A lot of times I draw comics that don’t go anywhere. This was one of those comics. Thank you very much. Your mother.
This one’s from 2009, I was moving toward doing something but…I don’t remember what I was trying to do. Gosh, I love comics! :3
By Darryl Ayo
For those of you just joining us (in Western Civilization), there has been a past of some level of acrimony between white European-descended people and black African-descended people. Rumor has it that this hostility continues to this very day. The above panel is from a well-regarded comic called The Adventures of Tintin in which we see the title character being carried about by crudely-drawn black Africans. Today, such images are generally frowned upon and not encouraged.
This man is not amused by what he sees in that comic book. Can you blame him? The Africans in Tintin in the Congo, along with several other of the books in the series are depicted as barely sentient slabs of black ink with few individual characteristics and little sense of humanness. The depictions are harmful both in the visual sense of how Africans are drawn and how they are written. In Tintin and many other early comic books, black persons lack personhood on the page and that ties directly into the extreme degree to which blacks had been pushed out of society and treated as “there-but-not-there” by the white mainstream of society.
In later years, we would see a retreat from such imagery in mainstream comic books, but there was a cost. After some point in history, comic publishers began to feel it not wise or politically inopportune to allow such images in their products. What ended up happening, however, is that black characters largely vanished from many comic books.
And eventually they returned, drawn more naturally, and even starring in their own adventures here and there. But what I find particularly interesting is the way black characters fell from being marginalized figures in society to non-existent for a period in time. And to be sure, to this day, black characters, major or minor, are fairly rare in Western comic books, given the relative population; particularly since many Western comics are set in cities–where blacks tend to live.
I was reading through some old racist comics (because I like old racist comics) and suddenly I felt a burst of lightning; at one point in time, black people were acknowledged in Western comics, followed by a period in which they weren’t. Granted, the portrayal of African people was usually condescending to say the very least–but it was an acknowledgement. There was an awareness of different people, persons different from the white authors and their intended audience. There was a very crude attempt at indicating that Western society is comprised of various cultures. Subcultures that operate within as well as without the white base of power.
And this is where I get into trouble:
I actually like some elements of the racist depiction of black figures in old comics. It first happened to me years ago, I believe in 2003 when I was reading Jim Woodring’s The Frank Book featuring his strange fantasy monsters. Here’s an example of Woodring’s designs:
I kept feeling uncomfortable when I saw Pupshaw and Pushpaw in the pages of Frank due to their graphic similarity to old racist comic strips. Woodring’s iconography is borne of the early Twentieth Century cartooning style. Then it hit me all at once: this is good design. Damn good design!
These are my sketches. I’ve been toying with this idea mentally and decided to lay it out on paper to see how it works in reality. The idea that I came across as I went through Woodring’s work is that the images derived from old comics are very graphically powerful–but not for their political and social implications alone. These images are powerful because they use strong, solid and bold black shapes, detailed with white slivers cutting the ink into recognizable planes. It doesn’t reflect the reality of having dark skin, but it makes a figure stand out and be bold against any graphic background.
In Woodring’s work, this graphic power is harnessed and allowed to run free because it’s used on characters that don’t even approach being human. It’s removed enough from the original context to avoid being hurtful to people. But what if I wanted to bring this graphic approach full circle? What if I wanted to bring it all the way back around to being about humans again. And what if I wanted to take the concept further and use it to show dark skinned humans not as creatures, but as beautiful, stark and striking figures on their our own? WHAT IF I WANTED TO DO THAT?
I’m a blacksmith.
Something that Liz Baillie told me about the type of dude who sees you drawing in your sketchbook in public and asks if you’re an artist. She said she wanted to tell those dudes “No, I’m a fucking BLACKSMITH!”
King City versus Kick-Ass.
In the pages above, both the King City and the Kick-Ass scenes begin with a primary character walking past some parked cars. I don’t know what exactly it was about that visual that appealed to me so strongly but both pages left a powerful impression on my memory. In the case of Kick-Ass, I actually recalled the scene more vividly and with more detail than actually exists in the page. Going to go walk past some parked cars now and have a psychic experience.
Setting the scene.
Art teachers make a big deal in instructing their students to draw from natural life to learn the fundamentals of the human figure before allowing stylization or cultural conventions to dictate the way they draw. In other words, the student should draw from live models, not from comic books. The teachers also instruct their students to draw real environmental settings and settings. However in my experience, they pursue this point with far less specificity. In fact, where we can see endless days of nude figure drawing for the art student, when it comes to inanimate physical settings, teachers focus a lot on mathematical perspective.
