Feb 12 2015
FULL DISCLOSURE: As my collaborator on Snow Daze and a close creative partner over the last 10+ years, I am far from a stranger to the art of Marcus Kwame Anderson. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and currently in upstate NY (where we first met) he is one of the hardest working artists I know, balancing a busy family life with his teaching career, yet somehow finding time in the middle to create comics, artwork, poetry and more. He is living proof that you can accomplish a lot with very little, and make time for the creative expression you know that you need, in spite of there being only 24 hours in a day.
Marcus and I have been working on our comic for a long time, and I was excited to spend some time with him chatting about #BlackComicsMonth matters and Snow Daze in particular. Keep an eye out, because you’re going to be seeing his name more and more frequently.
Vixen Varsity: What would you say got you into comics, and inspired you to pursue the production of comic art and illustration for a living?
Marcus Kwame Anderson: I first got into comics in grade school. I think it was third grade. My cousin had just stopped at Fantaco (an Albany comic book shop that’s no longer open) on his way to my house and he let me read his GI Joe (the original Larry Hama series) and X-men comics. I was hooked instantly by this form of storytelling. As far as art goes, I’ve been drawing since I could lift a crayon. I drew like all little kids do, and I never stopped, so when I was introduced to comics I started drawing the characters obsessively. I studied the panels of my comics and copied them and over time I started making my own stories, usually something unconsciously ripped off from a comic I’d read. When I went away to college, I started leaning towards other kinds of art, but I always dabbled in comic art on the side. Working on Snow Daze got me back in full time. It allowed me to focus on a project and follow it through.
VV: When you were younger and first experimenting with comic art, do you recall concentrating on or involving racial issues in what were you were creating? Did you notice the lack of diversity in the comics you read right away, or do you feel like you were awakened to this concept at a specific point and time?
MKA: I didn’t consciously notice the lack of diversity in the books I was reading in grade school. I was pretty young. I must have noticed it on a subconscious level though, because I always felt very drawn to the few black characters that would pop up in comics. The books I created usually included a black character. The content wasn’t heavy on racial issues. Again, I was really young so my understanding of the complexities of race in America wasn’t that developed yet.
VV: Sometimes I feel like this is key to the issue of the lack of diverse representation in comics. It’s because young people consuming this accessible literature are internalizing its whitewashed content as status quo, without even knowing it.
MKA: Definitely. I could feel that something was off, but I couldn’t necessarily articulate it.
VV: Do you remember when reading comics wasn’t considered “cool?” Did this ever affect your attraction to the medium?
MKA: Oh yeah. I definitely remember it not being considered cool. I didn’t sweat it that much because I stayed in my own world. Plus, I thought my cousin was cool, and he was my connection to comics, so in my mind liking comics was cool.
VV: Do you think that the stigma is utterly vanquished at this point? And how do you think it affected/affects people of color?
MKA: With the explosion of comic movies and other nerd stuff in pop culture, the stigma is pretty much gone in “mainstream” America. I think it’s been greatly reduced in communities of color too. Maybe a little less because people of color are often viewed as the leaders in what’s cool. Because of this there’s a higher premium placed on perceived coolness for some (emphasis on some) of us, and you’ll see some segments of the community reject “nerdy” things outright. That being said…you see a lot of black and brown folk who would have never admitted to liking comics or other nerdy things before embracing geekdom these days.
Besides, a lot of the rejection of geekdom back in the day was posturing. I’ve found out that a lot of my peers were secretly reading comics back in the day. The internet has been a huge meeting place for nerds of color who use to keep our dirty nerdy secrets to ourselves.
VV: This is kind of the fascinating thing now. With digital publishers like PeepGameComix and promotional outlets available, we can really curate the comics we are consuming, which is rather unprecedented in this field. We’re doing #BlackComicsMonth here at VixenVarsity, but it’s much easier to follow BlackComicsYear with the tools at hand today. And it will probably be even easier, given the Milestone 2.0 announcement. What are your thoughts on that?
MKA: It’s exciting. Black people have always had to find our own avenues to get our voices and stories out there. Avenues like PeepGameComix are a part of that long tradition, and as someone invested in both comics and Blackness, I’m amped. Twitter has been vital in forging connections and amplifying our voices. And the return of Milestone? Incredible. Those characters were huge to me in high school. The timing is perfect.
