Cartoonist Jason Fleurant pushes inclusion beyond cartoons
Without any warning, the ground shook like a passing freight train. High-pitched jolts and a rolling rumble created snaps and movements as if a monster was underfoot. Lights swung violently from the ceilings as the terrible roar created rubble and death.
“That impact of the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti triggered me,” Jason Fleurant said. “Having family there and not knowing what’s going on, not being able to contact people, all that shock made me want to pick up a pencil and start drawing to express.”
Raised in West Palm Beach, Jason “JaFLEU” Fleurant, 37, is a self-taught Haitian American cartoonist. He discovered his creative voice in response to the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and since then he has continued to express his creativity with a mission in mind.
“There’s a saying that when you see a hole, fill it up,” he said. “I wanted to fill it in because I couldn’t see anyone talking to us about how we needed to be spoken to or how our stories should be told. So I decided to take it on and do it myself.
Fleurant said he felt there was a lack of racial representation in mainstream animation, both on and off screen.
“With poetry, rap and animation, all of my creative sides can be used,” he said.
Fleurant is also known as a spoken word artist who was featured during FLO’pocalypse in 2017 at the Broward Center of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. He also combined his poetry and animated works, which would also produce winners.
He founded “Exhibit Treal” in his apartment in 2014 as an outlet to exhibit his creations and those of his fellow color artwork creators. Through this, he would go on to hold exhibitions in galleries such as the three floors of the 1310 Gallery in Fort Lauderdale and several Art Basel exhibitions, among others.
“I would flood the streets with lots of artwork,” Fleurant said. “I went to film festivals, worked and kept pushing.”
But like a lone soldier on the front lines, there were times he said he felt alone during the fight to establish his career.
“It wasn’t always easy, but I had to persevere because I was on a mission,” he said.
“Drawing everything you see on screen, writing, editing, that’s all me and the only thing I don’t do is some of the voices because now I’ve worked to establish and have an extra talent .”
He had to learn to draw quickly; a single sketch may take him 10 minutes, or in an hour he may make 20 drawings.
“If a gallery wouldn’t let me exhibit to show my art, then I would do my own exhibit,” Fleurant said. “If they won’t let me in through the front door, I’ll do mine.”
As a visual artist, Fleurant would see success in having his works exhibited internationally and in the homes of notable names such as researcher Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, recording artist Jill Scott, the late XXXTentacion rapper and 2021 Scripps National Spelling winner Zaila Vanguard, among others.
Eventually, Fleurant would become the sole animator, writer, editor, engineer, and voice talent for some of his characters. He leaves the rest of the dubbing work to his cast of black voices. All but one are local South Florida talent.
In 2016, he began to study cartooning and animation intensively. His first, an animated short “To love your Blackness is a Revolutionary Act”, received the Ed Summer Supersnipe Animation Award at BIFF 2020.
Then his animated short “Pop, Pop, Pop”, which deals with police brutality, won Best Animated Short at the 2020 Real Reel International Film Festival, and his most spoken word piece. popular turned into animation “Young x Gifted & Black” was received the Mozaik Philanthropy Future Arts Award 2021 and was included in the Top 10 of The 50 artist virtual exhibition.
He renamed Fleurant’s Studios in 2021 and his NAACP Image Award-winning animation brand called “TREAL TOONZ” which he created in 2017 can be viewed on black-owned independent streamer, kweliTV.
Since then, through multi-award winning animated shorts and web series like “Reppin’ Matterz” and “Peanut Headz: Black History Toonz,” Fleurant has been on a mission to push inclusion across the board. beyond cartoons.
“‘Peanut Headz’ focuses on people, places and things that happened and are historical,” Fleurant said. “A story as recent as Ketanji Brown and the [Supreme Court] hearings can end up being brief or go far back in time. It features our stories, of our people, and black stories and topics, but we bring it back to positivity to show that we are more than people say we are.
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“Peanut Headz: Black History Toonz” was also recently nominated for the 53rd NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Animated Series where it found itself in direct competition with the three Netflix originals: “We The People”, “Yasuke”, ” Big Mouth,” and the YouTube original, “Super Sema.”
“When I was there at the NAACP ceremony, I saw a list of all the nominees and winners and 90% of the people on that list shot,” Fleurant said. “To be one of those on this list, and this is only the second year they have this NAACP category, is a crazy and rewarding feeling.”
Both of Fleurant’s series screened on South Florida PBS as an Official Selection for a Filmmaker’s Project, one entry offering the possibility of airplay – both local and national.
Fleurant’s self-published book was made into an animated short, “Teddy’s Big Break,” and won Best Animated Short at the 2021 Drive-ins.
Fleurant publishes “TREAL TOONZ” monthly on kweliTV, and he continues to realize and fulfill his mission.
“These cartoons aren’t just for kids,” he said. “Everyone moves with it and I talk about black people in our history for families or those who want to watch it for themselves. This earthquake in Haiti got out of hand and it really inspired me to pick up a pencil, a canvas and tell a story, and I’m glad I did.