Diversity, representation, and inclusion. These are all common words that artists especially are hearing these days.
When one sits down to think about the representation that is in comics and animation we can definitely pick out a couple characters that don’t do black people justice in their style of drawing. This is because artists simply are not taught how to draw black people. Quirktastic spoke with Malik Shabazz on his upcoming book, How To Draw Black People and how its much more than just a drawing lesson.
Q: What inspired How To Draw Black People and why is it relevant in 2018?
S: I first got the idea a couple of years ago, talking to friends about how black people in visual narrative always had one of two types: homogenized or stereotype.
Black people are often depicted with their culture completely cropped out or in some offensive cartoonish caricature. The short and easy answer to this is racism, white supremacy, et. al. The longer answer is that artists aren’t traditionally taught to draw anyone who is not white and cisgender.
Right now, we’re in the middle of what might be looked back upon as a renaissance. Studios, publishing companies and independent creators are all pushing more diversity and audiences are loving it, whenever it’s done right. When it’s done wrong however, there’s a huge amount of backlash and folks are rightfully upset.
How to Draw Black People can do a lot of good for artists by giving them answers to questions they don’t know how to ask, references on topics they didn’t realize were important, and an understanding of aspects of black culture that can help create more authentic representation in their art.
Q: What challenges have you faced while creating How To Draw Black People?
S: It has been tough, mostly because I am a one-man team, but for other reasons as well. When people hear about this book a lot of the time they outright laugh; they think it’s a joke. White folks, every now and again, pop up to leave racist remarks or say the book itself is racist. I was prepared for that coming into this but it’s still frustrating. The biggest thing though is just how taxing it is to get people to pledge to the Kickstarter. To reach out to the press, answering emails while raising my daughter full time; it’s all a lot of work. But I truly believe in the positive effect this book will have on artists and the art we make, so I push through it.
A lot of people believe in this book as well and I am fortunate in that regard. Without the support of my loved ones and online friends this project would be dead in the water.
Q: You mention that through the tutorials it helps us examine our culture and diversity. Can you elaborate, please?
S: Generally speaking and evident from what can be found in pop culture, when black characters are being created, they are cis men of large, brutish stature or cis women with voluptuous measurements. Black characters radiate outward from that mold but not very far. The tutorials in “HTDBP” are about diversifying that mold and showing artists how to go about that process respectfully regarding our culture.
We need more black trans men and women characters. Artists need to understand what it means to be trans feminine or masculine. Black people with big bodies need representation with characters that aren’t punchlines.
I know a lot of people push the rhetoric of “create our own” but marginalized people should have the right to just sit back and be an audience member without fear of having their experience mocked or completely excluded because creators don’t know how to depict it tastefully.
That’s what I’m trying to do in this book as well, give artists a better understanding of the black experience across all intersections.
Q: What do you hope non-black people will understand from this?
S: I often ask non-black artists to imagine how screwed they would be if they didn’t know how to draw white people. How many jobs and doors would be closed to them if white people were so foreign that they couldn’t depict them convincingly. For some people it’s hard because we know the white experience so well. We have been undulated with it for decades so it’s hard to miss. Why should any other culture, as artists, be foreign to us? Especially if we’re going to tell stories about people from that culture.
If we’re going to bring black people to forefront then we can’t leave out who we are as a people. The good and the bad, majority and the marginalized.