Chad Ayinde Of Battleborne Comics: “Don’t allow fear to steer”

Don’t allow fear to steer — Within the entertainment industry, rejection is a major part of the process. This often sends creators spiraling, adapting their works to attract the lowest common denominator in lieu of committing to their own true vision. The fear of an unsuccessful career culminates in the acceptance of a lesser product than what […]

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Don’t allow fear to steer — Within the entertainment industry, rejection is a major part of the process. This often sends creators spiraling, adapting their works to attract the lowest common denominator in lieu of committing to their own true vision. The fear of an unsuccessful career culminates in the acceptance of a lesser product than what you might have dreamt. Fight to ensure that your decisions come from a space of strategy and not a foxhole of fear. Create the things that excite you!


As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chad Ayinde, Co-Founder and Lead Writer for Battleborne Comics: Creative content forged from combat. He is an enthusiastic, focused, and driven small business owner who relies on a razor-sharp wit cultivated through 12-years as an Army Noncommissioned Officer. He is a dreamer and incredibly articulate leader who thrives on innovation. As Co-Founder of Battleborne Comics, Chad serves as ambassador for the organizations mission of “establishing entertainment industry inroads for aspiring military veteran creators”. He is the author of the company’s flagship comic title, Hath No Fury, and an outreach specialist with 15 years of experience working with Soldiers in every form from education to physical fitness.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Absolutely! In 2006 I enlisted in the Army as an Infantry Soldier and within two weeks of signing my paperwork, I was sitting in Basic Training. As a former college athlete, I assumed that most of my newly enlisted colleagues were going to be recent high school graduates, selecting to serve their country in lieu of deciding some other career path. It was here that I was introduced to the varied, inspiring talents of heroes who dawn the uniform, not because they must but because they choose to. My battle buddy and bunkmate was a 30-year-old business owner and incredibly talented artist who sketched Dragon Ball Z characters in a tiny notebook any time we weren’t under Drill Sergeant scrutiny.

I grew up on comic books, Nicktoons, and Saturday morning cartoons so I was enamored with his work. Stepping into these roles of Infantry Soldiers, however, we were being asked to serve as ambassadors and representatives for the United States and artistic talents were not really at the forefront of the required skillset. I’d come into the Army with a few small writing credits and awards from my youth, but these accomplishments rarely came up in conversation. Throughout my 12-years in service I couldn’t count on all appendages how many talented writers, artists, and film visionaries I encountered serving our country with pride.

There are some amazing transition programs out there for Soldiers upon honorable discharge from the uniformed service, but I found nothing in my area for bridging the gap into the entertainment industry. Living in the generation defined by hustle culture and do it yourself, grassroots builds to fame, I felt a large disconnect between transitioning into an entertainment career and any Midwest based organization assisting with the process.

It was during this period, that an amazing artist with a passion for comics contacted me to discuss a partnership opportunity for a story I was developing. His name was Robin Belleville, and he (too) shared my belief in the hidden talents of America’s greatest fighting force. He would eventually become Battleborne Comics Co-Founder and Art Director serving as an instrumental piece in the foundational build of our company.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’m sure by now this is the standard answer for most, but the global pandemic more than likely holds that crown. I think it’s always tough to launch a new business but doing so in the midst of one of the strangest periods of our lifetime, has definitely provided some unforeseen challenges. Our company’s inability to hit the local Comic Con circuit opened the door for a major pivot in our business model, however, and we’ve accelerated our focus into screenplay development. In our first year we’ve won two screenwriting competitions and we’ve directed our first movie short.

We have soaked up a multitude of networking opportunities and begun to expand our partnerships in a year that was originally planned for strict content creation. Though the virus has had a large impact on our growth, it’s been unable to topple our resourcefulness and we are very proud of that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I would say the funniest is getting down this whole mailing thing! As of today, we handle all of our own shipments of products to our purchasing partners and on more occasions than I would care to admit, we’ve shipped an item only for it to be delivered to our mailbox five to seven business days later. Seems like a head scratcher until you realize that in a mad dash to get 200+ packages together you’ve placed the return address in the wrong location on the envelope. In those cases, we try to add some cool stickers or company swag to make up for the error but those are some true facepalm moments when you grab a package out of your mailbox that you mistakenly mailed to yourself!

