A superhero now patrols Camden

Ryan Brady created the Bolt, a college student who produces lightning on command as he fights evil in Camden.
Ryan Brady created the Bolt, a college student who produces lightning on command as he fights evil in Camden. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 10, 2014

Ryan Brady was volunteering at Cooper's Poynt School in Camden, helping 5- and 6-year-old kindergartners with early reading and math skills, when he noticed something super about their wardrobe and backpack choices.

"The kids there, they all have Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, all these superheroes from faraway cities," Brady said. "I thought, maybe if they had a superhero who was from their city, they'd have something to be excited about."

Thus, the Bolt was born.

Brady, 25, a self-described geek who has loved comic books since before he could read, created Sean, a college student at Ruttledge-Camden (a stand-in for Rutgers-Camden), who can produce lightning bolts on command and zap away Camden's evils as the Bolt.

The first four issues are available on Amazon.com and at the Comic Station in Haddon Heights for $2. They're free online.

But with only about 100 copies sold, the Bolt's story is far from out there. He's still an undiscovered protector, despite being one of the only - if not the only - superheroes based in Camden.

Hong Nguyen, 26, a classmate of Brady's at Pennsauken High School and at Rutgers-Camden, noticed his friend sketching during classes and pushed him to publish. Nguyen created a website, camdenscomics.com, where the Bolt and another series about a crime-fighting robot are available. The men are looking for more contributors.

Nguyen, who grew up on 34th Street in Camden, said he wanted to show victory over violence in a city known mostly for the latter. "Instead of focusing on high crime rates, we wanted to do something different and show in a fun, positive way how it's getting better as the comics go on."

In the comic, amid intermittent panels of the waterfront, Rutgers, and City Hall, the Bolt's friend Jerome Jordan is a social activist who tries to raise up the city with the help of his powerful friend. It's just the two of them who know about the Bolt's powers, until some gangs catch on.

As for the Bolt's being a white man in a heavily minority city, Brady says, "It's autobiographical. I was just drawing myself at first. I didn't expect it to go anywhere, and now it's out there, I have thought maybe I should have made him a different color, but it's me."

The personalities are similar. Like Brady, the Bolt sometimes has trouble talking to girls. "The Bolt does, too, but he kind of uses his power to try and impress them," he said.

Ironically, they're both after the same girl. Brady based the Bolt's love interest on his own girlfriend and let her name the character.

While Brady does not tiptoe around Camden's problems - they are the reason the Bolt has a job to do - the comics are completely child-friendly.

The gangs don't have real gang names, and there is no gore or serious violence, usually just a lightning-bolt "KABOW" and then a change of scene.

"I wanted to put it out for kids. I'm not out to make money," Brady said. "I would like to get it into schools."

Brady is a self-taught artist. He studied criminal justice at Rutgers-Camden, with an eye to becoming a detective. He passed all the exams to become a Cherry Hill police officer - until the interview. "I guess I didn't have the right personality for it," he said. "You have to be very intimidating, have a macho mentality, and that's just not me."

But Brady's current job allows him more time to fight crime on paper. He works early hours at a subcontractor of Lockheed Martin making radio frequency connectors. When he gets home from doing meticulous manufacturing work, he goes right to the sketch pad and spends about four hours each night working on the comics.

He sketches and then scans the images into Photoshop to ink them on his computer.

Indie comics have grown in popularity over the last decade. Tim Erwin, manager of the Comic Book Store in Glassboro, said more people are self-publishing online. He had not heard of other comics set in Camden, though he said it "seemed like a good city for it."

Brady hopes to get the comics into corner stores and around Camden and elsewhere in the area. He sold copies at the Wizard World convention in Philadelphia last month.

"Some people laughed and said things like, 'Even a superhero couldn't save Camden,' " Brady said.

"But then people from Camden thought it was awesome."


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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