The homepage for Blackwax Boulevard bears this warning: This webcomic is for music nerds only.
Creator Dmitri Jackson, BFA08, certainly is one. A Miles Davis devotee, Jackson grew up listening to his mom’s jazz collection and his dad’s R&B albums. Later, he would burn hip hop and classical CDs from the library and teach himself to play bass, drums, guitar and piano.
In other words, he’s a lot like his lead character, Marsalis J. Parker, record store cashier, college grad, aspiring critic and all-around misfit. Marsalis works for aging owner Hardy Rollins, who is struggling to keep the record store afloat in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Over the strip’s past eight years, Marsalis has had to reckon with his stutter, racism, hipsters and unrequited love.
“It’s a cliché for the main character to reflect its creator, but I definitely relate to Marsalis,” Jackson says. “I don’t have a stutter, but I know what it’s like to have a hard time communicating. And I admire how Marsalis refuses to pander. Like him, I’ll always pick quality over cash.”
Jackson studied visual communication and illustration at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts (where he now also works as an instructional technologist in the communication design program) and served as an editorial cartoonist for Student Life. He remembers his first cartoon that really hit a nerve. It featured police targeting incredulous members of the Association of Black Students after a campus assault.
“People were posting it and sharing it,” says Jackson, who has taught the course “Making Comics” at the Sam Fox School. “It was really encouraging. But what really matters to me is how I feel about the work.”
Jackson’s comic critics are on the same page. Blackwax Boulevard has been a finalist at the Glyph Comics Awards and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and in 2019, it won a National Indie Excellence Award.
“I’m excited to see what the characters do next,” Jackson says. “After all these years, I’ve come to see myself as a gardener. The characters are seeds that I plant in soil, themes I want to explore. It’s my job to watch them grow emotionally, psychologically. They tell me what they want to do.”