Tired of stereotypical film roles that portrayed black men as sidekicks, ex-convicts, athletes or monsters, Alonzo Washington set out to give children more positive role models. The 31-year-old community outreach worker-turned-entrepreneur from Kansas City, Kansas, created Omega Man, a black action figure he likens to Superman or Batman.
Omega Man and Omega Man Deluxe, which come in light- and dark-skinned versions, are manufactured in Hong Kong and sold by major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us. And--zowee!--those venues sent the 1998 sales of Washington's homebased company, Omega 7 Inc., soaring to $600,000.
It's all a bit of a surprise to Washington. In 1992, with just $5,000 in savings, he wrote and published a comic book called Original Man, which featured positive black role models. Before it was published, Washington presold orders through local churches, bookstores and community organizations, a move that brought him profits of $12,000. At a comic book signing he organized, 2,000 people showed up--including a correspondent from Newsweek, who wrote an article about him.
National media exposure proved there was a market for his work. "I always wondered how I could do what I wanted to do with my life and still get my message across," Washington says. Suddenly, he had his answer.
Demand for Washington's work eventually led to 50 more comic books dealing with issues such as racism and gang violence, as well as spin-off products including T-shirts, watches, baseball caps and posters. Branching out into Omega Man action figures in 1994 was a natural next step.
Washington presold orders of Omega Man to a Toys "R" Us in Kansas City. When the doll sold out in two hours, the toy company increased its orders nationally. Omega Man is also sold at Omega 7's Web site (http://www.omega7.com), specialty shops and comic book stores, and Washington makes personal appearances at community organizations to promote sales.
Up next: the big screen. Washington hopes to create a film based on Omega Man. A Canadian film company wants to partner with him on the project; they hope to attract the involvement of well-known black actors. How does he know the venture will be successful? Says Washington, "Because my characters break the mold."