Jazmin Truesdale has always loved reading comic books. But as she grew up, she noticed that female superheroes weren't getting the same attention, storylines or film adaptations that male superheroes were. So she created her own diverse, all-women superhero universe — and it's now her primary source of income.
"I remember going to a comic store and seeing a Wonder Woman comic. I was like, Oh my God, who is that? It didn't occur to me that a woman could be a superhero when I was a kid, but when I saw her comic, it just kicked off this whole thing."
From Durham, North Carolina, Truesdale explored several different career fields in college. She got a bachelor's of exercise science and a bachelor's of business administration from the University of North Carolina, before earning her MBA from Florida Institute of Technology.
But graduating during the Great Recession posed challenges for the 35-year-old.
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"I struggled to find work. So I would intern at a lot of different places," Truesdale tells CNBC Make It. "A lot of different marketing agencies, financial firms, all these different places that all had different elements of business. And I ended up gaining a lot of skill sets and knowledge. But when I would put it on my resume to apply for things, they're like, 'we really wish you would focus more on one thing.' And I'm like, 'but I can do the work. Why does it matter?'"
Though finding her place in the business and finance world was hard, Truesdale found joy in storytelling and being creative. So she decided to make a career out of it — and in 2013, Aza Comics was born.
Here's how Truesdale's 'Aza Universe' came to life, how she's leveraging her skills to elevate her business and her advice for other entrepreneurs.
'I never thought of myself as a creator.'
Truesdale's book series, "The Keepers," takes readers into the Aza Universe and the adventures of five diverse women heroes: Kala, Fenna, Ixchel, Adanna and Amaya. She drew inspiration for these characters from her own personal relationships and some of her favorite actresses, like Maria Felix, Janet Jackson, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner and Dorothy Dandridge.
"I took bits and pieces of their personalities and put them together to create these characters. My friend circle is very diverse. I have a lot of Latina and South Asian friends. And I know if I want to see myself [in comics], they want to see themselves too," Truesdale explains. "So I thought, why don't I have a group of girls from different parts of the world, they come together, and they're just kicking butt all day, every day, taking names and getting into shenanigans like women do."
To better bring her stories to life, she taught herself skills like 3D art, photoshop and animation, as well as studied different genres of writing from comedy to mystery.
Aza Comics has helped Truesdale reach many milestones from being a featured panelist at Comic Con to selling books in over 75 countries, to finally purchasing her dream car, a Mustang. But still, she's hesitant to call herself a creative.
"[In the beginning] I didn't think of myself as an artist or a creative, and I still kind of don't. It's more like it's a means to get a story told. And I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to make that happen."
Leveraging her skills
Truesdale says that her background in business, finance, marketing and consulting has helped her take Aza Comics to the next level.
"When I was struggling to find publishers, I thought, 'why am I looking for publishers when I can just make my own publishing company and do it myself?' And that's what I ended up doing," Truesdale says. She now sells her comics on Amazon and all other major online retailers, including the Aza Comics shop.
"All of my marketing knowledge and my financial knowledge helped with getting funding just everything in terms of the beginning to the end of the business, from concept to fruition. It all applied."
Truesdale also explored a career in personal training and fitness — both themes that she's now incorporating into her storytelling.
"Heart health is super important. That's one of the main killers of women. So I'm trying to utilize my characters to inspire healthy habits and healthy lifestyles. I do superhero workouts, where you actually get to see, based on each character and maybe their power, a custom workout for that particular character that you can follow."
'Find what makes you unique'
Truesdale says the best entrepreneurship advice she's ever received was to carve her own path.
"Find what makes you unique. That differentiation is important because it's the thing that's going to make people come to you over someone else. It's going to be that thing that people love you for."
Furthermore, she says what makes her unique is her ability to empower women without putting down men.
"One thing that guys have said they found interesting with the comics is that I don't man-bash. And I'm like, women are amazing. I don't need to man-bash … it's not necessary. And as much as I love writing about and supporting women, having men support as well is what helps us grow and that helps to reeducate them. Because being alongside a powerful woman is not emasculating, it only makes you stronger."
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