THE MANY FACES OF AFUA RICHARDSON
As a modern day African American woman, Afua Richardson jungles many hats; some of which we would be jealous. She is a comic book creator, best known for her work in Top Cow's Pilot Season, "Genius". On another day she becomes the lead singer and flautist of the band Waking Astronomer. When she is not using both her gifted instruments (pen and voice), she is teaching, engaging in activism, and mentorship. Every seconds counts. Afua paused from her busy schedule to give Bad Girl Confidence the low down on her work and her life!
Afua is such a beautiful name, what is the origin? Does it factor into your work as an artist?
Thank you, my father named me Afua because I was born on a Friday. In Ghana , it is common to give a child the name of the day they were born on. Similar to an astrological sign like a Taurus or Capricorn, I'm an Afua with apparent distinguishing characteristics native to the Friday Born girls. A boy born on Friday, is named Kofi. After telling people that, people assume I'm from some place as exotic as Ghana or as lush as the Caribbean. ' What Island are you from?' - they ask. To which I reply ,' Manhattan?' Does my name factor into my work? Hmm, it makes me more inclined to research the significance of mythos of ancient societies and also the etymology of words. Words, like art are symbols, that if interchanged and intentionally placed, can elicit multivalent meanings when used. I hope to make people feel something when they look at my work on many levels other than its content and composition.
What mediums do you use to create? Which do you find yourself returning to the most?
I tend to do a lot of my final work in Adobe Illustrator. Its spoiled me actually. After making my own brushes I can digitally Paint in the program. But on most days, I'm using my beloved Col-erase pencils, a Pentel refillable brush pen with japanese sumi ink and water color. Since the demand for vector art is high and easily transferable , I still end up coming back to digital means most of the time.
How did you discover your creative side? how did you figure out you could do this professionally?
My father was a great supporter of my crafts. My older sister was inspiration as well, singing with me on the plastic covered couch holding hairbrushes and belting Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie songs. While my dad gave me cassettes and records of Carol King, Maurice Ravel and a box of 64 crayola crayons and the space to use it. He also gave me the means to learn how to learn. So I taught myself many of the things I wanted to learn how to do. in the 4th grade I started playing the flute. Once I gained the confidence to stand on a stage and pick up an instrument, it gave me the fortitude to try to learn other things. I thought ' surely this can't be as difficult as triplet 64th notes…" A friend of mine named Brandon Graham introduced me to Terry Natier of NBM publishing in 2004 and dropped a word or two of confidence for me. I didn't think I could do it, but he did and so did the editor. I thought to myself " well, they ARE professionals, perhaps they'd know a little better than I?"
You work seems to focus on the sic-fi and fantasy genre, how do you navigate this space knowing how restrictive it has become for women and black artist?
I've always been a big Science fiction fan. Some of the earliest books I'd worn the pages of when I read recreationally , were a medicine for melancholy by Ray Bradbury ( I'll need to read that one again, its been a while) and later the likes of Tiger Tiger or the Stars my Destination, by Alfred Bester. Then as a teenager I poured myself into Heavy Metal comics and manga. I'm fascinated with the stars. I mean Think about it, we're on a spinning rock revolving around a ball of fire on the arm of a galaxy that surrounds the mouth of a black hole. What's not to fantasize about? This system of gears is amazing. Just thinking about the possibilities conjures thoughts and images that assembles themselves in the imagination. ( At least mine anyway)
Restrictions are really just mental ones. If your work is good , the other things won't matter. Your art will be seen first. Let it speak for you. Don't worry about what color the face is of your favorite comic book hero. Don't expect anyone to accurately tell your story. Make your own and make it on par with what exist if you can afford to. When someone is not invited to the party, they make a movement of their own.
You see that evident in history. When the oppressed were walled off, they made another way by innovating. Then that beautiful movement, born of the need to speak for those not heard ,becomes the standard until its copied, marketed, sterilized and walled off again. Then cycle repeats. Create what you love, people will feel it in the lines. It will be timeless and live beyond you, beyond the thoughts of those who loved or hated it. It will be thrown into the ether changing people as they receive it. Support those who create and they will support you.
