Betting On ‘Blak’

Flipping through his art portfolio one day, Mark Davis inadvertently introduced a concept that would take Imajimation Studios — the startup animation business where he worked as an illustrator — to the next level. The characters he sketched donned baggy jeans, do-rags, and gold medallions. Mark called them “the heads on the block.”

The studio’s chairman, who had been peeking over Mark’s shoulder, was impressed. He wanted to see more. The Blokhedz comic book was soon born, and now a Blokhedz animated feature film is in production.

Los Angeles-based Imajimation Studios, which began creating animated spots for UPN, Adidas, BET, and R&B singer Toni Braxton in June 2000, launched Street Legends Ink, its publishing and toy division, in December 2003. “We had these high-profile clients but we really came into the business to have our own original property out there — our Donald Duck, our Mickey Mouse,” says Brandon Schultz, 31, president of the company. “That’s where Blokhedz came in.”

Blokhedz is the story of Blak, a project-dwelling aspiring rapper who finds out he has a supernatural power to control people with his rhymes. The same company that distributes comic book giants Spider-Man and Batman, Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., distributes Blokhedz.

Shultz and his father, Michael Schultz — director of Car Wash, and Cooley High, — started Imajimation with two friends and about $30,000 from the older Schultz. They bought a couple of Macintosh computers, set up an animation table in a small Santa Monica, California, office, and began working.

Mark, 29, quickly joined Shultz’s operation and soon after, his twin brother and Blokhedz co-creator Mike, began working with them, too. They all knew each other from attending college in Atlanta, where the twins constantly drew in sketchbooks at Morris Brown and Shultz wrote screenplays at Morehouse. They learned, though, that running a studio takes a lot more than drawing and writing.

“I’m more of an artist and there’s an art to business itself. It’s a little challenging,” says Mike, who, like his brother, is an art director and partner in the company. Mark is responsible for drawing, Mike for coloring, and Brandon for writing the comic book; they’re all accountable for marketing, promotion, and financial and legal matters associated with the five-employee business.

Imajimation made about $340,000 in 2004, which includes revenues from the sale of the first three issues of Blokhedz. The company is expected to take in $500,000 in revenues this year. Most of Imajimation’s money comes from animation-for-hire work, like a recent anime short the company created for the bonus DVD on the Blade: Trinity soundtrack. Street Legends’ biggest moneymaker is its line of limited-edition vinyl toys based on Blokhedz characters.

“The thing that we’re having problems with is black kids don’t really go to comic book stores because they’re not really in our communities,” Mark says. Nevertheless, Blokhedz is a hit in the hip-hop community, where it garnered praise and marketing support from impresario Russell Simmons, who has promoted the comic book through his Hip Hop Summit Action Network.

“It’s not just people of color buying it. Other