VV: Has anything stuck out in your mind recently, as far as comics that are really pushing creative expressions of diversity? Who do you think are the reigning stars of late?
MKA: Yeah. I can think of quite a few examples. I’m drawn to stories that deal with characters in a natural manner, neither underplaying race or relying on overdone “tragic” stereotypes. Yes it was powerful when Ricky was shot in Boyz n da Hood, but we don’t need a “Ricky tragedy” in every story.
Mildred Louis, who writes Agents of the Realm does a really good job of giving us characters of color without relying on monolithic representations. Blood Syndicate did some interesting things back in the day in introducing LGBT characters of color at a time when it was pretty much unheard of. Genius is fascinating on numerous levels. It’s been talked about to death, but the celebration is warranted.
I’m also a big fan of the humorous adventures of Jules Rivera’s Misfortune High characters.
VV: Which leads us back to Snow Daze, our collaborative effort which I’d like to get into at this point. What do you feel are the major touchstones and points of interest in the comic?
MKA: One of the biggest ones is that we’re allowing the members of our diverse characters be fully human. Their respective cultures and identities exist naturally in the story without falling into stereotypes. There are no racial placeholders in Snow Daze. It’s also important that there’s not just one Latino kid, or one Black kid. Nolo’s family dynamic is not identical to G-mo’s. Boy and Simone have totally different perspectives and motivations And the conflicts that come with people of color migrating to a middle class town create a lot of good storytelling potential.
VV: An excellent point. Hey, to those of you who are struggling with writing your “one black character.” Here’s an idea: you don’t want your singular representation to be scrutinized and condemned? How about you just add more?
VV: I fully agree with you about being able to flesh out all these characters being the exciting part. Although, to be honest, I DO think the comic makes room for stereotypes. Hopefully, in a self-aware and honest way. But nobody is left as a symbolic, flat variable and nothing more. That’s part of the understanding.
MKA: Yeah. Making room and relying aren’t the same thing. People who live up to stereotypes exist in real life. It’s only a problem when they’re represented as the rule and not the exception.
VV: So there are some new characters on the horizon. Would you like to talk about these additions, and what you’re trying to do with them? (we’ll include some of the sketches/character drawings here)
MKA: Yeah, I’m excited about the inclusion of the new crew. I’ve been developing a small tight knit group of art class nerds for some of our Mientras webcomics. They’re the kids who pretty much live in the art room. Even in their little group they have a nice range of diversity. The common love of art unites them all. It’s probably not a big surprise that I focused in on the art room. Write what you know, right?
VV: Has it been a decade now that you’ve been teaching art? It seems like a great opportunity to bring your educational experience on both sides of the classroom into the comic.
MKA: More than a decade, actually. Yeah, it’s a great opportunity. I’m drawing on a lifetime of experience as both an art student and teacher.
VV: Aside from our expressed adoration of los bros. and their comic Love and Rockets, where else do you think you draw inspiration for the art in Snow Daze?
MKA: Animation. I’m fascinated by animation and the ways that it differs as a storytelling medium. When I was developing the style of the comic, I wanted it to reflect the cleanness and clarity of animated frames on a comic page. It was a fun challenge to try to marry the two mediums. I’m still working on it. Film has also been a big inspiration. I’ve been studying camera angles and the various tricks that directors use since I was a kid. I would sit in the theater or the TV and take mental notes on what I could use on the page. The aforementioned Hernandez bros are the ones who really made me fall in love with strong black and white art. They’re both amazing, but Jaime is insane. He makes it all look so effortless.
VV: Any other projects you’d like to discuss before we wrap things up here?
MKA: Yeah, I’m working on a pitch for a humorous spy comic with Jeremy Whitley. It’s an interesting challenge and it’s making me flex different artistic muscles. I’m also in the very early stages of discussing and developing a project with one of our favorite hip hop artists. I can’t say too much right now, but I pray that everything works out. If it does this will easily be one of the biggest jobs of my illustration career.
I also have a series of my own that’s been living in my head for almost a decade. I don’t have the time to bring it to life now, but I’m determined to make it happen even if I have to wait until I’m retired.
VV: Thanks for taking the time to talk, and for being a part of the #BlackComicsMonth movement. It’s 2015 – LETS GET IT!
MKA: No doubt! I’m looking forward to taking Snow Daze to the next level this year.