I am not restricted because I won't let myself see the walls. Not to ignore the plights and the real issues that are present in the lack of female creators,( or more importantly the THOUGHT that there a lack of both female creators and fans) but if you want to make comics or write books , do it. I had to create an online personna to hide the fact that I was a woman to get honest critique from older male artist. I was patronized, told things like " you're pretty good for a girl" or " girls like comics? I can't even critique your work because I don't want to scare you away!!! " I didn't want to be pretty good for a girl. I wanted to be GOOD. Perhaps they didn't want to hurt my feelings, or perhaps they wanted to encourage me to keep going but knew time and repetition could give me what I was looking for. But once I broke the spell that was cast, I saw that If I planned, studied and asked friends and professionals who could honestly give me solid critique and advice on how to market myself and improve my work, that I could do anything I let myself THINK I could do.
Idea of restriction became something like a glass ceiling with a Door. You just have to know where to look to escape it .I think there has been a shift in the major comics community. They are starting to realize that by honoring female creators and fans, they open up to a consumer base that has been present the entire time, but just not acknowledged. That doesn't mean put ribbons and bows on your comic books, but realizing that female creators are comparable with make creators can only benefit the public at large. People who never considered reading comics before, picking up a book because a character has a voice or an experience that reflects or inspires something in their life. the more variety you put in a creative medium, the larger your appreciators.
But he comics industry was not the thing that needed to change, it was ME. " This will never be me" turned into " Why NOT me?" then answering those questions became a strategy to improve. I'm still trying to improve. Art is an ever growing process. Its work. Its a skill or craft like any other. It may be something you enjoy doing, but it IS work. People just equate un-fullfillment and unhappiness with work so often, they get appalled at the idea of spending more of the hours of your ever fleeting life doing something you actually care about. How dare you take control over your life. I have to do this thing i hate. Work is not something you enjoy. its work. bad programming like that were the things I needed to change before I could consider doing art for a living.
Apart from illustration and graphic art, you have also worked on books/comics? Which are you most proud of?
Its really hard to pick which project of mine I like the most. I'm so critical of them. I am proud to have the opportunity to do this for a living. Choosing a favorite piece is like choosing a favorite child or relative. One can probably say in their heads which they had the most fun being with, but its probably not polite to say ( ha)
What can we expect from you in the future? What are your goals for the next year?
I am making music again, So i plan to put out an album on several music projects and accompany them with art. one i'm particularly excited about is the Band, Waking Astronomer. a 5 piece band I am singing and playing flute , in that i have the privilege of creating some really experimental stuff with. Also The comic book entitled "Genius" written by Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman should be out this summer through top cow productions. I'm writing a few novels that are slow coming, but I really plan to do a lot more creator owned work this year. I have a lot to say, i want to get it out of my head already. I also have a desire to form an online school, sharing tips and tutorials and videos of my process to help others actualize their visions. I've got an online store that I plan to sell more prints and originals soon. I currently have mini print cards up to help with some medical bills I'd recently acquired thanks the the recent flu season. In short, my goals, make more of what I love and not compromise my time for things I don't. Its either hell yes or hell no. Time is a currency that is irreplaceable when spent. Might as well spend it doing things I feel good about. Even if its not something for me personally.
I really love your pinups, they are unconventional, keeping the tradition of pinups but challenging it too. How did you come up with these ideas?
Thank you kindly! I'm a big fan of burlesque and classic pin ups. I love that era of jazz and class that is captured in those old grainy images of pointed toed damsels in cuban stockings. But , I don't like to color in the lines and stay in boxes. Many times, when I create my pin ups, I like to accompany the drawings with some of the research I've found that went into the creation of their accessories or even the positions of their hands. Some will be gestures from ancient dances of creation, others baring the names of the deities thought to bring agriculture and farming to certain cultures. I don't want them to just be women in cute poses all the time. I'd love to, while capturing the attention of someone, make them think about the reality they inhabit. I'm trying to figure out how to represent some of the strange dreams I've had. Its like a vision just beyond my capabilities most times. The good thing about that is, it encourages me to press forward.
how would you like people to receive your art? what message, if any, are you trying to put across?
You are apart of an amazing universe. underneath these lines and colors are a series of numbers and waves that sing a song we can't quite hear the entire song of yet. Hopefully, my work can give you another melody to hum to.