I wanted the opportunity to voice the reasons for the design of the cover for a comic book by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman entitled Genius. Before the book’s release, it has already been the subject of many heated conversations. Some feel offended that a black character being celebrated for her tactical Genius, is displayed nearly nude on a floor with caution tape loosely bound around her. They think the cover is over sexualized and offensive. Some feel it’s a poor representation of the book and black women as a whole, without ever having read it.
Others have their burdens of color on their shoulders because of the past suffering of blacks, its subsequent plots and the negative portrayal in mainstream media being so prevalent, that anything slightly resembling that, is tarred and feathered in the digital town square. Where I can understand why this may be the case, I’d like the opportunity to explain who I am and why I’ve made this. If you then feel I should be hung on the proverbial cross for doing this, c’est la vie. I have spoken my mind and created something without apology or retraction. Not everyone will like my work. But I won’t have it misrepresented by people who don’t understand it.
I warn you, there are spoilers in this. So if you prefer not to know the twists and turns, I’d wait until the end of the month after the book has reached its completion. Otherwise, journey forth, brave soul.
BARE BONES — Why the girl is naked.
On the cover if Issue #1 lays Destiny Ajaye, a displaced genius in engineered chaos. Like many from a low socioeconomic background, she’s left to the whims of a system that is designed to be a revolving door of poverty. No resources. No hope. No one to rescue her from a life of victim hood but herself.
Let’s swing from rope to rope on a few examples of this. Police sell drugs to a poor neighborhood and lock up those who don’t make enough sales. [who makes those drugs by the way…]
Pharmaceutical companies experimenting their new drugs on those too poor to file a lawsuit for damages. A young mother gets pregnant before she’s even finished high school, that wouldn’t be much of a problem if her family had a structure there to support her and still enable her to get a real education. Is that one’s problem to deal with? No, but when large corporations pay fewer taxes then they do, it might. Unfortunately, she attends high school so underfunded that basic math is rattled off for memorization, but not actually taught its senior class — men. They have neither the nutrition, or the support to carry on from day to day between the grade D meat, GMO government subsidized food, hormone laden milk, and Dendtrite dulling fluoride in their drinking water.
Many people start so far behind the starting line, they don’t even know what that line looks like. Opportunities are few and far between, since no skills are actually taught in those formative years of compulsory indoctrination… er… education. So they’ll probably have to work terrible jobs or get on welfare; a lovely system crafted by Eugenicists who’d like to dispose of the undesirables of the world. That being the poor and, more than likely, minority (but not exclusively) are the targets for this game.
Welfare makes sure you can’t ever leave welfare. You will own no property. You will never question the hands that feed you. You will stay on welfare, struggle to make your own (legal or illegal) business and your family will be broken or burdened by the chaos that surrounds you. That welfare may come in the shape of a check for remaining poor or a mercenary pension. ( Unless you some how manage to fight your way out. ) Maybe you are cannon fodder for the military. Maybe you somehow get to college and are in debt like the rest of America and struggle to pay it back. You are the living dead. A modern day slave, but your shackles might be made from a more expensive metal.
For a time I was homeless. Hopping from couch to couch, I felt like the bottom rung of society. People look at you as a lazy and diseased pariah. You are surrounded by those who toast to their sorrows with numbing agents. You roam the streets and underbellies of the world. If you’re not THAT poor but are a few bad paydays from that, then you’re going to have to couch hop or apply for section 8 assisted living and housing where the poor are corralled and planted near a jail for easy entry. Turn that 8 sideways, and ∞ means an eternity of this awaits you. Maybe you’ll get a low paying job and enjoy your days being taxed to death and harassed by police. You can never afford to fix that bum tooth that eventually bleeds toxins into your system. Enjoy your MSG and diabetes, that will take care of you before you’re in your mid-30s if you’re lucky.