Don’t get me wrong; this is a good thing because it instructs students to see the underlying mathematic principles that are integral to reality as well as encouraging the student to draw from Informed Imagination. But I have to be honest, I think–and maybe this was just my school experience–that the life-drawing of physical settings got short shrift.
Fundamentally, I feel that humans are more comfortable with humans. I’ve noticed that many people can’t muster the same fervor for environmental settings that surround, nurture and inform the characters that they have for the characters themselves. Or in simpler sentence structure, people can’t stop ignoring the backgrounds.
When it comes to me, I’ve let my environments slide to the wayside. Back in my Little Garden days, I would spend as much of my drawing energy and my emotional and psychological energy devoted to drawing the grass and the trees and the rivers as I spent drawing the humanoid monsters that populated my imaginary forest. There wasn’t a sense of separation of figure and ground in my work then. When I started moving toward conventional comics storytelling, this sense of harmony with the world was one of the first things that disappeared. So I’m trying to get it back.
This doesn’t have to be attached to the idea of natural mathematical perspective, by the way. Look at the work of John Porcellino, Julie Doucet, Megan Kelso, Chris Ware and the like. These artists use any range of technique from flat-layer-overlap to isometric perspective to pull their character’s worlds into view. What I’m talking about isn’t necessarily a demand to dig up the rulers and protractors, but a plea to artists out there to join me in remembering to give as much attention to the settings as we do to our living characters.
Artwork (c) Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Wildstorm Entertainment, Brandon Graham, Pete Lazarski, Mark Millar + John Romita Jr, Mike Mignola, Sarah Oleksyk, Greg Rucka + Matthew Southworth, Steve Engleheart, Zan Czyzewski, Rachel Edidin + Jen Vaughn, BT Livermore, StudioCanal S.A., Brian Wood, Bill Willingham, Gabby Schulz (aka, Ken Dahl–who I saw at the coffeehouse today) and me: Darryl Ayo Brathwaite.
I’m on vacation from work, recuperating from Small Press Expo which was this past weekend. Lots of travel, lots of talking, lots of eating (lots of buffets) lots of talk about the future.
I caught up with Katie Skelly’s Nurse Nurse, met Frank Santoro, got some of Steve Engleheart’s COYOTE from him, bought Galen Longstreth and Maris Wick’s BEAUTIFUL “Yes, But,” Bought Maris Wicks and Liz Prince’s very funny “Duddits,” jammed comics with Anthony Clark, Josh PM Frees and Jamie Baldwin, and the evil Madeline Flores.
I don’t have a convention report. I’m sorry to start naming names, I feel bad about the hundreds of people who I’m not going to list here. If we talked, THANK YOU, I love you.
Marvel Entertainment, DC Comics, Matt Fraction + Gabriel Ba, Liz Suburbia, Katie Skelly, Brandon Graham, JP Coovert, Galen Longstreth + Maris Wicks, Chris Roberson + Mike Allred, Darryl Ayo Brathwaite and whoever took that photo.
I wrote this up on my LiveJournal but I realized that I had more to say. I’ll try to be more comprehensive in my Part Two. But for now, please enjoy:
From X-MEN LEGACY # 238
It’s bizarre to think that X-MEN LEGACY is the same sequence of comics that began with Chris Claremont + Jim Lee’s 1991 X-MEN #1 relaunch. Same also, as Grant Morrison’s NEW X-MEN. This title has been through some changes. Now, with “LEGACY” added to the name, it begins a new era which is actually interesting. This iteration of the title is billed as focusing more on the mutant “students” and less on the superheroics. Although there’s plenty of danger and things exploding and shadowy villains. The concept is closer to that of the old NEW MUTANTS or the OTHER “NEW X-MEN/YOUNG X-MEN” series (yes, it’s confusing, deal with it). All in all, teenage superheroes, I’m in.
Speaking of teenage superheroes:
YOUNG AVENGERS: CHILDREN’S CRUSADE # 1
This is an angsty miniseries about a group of Avengers fans who coincidentally line up, powerwise with the standard Avengers. They’re about to make a name for themselves but it turns out that one of them is too powerful and could basically accidentally kill everybody in the world (or something).
Junior Avengers on the run!
