Growing up in Louisville’s Southwick Housing Projects in the 70s and 80s bred a different mentality than it would today if the apartments still existed. Prior to crack epidemic of the late 80s and early 90s – it was a peaceful close-knit community that provided affordable living for many low-income families of Louisville’s West End.
John McKissick (43) was one of those residents. He was born and raised in Southwick and has memories of many good times that he and his friends experienced throughout their childhood. In 2008, he began creating a cartoon series called Southwick Gang Adventures. The cartoon is based on life in the Southwick projects and uses real-life experiences to teach children about the dangers of bullying, stealing and fighting.
“When I was younger – when we lived in Southwick – my grandmother (Rosemary Cook) used to run the community center. She used to pull young kids off the street and have them cleaning up the recreation shop and things like that. Everybody knew who she was – she kind of kept us disciplined. There could be a crap game going on and she’ll walk right through it and everybody had so much respect for her, they’d stop what they were doing and let her go on about her business – so she kind of kept everybody straight.” – John McKissick
McKissick’s family moved from Southwick and purchased a home when he was 15 years-old but he continued to spend majority of his free time hanging out with his friends in the projects. He never imagined that years later he would create a cartoon series about his experiences as a child.
As a young kid McKissick discovered his innate passion for writing and began writing as much as he could in his spare time. During his teenage years he used his writing skills to pursue a short-lived rap career. He began rapping under the moniker J. Love and released a local hit entitled, “The Power Isn’t in the Gun” to address gang violence in Louisville during the early 90s. The song aired on local radio stations and led to a few offers from independent record labels.
“I’ve been writing since I was a kid. When I was younger I used to look at TV shows like Sanford & Son, the Jefferson’s and Three’s Company. Most people look at it for comedy but I was looking at it and studying it. I would wonder how they come up with the characters and the dialogue. I was maybe six or seven years-old when I studying. I didn’t know I was studying but I was figuring out how they came up with shows.” – John McKissick
Creative thoughts flow through McKissick’s head so frequently that he will often stop in the middle of eating a meal and jot down ideas for scripts on napkins – and then continue eating. This process allowed him to complete his first full script when he was 19 or 20 years-old. Over the next 25 years he’d complete two screen plays, five sitcoms, three cartoon series and several short films. All these projects are fully scripted and ready to be filmed once he acquires funding for their budgets. He has since created a film company called Noir Ink Entertainment and all these projects will be released under this brand.
One of those completed cartoon series is the Southwick Gang Adventures. The concept for the cartoon was developed after McKissick became uncomfortable with many of the prime-time cartoons that are currently being aired with adult content. Despite many of these programs being rated TV-14 – some parents feel as though they aren’t appropriate for anyone under the age of 18.
“One day I watching my little nieces and nephews watching a prime time cartoon and I noticed that there was all this cursing going on in the cartoon and I was looking at them thinking, ‘Why the hell are they looking at this cartoon?’ I was already a writer, so at that moment I decided to come up with something that they can learn from and at the same time, laugh hysterically. So that was the birth of the Southwick Gang Adventures and that was seven years ago, so this cartoon is seven years in the making.” – John McKissick
McKissick immediately began writing the concept and script which developed into 17 episodes over the next seven years. He would later enlist his wife, Dichiara McKissick and local comedians, writers and actors: Rashida Webber, Darren Webber, William Hamilton, Nick Phillips and Bradford Thompson to provide the voices for the characters. The animation was created by Shawn Cowan and the vice president of Noir Ink – Dez Thompkins -assists with all the production.
Each episode costs roughly $25,000 to create so due to budgeting limitations – it would take seven years until the first episode was actually complete and ready to air. McKissick planned to debut the cartoon at a Louisville movie theatre in December 2014, so he reached out to local activist Christopher 2X to help promote the premier since he is often involved with mentoring at-risk-youth.
“We were having a premier for the cartoon and we decided to reach out to Christopher 2x because we knew he was doing something positive with the kids. So we had a meeting with Christopher 2X and he said that he knew somebody that wanted to be in the cartoon. I asked him who it was and he said that it was Master P. He asked if I had a part for him. I said yes and wrote him into the script. Master P did that for free for us as long as we mentioned his ‘Let the Kids Grow’ Foundation in the cartoon.”
The first episode features an all black cast but McKissick says that most of the other episodes are multicultured. His hopes are that these cartoons can teach positive morals to children while entertaining them and bridging any cultural gaps. He is also hoping that the cartoon eventually becomes syndicated nationwide and is picked up by PBS, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, or Disney.
In addition, McKissick is releasing the Southwick Game Adventures book series on Amazon in late December 2015. The first book in the series is called “Sticky Fingers” and teaches children about the dangers of stealing.
McKissick’s film company – Noir Ink – currently has a Kickstarter Campaign to help fund further episodes of the Southwick Gang Adventures. If you would like to support this project click the Kickstarter link. More information is also available on the Southwick Gang Adventures Facebook page. John McKissick can be reached at email@example.com
Below is the first episode of the Southwick Gang Adventures which warns children about the dangers of bullying.