That chalk outline represents the containment of those who can’t afford to fight the masters of their fate, no more than a dead man can change its pose on its own accord. She is perceived as a victim. She has no military training. No well funded army. No armor. She never wears a bulletproof vest because she is prepared to fight and die for her cause. She is nude, without shielding. She has just her self, a gun, and the mind to use it. But as you can see, she does not take that laying down. She’s getting up from the the ground owning nothing and still RISES to fight. She is not submissive. She is not bound. She is not begging or pleading. She is a credible THREAT. She will get up and fight on her feet, rather than die on her knees.
CLOTHES — I’m just asking for her to have some pants on.
The objectification of women is something that has come up as well. One will objectify anyone they want to have sex with. If you think that doesn’t happen to men then you might not live on planet earth.
I can understand, as we’re barraged by sexually connotative images of women EVERYWHERE. We have the definitions of unattainable and unrealistic beauty, hurdled at us to pressure product purchases. They make a woman hate themselves and doll themselves up for the attention of people they don’t even know. Some try to meet this airbrushed composite of a human being broadcast like a witch’s spell. I’m not daft. I understand the implications of a cover like this.
Which is why I was very careful with the POSE. She is not in a submissive pose. I’ve crossed her knees for the sake of her modesty, but she’s not bent over. No come hither. No busty exaggerations.
Venus Williams is portrayed here in the ESPN body issue. I think she looks like a beautiful woman. Strong and poised but still soft and feminine. She doesn’t appear exploited to me. She seems very responsible for her decision to lay on the ground with out clothing and be paid lots of money to commemorate herself as both an athlete and a gorgeous being worthy of celebration (in a magazine spread more commonly reserved for those who look nothing like her). Look, she even has muscles and PORES.
“The only way I can be represented in media is if it’s sexually explicit” is a complaint that has come from viewers. I wanted her to be a god of war, but also a goddess. I feel too often, because everyone is trying to be so politically correct, they are afraid to display a black woman as sexy or desirable. They are usually stoic, angry, and bitter. Hard around the edges and cruel faced. Or homely, sterile, or so full of a nasty “angry black woman” attitude no one wants to deal with the baggage. Where this character is angry, she is so with valid reasons. I wanted to reclaim that idea. Behold. Your victim refuses to be a victim, and she is now a weapon. Your goddess of creation and destruction. That’s where I wanted the deception.
Look at this cover and think a beautiful, possibly vulnerable (unshielded not in bondage) woman. Upon further inspection, she is not that at all, but a secret weapon who unfortunately has become the thing she’s rallying against: a mass murderer.
I wanted her to be akin to Venus but as frightening as Hades. As beautiful as Isis and as dangerous as Shiva the destroyer.
This particular issue is the only time she uses her aesthetic to mislead people. She lures in her prey then shoots them in the head. She plays “dead” and pretended to be a gang leader’s right hand lady. Then collects all the leaders in one place who can’t settle their difference and unites them in death.
Sounds like politics to me. Doesn’t the United States currently have a kill list? The National Defense Authorization Act? Kill or detain anyone deemed a belligerent or terrorist indefinitely? Sounds like a gang to me…
FIRE FROM THE GODS — But why is she wearing TAPE?
The yellow caution tape enclosing the crime scene is inspired by old paintings of Prometheus. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Prometheus, he is the Greek son of a titan who assisted Zeus in the over throw of Mount Olympus from Chronos (or Saturn; Time, the reaper). But more famously, he stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Fire can be seen as technology, an advantage to those who struggle without it. Destiny gives her citizen’s militia the gift of strategy.
Prometheus is punished for this crime, and is destined to have an eagle come and rip out his innards everyday. Since he is immortal he will heal and rise again in the morning to repeat his terrible torture. Why would I associate my character with a fated doom? She is Destiny after all. A pattern one must observe in order to avoid or pursue a path that leads to an inevitable outcome. She is a strategist, and although she rises her capable people to war, there are consequences.
This is not a game of chess anymore when you lose a pawn to gun fire. How does one change their fate? For those who are video game enthusiasts — I have Playstation and Game Cube controllers in the corner — when you reach a “boss” on a particular level, you’re challenged to find the patterns in their attacks and learn their weaknesses as an opportunity to strike. You avoid your destined death by solidifying your defense and finding the gaps. A basic principle of battle outlined in Sun Tzu’s famous book The Art of War.
