Afua Richardson: The “Docta” is in. Rarely does talent of such a degree manifest in the form of one person. With Afua Richardson, talent seems to be on a first name basis. Capturing readers imagination with images pulled from the far corners of her psyche and breathing life into scripts with a visual flair that displays incredible control, she is poised to make the industry and fans take notice in a big way. Afua, winner of the Nina Simone Award (2011), is best known for her work on Top Cow Productions‘ Pilot season winning comic book Genius ( Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman (A)Afua Richardson (COV) Afua Richardson Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon, Patton). Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Image Comics all have also had the benefit and privilege of having her work on some of their titles as well. Known in some circles as “Docta Foo”, Ms. Richardson took time out of a busy schedule to share a bit about her art, talents, the industry and what is up next for the Docta!
MT: Growing up with two artistic parents and in an artistic household, you must have experienced an incredible exposure to different kinds of art and music. How did that experience and your music inform your visual art? What ultimately drew you to comics?
AR: My parents were quite the A-typical types. Military Officers. My father a physicist and teacher. Yet he didn’t share much with me about HOW to draw or paint. He’d just essentially give me the tools and left me to my own devices. Sometimes we’d go out ( when we had a car) and drive around to identify types of trees and their ailments ” Sycamore, gypsy moth….Maple, compact roots..ginko…it just smells funny) . All while listening to Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole. The greats. He encouraged me to join the band when i was 9. Against my awful judgement , i picked up the flute instead of the saxophone which became a 2nd voice for me. he also gave me these collections of 45s, a lil record player and some giant beige headphones and i’d dance around my lil room like i was in my own video. He also made me consider perhaps religion and science were 2 sides of the same coin. He’s tell me stories and draw the comparison to Shakespeare, greek mythology and stories in the cosmos. Great dream fuel. My big sister i think was the biggest contributor. Even today, she encourages me almost every day. She’s an engineer and professor. I seem to be the reverse of most of my family. Scientist who do art on the side. I have a secret obsession with nutrition and ancient esoteric things.
What ultimately drew me to comics? hmm. I sort of fell into it i think. I was a professional singer. Background vocals, song writer, performer, voice actor. But Art was something I did for myself, and i never like to 1/2 do things. If i’m going to spend time doing it, I might as well do it well (or at least try to better myself and enjoy the process). Inbetween tours I’d get office jobs and bartending jobs. At some point I hit a dry spell and my good friend Brandon Graham asked if I wanted to take a stab at drawing a lil 10 pg black n white comic for NBM publishing. I had so many kinds of jobs i figured why not. I thought i wasn’t any good at anything to be honest. New York is full of so many AMAZING kinds of people. How would a lil gal like me really make any difference? I joined forums and looked up tutorials and kept drawing what I enjoyed. Occasionally landing a cover here, A few pages there. Then, after going to a convention I met Marc Silvestri of Top Cow Productions and they gave me a shot. Sometimes that’s all you need.
MT: Your work always features such vibrant colors and incredible line work. On Top Cow Entertainment’s Genius, you were credited with the art. In terms of discipline do you consider yourself to be a penciler/sequential artist, colorist, inker, cover artist or all of the above? If all of the above, have you considered rounding out the package by taking on writing duties as well at some point? What is your preferred method of art creation (pencils, paints, digital)? Which part of the process do you find the most enjoyable?
AR: Well thank you for the kind words. I’ve always been a lover of color. I feel as if i almost experience a type of synesthesia when I draw. Colors to me have sounds and temperature ( especially when I’m sleepy) Its not something I experience all the time but Colors for me are more than about just setting the mood. Its conjuring emotions, memories and calling on those parts of me hidden. In my close kept dreams I hope I can do the same for others, so I take great pains to make sure my color pallets are harmonious. I am not a very good inker but I’m working on that. My pencils are incredibly messy and i think I lack the patience for clean pencil work. (or the table space) I feel like I’m more of a cover artist than anything else. But I’m trying to be a better overall penciler, inker , colorist and sequential artist. Soon, after a few projects have been put to bed, I’ll work on coloring other people’s work. There I think the real test begins ;p
Most enjoyable part? It would have to be finishing the damn thing. (Hahaha) I enjoy going from concept to final. Once I scan my pencils in and start feeling like I know what i’m doing (and see the finish line soon in site) that’s a good feeling. I am currently writing a few projects. I’ll share them when they’re closer to completion however. I’ve got a few things in the ole holster that i’ve got to fire off 1st ;]
MT: You were a recipient of the Nina Simone Award for being one of a few African American female creators to work with Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Image Comics. What, in your opinion, can be done in terms of the industry to make this fact not happen to be such an anomaly? What can be done to encourage female and people of color to pursue creating comic books? Can you share a bit about what receiving this award means to you?
AR: Nina Simone was an activist, musician, icon, singer and song writer. Just having her name in the same sentence as mine is an honor ALONE. ( chuckles) It validated my dream to be honest. The recognition was enormous for me. I often wondered if I was cut out for this sort of thing. It told me basically to continue to hone my craft and let my work speak for me. That is what I will encourage creators of any background to do. Put yourself through rigid critique, Identify the good in your work and really do research in the things you are creating. That will speak volumes. Don’t worry about what exists already, be concerned with what service your creation provides. Don’t let being a person of color be a impediment. if there is no way and you feel like you’re not being hired, make your OWN way. There are so many ways these days to put out a comic. Just be consistent and constantly reinventing yourself. The DC’s and Marvels of the world will come to YOU.
