Afua Richardson on her influences, the subtlety of gals’ comic fandom, and the best flute-metaphor ever

Afua Richardson is a comic book illustrator whose most current work is on Top Cow’s “Genius.”  Her vibrant, emotive art has been utilized by Marvel, DC and Image comics, and has seen her nominated for multiple Glyph awards.  Also a classically-trained musician and a singer-songwriter, the work of Afua ‘Docta Foo’ Richardson has been a surprise I very much want to see more of. 

My interview with Afua below the “KoiMaid Queen”:

By, and courtesy of, Afua Richardson. Enlargeable.

Your artwork bristles with energy.  Is that a quality that you’re conscious of trying to illustrate?

Thank you much!! Energy? Absolutely. As an artist, I feel it’s our job to communicate. One thing I love about the genre of anime is that the apex of motion is always overstated and extreme. I want people to feel something when they look at my work.

Who or what would you say influenced your style?  I see a little bit of everything in there, from what would be considered traditional comic artists to manga and the pre-supposed finer arts.

My influences are drawn (literally and figuratively) from Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal) , Frank Frazetta and everything Heavy Metal spilled out in the ’70s and early ’80s that my adolescent hands could snag. I adore Chris Bachalo’s work, and I’m in awe of Travis Charest’s attention to detail. A few anime that changed my brain were Evangelion and Kite. I can’t forget Czech artist Alphonse Mucha and the various European artists known for playbills and posters in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

As a woman – a demographic that statistically isn’t supposed to care much for mainstream comics – what work in that vein have you found particularly engaging?  Did you ever feel like there was a lack of work that, beyond universal themes, spoke to you on a simple, self-reflective level? 

I’d like to first address the earlier part of your question. I think that, like, most things– women keep a lot of things to themselves (unless it’s in relation to drama). Say for instance when a guy checks out a girl: they turn their whole head around. Perhaps if they are feeling bold, they’ll whistle or say good morning. When a gal checks out a guy–you’d be surprised if they even move their heads, but their eyes move. I am generalizing horribly, but, long story short: men stare, women glare. This may be a weakly prefaced metaphor, but my point is, women have ALWAYS been into comics.

By a gamma-driven Afua Richardson.

Look at the duo who created Wonder Woman. Gals–they just don’t often show it as much as guys might. Now that it is socially acceptable to be a geek, they are pouring out from the cracks, totting graphic t-shirts, non-prescription glasses and taking their knob kneed stand. I’ll also say that many gals will keep their secret geek obsessions to themselves so as not to be the raw meat in the wolves den. Some gents just don’t know what to say to a lady. They might as well be a different species of animal. So to avoid an onslaught of horribly formed jokes and gawking, they kinda avoid social gatherings unless in a group or have the cookies to handle their own.

The medium of comics is a diverse one. Just like any other form of literature, there are things written for entertainment . There are also things that are under the guise of entertainment that are thought-evoking. Planetary changed me after I read it. Also, Transmetropolitan. Don’t need stories about girly plights to ring true to me. I don’t need stories about make-up and lipstick and dating. I like stories about life. Personal revelations and overcoming unspeakable odds, even if the greatest advisory is the protagonist itself.

I like stories about life. Personal revelations and overcoming unspeakable odds, even if the greatest advisory is the protagonist itself.

You grew up in NYC.  What positives and negatives do you think that’s given you as an artist?  Or just as a person.   I sometimes wonder if, with a few gilded exceptions, the city is a little more inclined to people who don’t grow up there.

New York is a living freight train–breathing at a rabbit’s pace, moving like a swarm of flies. You don’t know any other way to be when you live there. There is survival or death.  This death can be a job with no way out. Survival can be a gig that makes it that much easier to get by. In a place where you can run into anyone and anything at anytime, it makes you raise the bar on your abilities. There’s a hunger in that city. You’ve got to be five times as amazing in order to be considered half as good.

But at the same time, you’ll possibly bypass the amazing bits of your work in the sea of apathetic audiences who are too cool to clap and too saturated by awesome to give you a second glance. Iron sharpens iron, I always say, and this city is made of adamantium. But most of the people who give the city a bad name are the ones who trickle in who are not used to so many people invading their personal space. They become irritable and are usually the ones who shoulder check you when you’re getting on the subway or drive past you in their cabs because they’ve heard terrible things about brown-skinned people via outdated media.