Also, as the tape reads, she is not one to cross. She commands her armies and demands respect. But even though she’s orchestrated an urban army, she still deals with men questioning her capabilities. She commands her armies but still deals with challengers to her leadership. She takes on those challenges head on, without wavering. This isn’t some faux rally against men, just to be clear. (Kind of have to be specific these days; people will often misunderstand you) This is saying no matter her costume, she is open to assault but will face it head on.
There is also a Queen Bee in the corner of of the cover. She sits in the middle of a swarming hive. She sends out her drones and workers and organic carpenters to build a place where she and her family thrives. I feel this is what Destiny does for her community. She is young. So her methods are not all correct. I mean who has everything together at 17 anyway??? I know I didn’t, but life was a battlefield just the same.
THE ART — Why does the pilot issue suck but the rest of the books alright?
Hey look, I get it. The #0 issue. Frankly, I’m surprised it won at all because of the art. I’ll have to give credit to the writers for holding the torch on that one. Their concept was so sterling that it survived the art that accompanied it. The first five pages were alright, but then it slid into a weird decline. Right around that time I’m realizing that one can’t apply the techniques of drawing a cover to drawing pages. This was, after all, my first full length comic. I was a musician most of my life. This was a hobby, that I took seriously, but still a hobby. I wasn’t use to drawing EVERYDAY and certainly not for a living. I was self-taught and really had no idea what i was doing but was lucky to have a shot.
To make matters worse, I’d realized, all too late, that the person I was dating at the time was a vitriolic but secret alcoholic. At one point, I thought my life was not worth living by the constant verbal assault and their constant downplaying of my ambitions, my friends, and everything I was. I saw the decline in my work. Proportions warped. Colors dissonant. Water from my neighbors upstairs was pouring into my computer causing shortages and fails. I’d lose days of work. I withdrew, hiding behind my computer. Plagued with a series of unfortunate events. I drew less and less. I ate less and less. Hoped less and less until it all landed me in a hospital.
I had to get out.
That was five years ago. Just when i finished the first issue.
It took years to realize I was not worthless. I was not talent- and skill-less. I was a person worthy of love and respect. I became more politically aware. Started helping myself by helping others. With the help of family and friends, I made my own art army. Telling others what I learned as I went along. The great thing about the time from the pilot to this release is that I’ve been able to expand my abilities from issue to issue. I’m not there yet. But I’m getting close. I’m just glad I was granted the chance to grow here. In the meantime I was influenced by the character I was making. [Or was she making me?]
I started painting murals with my new found partner to illustrate just causes and coordinated events to bring awareness to various political topics people tend to shy away from because of their perceived conspiratorial nature. I’m sure Martin Luther King got plenty of flack for his talks about the Vietnam War and social injustice. I’m no Dr. King, but I can understand a small walk in his shoes. I became Destiny. I changed my fate.
I might be taking all of this too personally, but I poured my bones into this book. I am proud of it. I am proud of me. Both the beautiful and the ugly lines.
Scoff at my cover. I don’t care really. But give its contents a chance. There is a lot of cursing, but I think we’re adults here. Words are given power by those who believe in them. There is no curse that is bestowed for breathing these words. They are not absent because you do not say them. It is a part of reality, and for a long time both the moral and the unsavory swore like their lives were depending on such exclamations. Believe me, at first, I was taken aback by it. I didn’t know what to think. “Crap, I’ve been given a stereotypical story about black people cursing and killing in the hood.” But there is nothing typical about this story. The streets of Los Angeles, as well as its people, deserve to have a tale of their (future) evolutionary war illustrated.
This story has changed my life. I hope it will change yours. Thank you for your time and your considerations.
Find out more about Genius at Newsarama HERE.
Afua Richardson (also known as Docta Foo) is an award winning, American comic book illustrator. She is also a seasoned singer/songwriter and musician; currently in the band Waking Astronomer. Afua is the recipient of the Nina Simone award for being one of the the few African American/Native American female illustrators to work with the comic giants: Marvel, DC, and Image comics.