MT: As a professional, what advice would you give to aspiring creators with little to no funds on how to work with someone of your level of talent? What do you think indie creators should do better to strengthen the small press industry and create better quality product?
AR: I will say, that as a professional, it is difficult to take on pro-bono projects for aspiring creators, especially writers. This what i do to make a living and put food on my table. Asking me to create something for free is sort of like my asking them to work for 2 months at their day job with no pay and no guarantee of return on investment. So when you approach someone, either be willing to share part of the copyright or offer some other incentive. There are some projects and writers you’d flip over backwards and take 6 months off your life to work with. I think its also about approach. Asking someone to bring your vision to life takes compromise as well. Trust the artist you approach. Try to share your vision with out forgetting they have some of their own.
Also , have a plan. That can really encourage a person to want to get on board. Consider the target audience, if you could have 3 books on the shelf with your book what would be on display? Pick your method of execution either publishing, self publish, web comic etc until the series is finished and then create a print on demand type of scenario where you pre build your fan base and then fill the demand instead of working backward where you create the product completely out of pocket and hope someone likes it. That way works as well, but the later is harder if you’re just starting from the ground up. That doesn’t mean put all your ideas out there before its done, but if you want people to buy what you have, either create or join a community so you can see what they are thinking, feeling and needing. You’re a creator. Make sure you create what they need.
Since There are so many kick starters, its important that presentation is well done too. So in addition to laying out your plans and ideas, know the business of what you’re creating as well. Know that the quality of you website and video, is a gauge for how people consider the quality of your project. Not always equal but an unfortunate part of the process. Websites like Flavors.me is a great way to consolidate your various social media if you don’t know how to use WordPress. Places like Themeforest.com have amazing templates and widgets that help you customize your website to give you exactly what you need. Easy navigation, no crazy music. simple clear cut instructions so people can get your stuffs easily.
MT: How important do you think comic books are to our cultural identity and to our community? Do you think they even play a part?
AR: Comic books are the new mythologies. They are incredibly important. Dreams with in themselves are the life you lead. ( i think that’s a part of a prince lyric…) Superman is Horus, the sun deity, the savior of the world. Batman is like Set or Hades of the underworld, the dark side of the human spirit. Wonder Woman is Isis or Athena, wisdom and justice. They help us think beyond ourselves just as the myths of old did.Comics are powerful allegories for our lives and plays for our unconscious mind. Where we may not ” win ” in life, these concepts give us the hope that good will will, strong survive and endurance prevails and that we have the capabilities to be the authors of our own fate..
MT: Who are some of your inspirations in the industry? Who inspired you to pursue comic book creation?
AR: I think I was 9 when I started collecting comics ( I was such a tom boy). Alan Moore‘s Swamp Thing. Avengers, Ghost Rider. Then my mom threw all my comics away and poured water on top of them so I’d not go and UNthrow them out.
It wasn’t until high school that i picked up a copy of Hiroaki Samura‘s Blade of the Immortal. It was like holding film on paper. the subtleties, the expressions, the hatching and ink lines. I wanted to draw Anime! And I wanted to do it in water color. I also love Serpieri, Chris Buchalo and Alphonze Mucha. I was a big collector of Heavy Metal Comics. Then i got back into mainstream comics ironically with Top Cow. Fathom, Witchblade and The Darkness and all their pretty and sculpted people. I never thought I’d be drawing comics for a living. Its not that it was never my dream, I just never fathomed it! My friends were my biggest supporters for comic creation. Folks like Chuck Collins, Nelson Blake and before mentioned Brandon Graham were some of the few who pushed me along.
I am particularly stubborn in that I’d think to myself why NOT me? If I want to, I can do this.
MT: What is next up for Afua Richardson, both musically and graphically? Where can fans find your work? Any dream projects that you would like to work on soon?
AR: I’m Finishing up the Genius Series after an extended hiatus. I have a secrety secret sic-fi web comic project that I will disclose once I get it closer to completion. I’ve got a few creator owned projects that will finally see the light of day and a few EP’s with my duos Afua Alexa and another called Sioux Kids where i plan on combining my comic storytelling with music. All in the cauldron at the moment. You can visit AfuaRichardson.com or visit me on Facebook : Facebook.com/afuaNjokirichardson. I have a group where I share trade secrets and tips and advise anyone who wants to learn anything I have to share called Docta Foo’s Lab on facebook.
Dream projects? Oooh, I’m working on those now. Like… right now! I think Dreamier would be to create a comic with Radiohead or Bjork or something. Maybe some comedic stuff too. But I feel like its not a matter of if, just when.
MT: Lastly Wizard or Warrior?
AR: I am both, thank you… ;p Oh wait… What? Choose? Hmm…I know they’re usually not both but they should be… could you imagine an awesome Shamanic Warrior ? Yeah… I could.
Afua Richardson is Docta Foo
Jane of All Trades.