(This was first published on News Break, here. This isn’t the usual type of post I share on my blog, but I’m proud to profile my friend’s amazing work.)
In April 2020, Jessica Robinson was feverishly working on her soon to be released Earth Day music video, “Love Letters to the Planet,” when her heart started racing. Her breathing grew shallow, and she lost the ability to focus.
Her panic wasn’t about production deadlines. It was about Covid, or rather the immense life uncertainty it wrought.
For ten years, she had been working to combat climate change at the local level. In 2010, she helped implement her hometown’s Climate Protection and Zero Waste Plan programs. She became an Al Gore Climate Reality Leader and ranked in the top 1% of over 20,000 climate leaders worldwide in the number of presentations made and audience members reached.
Now she was about to release what would become a well-received Earth Day song on YouTube. However, she still hadn’t begun to realize her biggest dream of developing a kid’s television program with a climate superhero.
With the rise of Covid, she wondered if she’d waited too long. “It struck me that I could catch this horrible disease and possibly die, and all the stories I wanted to share would still be inside of me.”
It wasn’t an entirely rational thought, but anxiety isn’t logical.
Jessica is a biracial woman, the daughter of Bay Area reggae legend George Robinson of “George and the Wonders” and Pamela Proctor, better known as Daughter West in the reggae community for her role in introducing reggae to the United States from Jamaica, including acclaimed musician Bob Marley.
Jessica learned to dream big and care about spirit and community above material wealth from her parents. She also learned optimism.
“Imagine a world in which kids feel inspired to take action to heal the planet. I want to be part of creating that inspiration, not just for children but for the inner-children in adults, too,” Robinson says, smiling.
“I realized that for the last ten years, I had been making excuses for why the time was never right to pursue my passion project. But Covid shook me.”
Robinson supports herself by teaching sustainability to K-12 students in two counties. However, with work reduced and her commute suddenly non-existent due to quarantine, it was now or never to follow her dream.
Birth of a Superhero
She conceived of an environmental superheroine in 2010. She had just won the Miss Alameda title in her local pageant. She wanted to use her platform to encourage recycling in her city.
She crafted an alter-ego, Recycle Woman. She wrote a script, designed a costume, and successfully applied for grants from local organizations. Finally, she recruited friends to act in and help her produce a 25-minute video.
She debuted the film at the local movie theater in 2011. The tongue-in-cheek motion picture, using simple animation, live-action, and rudimentary special effects, was well received for encouraging recycling through humor and an engaging story. Supporters encouraged her to further the concept’s reach by sharing it with former Vice President and Environmental Activist Al Gore.
But how? She tried writing to him, but his administrative staff processed her letter, and she doesn’t think he saw it. She signed up for his Climate Reality training. Participants were never really allowed to be physically close to him, but she was determined to seize this one chance to make contact.
With her heart in her mouth, she leaped in front of his bodyguards during a break in the training, handed him a DVD, and said, “Mr. Gore, this project is about everything you’ve been talking about here. I would love to get your endorsement.”
Mr. Gore and his guards were enormously startled, and she was shaking with nerves. The incident could have ended badly. However, after recovering from his surprise, Mr. Gore graciously accepted the DVD and thanked her.
Even now, she can’t believe she did that. “Afterward, I had to leave the room and sit for a while until my heart stopped racing.”
Ultimately, Mr. Gore didn’t endorse her work, but his Climate Reality Project helped her in other ways. They provided footage of his expeditions for use in a later film and a letter of recommendation to interview Gavin Newsom, the Lieutenant Governor of California, about climate change in the Bay Area.
Undeterred, she approached Vince DeQuattro, a visual effects artist, formerly with Industrial Light and Magic and founder of 32TEN Studios for advice. He genuinely liked her concept, but he advised her that a superhero needed to start as a comic before going into film. He also said that Recycle Woman was a “clunky name” and advised her to revise it.
