Man of Valor: Daniel Bryant infuses boyhood antics into acclaimed new faith-based cartoon, ‘Boys of Valor’
How do you raise seven boys and a girl so that not only does the house remain intact, but the kids go on to serve God and a community that needs them?
You could start with a mom, a teacher no less, who stresses education and runs the home like a seasoned administrator.
Then, you could take a hardworking dad, an Air Force aircraft maintenance specialist, the kind of man who gets hit by a car while walking to work, skids across the road and then keeps on walking.
You might add a church. Make it one where the pastor takes kids out into the community to show them what service really looks like.
And last, add a big old splash of imagination.
The drainage ditch behind the kids’ home? Not a ditch. A fort, or a trench, depending on the warfare at hand, which definitely should involve launching giant dirt bombs.
Because all of the above sure worked for Daniel Bryant.
Though he’s 31 now, he and his Summerville siblings haven’t left their antics to the dust of old photo albums.
Bryant, an art teacher at Oakbrook and Fort Dorchester elementary schools, is using them as fodder for his newly released, and widely acclaimed, Christian cartoon series, “Boys of Valor.”
After being released last month, it’s already being distributed internationally and received high praise from the nonprofit Dove Foundation.
The cartoon features a cast of kid superheroes (played by Bryant’s siblings) saving the world from evil using faith lasers, friends and God the Almighty.
Oh, and that good old imagination.
Today, the siblings are 34, 33, 32, 31, 30, 25, 24 and 18.
What was growing up together like? A whole lot of fun with quite a cast of characters.
Bryant and his brother Samuel were visual artists. Calvin Jr. wrote poetry. Jerry was, like their father, gifted with his hands. Timothy possessed oratorical skills. Micah could dress and play drums. Cherniqua had the voice. And David could play some serious football.
Yet, each day held devotion times. Their mother, Brenda, taught educational skills with workbooks and scriptural lessons with the Bible.
After hearing the Bible stories, Bryant would concoct plot details and draw characters, often graphic-novel style.
“They would just keep going through my mind,” he says.
As he grew up, those stories kept on going.
Bryant went to Stratford High, “the perfect place for me to blossom,” he recalls.
He played basketball and delved into its arts program where teachers introduced technique to match his enthusiasm. They also introduced him to the digital image he’d come to love.
He headed for Charleston Southern University next, wondering how to marry his art with faith.
“I felt the Lord wanted me to stay here, so I didn’t fight it,” he recalls.
Bryant excelled at the school, says Dr. Rick Brewer, CSU’s vice president for student affairs and athletics.
“Rarely does a basketball walk-on persist with the program and earn an athletic scholarship and playing time. But challenges don’t deter Daniel from reaching his goals,” Brewer says.
By the time Bryant was a senior, he’d become a fan favorite.
“Our students stood in applause and cheered the entire time he played,” Brewer recalls.
Meanwhile, something else rooted within him on the Christian school campus: a passion for helping young people.
He figured he’d go to seminary next.
But then he landed a summer job at an all-boy military academy and realized God had a different plan.
It was not a job for the timid, not handling sixth through 12th graders, most recently expelled from their home schools.
Sure, there were state educational standards to meet.
“But teaching is much more than standards. That’s what got me hooked. I saw how you can connect to their hearts,” Bryant says. “You’re dealing with all these things that you’re unaccustomed to. I fell in love with teaching them.”
He moved to Oakbrook Middle and oversaw in-school suspension for three years.
There, he found inspiration.
Many students in ISS lacked goals and self-esteem. Some had been bullied. Many struggled with character issues.
“That’s when the Lord gave me an idea,” Bryant says.
Starting in 2008, he created “Karate Dawgs,” a cartoon series whose plots came straight from ISS. Students helped write stories and voice characters for the show, which aired in the Dorchester County District 2 schools.
Excited, Bryant took the show to a local cable network and was rejected.
Later, he tried again. And was accepted.
It was the ultimate teachable moment about perseverance.
“Karate Dawgs” ran Saturday mornings for two years on cable’s WLCN-TV.
Yet, the animation was hand-drawn and labor-intensive. And by then, Bryant had married Lashawna (“my rock”) and become a father.
He also wanted to create something about his faith, which he couldn’t do as part of the public schools.
So, he turned down a new path, or rather an old favored one: that of computer animation.
He was talking through series ideas with his siblings when one piped up, “Do one about us. That would be a great story!”
What if he created a computer-animated Christian cartoon based on their childhoods?
And what if his brothers played themselves?
“We had a childhood that was very special — with two very special parents,” Bryant says.
Many kids he grew up with didn’t have dads in their households. Yet his father, Calvin, was hardworking and loving.
“We had a representative of what a man should be like,” Bryant says.
He would create his new series for boys, especially those who lack male role models.
‘Boys of Valor’
The animated series, “Boys of Valor,” infuses things most boys love (superheroes, explosions, martial arts, bad guys) with things most parents love (morals, faith, math and literacy skills, good guys).
‘Boys of Valor’
Armed with faith lasers and the Holy Bible, the Boys of Valor protect their friends and community from dangers that range from Evil Bots to street bullies.
The cartoon aired in 2011 and 2012 on WLCN tagging into the “Karate Dawgs” spot.
Then came another teachable moment.
Excited about his new creation, Bryant contacted Dave Christiano, a Christian movie producer.
“It’s not good enough,” came the first reply.
When he had five full episodes ready, Bryant tried again.
“This is amazing!” came the second reply.
Christiano even knew of a Christian distribution company that might be interested.
The result: In April, Bryant signed a five-year contract with Bridgestone Multimedia Group, a Christian media company.
His DVD series was released July 2 and is being distributed in South Africa, Canada, Japan, China and Australia, among others. Bryant is even talking with a Kenyan TV station to air “Boys of Valor” there.
The series is sold everywhere from Amazon to Walmart to Christian bookstores.
Then came more good news. “Boys of Valor” received five doves from the Dove Foundation, a prominent nonprofit that ranks media’s family friendliness.
“This is a terrific animated series with the ‘Boys of Valor’ bringing their ‘old time religion’ to a contemporary audience, complete with faith laser battles and high energy,” a Dove reviewer wrote.
Nearly 400 voters have given “Boys of Valor” five stars on the Christian Film Guide’s website.
Next up: Bryant, now a father of four, is working on season two. He wants to create a franchise with action figures, apps, educational video games and a movie. He’s even assembling a team to bring more expertise to the creative table.
“I don’t want to limit it to a DVD series,” Bryant says. “I want it to be more than that — all to help others and serve my faith. I’m in ministry now, just in a creative way.”
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.