Dawud Anyabwile is probably one of the best kept secrets in comics. A dynamic presence during the independent comic book movement of the early 90’s, he is also an Emmy Award Winner, a respected storyboard artist and character designer. Dawud can count MTV, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network among his clients. Brotherman, which Dawud self-published with his brothers, sold over 750,000 copies during its initial 11-issue run. And yet, I would wager that this is the first time many of our readers have heard of him.
I would never describe Brotherman as a voice only for the black community because its characters don’t speak just to one race – unless, that is, it’s the human race.
Brotherman’s creators took their characters out of the mainstream template where the prefix “Black” typically preceded the heroic identities champions of African-American origin –– an archaic format devised by writers and artists not without goodwill but with little or no experience of the culture or people they were writing about. Instead of the negative stereotype of African-Americans as pimps and hoods, Brotherman promoted truthful and uplifting renderings of the inner city and portrayed human beings and the conditions that affected them.
Brotherman’s original series has been collected into 3 volumes, which you can order on the Brotherman website. A new graphic novel, Brotherman: Revelation is now in production. More details about this noteworthy series will appear on Sequential Highway as they become available.
A gallery of Dawud’s unforgettable artwork follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Dawud Anyabwile: I had an interest in comics since I was a child. It was not something that hit me like an epiphany when I created my first book in 1990 but at the same time it was not my life goal to make a comic. I was an artist since childhood and I was involved in a variety of art styles like comics, animation, stop motion animation, filmmaking, etc. When I finally made my first comic book I came at it from the perspective of creating something that would add to the other things I was doing at the time.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
DA: I was a fine art major throughout high school and afterwards I attended Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick, NJ and Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Most of the specialized training that led to my comic and animation art came from books, friends and personal drive.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
DA: My studies of art and history have taken me back to Ancient Egypt where sequential art was prominently displayed and archived and still serves as inspiration to the world.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
DA: A series of drawings that tell a story.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
DA: I find sequential art to be the best way to convey a story to the general audience. I am not restricted by finances or lack of a team. I can be as descriptive as I want without the concern of budget restrictions. Although writing is also an inexpensive way to tell a story, I like the satisfaction of visual storytelling because you can take the reader into your universe with immediate results.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
DA: An eye for composition, understanding of perspective and depth of field are very important. Lighting is also necessary in setting up the mood and focus of action. If you are doing storyboards then you are more focused on composing your pages individually as opposed to comic books where you need to compose the panels as well as the entire page. Acting is also key to creating good sequential art.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
DA: I don’t have any one way that I work. When I produce my own projects I have an unorthodox method. My style is rough and loose and I usually am not concerned with what anybody else is doing. I just work with what I have and make it happen. When I am in a freelance mode then I work in the style that is requested of me. I’ll work clean or rough, mimic styles or research a new way to create. I just like to have fun when I work. My methodology can be all over the place.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
DA: I work as a production designer on my day job and then when I get home I continue to work into the night on my own comic art and other projects. So I can say that I must do over 80 hours of work a week. Some days I just break from it all but I am still thinking of the next thing that needs to be produced, so in essence I guess I’m still creating.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
DA: I have been selling my art since I was a teenager. That rolled into my young adult years and beyond. I always focused on creating my own opportunity rather than look for a job so I did not deal with too much job searching. I created my own jobs. In my later years I began to gain studio experience but by that time I had built my experiences up as an independent artist, which helped me to get into doors. It was still a challenge and in many cases I was in tight situations like many people but I always stay diligent in my career development.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
DA: When I was self-employed it was an invaluable experience for me to be able to sell my work to the general public. It gave me an opportunity to learn how to deal directly with the public and get over the fear of drawing in front of a crowd. Studio experience, on the other hand, was good for me because it taught me how to work with a team of professional artists. I think both of those experiences helped me to become a more well- rounded artist.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
DA: What inspires me most now is to view works of other artists […] I admire. That has always been one of the main things that kept me inspired. When I was younger I was constantly inspired by observing the general public. Riding the buses and trains and hanging out with friends always gave me ideas to sketch and build on. Now that I have raised two boys to young men I observe life from another perspective, which is constantly changing. My life experiences are now a major influence on my work: relationships with people on another lever than when I was younger. Dealing with life’s triumphs and pains are rechanneled into concepts that I would love to put into sequential art. There is no one thing that inspires me but the totality of life experiences is what moves me.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
DA: I think digital comics are just as relevant as any other form of art. Technology is constantly advancing and changing so there will always be the purists and the conformists. Personally, I like both. I don’t see digital replacing acrylics and oils but instead it may become a tool of choice for artists to work faster and more efficiently without creating a mess but at the same time there is no tangible canvas to touch, no brush strokes to feel, no original painting to stare at to say, “Wow, that is the ORIGINAL!” That is what I miss from the digital experience. However, from the commercial standpoint, digital comics and digital art make sense to me.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
DA: To add more diversity to the medium by showcasing the works of people from all walks of life. As an African American man it was a tough battle to drive my comic book, which not only starred a Black hero but was also supported by a cast of Black characters, into the marketplace. I faced many challenges in the first few years of my publication where certain individuals did not welcome my concept because it did not symbolize the status quo. That did not stop me but instead gave me more reason to drive forward and ultimately change the perception that many diehard fans would have about comics created by Black creators. The industry should be open to accepting all efforts by all people although it is our duty as artists to give the best quality stories and the best quality art in order to compete.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
DA: I think this is probably the most difficult question I ever had to answer. I cannot think of one artist who I would want to apprentice under especially in the span of history. So many who I admire but for so many different reasons. I hope this is not a cop-out but I really cannot think of one individual in particular, my mind thinks of many.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
DA: I want to master illustration and painting. Every time I sit down to create something I want to have the confidence to know that whatever it is I am going to create it will come out as planned. I want to feel that I can illustrate anything with the highest level of quality. It is not to prove to the world that I am the best because I do not believe there is a “best.” I want to achieve this for my inner self. There is a certain feeling of accomplishment when you produce something that you can stare at and feel good about. As artists we are never satisfied with our works because we are always evolving and trying to get better. I just want to get to the point where I feel that I accomplished that goal.