Victor Dandridge wants to help you uncover your secret power

Andy Downing
Victor Dandridge

Victor Dandridge has always been drawn toward the idea of discovering some previously hidden inner-strength a theme the writer, publisher and editor has explored in comics series such as Origins Unknown.

“There is something about all of us that is special, but we have to find it,” said Dandridge, the founder of publishing imprint Vantage: Inhouse Productions, who will take part in a virtual panel discussion, “Behind the Mask: Black Power in Comics,” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21. “And sometimes it’s who we’re related to and what that means, and sometimes it’s a skill we didn’t understand how to use, but once you look for it, it’s there.”

Dandridge’s origin story draws from both of these worlds, combining a passion for art that he shared with his uncles, along with a love of reading awakened in him by the discovery of comic books. “When I was a kid, I didn’t like to read,” he said. “And [the release of the comic]The Death of Superman made a non-reader want to read.”

Growing up, Dandridge always maintained an interest in art, though, which he described as central to forming a closer bond with his father’s half of the family, where interactions typically centered on sports, which weren’t exactly a strong suit for the youngster. “I was a skinny kid, and not a sports player at all, where my dad’s side of the family is very physical and very sports-oriented,” Dandridge said. “But once I got into comics, I learned that three of my uncles were very talented artists, and the youngest of them, my uncle Mark, really took an interest in my interest. He was like, ‘You’re the one who’s going to figure out how to do this for a living.’”

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Shortly after Dandridge got his start in comics, though, his uncle, Mark Dandridge, was violently killed, which the writer described as his “Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne moment,” referencing comic book heroes whose existences were intrinsically transformed by the deaths of beloved family members.

“I had this moment, this literal bow by candlelight where I was like, ‘I’m going to make a name for myself in the comic book industry in honor of my uncle,'” Dandridge said. “And it was really looking at how he looked at me and said, ‘You have this interest. It’s not the normal path, but you should pursue it.’ … All you have to do is step out there with a little bit of talent, a lot of bit of faith, and maybe a little luck, and you can make something happen. You can do something crazy and cool that might outlive you simply because you tried.”

When Dandridge started out writing for comics, he didn’t have full awareness of what he was drawing upon for his stories, describing the process as “a loose thought train that would kind of just roll into something.” Now, he approaches stories with a greater awareness that he’s often trying to answer a deeper question about himself, for himself. As an example, he pointed to the vignette series8 Mins: An Anthology of the Last Eight Minutes, a book based on the idea that if the sun exploded it would take a full eight minutes before the reality of the event reached Earth and centered on individuals going about their daily tasks amid this celestial limbo, unaware their existence is about to be cut tragically short.

“And my point was to live every moment as if it could be the last eight. Strive harder, reach higher, do something you wouldn’t have necessarily done before,” said Dandridge, who traced the inspiration for the comic to his decision to leave a cushy state job two years earlier in order to give comics a go full-time. “People would be like, ‘How can you do that? How can you leave that job?’ Because this was my opportunity. This was me shooting my shot.”

The motivations behind more recent comics are similarly clear, particularly in regards to a new installment ofWonder Care Presents: The Kinder Guardians, an ongoing collaborative series with Chicago artist Justin Castaneda.

“[Castaneda] was texting me to see how we were doing in light of George Floyd’s death and the unrest that was happening because of it, and we ended up having this brilliant conversation about how he was having this creative stagnation, and how he really wanted to say something but didn’t know what to say,” Dandridge said. “And my solution was to jump in and create, and so we created this story called ‘What Matters,’ which is an explanation, through the eyes of children, of what this era of civil unrest is about, and what Black Lives Matters means as a sentiment. … It’s just one more way, in light of everything going on, that we figured we could expand our voices in this moment.”