Salisbury Native Seeks to Disrupt the Comic Book Industry with African-American Heroine

Rayven Choi isnt just a fearless orphan who finds herself caught amidst international conflict, shes also one of the first African American heroines in comic book history. Yet, the woman who brought Choi to life is somewhat of a heroine hersel

photo courtesy of Shequeta Smith—photo courtesy of Shequeta Smith
Shequeta Smith establishedRayven Choi Films in 2008.

Rayven Choi isn’t just a fearless orphan who finds herself caught amidst international conflict, she’s also one of the first African American heroines in comic book history. Yet, the woman who brought Choi to life is somewhat of a heroine herself.Born in Salisbury, Shequeta L. Smith grew up with a strong desire to tell stories. She recalls her first chance was a play she wrote freshman year of high school about her family. In 2000, she took a trip to South Korea she described as “life changing.” Seeking to articulate the friendly culture while infusing her own narrative, Smith wrote “Rayven Choi” as a screenplay three years later, but it wouldn’t see the light of creation for another ten years or so.Smith graduated from NC State in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in business management. While North Carolina was home, she knew staying in her home state would only take her so far. Like most young people with silver screen dreams, her sights were set on something greater. “Before I left I knew that’s what I wanted…they said I needed to move to L.A. if I want to pursue screenwriting.”She moved to LA in 2004, but faced serious culture adjustments leaving her Southern hospitality roots for the guiltless land of dreams. Most notably, the harsh realty of sexism within the film industry. “Filmmaking is like a boy’s club, and so is the comic book industry, [for me] that’s like a double whammy. There’s not a real presence of women, that’s something I’m trying to break through on both parts because we’re needed, it’s necessary.”For the past 13 years, Smith worked for various Fortune 500 companies by day. By night, she wrote screenplays and worked on short films. It’s rare that young dreamers have the opportunity to quit their day job. Smith suggests, “Find a career that benefits your other career. I made that work for me.”Currently, she is a sales representative for Coca-Cola in the Beverly Hills area, which she has been able to use to her advantage. “My books are on sale in Beverly Hills because that was my territory. It also makes the creative world take me a little bit more seriously because I’ve been in corporate America—if I’m working for them they know I must be good at what I do.”Thanks to the respect she’s gained in the creative world, Smith has directed short films and had her screenplays accepted in writing programs like Nickelodeon, AFI, Universal Studios, and Sundance. It wasn’t until 2014 when her concept trailer for the short film “The Gestapo vs. Granny” was a top 20 finalist in HBO’s “Project Greenlight” that she decided it was time to seriously pursue her dream and bring “Rayven Choi” to life.Smith said the next morning she emailed her illustrator and got to work. Choi had been in concept as a graphic novel since 2008, an inventive tactic to divert her story away from the infamous “slush pile” (a pile of unread scripts) and into producers’ hands. Smith also wanted to create a character young women could look up to and admire.”Rayven Choi” centers around a female heroine who watched a hitman murder her parents in cold blood. Twenty years after the horrific event, Choi has been living in South Korea. The graphic novel chronicles her journey back to America and of course, her journey for vengeance. The first Choi series is currently available, with Smith predicting six separate books based around Choi’s mission and also uncovering dark secrets relating to the death of her parents.Next month Smith will begin her “Shero Talks.” Mirroring TED Talks, she plans to visit 24 different locations across America over a yearlong period, spending about a week in each. Starting at her alma mater of NC State, Smith then hopes to travel to Salem College, NC A&T, her high school, and also barber shops or beauty salons in each area. The goal is not only to inspire but to educate. She wants to talk about the process and what is being done in the industry to change it. Smith also wants to encourage young women to pursue their dreams, even in the face of adversity.Smith says her bit of advice for all young dreamers out there is, “Life is gonna give you plot twists, and you have to start all over. You just have to keep creating.”