But at the same time, you’ll possibly bypass the amazing bits of your work in the sea of apathetic audiences who are too cool to clap and too saturated by awesome to give you a second glance. Iron sharpens iron, I always say, and this city is made of adamantium. But most of the people who give the city a bad name are the ones who trickle in who are not used to so many people invading their personal space. They become irritable and are usually the ones who shoulder check you when you’re getting on the subway or drive past you in their cabs because they’ve heard terrible things about brown-skinned people via outdated media.

As an artist, I was able to find amazingly skilled professionals in a local Starbucks to hang out with and tell me what I was doing wrong. Damien Scott (Batgirl 1999) was the 1st gent who offered me a professional gig doing finishing pencils for his comic. But I was too afraid I’d mash it up. That would NEVER happen where I am now. I mean, not never, but it’s not as likely.

More Afua goodness.

As a classically trained flautist, please give a musical virtue of the flute.

A musical virtue?  Hmm. The flute is like a feather sword gently cutting the air. For a time it was my 2nd voice. For an even shorter time it was my only voice.

The flute is like a feather sword gently cutting the air. For a time it was my 2nd voice. For an even shorter time it was my only voice.

Like a lot of industries, the music one isn’t what it once was.  At the same time, I feel like there’s a certain variety in the thirty percent of what isn’t quite the juggernaut stuff—one that still requires networking and luck, though.  Thoughts?  Is there anything about music’s ever-changing mediums that has helped kept you at it?

I was discouraged for a while. I had great opportunities, but none were ever quite right. Either I wasn’t ready maturity-wise or the company wanted me to sound like something else because they said it wouldn’t work. Even producers I knew who I’d share my ideas with would say I had to go along the straight and narrow if I wanted to sell. Then a year or two later, a sound-alike would win a Grammy… Now, I think there is a shift in the tide. People access their music via the Internet. Even though you can buy hits and Google can lower view counts at will, people are not limited to the small rotation of radio anymore. Things have returned to a word of mouth basis–something I don’t think the industry had anticipated in time to catch the wave. I think now I’m more confident in my vision; I just lack the production to get it completed. But I’m working on that. One step at a time.

As I know from a friend of mine, time is not on the side of a comic artist.  What projects give you pause?

Well, with the project I’m working on with Warren Ellis, I started out sketching enthusiastically and rather quickly, and then I realized I wasn’t the artist I wanted to be to create the project. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity (which I still fear I have, taking entirely too long to get started) , but I didn’t want to crap it out either. There are others but, I think I’ll hold my tongue on it. ;]

How did your first paid comic gig come about? 

My 1st paid comic gig came about some time in 2003 or so. My boyfriend and I just broke up; I needed to move out of his place. I just left my job because my boss’s husband body slammed her across the bar like a WWE match, and I wasn’t about to step foot in that place. My friend Brandon Graham was on his way to Seattle, and he had a small comic gig for Sizzle magazine and a small apartment in Astoria that he mentioned I should take. I was scared to do comics regularly but I had plenty of time to draw 10 pages for a quarterly comics in black and white for NBM Publishing. The writing was terrible and my work was just as bad, but it’s fine. We all start somewhere.

True.  And finally, since then, what as a singer-songwriter yourself did it mean to you to receive the 2011 Nina Simone award for Artistic achievement?

Nina Simone was one of those people–you know, those iconic “no one can tell me who I am and I’m not going to break out of a box I’m going to karate chop my way  through the roof to be who I am regardless of what anyone has to say” kinda people … It’s an honor to even tote something with her name on it.  Ironically the award sits broken on my dresser. The crack in it reminds me that it’s just a pair of shoes I’ve got to fill. That my work is just starting and the best I’ve got to give is yet to come.

… You know, those iconic “no one can tell me who I am and I’m not going to break out of a box I’m going to karate chop my way  through the roof to be who I am regardless of what anyone has to say” kinda people …

I always wish I knew more. To see more of Afua’s work, listen to her music, or commission art, check out http://www.afuarichardson.info or @AfuaRichardson.  Thanks upon thanks to Afua for her time.   

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