Their SF State Story

Twin sisters Shawneé Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs

Learning to Tell Our Stories and Trust Our Voices

By Shawneé Gibbs (B.A., ’02) & Shawnelle Gibbs (B.A., ’02)

Growing up across the bridge as little girls in Oakland, with our preschool teacher mother’s encouragement, we developed a love for words and art, discovering that combining them created a special kind of magic that was like a superpower. We honed this knack for storytelling, and after serving as editors of our high school newspaper, as well as videographers and editors for the first-ever “video yearbook” (how ’90s!), we knew we wanted to pursue careers in the elusive “visual arts.” But the internet was in its infancy, and neither Google nor ChatGPT existed to query for advice. We knew the why back then … SF State helped us see the how. Discovering SF State’s School of Cinema changed our trajectory.

We both transferred to SF State from the Peralta Community Colleges system (Laney and Alameda colleges). Coming from smaller schools to the more rigorous and competitive School of Cinema we were full of doubts. Would our diverse voices and ideas be accepted in a larger, university setting? The jitters were hard to escape. But the independent spirit of the department and the encouragement of an incredible group of professors (among them the inspiring Larry A. Clark and Dina Ciraulo) helped us feel comfortable in our storytelling skin.

cover art of the comic Ghost Roast which shows a young lady wearing a vacuum aparatus

During our time at SF State, we were connected with one of our greatest early mentors: the late Dr. Arthur France. Dr. France was a retired professor from the Department of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) who gave students time, internships and unlimited access to video production equipment at his Jack London Square office in Oakland. There, we learned to shoot and edit mini documentary stories on deadline and created some of our earliest animated work, which Dr. France would air as part of “African Eye,” a program broadcast on public access stations throughout the Bay Area. It was the perfect training ground for learning to craft human interest stories, as well as write and produce for animation — skills that would later serve us well as we delivered a combined 100-plus hours of content for TV networks (including National Geographic Channel, ABC and NBC Universal) and streamers (including HBO Max and Netflix).

The first lesson we learned at SF State was to trust our voices. This freed us to tell our unique blend of stories, which explore the complexities of the human experience with humor and magic. The second lesson was to be flexible about what form those stories took. It’s the reason we’ve been able to navigate so many storytelling mediums (film, television, animation, comics and graphic novels), and we look forward to whatever future mediums are ahead of us.

Our SF State journey thankfully didn’t end after our graduation. We recently partnered with the San Francisco Pocket Opera and SF State’s animation program, headed by the extraordinary Professor Martha Gorzycki, for an animated reimagining of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” set for debut later this year.

We are thrilled to soon add “opera adaptation” to our storytelling repertoire! We are tremendously proud of our time at SF State and its continued impact on our creative path. Our SF State Story is to be continued …

Twin sisters Shawneé Gibbs and Shawnelle Gibbs live, work and play in Los Angeles. The pair have written for Warner Bros. Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Cartoon Network and Marvel Comics. HarperCollins/Versify recently published their debut YA graphic novel “Ghost Roast.”