I think the largest lesson to be taken from the error is that preparation results in success. As an independent business operating during a global pandemic, we’ve experienced the pitfalls of operating reactively instead of proactively. If you sit around and wait for a purchase or 50 before preparing packaging materials, its very easy to get caught up in the moment and make a few mistakes that see you mail packages back to yourself. That costs the company time and adds to shipping expenses when something has to be sent out twice.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

My answer may come as a bit of a shock to most but as a biracial man currently living in Alabama, I feel as though the race and gender conversations are becoming a bit stagnant. The world is paying attention to those things right now but a class that is not so easily discernable is the military veteran. Now don’t get me wrong, Battleborne Comic’s content does elevate minority characters in some of our properties but I feel it gets a bit sticky when one sequesters themselves to that strict focus. For this reason, we’ve chosen to place our attention on developing and spotlighting military veterans.

When in service, I consistently heard a statistic that less than 1% of the American population were actively serving as contributing Soldiers and less than 10% were veterans. If this is the case than the representation of veterans within the highest levels of entertainment ie editorial, production, television, movie, and novel development must be significantly lower than the opportunities available. This is what set my partner and I down the path to establish Battleborne Comics in hopes of cultivating strategic partnerships and mentoring aspiring veterans toward their goal of seeing success in the print or film industry. This comes in the form of workshops, internships or firsthand experience working with our team to produce content under the Battleborne Comics brand, but our dream is to offer extended opportunities beyond our brand to talented creators.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Early last year, we were approached by a military operations specialist preparing for retirement, with a passion for art. Since childhood, he had been developing his own universe of superheroes with backstories that he could immaculately draw! With no experience in any type of media production, we set to mentoring him on the fine points of comic book scripting and paneling. We taught him aspects of character development and design, inking, lettering, and introduced him to a publication group to assist in him developing his own comic book if he so chose. His response, though, became to serve as contributing artist on one of Battleborne Comic’s future releases as well as to develop his universe working with our team of professionals.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Many in today’s world consume more media than they do food and the concepts shared go a long way in scoping our reality. This makes it imperative that the entertainment industry provides a balanced diet of perspective to paint a true depiction of the world in which we live. Otherwise, we find ourselves polarized and operating reactively out of fear of the unknown. Diversity opens the door to understanding and understanding leads to unity and peace.

HOPE DEPENDS ON IT.

Have you heard of symbolic annihilation? It was a concept explored in the 70’s that depicted the impact of underrepresentation in the media. The absence of representation often results in a feeling of insignificance on the part of those groups that are not regularly featured. For this reason, a lack of characters and stories that speak to the plight of minority populations (veterans included) creates a landslide of apathy directly tied to a sense of hopelessness that can be crippling to some. Even sad stories have the ability to increase hope for the viewer when they see a character that possesses similar scars to themselves overcoming the adversity on display.

WHAT WILL OUR CHILDREN BE?

Kids mimic many of the things that they see in reality and probably nowhere more important than in their media. This understanding provides a simple framework for creators to inspire a generation with their work and by establishing an inclusive environment that explores the trials of the human condition and not simply the trials of a singular demographic, we can build a community of creators that feel as though their voices matter. Diversity teaches the world that our lives are of equal value. These are lessons that are carried into adulthood.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Mentorship programs are a great start. I’ve watched nearly 300 hours of footage around “breaking in” to the entertainment industry, and much of the information is either conflicting or defeatist. In a world that allows teenagers to become popularized filming Iphone videos in their basements, I can’t accept that there is no way through the golden gates and into a successful career contributing to projects that you are passionate about. Coming from my side of things, programs directed at veterans that are not simply arrayed along the coastal states would be beneficial, providing opportunities throughout the country.

Seek out new voices without pandering. Throughout the last year I have witnessed a steep rise in competitions looking to “highlight unique voices”, which serve as competitions looking for minority content that “has a message”. While I agree and understand that all writing should be intertwined with a hidden narrative or commentary decided by the author, I do not agree that every piece from a minority creator must have some special earth-shattering purpose. The Avengers, The Hangover, and Evil Dead didn’t possess any special underlying commentary and they were universally accepted as quality works. Minority creators have the ability to craft fun, marketable, and compelling stories just like everyone else and should be judged by that same measuring stick.

Do not tie a person’s entire legacy to a single failure. This mentality seems to permeate much of the Hollywood machine as executives are terrified to promote any project that doesn’t follow a boring and contrived status quo. This limits the willingness to take any chance on a story that hasn’t been told 1,000 times over and creates gatekeepers, unwilling to help new creators attempting to learn the ropes of the industry. Sadly, these consistently seem to be the underrepresented populations we are speaking of left out in the cold because the industry would rather take the easy way out. Encourage executives to fail… It’s the way the entire world learns.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think leadership is defined by ones ability to influence the environment of dynamic thinkers in a way that allows for flexibility. The ultimate goal of any leader should be to establish an environment that enables its personnel to feel comfortable thinking outside the box and free in sharing perspective without fear of judgment. Game changing ideas can be birthed from anyone of any education level at any time and I think some organizations lose site of that; choosing only to apply the thoughts of high paid/high ranking members to their solution development.

