Steve Cunningham draws inspiration from success of ‘Black Panther’

Former IBF cruiserweight champion preparing to launch a comic book series around another black protagonist, one he knows very well—himself.

No one could predict the level of success that Marvel’s movie “Black Panther” would experience in theaters this year. Calling it an all-time popular movie would be an understatement.

Moviegoers love the film, recently making it the highest-grossing superhero movie in North American history, according to Time.com.

It’s raked in more than $673 million in sales thus far and is the third highest-grossing movie ever in the United States.

That this superhero action movie is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda and features a predominantly black cast is not lost on viewers, particularly African-Americans. This movie has proven to be an inspiration to many in the black community. But very few people have been inspired quite like cartoonist and former IBF cruiserweight champion Steve “USS” Cunningham.

For him, “Black Panther’s” vast appeal and financial success has touched Cunningham personally. So much so, that it’s having a positive impact on his future.

“Black Panther is doing so well,” Cunningham said. “It shows the support for black superheroes; it shows the thirst for black superheroes.”

Cunningham knows firsthand of what he speaks. During his childhood years in Philadelphia, he loved drawing comic superheroes. Superman, Wolverine, Batman were all part of his repertoire. He’d spend hours copying these figures, and other well-known characters.

But as time went by, Cunningham began to notice that these superheroes did not look like him. There was little to no cultural or racial diversity. So Cunningham, an African-American, could not fully embrace them.

“From there, I’d draw my own characters,” he said. “I didn’t like to copy [anymore].”

Black Panther existed, but he received very little attention in mainstream media circles. It was Superman, Captain America, Ironman, Batman, X-Men or nothing.

“I can say from experience … there wasn’t black representation,” Cunningham said. “There wasn’t enough in the superhero world.”

Black Panther is doing so well. It shows the support for black superheroes; it shows the thirst for black superheroes. Former Cruiserweight Champ and cartoonist Steve Cunningham

Cunningham, however, didn’t just get angry over the lack of black superheroes. Instead, he was moved to one day fill the void. But first, Cunningham needed to create a black superhero that he and others could relate to.

Years passed. Cunningham graduated high school, joined the United States Navy and began boxing. But his black superhero had not yet materialized.

Cunningham struggled to find the right character, but he never relinquished the quest. Thankfully, Cunningham’s persistence finally paid off. Interestingly, that black superhero was never far away.

This superhero came into view the day Cunningham decided to expand his comic goal from drawing strips to doing a book. He plans to release his initial comic book sometime this summer — in July or August.

“I was at [former heavyweight champion] Chris Byrd’s house in Las Vegas and I came up with the idea,” Cunningham said. “That’s where [the idea of doing the comic book] started in 2004.

“That’s when I said: ‘Man, let me make ME into a superhero.’ For a few reasons: 1) I look like a superhero; I’m ripped, 2) It would be cool to turn me into a superhero, and 3) there aren’t that many black superheroes in mainstream [comics] or just out.”

Just like Black Panther, USS Cunningham will be a defender for good. There will be a slight difference, however, like Captain America, most of USS Cunningham’s battles against evil will take in the United States, primarily in his hometown, Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

The book’s superhero will be very familiar to boxing fans. His name is ‘USS Cunningham’ which is Cunningham’s moniker inside the boxing ring and he’ll look a lot like, and possess many of the former champ’s physical and mental characteristics. He will be physically imposing, fearless and will not shy away from any foe, regardless of his opponent’s physical size or power.

There is no quit in ‘USS Cunningham,’ his motivation to promote honor and justice for all will be his greatest power. But more important, ‘USS Cunningham’ is based on a real person. He’s a superhero everyone will be able to relate to.

As the movie, 'Black Panther' is proving, the world is ready for an action superhero of color. And 'USS Cunningham' is ready to continue filling that long overdue comic void.

For a closer look at Steve Cunningham, check out his fighter page.

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