By Matt Bruce
(Photo: Twitter/Manuel Godoy)
Manuel Godoy doesn’t like how Black creators in the comic book landscape are treated by the publishing power brokers.
He feels they are snubbed, overlooked. And when large publishing companies do take notice of successful Black comics, they do so only to acquire them and water down the content.
Godoy makes no apologies for his no-holds barred approach to dismantling that status quo. And he has a social media army of over 400,000 followers backing him.
“They see me as Hannibal or something,” he told Atlanta Black Star with a hearty chuckle. “The idea of burn Rome to the ground. Like everybody’s trying to get in good with the senate, and I’m like, ‘Burn Rome to the ground. At all costs.’ If I lose an eye on the way, if I lose 60,000 troops on the way, I don’t care. Burn it to the ground.”
Godoy knows he’s a glitch in the system. And he revels in it.
He is the co-founder of Black Sands Entertainment, an independent comic book publishing company that recently announced a successful Wefunder campaign that helped Black Sands raise over $1 million in 2020.
And with that shot of capital, the company is poised to make major moves this year.
“The kind of stuff that we’re developing right now is super-freaking high end,” Godoy said. “And I can’t wait to start showing people the content.”
Godoy rejects the notion of creators spending years building start-up comic book franchises from the ground up only to have their brands subsumed by larger corporations with deep enough pockets to buy them out. His aim is to keep as much of Black Sands Entertainment’s intellectual property as he can as the company continues to gain momentum.
Godoy and his wife Geiszel founded Black Sands Entertainment in 2016. They are working to build a publishing empire rooted in the rich soils of Kemet. And they have no intention of relinquishing the keys to their kingdom.
“The name black sands literally is the translation of Kemet, the original name of Egypt. Kemet is ‘black sands.’ Desheret is ‘red sands,’ or in other words ‘dead sands.’ Where they lived was in the black sands. So that was the idea. People say ‘Why did you call it black sands, that sounds racist?’ I tell them, ‘I literally called it Egypt, brother.’”
Black Sands Entertainment was started by the pair of Army vets. The Godoys brought their military sense of discipline to the venture. Geiszel, who had a background in marketing, took the role of chief financial officer while Manuel focused on story writing.
In 2017, the company launched its first comic series, “Black Sands: The Seven Kingdoms.” It remains the centerpiece of the BSE lineup. The series follows the adventures of four royal children with super powers in ancient Egypt. In 2019, BSE began dropping occasional “motion comic” episodes of the series on YouTube.
Manuel has also become a fixture on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, using social media to promote the company’s growth. BSE has nearly 400,000 followers and subscribers across the four platforms.
Manuel often criticizes the social media gatekeepers, saying shadow bans on Instagram have stifled his traction. He’s also inclined to say things like “the algorithm doesn’t like Black creators.” But he recognizes the power social media has as a platform to push his message and explain his mission to carve out a whole new market for Black comics.
“It really galvanizes my audience,” Manuel said. “See, the thing about it is, I’d say when you’re a Black content creator in this space, education is probably 80 percent of the battle. You’ve got to educate your customer on how they are going to support you, what ways they’re going to support you, and why they should support you instead of ‘Black Panther.’ Why they shouldn’t accept ‘Black Panther’ as the pinnacle of Black representation.
“So when you’re doing your social media and stuff, you’ve got to educate people on what the market really is, and why it needs to change,” he added. “And once you pull that off, you’ll grow like crazy. And people will hear that and be like, ‘I like that message right there. I want to support that.’ And they will follow you.”
Manuel says about three-quarters of his customer base isn’t hardcore comic book readers. But they appreciate the quality of his animations and the content of his creations.
“The Black comic book fan, for the most part, is a luxury buyer,” Manuel said. “They’re not trying to buy a $3, $4 comic book. They don’t care about the price. They want an exceptional prop product that they can put on their table. And they might read it once or twice, maybe. But more importantly, it’s the idea of that product.”
They’re also drawn to the prospect of generational wealth building. The Godoys promote a message that Black comic creators can make more money and sell more copies going the independent route, as opposed to selling their creations to larger publishing houses.
“The idea is that, that we can really take over this space. And more importantly, disrupt the norm. The idea of the Disney deal,” Manuel Godoy said.
The company also offers investors opportunities to buy into its success. Two of those opportunities came last year. In February, Black Sands raised $500,000 in three weeks through its first Wefunder campaign. The company followed up with a second round in November and raised another $535,000 in 24 days.
BSE’s website proclaims it is the nation’s leading Black-owned indie comic publisher. The company has sold more than 60,000 books and boasts over 2,700 investors, many of them African-American.
“Black ownership is the number one thing. We sell stock,” Manuel said. “All of our investors are stockholders. So as long as we get to a public ground in the future — maybe three years from now or whenever we go public — they’ll be able to redeem their stock for whatever price the market’s at at the time. Most people are going to get a massive return if we make it to that point.”
Black Sands Entertainment has six originally created comics series that focus on pre-slavery African history. Manuel and Geiszel have a team of six writers who help them develop the multicultural storylines, which focus on different historical periods throughout Africa and the Mediterranean region. The company will release three new books from those series in February.
BSE sold about 30,000 hard copy books online in 2020. It was a record year for the publishing company, which saw $630,000 in sales. Manuel expects to reach $2 million in sales this year, and much of that growth is projected based on the company’s plans for 2021.
A large-scale project in development for 2021 is a major animation production of the Seven Kingdoms series, which is expected to be completed this summer. Manuel said he partnered with animators from Pixar, Disney, Amazon Studios and Bron for the production, which will feature 3-D animation.
BSE also plans to release two new series later this year. One is based on Ranavalona I, a 19th century Madagascar queen who essentially cut ties with European powers and adopted an anti-colonial regime in the sovereign state off the coast of South Africa. The other series in the works is about the fall of Carthage. It will feature such historical figures as Hannibal and Scipio Africanus.
“I love telling anti-colonial stories,” Manuel said. “There are great civilizations in African history just ignored by media on purpose. And it’s our job to not only develop them, but to fund them and create them ourselves. Because if we don’t, it’s never gonna happen.”
Black Sands Entertainment is also set to debut a free web app this month that will feature 28 collections from Black artists not under the company’s umbrella. The artists have contracted to showcase their digital comics on the new portal, dubbed BSP (Black Sands Publishing).
“There’s a huge gap in the pop culture space for Black creators in general,” Manuel said. “I just wanted to go in there and make sure everybody got access to the highest quality content from our creators.”