These days,the true definition of what it is to be an artist is at times blurred by commercialism, social media impressions and disgruntled fans.
But Afua Richardson has hefted that mantle and waved it high above her crown like an ebony blade. From classical flutist and beatboxer to off-Broadway actress, she brings a very unique combination of skills to fore on whatever creative stew she has simmering in the pot.
Despite all of the accolades she has mustered in her creative young life, the comic book game is what brings us here. Recently, I had a chance to speak with her during a brief respite at a comic book convention where she told me what went down with the Black Panther titles, how music inspires her artwork, and more.
The Black Panther: World of Wakanda miniseries came to an end, said Richardson. Its only a five or six issue series. I think what happened was Ta-Nahesi was just so in love with that series that he decided to write Black Panther and The Crew, Black Panther, World of Wakanda, Black Panther the regular series. Now, these are being consolidated back into the primary series. I think, especially when the movie comes out in February, thats just going to explode. I was just doing the cover on those.
In 2007, Richardson created the award-winning series Genius along with writers Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman. That book has a sequel coming, but Richardson is onto other things.
As far as Genius is concerned, the writers came out with a part II,” she said. “That book looks absolutely beautiful. Now, Im working on my own book called Aquarius the Book of Mer. Its going to be sort of a modern retelling of mermaids, myths and legends. Itll start in May 2018. Ill be writing and illustrating it, and making music for it. Its a very ambitious project. But, its something thats been on my heart for a really long time. Thats my primary focus, along with another project that I really cant announce yet. This project, once I start working on it, is going to be one of the most monumental projects in my life. Its one of those projects I cant say no to.
With illustrations that are full, vibrant and life-like, I asked Afua what sounds inspire her to create these stunning visual images.
I dont know if I clinically have synesthesia, but very often when I hear sounds, I see visuals or particular tones resonate colors for me, she said. I hear a-flat, I see yellow. Middle-C is green. I think theres actually a resonance between the vibration of color, and the vibration of pigments, is much larger. But I think it is close. I think those colors do coincide with the notes. For me, while Im drawing, Im seeing it. While Im writing, Im listening to music. Ill make soundtracks and playlists for the things that Im writing to put myself in the mood. The co-exists, for me. When Im writing, I get myself into a good head space.
When I was working on World of Wakanda, I was listening to Fela Kuti, I was listening to Roy Ayers, I was listening to Nina Simone,” Richardson continued. “I was listening to old movie scores, like the Chicago soundtrack. Reminiscent of dirty Cadillacs, really groovy and funky. I wanted the colors to be a cross between sci-fi, aboriginal and Hong Kong cinema. Ill make little mental picture of what Im about to draw, workout to get into a good head space, music is a part of all that. Its been a part of my life since I was so young. I started playing the flute when I was nine then, by 11, playing at Carnegie Hall, then went to a performing arts school, then went on tour as a singer. Doing comic books is a completely different life, but I cant let (music) go. So, Im going to be incorporating it into Aquarius Astronomer.
Each year when Comic Con season kicks into full gear, there seems to be an exponentially increasing number of diversity and inclusion panels. Indeed, it is not only natural but inevitable that marginalized groups push hard for greater diversity. I asked Foo of her take.
What I think is happening is the psychological permission has been granted,” she said. “I know I say that a lot, but it has. There have been women in comics; Amanda Conner, Joyce Chin, Celia Kyle. Theyve been there. I think what it was is people thought there was no place for them. I thought there was no place for me too because I didnt formally go to school, I didnt train. Not because I was a woman, nobody told me that I couldnt get in. I just didnt think I was good enough.
Afua Richardson is fast becoming one of the most popular comic book artists in the country. What does she do for an encore? Check out this indepth, inspiring and real interview live from New York Comic Con.
You look at Brian Stelfreeze, and Im like I cant do that! I just thought there was no place for me,” she said. “Being a classical musician who looks like me, you think you have to be three times as good to be half as okay. That was my starting point. So, my standards for were I thought I should be were very were high, but people kept encouraging me and as I went along I got better. From the first issue of Genius to the last, I became a better artist. It was a little rocky in that first issue, but there was a lot going on in my life too.
Youre not a machine, youre a human being whos processing things but also emoting, she continued. So, how you create on any particular day is colored by your emotions, whats happening in the world at the time. As was the case with Genius, but I think these days, Im feeling pretty good! Im reevaluating what I draw, what projects Im working on, and Im about to do some really, really amazing things.
If youd like a sample of some of Richardsons work, check out these titles; All Star Batman, Attack on Titan, Mad Max, and cover art for X-Men ’92, Totally Awesome Hulk and Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, as well as much more.