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South Bend man goes from near death to web series success

August 29, 2018

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Brandon Reed could be any young man playing video games in his basement.

Broken chair in front of an array of electronic equipment, check. Ball cap on backward, check. T-shirt, check. Warm up pants and slide-on sandals, double check.

But this laid-back 25-year-old South Bend resident actually might be exchanging thoughts with a comedian, an agent, an artist or celebrity halfway across the country. Or he just might be chatting it up with his friends and family.

One thing that’s certain about this guy is that he hasn’t changed much since he became a YouTube star about two years ago as the animator of the popular animated web series “Lil Ron Ron,” which he works on with writer and voice artist Ron Bush of Mobile, Alabama.

But Reed almost gave up on his dream of pursuing art as a way to make a living.

After graduating from Washington High School in 2011, he worked at the Kroger store on Western Avenue while pursuing an associate degree in graphic design.

He got married, had a couple of kids and started working for a business that focuses on design and promotions.

In his spare time, he was working on his own ideas — developing characters, cartoons, animated strips and more. Short on time, he wasn’t always happy with the outcome, but he already had about 6,000 followers on social media.

But things took a dramatic downward turn.

“I was suddenly by myself with two kids and an apartment in Osceola,” he said, describing the breakup of his marriage. “I was under a lot of stress and I ended up in the hospital.”

Reed’s condition was serious. He had an abscess in his throat and had to undergo several procedures to save his life.

For roughly three weeks, Reed couldn’t do much except lay lie on his back and pray that he would recover. Pray that he wouldn’t die leaving his children behind and his dreams unfulfilled.

His family, friends and church were supportive.

“We didn’t know what would happen,” said his mom Jannice Williams, who was helping watch her son’s children, working and worrying whether her youngest son would survive. “We prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed, and God finally answered our prayers.”

Reed grew up in a blended family on the west side of South Bend. His friends were mostly kids who enjoyed hanging out and playing video games until they were told to stop, said his mom.

“I never had any problems with Brandon,” she said.

He was a good student, generally the quiet type who prefers to hang back and observe.

“He was always different,” said Kristen Neeley, a life-long friend. “He liked basketball and video games, but he also liked to draw.”

From the time he was young, Williams and the rest of the family could tell he had a passion for art.

“We would take him to the park,” Williams said of her son. “But instead of running around like most kids, he would want to sit down and draw everything.”

Williams said the family did what they could to encourage him, buying him drawing pads, pencils and other tools as needed. There wasn’t enough money left over to send him to art camps and such.

Neeley remembers her friend winning a poster contest about bullying in middle school, and that he would make just about anything in shop class — for example, blingy-looking jewelry that might be made out of wood but was painted gold.

“I always enjoyed art, but I never thought I could do anything with it,” Reed said. “I guess I just thought of it as a side thing.”

Williams remembers her son trying to sell his pictures of Dragon Ball Z characters to her friends, even when he was just 6 years old.

He took some art and shop classes at Washington, but decided to settle on graphic design as a way of supporting himself and his young family.

Reed recovered and left the hospital more determined than ever to pursue what he felt was his God-given talent for art.

While working his regular job, Reed devoted nearly every spare moment to his art and eventually started working with Bush on a story line for “Lil Ron Ron,” the mischievous youngster who has a tendency to snitch on each of his separated parents.

Almost exactly two years ago, the first episode of the animated comedy was posted on YouTube and went viral overnight with 1 million views. Reed and Bush were stunned.

And the rest as they say is history.

Olivia Almagro, who already knew Reed through a Facebook group, became manager and publicist for the two men. They were being asked to make appearances around the country.

That was a pretty big deal for Reed, who had never been able to travel before. Suddenly, he was being asked to go to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando and more.

He was eventually able to quit his job as a graphic designer and focus all of his attention on his work.

Today, the strip is seen by viewers across the globe, and is especially popular in Texas, Georgia, Florida and Illinois. Reed is still somewhat surprised when he’s walking through a store and people walk up to him wanting to take a selfie with the YouTube wonder known as Cartoon Connect.

In more recent seasons, the two started toning down the language and the content when they realized that kids were among the fan base.

Reed and Bush have collaborated on about 50 episodes over four seasons. They’ve managed to get NBA star Demarcus Cousins in one episode and they have drawn the attention of various celebrities who have given the strip a shout-out on Twitter.

“We’ve had production companies reach out. We’re in talks with folks now,” said Almagro. “Steve Harvey also expressed interest.”

Beyond “Lil Ron Ron,” the two men also pursue their own projects.

Reed continues to develop numerous other animated strips on his Cartoon Connect channel and he has another called Connect Gaming that allows viewers to watch him play video games. One day he might be showing his audience how to hand-paint sneakers or do a wall mural; the next day he’s posting a new strip.

“It’s all about keeping content fresh, entertaining and focused on art and gaming,” he said.

Within the past couple of months, Reed surpassed 1 million YouTube subscribers, purchased his own home in South Bend and welcomed a new baby into his family.

He received a Gold Creator Award and a letter from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki congratulating him on reaching the 1 million milestone.

“With your track record, we suspect you’re only going to keep growing,” she wrote. “And we can’t wait to see you reach the next milestone: 10 million subscribers.”

Now making a comfortable living, Reed doesn’t know where the future is going, but he knows it will somehow involve his art. and he wants to get the message across that kids should never give up on their dreams, no matter the obstacles.

“Brandon is so, so incredibly talented and a laser-focused young man,” said Almagro, who focuses her efforts on helping black artists. “But he also has a genuine heart and it will take him far in life. He has a very promising career.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

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