After signing a first-look deal with Nelvana, Indigenous illustrator/writer Kyle Charles is ready to take on new challenges and bring his ideas to screen for the first time.
The agreement was announced at the end of June and will see Charles, who is a member of the Whitefish Lake First Nation, develop original TV and film concepts for both kids and adults. He’s expected to come up with 10 ideas over the span of two years, three of which the Toronto-based studio will move into development.
Charles has already presented three concepts, including a kids show that he hopes has co-viewing potential; an older-skewing feature film that’s a provocative satire of Canada; and a superhero story told through the lens of a modern-day Indigenous person, which he thinks is his ace in the hole since it combines Nelvana’s needs with his expertise.
He pushed the boundaries with a few of his concepts, not knowing if Nelvana would want edgier projects, features or content for more mature audiences. But so far, nobody has told him no.
“Nelvana obviously needs some Indigenous stories in their lineup. I’m excited to play my role [and] create content and narratives that are important to me and, I assume, the rest of our community,” says Charles.
The prodco initially approached him via email, saying they were familiar with his work and wanted to sign a first-look deal. The outreach was a surprise, and Charles says it changed his life in an instant.
He originally had a different career path in mind, and was planning to stay in the world of comic books for the long haul. He got his start with a horror graphic novel series 68 Scars in 2012, and later worked with publications such as Heavy Metal and OnSpec Magazine, and on comics including This Place: 150 Years Retold.
Charles was asked to illustrate Marvel Voices: Indigenous Voices #1, and while he received a lot of attention in the Canadian media for his work, he didn’t enjoy the mainstream side of the comic industry. In 2018, he went freelance focusing on indie publications and has the opportunity to contribute to several large brands.
Looking ahead to the next stage of his career, a big priority for Charles is to highlight Indigenous voices.
“I know that there isn’t a lot of content being created by Native creators, but I think there’s going to be a need for it soon,” he says. “I wanted to get ahead of [the demand] and focus all of my attention on doing Indigenous-created projects.”
Earlier this year, Charles launched Unregistered Studios, which he envisioned as an agency and training ground for Indigenous comic book artists. He sees it as a chance to help connect other Indigenous creators with new projects, and also to offer industry-specific training and networking opportunities.
“I want to make sure that Indigenous creators get paid fairly and on time,” says Charles. “That’s probably the biggest hurdle in this industry that I’ve encountered.”
While he always intended to expand into animation a few years down the line, when Charles received the email from Nelvana, he saw a chance to break in a lot sooner.
“This gives me the opportunity to do something that I haven’t done since I was a kid, which is dream up stories. I used to do that all day long—just fill up sketchbooks with ideas,” says Charles. “I’ve studied a lot of narrative and story structure, and now I’m finally in an arena where [Nelvana] needs stories and ideas, [and] I’m prepared [to deliver them].”
Regardless of how the deal with Nelvana works out, or which ideas actually make it to screen, the most important thing for Charles is that voices like his are heard.
“All I care about are the young Indigenous eyes that are going to see my content on screen,” he says. “They don’t need to know everything that I went through. But the most important part to me is to get them inspired by comic books, TV shows and entertainment in general. That’s worth any struggle.”