Comics and animation that highlight and inform cultural values
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are at the forefront of American business priorities in 2022. But long before the acronym became a call to a more equitable business culture, Lion Forge Animation, a 2022 Insperity Community Hero, was fostering a forward-thinking culture of diversity and outreach that continues to make a global impact.
That sensibility was, in large part, the reason Lion Forge Animation was nominated as Community Hero by Insperity Business Performance Advisor Courtney Swillinger. “This is a minority-owned company whose mission is highlighting characters you don’t normally find – black, disabled and women of color.
At a Glance
Organization: Lion Forge Animation
Location: St. Louis, MO
Year founded: 2011
Year presented: 2021
Size: 50 - 149 employees
“Lion Forge Animation was practicing DE&I well before it became mainstream. It has a population of diverse employees and does lots of charitable work within the industry and with inner-city kids. Their values and their work mesh with Insperity’s Community Hero program. This is just a great client, and we have a great relationship with them.”
Lion Forge Animation, helmed by David Steward II, chief executive officer, was created in 2019 under the Polarity holding company umbrella. Polarity owns two publishing businesses, including the first Lion Forge Comics, founded in 2011 and merged with Oni Press in 2019. “In founding Lion Forge Animation, we wanted to pursue other areas from an intellectual property development standpoint, so we decided to take some of what we were doing in our publishing businesses and apply them to animation,” Steward said.
“The first project we produced was the animated short film called Hair Love that really helped propel us. And since then, we’ve been working with Nickelodeon, Disney, Sesame Workshop, Imagine Entertainment and others.”
Hair Love, released in 2019, received an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2020. The story follows an African American father’s first attempt at styling his young daughter’s hair when her mom is unavailable. Beyond the obvious, however, the film touches on topics around self-esteem, pride, style, identity and culture.
“What it comes down to,” Steward said, “is good storytelling – and that’s something where we are well-versed, coming from comics. I think this story resonates with all audiences, not only the African American community, but globally. It represents a kind of coming together as various cultures begin to identify with different aspects of that piece.” With an increasingly large library of diverse content, Lion Forge is an active proponent of comic books and graphic novels. “Studies from Harvard have shown that utilizing comics, graphic novels and animation allow organizations to convey their messages more effectively, as those mediums result in higher comprehension and retention of information,” Steward said. “Librarians understand their value as a gateway to drive interest in reading, and we’ve come full circle to embracing the medium.”
Lion Forge has been involved for several years with the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), for several years, and that is where their $5,000 charitable donation from Insperity is going. Binc is dedicated to helping bookstore and comic store employees across the U.S. with emergency financial needs.
Steward emphasized that brick-and-mortar comic shops across the country are vital to the industry, and contribute to local community, and they’ve been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Steward says the Insperity funds will help some of those surviving small businesses to make it through this unprecedented time in our history.
Along with the charitable donation, being named an Insperity Community Hero has given Steward and his employees some appreciated recognition within their community. “Insperity has recognized that we’re making a difference, and we appreciate them standing with us and backing our mission.
“Being a Community Hero validates that we’re not just getting a paycheck, but what we’re doing is making a difference in the world.”
Steward said that Lion Forge came to Insperity in 2019 for help with HR-related solutions that would allow the company to focus on business and grow, “and the value has been a win-win.” He continued that the relationship has given Lion Forge a competitive advantage, and “their responsiveness and working with them has been great. We’re a relatively small fish, but we’ve always felt valued by Insperity.”
Lion Forge isn’t resting on any laurels, either. “We’re doing what we can to make sure that voices that have been marginalized in the past in the marketplace are being heard in an innovative format.”
“We’re doing what we can to make sure that voices that have been marginalized in the past in the marketplace are being heard in an innovative format.” Dave Steward IIChief Executive Officer
Lion Forge Animation