How to Be Black in Comics

by Darryl Ayo

[Ed. Note: This essay originally appeared as a series of tweets on Darryl’s Twitter timeline.]

I’ve tried for years to draw black people as real characters as well as visibly dark; it’s expensive with screentones.

There’s a black character and a non-black character in this particular strip:

Those two strips came out back to back. Different visual methodologies and different sensory results. Different political statements as well.

Cartooning is complicated. Comics is like juggling cartooning. I’ve decided to juggle live grenades. Do not try this at home.

There are two characters in this strip. Both of the characters are black.

I don’t think that I would use this technique to draw a real person, nor do I think I would use it on Little Garden. Using this style is my style sometimes but it’s also a lot like playing with knives. This technique was a media weapon against black people. I would hope that if you are not of the dark-skinned peoples, that you would not even consider this path because then it is a weapon.

I wrote about this in 2011 on the wonderful website Comix Cube.

“That Old Black Magic” was the name of an art shop in my home county of Westchester, New York. They sold African and African American Art. The shop was small and most of the art was sculpture so a child had to be very careful. The shop also displayed old/vintage racist-era ads. It was meant to be a contrast between how “they” depicted “us” and how “we” depicted “us.” Which, as a child, I fully understood.

Looking at these images, I feel better about those where you can’t transfer a non-dark identity onto the characters.

Sometimes it is worse to leave things to the imagination. After all, some things must be depicted, and some things must be left out. In any art. Why decide to leave out visible characteristics of figures?

On another note: Once upon a time on the old Afropunk message board, a woman drew a self portrait —  like ya do,  black line on white paper. She posted it. She was proud of her drawing, a photo-naturalistic illustration, drawn with line.

The message board tore her apart. They accused her of wanting to be white… because she drew the same way that 99.9% of all people draw. Black line on white paper. To this day, I hold a grudge against all of the people who participated in that disappointing attack and my skin still crawls1. Fake pro-black, hotep creeps from back in 2007. Hoteppery goes back a lot further than that too.

That said, my experiments have nothing to do with that nasty episode. My thinking on this matter goes back many years before that.

Sidebar: I want to give a big acknowledgement to Lance Tooks, a cartoonist who visualized a lot of my thinking years before me.

Darryl Ayo is a cartoonist and critic who lives in Brooklyn. He writes and draws the minicomic Little Garden.

Follow him on twitter @darrylayo and ask him questions on tumblr.

  1. None of this is Afropunk’s fault 

3 thoughts on “How to Be Black in Comics

  1. I think line art needs to be re-explored. Today’s technology should make it easier to achieve greater detail.

Comments are closed.