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S&A RISING Awards Digital: Obi Arisukwu On His Creative Journey, Project With HBO Max

Client: Obi Arisukwu – Writer, Creator, Animator

Earlier this year, WarnerMedia broke the news that they were developing several new shows including the HBO Max animated original, OBI, an animated series from S&A RISING Awards Digital 2021 honoree, Obi Arisku.

OBI is set to chronicle a “30-year old man-child chasing his dream to become an artist while navigating adulthood with his friends."

With Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society among the producers, the project has managed to pique the interest of not only fellow Blerds, but those of us who want representation that isn’t tied to a tired negative stereotype.

In an interview with Shadow and Act, Arisukwu described being a creative soul from as early as he could remember.

“When I was kid, I enjoyed doing it," he explained. "I enjoyed drawing pretty much my entire life. I’ve always wanted to create art. As a kid I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I kind of ran away from it because at seven or ten years old, I don’t’ know where this came from, but I thought cartoonists didn’t make any money. I don’t know where I got that mindset from [laughs].

Although he may not have wanted a career due to the possible lack of financial stability, Arisukwu continued honing his skillset

“My dean in high school saw me drawing homecoming T-shirts," he said. "She told me she was going to force me to take art. She immediately pulled me out of my classes so that I could take art, but it has been like that even in elementary school. People were supportive. My parents are super supportive with me being an artist. They’ve always been supportive. Even when I wanted to be a rapper when I was 15, they would take me and pick me up from the studio. My parents just wanted me to be happy at whatever I did.”

In college, Arisukwu originally pursued a degree in Computer Science. That later changed to Business Marketing before he ultimately majored in Graphic Design. At no point could he ever abandon or escape his creative calling. After completing his undergraduate degree, Obi began freelancing as a graphic designer before he joined Corporate America as a graphic designer in the Oil and Gas industry. It was in this chapter of his life that the joy in what he had done for many years was stolen.

“Corporate America actually killed my joy for graphic design,” he continued. “Social Media played a big role because it actual enhanced my feeling to draw again.”

After seeing creators use Instagram to showcase their work, it inspired him began publishing his own. “I was posting my work even if it wasn’t good," he told us. "I kept drawing and drawing. I got to the point that I was drawing at work when I was suppose to be working on these presentations or whatever I’m doing. So in 2017, I decided to quit my job and become an artist."

He explained to us in detail, “It was in the summertime, I had my own place, I had money saved up, I was with this girl I was dating. That was in July. By the time October hit, I was broke, I moved back in with my parents and the girl who I was dating said we were done, she isn’t dealing with me. I was literally in a downward spiral. From July to October, I was trying everything to get noticed. I did cartoons of celebrities, made Youtube tutorials, did children’s books for Beyonce’s kids before they came out of her belly- the twins. No one knew if the twins would be identical or fraternal, but off of rumors I created the books preparing for the announcement to release them. The girl I was dating at the time ‘said’ she gave them to Ms. Tina Knowles, and got no response, nothing from it. It was just a downward spiral.”

In December of that same year, he decided to create a comic strip [OBI] that made fun of his life and current situation.

“It was the most engagement I ever got on a post," Arisuwku added. "I dropped it on a Friday and every Friday I dropped a new comic strip. I did this for an entire year. I began getting more engagement and followers. In 2018, I did an illustration for This Is America [Childish Gambino]. That was my very first viral piece. I remember I couldn’t get any rest the ticker just kept going off. I got like 30,000 likes in 24 hours. That gave me some connections.”

He went on to create several more viral pieces that included a rendition of Will and Jaden Smith. In 2018, he continued working on his cartoon while becoming a fan favorite. In 2019, The Grio cast him to be a part of a millennial talk show in development that would be in digital space. However, the show fell through before it ever got off the ground.

“I came to LA and got an AirBnB for two weeks. It was expensive so I decided to get an apartment. I always said if I moved to LA it would be because someone brought me here,” he continued. “I took that as a sign. The show stopped before it started within the same month, but I decided to stay out here anyway...continue what I’m doing…build connections, work and grind.”

He ended up finishing the pitch deck for a cartoon script he was working on Taking the advice of a friend, he emailed his project to Studio 71. To his surprise, Arisuwku received a response two days later from David de Vries. With the help of de Vries, they were able to bring on award-winning writer Arthur Harris (The Last OG, Family Reunion and co-creator of OBI), and set a meeting with Michael B Jordan and his team at Outlier Society. From there, things took off. OBI was pitched, and ultimately acquired by HBO Max.

“In 2019, I’m working on the script," he explained of the timeline. "In the beginning of 2020, MBJ says ‘let's do this’ and now in 2021, HBO Max is releasing information that they have a cartoon in the works. It’s been about 18 months. I’ve learned so much. I’ve been told by people in the industry that this is the fastest they have seen something like this occur”.

The show promises to be an animation that everyone will enjoy. “OBI is the daily experiences we all can relate to, it’s just from the Black perspective," he said. "We always see us getting shot. We see slavery and racial injustice all the time. Sometimes we [Black people] need to escape from that. We’re more than the racial shit that happens to us. We have other things going on too. This cartoon will have moments where it does address being Black , but it’ll still have the comedy element to it. We’re more than our racial injustices. We have problems with Sallie Mae. We have problems with Baby Showers, have problems with dating and relationships, we have money problems. We have problems with our parents This show is about all the day-to-day, societal issues that go through as Black people that other races can relate to as well and laugh at with us.”


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