Oakbrook Middle teacher seeks to inspire students through cartoon

Oakbrook Middle School resource officer James Barr lends his voice to the character of Broke Downdog for the animation cartoon 'Karate Dawgs.' Students Mike Davis (from left), Marlon Bryant and Blake Blackshear provide voices for the main characters in the series.

A four-member squad of canines with a background in martial arts is helping kids build their self-esteem.

The dogs, of course, aren't real. They're animated characters in a cartoon series called "Karate Dawgs," created by Oakbrook Middle School teacher Daniel Bryant. But some of the situations the four-legged pals get involved in, such as dealing with bullies, are very real.

Bryant, 28, teaches an art animation class at Oakbrook Middle and started the extracurricular cartoon in August as a way to boost the morale of students. The animation has since gained a cult following at the school.

"Last year, I saw that a lot of kids around the school needed some character building," Bryant said. "So I thought, 'What's a creative way to inspire kids to have character?' And I said, well, through drawing and through animation, maybe I can inspire them, and it's been working."

So far, Bryant has created 14 episodes that are about five minutes long each and center around the four super-hero dogs who know karate. Most of the shows deal with the theme of self-esteem as the Karate Dawgs battle foes such as the Evil Pumpkins or bullies off the street. Some of the episodes feature a recurring character named Broke Downdog, who gets teased because of the way he looks and how he dresses.

"So the Karate Dawgs come in and build his self-esteem and also educate the guys who are teasing him not to tear him down," Bryant said.

The cartoon, however, isn't a one-man show. It's a collaborative effort, Bryant said, with teachers, students and others who give him ideas and help lend their voices to each of the characters for the show. Broke Downdog, for instance, is voiced by the middle school's resource officer, James Barr.

"My character was formulated to help build the esteem of the kids," said Barr, an officer with the Summerville Police Department. "Whoever views the cartoon will learn not to judge one another right away because of the way they act or speak."

Barr said the series teaches children the Golden Rule: "Treat others the way that you would want to be treated."

The main characters of the show, or teachers as Bryant likes to call them, are Tigerdog, Karate K9, Chuck-Chuck and Sophie, voiced, respectively, by eighth-graders Mike Davis and Blake Blackshear and seventh-graders Marlon Bryant and Mo Mitchell.

"I've learned before you crack a joke at someone, you got to check yourself because no one's perfect," said Mike, 14. "And that's the main message of the stories."

Thirteen-year-old Marlon added to the point, "You just have to be your own person."

Bryant has been drawing since a young age, and he got the inspiration for the characters of his show from growing up with cartoons such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," he said.

Each episode takes him and the cast about 2 1/2 weeks to produce. For about a five-minute episode, it could take up to 300 drawings to animate it, said Bryant, who accomplishes that by doodling during breaks and at home. He's already working on a spin-off series that he's calling "The Battle Cats."

And although Bryant said he wants to entertain kids with his cartoons, the main goal is to help them feel good about themselves.

"That they are important, and they are loved and should have self-respect and self-esteem," he said.

The episodes air on the school's TV show and soon will broadcast on the local station WLCN, the Lowcountry Network Channel 18. Viewers also can watch the shows online at youtube.com, aniboom.com or on Bryant's profile page on dorchester.oms.schoolfusion.us.

Reach Almar Flotildes at 937-5719.