HBO Max is wading into original adult animation with its upcoming series, OBI.
The show is created and partly inspired by cartoonist Obi Arisukwu, AKA Obi Aris, and will be produced by Michal B. Jordan. The series will follow Obi, a 30-year-old “man-child” who dreams of becoming an artist and is based on Arisukwu’s popular Instagram comic series.
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Arisukwu spoke with In The Know about his passion for art, love of cartoons and bringing his perspective to HBO Max.
“I started drawing when I was a toddler,” Arisukwu told In The Know. “I just loved drawing ever since, you know, cartoons like the Ninja Turtles … [It] kept me in love with drawing and being an artist.”
But the Los Angeles transplant from Texas said he tried to “run” from his eventual path.
“When I was a kid, like, I always wanted to be a cartoonist,” he said. “But I felt like cartoons don’t make money. So I was always trying to find different paths, you know, for my career, even though I still love to draw.”
Around 2014, Arisukwu had a corporate job. But he started to see how Instagram allowed artists to showcase their work.
“So I just started drawing and posting my work on social media,” Arisukwu explained. “I just really fell in love with it all over again because I see art as something that can’t be mastered. However, that’s the fun in it — trying to master, trying to get better.”
His parents were always supportive of his career. When he left his corporate job to pursue life as an artist they were pretty understanding.
“Both my parents are immigrants, they’re both Nigerian immigrants. So to have immigrant parents who are like, ‘Alright, you want to quit your job to be an artist? Go ahead.’ They’re like, ‘Alright, just move back in the house and do what you got to do.’ It was very peculiar and I love them for that, for sure,” he said.
Luckily Arisukwu’s dreams were well within reach. He always wanted to have his own cartoon and now it’s happening. Thanks to his favorite character and star of his comic strips, Obi.
“My dream is to have my very own cartoon and right now with having an opportunity with HBO Max to have that dream come to life with that character, like, that’s my baby. Like I might get that character tattooed on my chest because I love it so much. So that’s always gonna be my favorite piece of art,” Arisukwu said.
The Obi comic focuses on relatable millennial issues but Arisukwu made it a point to also center his perspective as a Black man.
“The comic strips, in general, were just like loosely based on, you know, just the everyday things that we just go through [as] millennials,” he said. “I’m taking people’s dating experiences or my dating experiences … Whatever it is and kind of making it to where people can just resonate. This cartoon is not just about me, it’s about society as a whole. It’s just kind of through the lens of a Black person. But it’s definitely a cartoon that everybody can watch.”
But diversity isn’t only about Arisukwu sharing his point-of-view, it’s also about how he illustrates his work. The creators of Nickelodeon’s Doug famously drew characters in different colors to signify diversity and many viewers perceived Skeeter as Black, even though he was blue. Arisukwu however, draws his characters with realistic skin tones.
“My biggest thing that I want to do when it comes to bringing diversity, especially with my Obi cartoon, is that I want to show the world that we live in as Black people, that’s not all about us getting shot by the police,” Arisukwu explained. “Like, we’re more than just victims all the time. I want to have four Black main characters who literally are just living life trying to make it in this world.”
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