Photo: Maximilius Fielder
Tim Fielder is an illustrator, cartoonist, and author of INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale. He first attended the Black Comic Book Festival (BCBF) to highlight his work as an animator in 2013 and has been a part of the festival every year since. As the Schomburg Center celebrates the 10th anniversary of the BCBF in January 2022, Fielder shares what inspired him to first attend, what the festivals mean to him, and how they changed the trajectory of his career. (His comments have been lightly edited.)
Tell me about your career before the Black Comic Book Festival.
I started in comics professionally way back in the mid-1980s. First as an alternative cartoonist then segueing into the "mainstream" comics industry with Marvel by the mid-1990s. By that time, the contemporary comic book industry imploded and many creators had to make a decision to either stay the course or course correct. I chose animation. I would do that for 15 years as a sporadic studio worker, freelance concept game designer, and a teacher. Lots of teaching.
Ironically, I went back to school and shortly thereafter resurrected a character in my comic past, Matty Watty, in animated form. The first Schomburg BCBF I attended as an animator. However, by 2013 I began to go back to my first love—comics. Things haven’t been the same since.
How did the Schomburg Center's 2015 exhibition Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination inspire you to become more involved with the festival as a panelist?
Unveiling Visions was seminal to my present and past focus. It was the first time a sample of my pure visual Afrofuturist work was presented to the public within a proper context. It was in-progress images of my project Black Metropolis, which had never been shown publicly. Only previously finished pages had been shown. That meant a lot to me. I had always up till that point been the "Eccentric comic Blackscifi guy." I operated just on the edge of the mainstream, yet very much on the fringe. Which, in hindsight, is very apropos. That show put the content that exists in the intersection of speculative fiction, comics, and fantasy front and center.
Please share a story about a moment or person that stood out to you during the festival and why.
I had to leave the BCBF event when I first premiered Matty’s Rocket in floppy form (a booklet held together by staples) in 2015 to attend the sister event in San Francisco—I even had my pitch presentation rehearsed.
I was very nervous because I had invested a lot of time and money into making sure my product and corporate presentation was tight for the audience. I received a frantic call from my twin brother, Jim, who manned the tables while I was traveling. The audience members wouldn’t let him finish the pitch. They demanded he cut it short and hand over the book. We sold hundreds of books that day. Because the WORK resonated with the readers. That BCBF experience let me know I had something inside myself and beyond that had value.
What sparked the idea of conducting the 2021 workshop How to Draw Black Superheroes? Why do you think it was needed?
Not a complex calculus at all. The Schomburg folks know that I can handle the attention of 500 kids both virtually and in person for two hours of full-on energy. And what normal human being wants to do that and loves it? That would be me!
In addition to being a part of the festival, you were invited to create the 2021 graphics. What did that mean to you? Tell me about the inspiration and what you wanted people to take away after seeing the artwork.
To do the Schomburg Black Comic Book Festival graphic is an artistic Everest moment. It means you have ascended to a point in your career that the Schomburg Center, Blerd fandom, and the industry respects your work and your reach. I wanted to depict something that was fully rendered with an epic scale that featured the Black family. So grateful to have been given that opportunity. Plus, nothing is more exciting than seeing your work projected 100 feet tall on the SCHOMBOTRON!
What do you think would have happened to artists of color if there were no events such as the BCBF to share their work and provide artists a chance to meet and network with each other? Have there been changes in the graphic novel and comic book industries because of BCBF?
The tradition of Black Arts in comics has been around for decades. I started myself back during the African Street Festival in the early 90s. The Black Expo was dominant at that time which most prominently showcased Brotherman by the Sims Bros. By the 2000s there have been numerous ‘Black Comic Cons' such at ECBACC, ONYXCON, Black Comix Arts Festival, and more. That said, BCBF changed the game by breaking attendance records and formalizing the Blerdspace within the largest media market on the earth, New York City. As a result, the industry development within the graphic novel space has dovetailed nicely within that context. It’s a good time to be alive.
What's next in your professional life?
So many wonderful things are on the horizon. My graphic novel, INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale has come out from HarperCollins Amistad. It’s the first Afrofuturist graphic novel published by a Big Five Trade publisher in history—very proud of that.
(Editor's note: Fielder’s book tells the story of Aja Oba, an ancient African king who steals the son of his concubine Obinrin. In retaliation, he is cursed with immortality. Oba lives to see the fall of his kingdom, the rise of Europe as a global power and colonizer, the slave trade and enslavement in the U.S.)
Matty’s Rocket will be relaunched very shortly in an expanded graphic novel series. Also, my management, UrbAlt Media, has been on the job generating exciting opportunities in other…more exciting..mediums for all of my IPs.
I will be a featured player in the upcoming Carnegie Hall Afrofuturism Festival in March-February 2022. This will feature a revival of my Black Metropolis career exhibition at the Children’s Art Carnival in Harlem NYC. The documentary variant of the Black Metropolis show will also premiere during the festival. I’ll also have images on display at the Schomburg. Please visit Diesel Funk Studio to learn more.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to break into the graphic novel industry?
Let's deal with the Idealistic: Your Dreams are YOURS. Never let anyone tell you your work does not have value. It does because you breathe air. Simply hunker down, work to improve, and accept that your work is your style. Be true to that style but back it up with hard work. Because the ONLY good work is FINISHED work.
Next is the Realistic: This art is a Business. The Business is the business of Show. Yes, you are in a visual medium that is meant to communicate to others and the publishers are all trying to Show and Sell to audiences. You must be social, well-behaved (act like you have home training), able to hit deadlines, and open to editorial suggestions.
Also very important. Something I wasn’t told upon finishing INFINITUM. Once you are done with a book, immediately get to the next book. Why? Because although your agents, advisors, etc. may want you to make pitches for publishers, your audience only wants your next book. Get to it quickly.
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