Jim Cheung is brilliant at drawing the adventures of teenage superheroes. I was first introduced to his work in the later days of X-Force (the original X-Force, before Peter Milligan transformed the title into something else). Every page in this comic is gorgeous. The story hasn’t wowed me or anything, but it’s whatever. I’m just here to look at the pretty page and panel designs.
Speaking of “X-Force,”
let me pause for a quick appreciation of Kyle and Yost’s most recent iteration of the title. This one is called “Sex + Violence.”
Teenage superheroes are a fun bunch of ideas. First you have superheroes, for the action junkies and sci-fi nerds. Secondly, you typically have the nerdy fun that goes with the grab-bag of superpowers that is typical of team books. Thirdly, and most importantly, TEEN DRAMA!
It is important that teenage superheroes are not just shorter regular superheroes. It’s important that they are kind of arrogant, kind of stupid, and kind of wrong-headed. They may get into trouble with the best of the pros (your Superman, Batman, Captain America, etc), but they have the added problem of being shortsighted in that way that only teenagers can pull off while still being kind of endearing.
But on the other hand:
I read this Teen Titans comic where the Justice League shows up and tries to basically smack the Titans around and it is horrible and nauseating. The idea was that the Teen Titans would meet on weekends (they have SCHOOL, you know!) and hang out and fight crime. Real wholesome. But the Justice League “hadn’t authorized” one of the Teen Titans, so they showed up at their house to give them a spanking. All I can say is that Wonder Woman is a dick.
Well, no, Nightwing is a dick.
I still have teenage emotions about the hypocrisy of adults.
To close us out,
Here’s an action panel from the ORIGINAL X-Force # 20 from 1993.
All images (C) Marvel Entertainment, (C) DC Entertainment, (C) Matt Fraction+Gabriel Ba, (C) Darryl Ayo and (C) Andria Alefhi.
So we are going to be having a big ole ZINE FEST right here in North Brooklyn this Saturday! The event will be at:
PETE’S CANDY STORE
709 Lorimer Street, between Frost and Richardson.
Take the L train to Lorimer or the G train to Metropolitan. They are, in fact, the same subway station. SHOCK!
3PM TO 7PM!
There’s only a small window of time with which to examine zines and shoot the breeze. Arrive promptly! Also, watch as I drink exactly one (1) beer. IT’LL BE CRAZY!
Here’s the FaceBook page if you’re into that sort of thing.
But Andria, the organizer, also wrote up a post on her own blog, explaining why you should come and party with us.
Who’s going to hanging out and talking to you?
Andria Alefhi – We’ll Never Have Paris (http://neverhaveparis.blogspot.com/)
Paul Assimacopoulos – Strangers Gate Books (www.strangersgatebooks.com)
Darryl Ayo – Little Garden (www.letsgoayo.com)
Joseph Carlough – Displaced Snail Publications (http://www.josephcarlough.com/)
Matt Carman + Kseniya Yarosh – I Love Bad Movies, Oh My / Oh No (ksen.tumblr.com)
Alexis Clements – Dance Away Your Debt, Your Own Personal Apocalypse (http://www.alexisclements.com/)
Marguerite Dabaie – The Hookah Girl (hookah-girl.margoyle.net)
Tea Fougner – Pygmalion, Different Comics (http://www.antagonia.net/)
Alan Grow – The Devil Made the Dinosaur Bones
Katie Haegle – The La-La Theory (http://www.thelalatheory.com/)
Andrew Hoepfner – All Kinds of Bees (http://www.facebook.com/andrew.hoepfner)
Lola Batling – Sweet Angel, Suicide Kiss (http://stores.lulu.com/inkigirl)
Josh Medsker – 24 Hour Zine (http://twentyfourhourszine.blogspot.com/)
James Molenda- FOUND Magazine (www.foundmagazine.com)
L. Nichols – Jumbly Junkery (www.dirtbetweenmytoes.com)
Rachel + Sari – Hoax Zine, You’ve Got a Friend (http://hoaxzine.tumblr.com/)
Redguard – Absent-Cause Zine (http://www.absent-cause.org/)
Kenan Rubenstein – Drought, Tick, The Oubliette (http://www.underthehaystack.net/)
Esther K Smith – Purgatory Pie Press (www.purgatorypiepress.com)
Joe Younglove – Oculomotor
So come on down this Saturday and get ready to get your face rocked off.