For much of Tony Weaver Jr.’s (@tonyweaverjr) career, integrity has remained both a guiding principle and a catalyst for his success as a manga writer, a creator with over 758,000 followers across social media, and an entrepreneur. As the CEO and founder of the production company Weird Enough Productions, the Atlanta-based 29-year-old strives to positively represent characters of color with rich stories that illustrate their complex range of emotions.
In 2020, Weaver launched his first print manga series, The UnCommons, which tells the story of a group of diverse, unique superheroes—led by its protagonist Iris, who has received a vision of the end of the world. Iris’s character design features relatable, personal touches—including a bonnet that magically appears on her head when she goes to sleep. Since January 2023, the series is exclusively digitally distributed on the comics platform Webtoon, where it has over 580,000 readers.
Weaver has forged partnerships with various organizations, school districts, and digital platforms to promote diversity. For example, in February 2023, his media company partnered with video streaming service Crunchyroll to donate a manga library to a middle school in New York during Black History Month.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Weaver discussed his commitment to diverse storytelling in the creative space, the principles he adheres to as an entrepreneur, his approach to securing brand partnerships, and what it means to be a Black creator in 2023.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What advice do you have for brand growth and monetization?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, having your business model in mind is something you need to figure out in the beginning. Some people think of outcomes first, and business model later, but everything begins with a business plan. … As an entrepreneur, once you start bringing people on board, you have the responsibility to make sure you’re compensating them properly and not asking them to work below the industry rate. This is what integrity is all about.
There are lots of unique revenue models that can apply to content creation. When most people think of monetization, they think of brand deals, ad revenue, or merchandise, but to me, that’s just scratching the surface. … Sometimes you have to travel the off-beaten path, and the only way to do that is to know what makes you special.
Your entrepreneurial pursuits have been fueled by activism and the need to showcase the complex beauty of human emotions, especially in Black people. That said, what does it mean to undertake this responsibility in 2023?
Writing is a responsibility, and writing at this time is an even larger responsibility. Decentering myself and giving space to others has allowed me to do this. … The team that creates The UnCommons is 100 percent people of color that is literally scattered around the world. As a result, we are able to come to the table with very well-informed, globally-minded points of view that allow us to create stories and meet our responsibility to our audience.
How have you been able to maintain consistency for nearly 10 years while also upholding a level of excellence?
The journey to Weird Enough Productions began back in October 2014 when I entered a pitch competition as an acting major at Elon University’s School of Business. Eventually, we were able to put together a team and ended up winning first place in the pitch competition, which was a $500 prize. That $500 would set us off on the journey that we’re on today.
What’s allowed us to be consistent is simply following the L.I.T.E, which stands for love, integrity, truth, and excellence. So, number one, you have to do what you love. Also, if you love what you’re doing, you do it with integrity. … For us, this means not cutting corners, especially with a series like The UnCommons, which approaches subjects like race, mental health, self-belief, depression, and anxiety. This also means doing research and consulting with experts in order to develop a greater understanding of the people that are experiencing these things.
This way you’re able to come out with accurate and authentic portrayals that have diverse representation, which means telling the truth. Finally, if you do all of those things, the end result is excellence, which is how we’ve been able to move as a company.
In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis placed on the role and portrayal of Black superheroes, especially with the success of characters like Black Panther and Luke Cage. For you, why does representation matter in the comic book industry?
If you’re going to put something out there that hundreds and thousands of people are going to read, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the stories you’re telling are not going to put any people in danger or that you are not advancing any negative stereotypes about a group of people.
In saying this, I understand how powerful stories can be because of the ways they are capable of motivating people to change themselves and the world around them. … When you think about the film Black Panther, you think about how great the film is, but then you also think about the number of STEM programs that were inspired by Shuri and Wakanda technology in cities like Oakland and Atlanta. That’s where the power happens. … This is why representation matters to me because we’re able to make images work on and off the page.
How do brand deals work in your particular niche of content creation?
Because there are so many layers to our work, brand deals look different. In short, we try to partner with brands and organizations that are aligned with our values. … Integrity is especially important to me because I don’t take for granted the responsibility I have as a creator and to my community. … We are very strategic in our partnerships as our goal for Weird Enough is to become a household name for diverse stories, especially those that are unique and off the beaten path.
As you approach a decade in the creative and entrepreneurial space, what has been your greatest learning moment?
Being at this for 10 years, there’s an understanding that things take time. … Very often when you look at social media, you begin to think that things happen instantly. … But that’s not how things work. Instead, everything works in its own timing, and the most important thing to do is to focus on where you want to be. This means understanding that victory is on the way, regardless of what’s going on around you.