Absolutely, I worked for some time at a partner organization of Under Armour and throughout much of the building (in halls, offices, and board rooms), there were wall-sized white boards with markers opened for any semblance of spontaneous creation an employee could muster. On any given day you could walk the halls and see everything from new logo designs to strategic marketing initiative ideas written over a lunchbreak by a summer intern. Seeing the amount of freedom and flexibility physically on display made the organization feel exciting and cultivated an environment of creative idea generation. That’s simply a physical example but a similar ethos can be accomplished through the actions of a positive leader who understands the value of their people.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Know what you don’t know — Specifically in the arena of entertainment, there is no one size fits all approach to succeeding. It takes much more than simply a solid story, completed film or a basic understanding of production. This is why it is important to become a lifelong student, researching everything from marketing to pitch presentations on top of the baseline items required to develop a project from idea to fruition. I invest around 25% of my week to studying in hopes of closing the gap in some of the areas I may be lacking.

Shortcuts don’t negate hard work — I’ve heard some say that the key to opportunity is all in the networking aspect but that is only partially true. It is not enough to buddy up with people in positions of power, but you must make your content as undeniable as possible to protect the integrity of your partnerships. Remember, success comes when preparation meets an opportunity. A network is great to have but will do very little for you if not re-enforced with hard work!

Love what you do — The old adage that “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life” holds true here. There will be long stretches of time where it feels like nothing is happening and no one cares about the time and/or effort you are applying, and that’s why you must love the art. If you don’t, you will lose motivation to continue craft and disappear into the sea of creators bombarding the world with content today. You won’t always love what you create but you should always love the creation process. It’s all that you have when no one else is looking.

Don’t allow fear to steer — Within the entertainment industry, rejection is a major part of the process. This often sends creators spiraling, adapting their works to attract the lowest common denominator in lieu of committing to their own true vision. The fear of an unsuccessful career culminates in the acceptance of a lesser product than what you might have dreamt. Fight to ensure that your decisions come from a space of strategy and not a foxhole of fear. Create the things that excite you!

The only failure is in giving up — This is an industry that has the ability to crush the spirit as creators will receive 1,000+ “no’s” before they get their first “we’ll think about it”. A daily mantra I try to subscribe to is in looking at the seven-year struggle of J.K. Rowling who now has her own theme parks, movies, and book series. Before she struck it big, there were years of struggle, focused discipline and sacrifice that enabled her to create something that would smash through the wall like the Kool-Aid man when the proper opportunity arose. This can be everyone as long as they continue to create even when it seems that no one cares about their project!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If given the opportunity I would love to see an entrepreneurial mentorship program which would consist of business owners teaching a selected apprentice, the pros, and cons of business development. It would be incredible to see a new crop of business owners rise up, hopefully avoiding some of the pitfalls of past organizations. Perhaps not all apprentices would venture off into designing their own business, however, the valuable lessons bestowed would assist in all other areas of work, positively impacting the overall force.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You are born, and you know you are going to die: What are you doing in between?”

– Richard Dimitri

There’s nothing super fancy about this quote but it feels profound to me nonetheless because it highlights this life as a blank slate. That realization has empowered me to take chances and be willing to follow passions that make me feel alive. As long as I’m breathing, I aim to live to my fullest extent. At Battleborne Comics we ask our people to Be Brave and Be Bold because we are pursuing kind of a scary path. Though terrifying it is also liberating and we hope to provide a similar freedom to others without some of the painful lessons we may have to learn along the way.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would say independent filmmaker, Adi Shankar as I’m heavily inspired by his take no prisoners approach to content creation. He is a minority director and writer who just wanted to tell interesting stories and refused to accept no for an answer. If given the chance, I’d love to pick his brain regarding his nontraditional path to having two greenlit projects through Netflix and a large budget movie he got off the ground through gorilla marketing. He proved very effectively that when resources are not available, you create your own and his path was influential in my interest to strike out at the age of 36.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find more about us and our mission at www.battlebornecomics.com. Every purchase made goes back into content creation as we aim to build ourselves into a household name that passionately creates opportunities for veterans to pursue their dreams. We also are available @battlebornecomics on Facebook and will be launching a podcast “Building the Brand” in early 2021 available on Youtube.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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