Tamia Parker was a character inspired from the first round of youth collaborations in the West Side of Chicago. During those initial collaborations, Jimmy Briseno met with a number of youth who shared initial ideas for comic characters and story lines. One of those youth was a young African American girl from that West-Side neighborhood.
The young woman’s initial question to Jimmy was whether the comic stories could be based on be based on real life, and more specifically, relationships? When Jimmy affirmed that the characters and stories could be about whatever she wanted, she would go on to describe a recent relationship experience which was characterized by drama, deception and ultimately, heartbreak.
But as she explained her experience and her story premise, the young woman also emphasized to Jimmy that she didn’t want to tell this story to focus on a broken heart and the related drama from her relationship, but rather, she wanted to emphasize how that experience ultimately helped her grow as a person and look within herself to find her value as a woman.
And from there, the inspiration for the comic character of Tamia Parker was born, which we hope will in turn inspire many more collaborations to come.
A Tragic Love Story on the Southside of Chicago
Written by Len Kody
Is there anything as powerful and mysterious as first love?
The dizzying highs and lows have long inspired song and verse. Tamia Parker, like so many young girls her age, confides her deepest thoughts and feelings to a well-worn journal that she always carries with her.
For Tamia, her poems and drawings are both an escape and an inward journey of exploration to the potent and turbulent depths within herself. Adolescence is a time of profound inner and outer change, after all—a metamorphosis. In the rough waters of constant change, it can be difficult for some teens to find their place of centeredness—their axis mundi.
Young girls, especially, are often discouraged from developing their own voice and speaking their truth. This leads to a sense of inferiority and “smallness” among many young women. They don’t think their words and actions matter as much.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
We present Tamia’s self-esteem struggles visually by depicting her dreamworld avatar as a Fairie that has not yet blossomed into the full flowering of maturity. In Tamia’s dreams, she takes on the appearance and abilities of the Fairie. And, as the Fairie grows and evolves, so too will Tamia’s own sense of centeredness within herself.
An Unforgettable Chicago Summer
Perhaps it is a lack of centeredness that leaves so many teens vulnerable to manipulation by others. For Tamia, naive to the often treacherous ways of young love, she simply trusted too much.
During one unforgettable summer, she developed very strong feelings for an older boy in her Southside Chicago neighborhood. Wilson no longer attends New City High, where Tamia is currently a sophomore. He used to play basketball there. Wilson represented for Tamia an intoxicating mix of male athletic ability and a whiff of mature confidence she’d only seen in adults. Being a somewhat shy and serious girl for her age, his attentions were more than she could resist—not that she was all that interested in resisting.
And Wilson certainly appreciated the 10 fold attention she reciprocated. Wilson is good at cultivating attention for himself. He certainly enjoys receiving it from pretty young girls. Wilson basked in the warm glow of Tamia’s constant attention all summer long.
Autumn as the End of Innocence for Our Heroine
The sharp, cold winds of autumn also reveal long-hidden truths. When the neighborhood kids go back to school, and the recent grads go off to the working world, higher education or to any number of adult endeavors, Wilson stays home, eschewing responsibility. He falls in with a group of troublemaking neighborhood boys who keep similarly idle agendas: no job, no educational ambitions and no other interests besides a hedonistic pursuit of the diversions of the moment.
As the leaves fall from the knotted old oaks, Back of the Yards, Tamia begins to sense the imbalance in her relationship. Was she just another of Wilson’s diversions? He walks her to school every morning, but then what does he do all day? And why has the boy who basked in her attention all summer long begun to respond sharply to her probing questions? Tamia is a mature young woman. Wilson’s age was once something that drew her to him. His potential and potency were why she fell in love with him. But in the same way that the falling leaves expose a great tree’s spindly branches, Wilson’s true nature is slowly revealed to Tamia.
She unwittingly becomes entangled in a love triangle of sorts with Wilson and another girl at her school named Natalie.
Tamia begins to hear rumors that her boyfriend, Wilson, was already seeing Natalie when the young lovers met. The revelation tests her sense of self as everything she believes (and wants to believe) is called into question.
The Transformative Power of Creativity
When the real world seems like a dream, Tamia turns to creativity to map her inner reality. The after school arts program in Room 23 and its kind, clever, though peculiar facilitator, Mr. Castaneda, encourage her to develop her art and writing.
Tamia’s creativity enhances her resilience but also her intuition as her dreams begin revealing exactly what Wilson has been hiding from her (and the truths she’s hidden from herself).
