Blerd-ish is a podcast and Black comics pop-up shop operated by Baton Rouge natives Keith Cooper and Mark Wallace. The “Dynamic Duo from the Dirty South” use their platform and shop to lift others up and build a sense of community, a trait embedded in the culture of south Louisiana.
The Southern University graduates met some time before the movie “Black Panther” released. “Black Panther” was a revolutionary moment for Black superheroes’ fans, comic book creators and sci-fi fans, which gave the duo an idea. The word “blerd” (Black nerd) was gaining traction. Both Mark and Keith consider themselves blerds. Thus, the podcast Blerd-ish was created. Copper and Wallace use this platform to talk about Black nerd things, and other -ish.
A majority of the podcast is spent highlighting other people. Guests appear on almost every episode to chop it up with the duo and inform the audience of what they are up to. Cooper is constantly searching for new creators that want to use the podcast to highlight their work. Topics discussed on the podcast are vast due to their frequent collaborations. Notable podcast guests included gamer Zombaekills whose profile has risen greatly in the gaming community this past year, Los Angles based and New Orleans born comic book creator and illustrator Jason Reeves, NASA scientist and author Dr. Renee Horton and many others.
Other topics discussed include sports, movies, anime, TV shows, political issues and so on. By creating a space for other creators, they have avoided putting restrictions on the scope of their content.
Black creatives are a group the duo find important. They emphasize the importance of Black people behind the content with their faces on it to provide authenticity. Wallace emphasized the inclusion of Black creatives who took part in the TV shows “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country.” This includes artists such as Ashley Woods, who met the pair as a lead guest of the Mid-City Micro-Con in 2019, and who was a storyboard artist for “Lovecraft Country.”
Podcast guest and independent Black creator Jason Reeves was the first client for the Blerd-ish pop-up shop. The success of this pop-up shop led to the creation of an online store featuring comics, art, books and merch from the creators they connect with. Blerd-ish are also affiliates with other companies to sell pop-culture merch including their own. One such affiliate includes Bookshop.org, which puts an emphasis on small bookshop owners.
“We ended up being a platform that would be a gateway for a lot of those artists to get seen by people who wanted their stuff and didn’t even know it.” Wallace said. Success with the brand came with new exposure but clout was never a goal for the duo. Blerd-ish was contacted by legendary comic book artist Larry Strouman and has even interviewed Lafayette native Rob Guillory, another award-winning creator. The duo started for the love of all things Blerd and are now able to meet people they are fans of. They have seen incremental growth sticking to a quality over quantity approach.
“We don’t got fans, we got family,” Wallace said.
Southern Louisiana is displayed in the duo’s approach of success. Similar to the podcast’s goal of uplifting other creators, the two blerds aim to build community amongst other creators, businesses and folks in Baton Rouge and beyond. This includes collaborations with local artists and businesses such as Lazy Nerds Designs and current LSU art student Janiece Campbell.
One notable moment Cooper recalled had to do with the lack of Black cosplay judges. LSU graduate theninjayoyo is a Black cosplayer that Cooper befriended at Wizard World in New Orleans. Blerd-ish provided theninjayoyo with her first cosplay judging opportunity. “We were her first judging gig and that’s a good thing for a consistent cosplayer to have on their resume because it’s an opportunity most Black cosplayers don’t really get,” Cooper said. They extended the same opportunity a year later to Southern University Law School graduate GammaRae. These are the experiences they enjoy creating with their platform.
The duo is able to provide experiences to young people that they did not have growing up with genuine Black content, courtesy of Black creators. “Little girl came up, saw this piece of art, and instantly saw herself in it and asked how much it was,” Wallace detailed another instance that made them cognizant of the importance of Blerd-ish. “I just gave it to her. That was joy for us.”
“Our brand is associated with literacy for young Black kids, few things can be better than that, that’s real clout,” Wallace said. People of all ages and fandoms can find their fix among Blerd-ish’s catalog, leading them to become a trusted vendor in the Baton Rouge with a purchase from Mayor Broome as well. Being their original blerd selves has proven to be a successful formula for the two Baton Rouge boys.
If you want to see what Blerd-ish is all about, they will have a pop-up shop at the newly opened book store Red-Stick Reads on Jan. 29 with all of their entertaining content. Like Cooper says, “Who doesn’t like a good story? Who doesn’t like to have a good time? This is South Louisiana of all things.”