Above: Blake Showers (left) and a self-portrait (right)
Millersville University student Blake Showers already has an impressive resume and he’s not set to graduate for at least another year. The Birmingham, Alabama native and art education major’s distinctive style of illustration has found a significant audience online. He describes his personal art style as, “very cartoony with some manga and anime influences, splashed in with some graffiti elements.”
Showers has a collective following online of more than 200,000 fans and some of his videos on Tik Tok have topped nearly four million views. His talents have attracted sponsorship work with brands like Mountain Dew, Brisk and more. But what he might be most proud of is his original shonen (a comic aimed at a young, male audience) manga series called 4Strikes. The series is a collaborative effort with his co-creator, co-writer and editor, Daniel Williams. You can read the series online at Saturday PM.
Above: Meleak Williams, the protagonist of Showers’s series 4strikes.
The story follows Meleak Williams, a teenager whose life is turned upside down when he finds himself in the afterlife prematurely after a mysterious alleyway incident with a demon masquerading as a talking weasel. The protagonist, Meleak, goes on to become a demon hunter as he seeks his vengeance.
Like any great artist, Showers drew inspiration from his own life – though he himself has not encountered any demonic weasels. “It first started as a traditional superhero story,” says Showers. “As time passed, I started drawing from my own life more. When I got to college, I was on my own a lot more, so I had more time to daydream. I’d walk at night and just have my mind wondering about ghosts and demons and other scary things. I gave the main character, Meleak, a bent baseball bat.” He notes he was a big fan of anime series called Paranoia Agent, in which the main villain used a bent bat. That weapon of choice served as inspiration for his own series. “I thought that was so cool, so I made Meleak a bat wielding–demon hunter.”
Showers’s work with the company that publishes the series, Saturday PM, began several years ago. “I was working on my manga, 4strikes, with my friend and co-writer Daniel Williams,” says Showers. “I was in a group for artists wanting to present their manga to Saturday AM. I started talking with Fredrick Jones, the creator of Saturday AM, and we talked about putting it into their magazine. There are some adult themes in 4strikes, like blood and cursing.” In the end, they decided that his story was better suited for Saturday PM. “Once we got our story better fleshed out, we decided to be on Saturday PM because it catered to more adult audiences.” According to Showers, working there has been a great experience thus far. “Everyone has been so helpful and nice.”
Showers says his love of art, and his love of manga and anime in particular, began early in his life. “Before school in kindergarten, I’d watch Pokémon and Sailor Moon,” he says. “I just thought both were so cool. [They were] way different than American cartoons. When I had my adenoids taken out in my younger years, my mom bought me mangas [of] Dragon Ball and Pokémon [to the hospital].” Reading the manga books helped him take his mind off the cold hospital environment.
As his talent and portfolio grew over the years, so did the opportunities. “I’ve gotten to work with some music artists I like,” says Showers. “[And] I got to work with one of my favorite brands, Mishka.” His work with Miskha allowed him to create limited release merchandise featuring his artwork, which he says was a huge honor. Showers also notes that he’s also made a lot of friends through sharing his art online over the years. “It’s been a lot of people that have supported me that I’ve never met. I am really grateful for it,” he says.
The online support comes with positives and negatives, says Showers. He manages all of his own accounts and admits it can be overwhelming at times, but he’s found healthy ways to manage the online attention. “I go on hiatus frequently,” he says, noting that he’ll often close his accounts for commissioned work due to his own workload with school and illustrating. “My friends joke with me about it. Sometimes I take on too much and get burnt out.”
So, what makes illustration the right medium for Showers? “I think I just like creating things. I do it when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I’m bored,” he explains. “It’s always been something that has been there. Even if I didn’t get paid for doing art ever again, I’d still make it.”
He says he makes a concerted effort to provide representation in his art, remembering his own childhood where he didn’t often see people of color in the shows and books he loved so much. “There weren’t a lot of black anime characters or superheroes when I was growing up,” he says. “This made me feel left out. It made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to like those things because I didn’t see anyone that looked like me in those series. I really don’t want a kid to feel that way, so I try to put a lot of black representation in my work.”
As an artist, Showers closely follows the work of artists and draws inspiration from them. “Some [of the] artists I look up to are Akira Toriyama [character designer for Dragon Ball], Yusuke Murata [manga artist of One Punch Man], Anthony Piper, Whyt Manga, Takashi Murakami and Donald Glover.” And of course, he still loves manga to this day. “I would say right now, One Punch Man is my favorite manga,” says Showers, who admires the panels and layouts of the series. “Dragon Ball is one of my favorites, too!” he says. “I love Akira Toriyama’s world building and character design.”
Showers is soaking up his time as art student at Millersville and says he’s grateful he came to the ‘Ville at the recommendation of his girlfriend. “The staff and students have been so welcoming,” he explains. “My advisor Dorothy Frey is amazing. She is so helpful, sweet and kind. She really made my transition to Millersville so easy.” After spending time at another college and then taking some gap years, Showers says he was nervous about going back to school. “As soon as I started the process to get in, everyone has been more than helpful.”
So, where will we find Showers in the future? “I do want to go into teaching,” says Showers. “Back in Alabama, I worked at an art museum and taught art classes to kids. That’s what originally inspired me to get a degree in art education.” Outside of teaching, his big dreams include having his own show on Cartoon Network someday. If you want to keep up with his career and see more of his work, visit his website, blakeshowers.art.