Hebru Brantley bleeds for Chicago. Growing up on the city’s South Side, Brantley was enmeshed in Chi Town influences that would follow him for the rest of his career: from the city’s people to its rich street art scene, from its inescapable legacy of basketball to its socio economic climate. Taking all of those themes and exploring them through the lens of cartoons and comic book characters, Brantley found his voice as an artist, using narrative storytelling to reignite uplifting flames for so many that may have let that light go dim.
Drawing from the Tuskegee Airmen, Brantley would create the now iconic “Flyboys,” works of art that signify a lost sense of protection and a playful social commentary imbued with Afrofuturism that offers heroic archetypes to young children of color. Since first sketching the characters, Brantley’s “Flyboys” have literally jumped off the page and into a larger media landscape. “As the demand for the work has grown it’s been really important for me to have a solid team around,” he says. “We do a lot more merchandising than just straight up painting or sculpting, and so needing someone to head up the graphics, or take a design that I created and embellish it further, it’s really important and it’s a lot of back and forth.”
This sense of collaboration is essential to Brantley’s craft, as he credits his solid team to many of the bigger undertakings of his brand. Lucky for him, Brantley can constantly share ideas among his team with ease thanks to the efficiency of Dropbox Paper. “I think allowing me to be able to share things in the moment has definitely kept the creative energy up and high,” he explains, “It’s [enabled me to do] a lot more collabs with different companies.”
Complex recently sat down with the graffiti writer turned pop art phenomenon to talk coloring books, what keeps him inspired after all these years, and how a Canadian tuxedo changed his life. Watch the full interview in the video above.