Comics have always been recognized as an incredible medium for education, and Rise of the Allies is a new B2B comic aimed at sparking conversation about toxic work cultures, microaggressions and the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion – and the role of allies who try to help.
The idea of the workplace has changed a lot over the three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, as working from home became the norm – and many ingrained ideas about “work” – from commuting to water cooler chit chat – became irrelevant. Both companies and workers adjusted to these new realities but as the pandemic slides into a nebulous endemic state, offices are filling up again – and with it the return of toxic in person work environments, filled with uncomfortable microaggressions and the clash of lived experiences.
Rise of the Allies tackles workplace issues via a superhero story co-written by editor and writer Joseph Illidge (MPLS Sound, Judge Kim and the Kids’ Court) and founder and CEO of Performance Paradigm Reginald Butler, with illustrations by artist ChrisCross (Xerø, Captain Marvel).
It’s a collaboration between Butler’s Performance Paradigm, a leading human-capital consultancy company that works with clients such as Google and Meta, and iD8 Entertainment, an independent comic book publisher and IP generator powered by diverse creators, founded by Jonathan Rheingold, an industry veteran from Marvel and Harris Comics.
They call it “an innovative storytelling program designed to stimulate essential dialogue in some of the most respected corporations by utilizing comic books with impactful messaging. The original comic book will center on important sociopolitical themes to be explored with audiences around the globe.”
As you might expect, the comics format was chosen as “an influential and timeless medium—appealing to both younger and older generations” and features the superhero Chroma, who “uses her powers to combat supernatural enemies responsible for psychic manipulation and nurturing microaggressions in the corporate workplace.”
The rest of the creative team includes colorist Walt Barna (Dark Blood) and letterer Saida Temofonte (DCeased, The X-Files).
That’s all a lot to digest so we were able to ask the creators a few questions about what they’re hoping to accomplish with Rise of the Allies. Questions were answered via email and slightly edited for flow.
THE BEAT: Can you lay out the players involved and what they bring to the project?
Jonathan Rheingold: As a comic industry veteran (Harris Comics and former VP of Custom Solutions for Marvel), co-founder of XXL and RESPECT magazines and partnership expert for companies such as Def Jam Recordings, Atlantic Records and Uproxx, I was able to identify a void in the comic book market that inspired me to start id8entertainment.com — an independent comic book publisher and IP generator powered by diverse creators.
In our partnership with Performance Paradigm, we are their exclusive provider in the comic book medium. We lead the development and production of character creation, editorial, illustration, animation, and other forms of content and immersive storytelling vehicles embodying Performance Paradigm’s deep expertise and input as it pertains to DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) principles.
In our collaboration, iD8 conducted an ideation and IP creation process for Performance Paradigm. The original characters and stories of Rise of the Allies will be provided to Performance Paradigm clientele, which includes some of the world’s most prestigious companies such as Google, Meta, eBay, Delta Airlines, PwC and Mercedes, to name a few.
For the Rise of The Allies B2B comic book, I rallied together some of the best veterans in the comics business. Esteemed editor Joseph Illidge (DC Comics’ Batman, Heavy Metal) as the Creative Lead and Darren Sanchez (former Editor and Manager of Marvel Custom Solutions) as the Managing Editor. Joseph and Darren assembled a top-tier pool of creators from DC Comics, Marvel, and BOOM! Studios including Chriscross, Walt Barna, Saida Temofonte, Yvel Guichet, Wil Quintana, Sebastian Cheng, and Ray-Anthony Height.
THE BEAT: Joe, how did you become involved?
Joseph Illidge: Jonathan and I have known each other for years, and talked about bringing our fields of expertise together for unique projects. We’ve both been at the forefront of significant changes in music, comic books, and global culture.
When he told me about his new company and the collaboration with Performance Paradigm, it was a project that spoke to my career mission of using comic books to elevate people and their personal stories, with an eye on the real issues of the world. Darren Sanchez being on our team was further reinforcement of the level of experience Jonathan wanted for this project.
Reggie Butler and Performance Paradigm are doing important work in this time of paradigm shift in the world, as it relates to work culture and an honest look at the degrees of toxic behavior within the walls of various businesses.
The opportunity to write the comic book with Reggie and merge larger-than-life elements with layers of thinking behind the roles of allies, people who step up at risk to themselves in order to help colleagues combat toxicity in the workplace…it was a great mix of our skill sets.
THE BEAT: With workplaces opening up again it does seem time to review just what constitutes a toxic workplace culture. In fact, some Black workers found that working remotely made them feel more valued and supported – which is pretty sad when you think about it. Is that the kind of behavior that this comic addresses?
Illidge: It’s true that remote work has mitigated some forms of workplace toxicity, but by no means does it insulate people of color, women, queer people from the full range of microaggressions, prejudices, and career sabotage that is ever-present in various companies.
Additionally, companies ranging from Disney to Morgan Stanley to Goldman Sachs are either pushing for, or have instituted a return to a majority-in-office work week, so people throughout the world are returning to the water-cooler, shared space, close-proximity dynamic.
We can prepare the work environments to be ethically revitalized, welcoming, and nurturing, or we will be left with the same toxic work cultures that led to the Great Resignations, quiet quitting, and loss of great people to other companies with better corporate environments.
THE BEAT: What made a superhero the right way to approach this story?
Illidge: Superheroes have become one of the four major food groups of global entertainment culture, and everyone now knows the name “Thanos”. It’s a familiar genre full of stories using heightened reality to dig into human issues, which is why Avengers: Endgame began and ended with scenes of people without costumes and stories like WandaVision and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can activate intense conversations about grief.
Toxic workplaces have far-reaching ripple effects, and through using superheroes to take us into fictional companies which emulate real ones, id8 and Performance Paradigm will ignite conversations in ways that have real-world impact.
That is what comic books do. Make indelible impressions and spark conversation.
THE BEAT: What do you think is the most important lesson we should take away from the book?
Reggie Butler: Using the powerful medium of storytelling and comic books, we want people to recognize that while there will always be intentional division and inequities that surround us, a better future is possible. Through allyship we can and must do our part to improve the human condition.
This is the story of people who have been ‘othered’ because of who they are and the intersectional dimensions of difference they represent. It’s also a story about those of us who stand up, speak out and call people into being actively conscious about their role in improving the human condition. We want this story to activate the ally in all of us.
We know that throughout history, building a stronger human connection is the true antidote to what ails our society. The betterment of our collective future will be defined by what we do next. Make the choice, rise up and be an ally. Our tomorrow will be shaped by what we do today.
Rise of the Allies will be available in print and digital formats to various businesses worldwide as the first phase of an innovative corporate program from iD8 Comics and Performance Paradigm in the first quarter of 2023.
The book has a main cover by artists Yvel Guichet (Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero) and Wil Quintana (Green Lantern), with a variant cover by ChrisCross and Sebastian Cheng (Amazing Spider-Man). Two variant cover editions by ChrisCross will be released to Performance Paradigm clients and employees globally. For more information visit PerformanceParadigm.com and iD8Entertainment.com – and check out the preview right here.