UCF senior Branden Hall hopes that one day Zeek St. Cloud finds his true purpose in life – but he knows that’s going to take thousands of years.
Hall, who is majoring in creative writing and advertising/public relations, and his brother Horacio are enabling Zeek on his journey, and recently received an offer of help from Charlotte Hornets basketball player Johnny O’Bryant III.
If this all sounds like fantasy mixed with reality – it is.
The brothers from South Miami Heights are real, but Zeek resides in the new manga comic Stratum 21, soon to be released by O’Bryant’s creative agency, Noir Caesar, which produces creative art, fashion and music.
Hall said a Noir Caesar representative saw images of their characters on Stratum 21’s Instagram and reported back to O’Bryant, owner and founder of the company, who arranged to carry the brothers’ first comic series on the company’s website. O’Bryant has been in the NBA since 2014 and he started his company to intertwine Japanese anime culture with African-American street wear and hip-hop culture.
The first chapter of the story is scheduled to come out Sept. 21. Stratum 21 takes place thousands of years after a cataclysmic event shattered the planet Strata into 20 pieces. The inhabitants have rebuilt society but three factions are fighting for control. Main character Zeek knows little about the world he lives in until he meets a Seeker and learns what life entails. Aspiring to join their ranks, he leaves his swamp home in search of life’s greater purpose while joining forces against the dark side that despises the Seekers.
“Stratum 21 is exactly the title we were looking for to add to the fall lineup. It’s about adventure and discovering yourself in a world that’s fallen off the brink,” said Corey Mikell, production manager for Noir Caesar. “It’s a timeless tale of self-discovery and the pursuit of happiness in an unfavorable situation. It teaches people to keep moving forward, no matter the setback.”
Hall said physical copies of the manga will be released every seven chapters.
“These books are special because they can be read as any other comic would, but if one were to download the app, Stratum21+, which is in the works, and put their phone camera over the images on the page, the panels will begin to animate on the mobile device,” he said.
Branden, 21, is the team’s writer, while Horacio, 24, an illustration/animation graduate of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, is the artist. The brothers enlisted the help of a friend, Grant Price, as editor. They describe the art as similar to the comics Boondocks and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Branden Hall also likes to rap, write children’s and short stories, is working on a movie script and works on The Cypress Dome Society, UCF’s undergraduate literary organization.
Horacio Hall said he started drawing because their other brothers used to draw comics and watch anime. “I used to practice drawing the characters from those shows,” Horacio said. “I started reading comics in the fifth grade when (anime character) Inyuasha became popular.”
Another brother, rapper Ty, will appear on the animated version of Stratum 21’s title sequence.
Brendan Hall said he credits his writing development to UCF English professors Laurie Uttich, Susan Jardeneh, Kevin Meehan, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Obi Nwakanm and Terry Thaxton.
“I couldn’t even write an interesting paragraph of a story before I came to UCF,” he said.
To keep up to date on Zeek’s journey, go to https://www.facebook.com/stratum21/.