Issue #1 of Back of the Yards ends in a shocking revelation: Tamia learns that Natalie is pregnant with Wilson’s child.
This fact is confirmed to Tamia when she finally confronts her ex-boyfriend after hearing the rumors from other kids at her school. To overcome the heartbreak and betrayal, Tamia will have to summon vast reservoirs of strength. Though she may be in for a surprise when she learns the extent of all that she is capable of.
In the after school arts program, Tamia strikes up an immediate friendship with Russell. Even though he is younger, the pair seem to resonate on a similar frequency. Both have deep and complex inner lives. Also, Tamia may envy Russell’s sense of wonder and innocence. As we go through periods of growth in our lives, as Tamia is, the exchange we often make for greater power and self-mastery often comes at the expense of our innocence.
Summoning the Fairie
Tamia and Russell share more than a budding, though innocent friendship. The two appear to be linked in an as-yet inexplicable way in their dreams.
Both Russell (as Teshue) and his cousin, Draymond (as Shiro) are capable of summoning familiars to their aid. Shiro’s brutish and assertive personality is matched by his pet, Enyo, a feral war-hound with a pair of curving horns atop her head. She is a loyal and ferocious wolf that obeys Shiro’s every command.
Teshue has a more difficult time summoning his familiar, the Fairie, who seems to have a will all her own. Russell is not yet aware that the Fairie does, indeed, have a will of her own because she is Tamia’s dreamworld avatar.
The difficulty that Tamia—and, by extension, Russell—have in harnessing the power of the Fairie is indicative of the extent of her power. As the Fairie continues to evolve, more powers and abilities will be revealed. But until then, both Tamia and Russell will struggle greatly to truly know themselves.
Perhaps it is some intuitive knowledge of this great yet deeply hidden power still locked within both Tamia and Russell that draws them together as allies in the seen and unseen worlds.
Their heroic journeys are quite different than that of Andre, who experiences his power in a sudden, almost uncontrollable rush. Even so, Andre is linked to the other two in ways he’s only beginning to figure out for himself.
The Call to Adventure Beyond Time and Space
When Andre is called to the craft of the Secret Chiefs, it is by a sound that resonates beyond this dimension. It is a single note from the music of the spheres, a tone that can only be heard by those chosen to hear it.
Andre eagerly answers his call to adventure. But, because of the non-linear nature of higher dimensional travel, it isn’t until a bit later that we learn the source of that call: Tamia in her Fairie-form.
Tamia was, in fact, summoned by Russell (as Teshue), who, at a key moment that would have sent many others into panic, Russell instead becomes calm and focused. His mind quieted by a deep sense of concentration from the still waters within his psyche, Teshue beckons the Fairie to join the battle.
The Fairie cries out her extra-dimensional alarm, back through time and up into the mysterious craft from which Andre incredulously observes the perilous goings-on below. When Andre emerges to save the day in his heightened, lion-form, the paradoxical time loop is closed. The cycle is complete.
Andre makes quick work of the bullies who threaten Teshue and Shiro. It’s at this point when an epiphany strikes Tamia, too. One of the thugs seems to have a connection to her philandering boyfriend, Wilson. Tamia’s intuitive dream senses provide her some glimpse of the truth. Natalie is pregnant with Wilson’s child.
Mr. Castaneda’s Guidance and Made Collaborative’s Purpose
Mr. Castaneda can see the potential brewing within all the students he’s personally chosen to take part in his after school arts program. Exactly who Mr. Castaneda is and what his connection might be to the bizarre, god-like travelers known as the Secret Chiefs is a story for another day. But whatever his ultimate purpose may be, his current agenda seems focused on pushing his students—like Tamia—to explore the bounds of their creative powers.
Tamia will develop a unique relationship with Mr. Castaneda, who will provide a comforting perspective as she struggles through her relationship troubles, and who will challenge her to become more when he believes she is ready to accept the truth about her power.
As she cries one night, after having had a fight with Wilson, she thinks to herself, between sobs, that art is how one can make their true selves visible to the world. This is more than Mr. Castaneda’s comforting wisdom, and more than a creative conceit of our far-out comic book adventure. It is Made Collaborative’s mission to make visible the hidden power of the project’s participating urban youth.
By helping to give a voice to the real kids in the Made Collaborative Project, we hope to unleash the limitless power within each of them.
Early Concept Sketches (By Eric Nyamor)
Early Character Concept Sketches by Eric Nyamor