics or Marvel. I appreciate Spiderman, but if we work there, we won’t be able to be as active in the Bronx community.”

“Here we can help the kids, do conventions, write for the kids, and be able to immerse ourselves in the community to personify street characters from the Bronx,” said Mouzon.

He added: “We keep our day jobs to pay the bills, then we do it for the love.”

The group’s future plans includes re-launching the Creative One Comics website, and creating a studio to branch out into visual art, urban street art, video games art, to get a wider appeal and to expand the niche, as they continue publishing.

They also plan to publish a new series called Old City — a series of multicultural heroes who build collective power to fight crime, injustice, racism and social prejudice during the the Great Depression. Taking some of the characters from their old series,  Bronx Heroes, the new series aims to focus on the Bronx’s multicultural mix.

Many of the greatest comic artists of the past century — Stan Lee, Will Eisner, John Collins, Bob Kane — lived in the Bronx.

“It’s a legacy that we have give to the next generation, or it will die,” said Mouzon.

He added: “We just want to make books in a collective effort. That’s our model.”

For now, Mouzon and his partners enjoy their vision of success. They make no secret of their credo. It’s on the cover page of the last issue of Bronx Heroes: they “will not yield to evil.”

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