After the energy she had invested into Recycle Woman, Robinson was reluctant to change the name. However, shortly after her discussion with DeQuattro, she had a vivid dream of a baby floating out of her mother’s arms, and the word “resilience” came to her.
She woke with a start, looked up the dictionary definition, and realized that it was the perfect name for her superheroine.
Resilience: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or changeMerriam Webster Dictionary
Over the next year, Robinson wrote thirteen Resilience graphic novel episodes, completing the work in early 2014. She was fortunate to connect with digital artist Charlo Nocete before he was better known. To retain full control of her work, she decided to publish independently. Mr. Nocete was, at that time, more affordable.
With Mr. Nocete’s beautiful illustrations, Robinson published the Resilience graphic novel series’ first issue in 2018.
The saga is about the super being, Resilience, from the Planet Terravitae who grows up on Earth. Her mission and destiny are to stop Apophis, her nemesis, from destroying the planet. However, first, she must overcome her mental blocks and insecurities to access the breadth of her powers.
The characters she befriends also realize personal truths that reveal how individual choices contribute to the planet’s state. Through their awakening, a transformation initiates across Earth. This metamorphosis results in the downfall of Apophis and the healing of the planet.
Robinson says that Resilience is different from other comic superheroes because she helps fans become their own heroes in solving climate change issues, the trashing of the planet, and depleting the world’s natural resources.
Publication Opens Doors
Publication opened doors. Robinson promoted her work at fairs and comic conventions, where she met celebrities like Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek).
She received a grant to create a 50th Anniversary Earth Day music video featuring Resilience, and Resilience became the face of the 2019 Earth Day Festival in San Francisco.
After self-funding her first issue of Resilience, Robinson successfully raised funds for two more through an Indiegogo campaign.
Adversity is the Mother of Invention
Still, progress felt slow. Ten years after she had first conceived an environmental superheroine, she was only starting the second issue of her graphic novel. Her television idea felt like a distant pipe dream.
Then Covid and quarantine hit. She decided this was the “pristine opportunity” to focus on her greatest dream. Her sudden sense of mortality motivated her to give this project her all. If society crumbled or if she contracted a deadly disease, she wanted to have done her best while she could.
But again, how? How to create a pilot television episode on a teacher’s salary? Robinson asked herself, “Where can I film where 1) I won’t have to pay rent or for a permit, 2) where we won’t be disturbed so that it will be safe amid a pandemic, and 3) it will fit the story?”
She thought of her friend Michael Pavel’s property near Lake Tahoe, the Olympic Valley Stables. Pavel usually rented it for weddings, providing services such as videotaping. However, with Covid, his business had vanished. He was willing to help.
His property includes a stable (which became an armory room) and a large teepee for tourist glamping (which became the royal chamber where Resilience is born).
She used her stimulus check to buy a video camera. Since Pavel already had an excellent camera for filming weddings, that made two.
Robinson wondered who she could use for actors when she came across another friend’s impassioned speech on social media and realized that she would make a perfect Queen Filoli (Resilence’s mother). And oh! Her friend’s husband had dreadlocks and could be King Asim (Resilience’s father).
She began to think of more friends who were perfect for certain characters. It made sense that the personalities in her graphic novel were modeled after people in her real life.
She envisioned the pilot episode as a mix of live-action and animation. With her Indiegogo funds, she already had a professional artist and student intern hired to work on her graphic novel’s next issues. They could help with preparing the comic images for animation.
With the money she is saving from working at home, she has hired an Adobe After Effects animator. Finally, she has used savings to hire the same video editor and sound engineer who worked on her music video. What once felt like an almost impossible pipedream was coming together.
Robinson expects to finish her pilot episode in April 2021. Already, she has videotaped most of the live-action, and the animation work is on schedule. After that, she wants to pitch the pilot to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, Disney, and other possible outlets as a streaming show.
She feels hopeful. So much has come together to make this work so far. “I promise myself,” she says with determination, “I will manifest the means to make this project happen.”
And with that, she returns to work with calm nerves and a clear vision.