David Gorden is possibly the most ambitious comic creator in St. Louis.
From podcasts to publishing to custom art, the 49-year-old has his hands in multiple forms of media through his production company, 4 Sight Studio, with a knack for telling compelling stories and an artistic style that lends itself to the fantastic tales he weaves.
It makes sense that he'd be so passionate about the form: Gorden's been interested in making comics and being a storyteller since he was a kid.
"I've been doing comics in some way, shape, or form since I was eight or nine," Gorden tells RFT. "That's been my primary way of telling stories. Now, professionally, I would probably say since the mid-'90s. Once you get one job, [when] somebody pays you for it, at that point, you're a professional. That's all it took, that was that."
When Gorden's position was downsized at his job in 2016, he decided to buckle down and make a character he created in 2002, Kwame Hightower, the focus of his next comic. He spent all his downtime writing and drawing Kwame Hightower and the Man with No Name, which he originally released via print-on-demand in 2018.
Kwame Hightower is a typical twelve-year-old boy from St. Louis, too cool for his own good. He winds up moving to London, England, with his mother after his father passes away. On a tour of Buckingham Palace, Kwame finds he's worthy of pulling Excalibur from the sacred stone and ends up the new King of England. Pursued by the titular Man with No Name, Kwame teams up with MI6's Roundtable Division as he learns to handle his new responsibility and the power that comes with it.
In Kwame Hightower, Gorden mixes fantasy, history and science, telling an exciting and engaging tale that will appeal to comic fans of all ages. When you read his work, his biggest influences clearly shine through. Gorden grew up like any kid in the '80s, falling for science fiction, action movies and fantasy stories — those specifically, he points out, showing on HBO during the early days of cable television.
"As much as I love comics, I was actually more influenced by old cartoons and old movies at the time," Gorden says. "Hannah-Barbara would be one of the big starter influences, and then as you get older, you get into different things. You've got Spielberg, you've got Lucas, you've got Spike Lee. Eddie Murphy. Then you go into comics, guys like Dwayne McDuffie, artists like Jim Lee and Brain Stelfreeze. Japanese manga, you've got Kenichi Sanada. Guys that made things that changed my mind."
When COVID-19 came along, Gorden suddenly found himself with even more downtime. That's when he decided to fully immerse himself in the Hightower universe — and to take on the new challenge of launching his own publishing company.
"The pandemic hits, and I get fully laid off," Gorden explains. "I've got freelance [work], but I'm like, 'Well, what else can I do?' I started laying out plans around July 2020 to go into publishing full-time."
For Gorden, physical media is still essential, and 4 Sight Studio has dived into a medium you don't see many artists in the industry use: coloring books. For instance, Kwame's story continues in Kwame Hightower and the New Knights, a world-building adventure that the reader can color themselves as they read along with the story. It takes place outside of the main Kwame story, but continues to build the world that the Kwame adventures take place in.
"We wanted people to be interactive, and what's more interactive than coloring?" Gorden says. "We create the story, we create the art, but you add the color and the special effects. Now people can feel like they're a part of it; they can personalize it a little bit more. You have to think of ways to get people to hold on to your characters. Maybe the characters grab you, maybe they don't, but my thing is if you're coloring the characters, then you're rereading it, [they] will stick with you more."
When Gorden isn't building his characters and expanding the worlds they inhabit, he sometimes works with the charitable cause the Superhero Project. The organization, out of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, interviews kids with significant illnesses and special needs, asking who their comic book alter ego would be, helping them craft a story about their powers, their costumes and what their impact on the world might look like. Artists then donate their time and talent to create superhero comic covers from these descriptions, to the delight of the kids and their families.
Gorden has worked on several covers for the Superhero Project. His process for one of the covers was filmed and edited into a short titled "The Perfect Comic Book Cover," available to view on the 4 Sight Studio website. The film is heartwarming, as Gorden walks you through his process of connecting with the project and creating the cover, and it ends with the special moment when this little superhero gets to see her cover for the first time.
"Working with the Superhero Project itself was dope because these kids were really enjoying these covers," Gorden says. "I haven't gotten to see [them], but they've exhibited the work a couple of times, so a couple of my works have ended up on display there in Ohio. I'm like, 'Wow, it's kind of become its own thing.'"
The ever-industrious Gorden is prepping to release at least four or five more adventure coloring books this year, and hopes to put out Kwame Hightower and the Exiles of Kalatheaa before the end of 2022.
For those aspiring comic artists and writers who dream to follow the path of self-publishing he has, Gorden has some advice:
"Focus on one project at a time and get it done. Don't worry about anything else. Get it done. If you don't do nothing else, get it done," he says. "And don't worry about how [you're] going to go and get it out on the shelf at your local comic book store. Put it out on the internet and go from there. Use your tools. Use what you got to get what you want."