Photo via Michmasharts.com
Writer, designer, illustrator, and graphic artist Micheline Hess is perhaps best known as the creator of the children’s comic books Malice in Ovenland, The Anansi Kids Club, and The All Saints Day Adventure. She uses her art and storytelling skills to encourage conversations about caring for the environment and spark the imagination, weaving tales of fantasy and adventure in young readers. Hess is also the author of the graphic novel Diary of a Mad, Black, Werewolf, where she uses her platform to discuss racism with an older audience.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture tapped Hess to design its artwork for the Center’s 10th annual Black Comic Book Festival taking place January 13–15, 2022. Below, she reflects on the inspiration behind her iconic design, relates her observations of the comic book industry over the past decade, and shares advice for upcoming illustrators. (Her comments have been lightly edited.)
Tell me about the artwork you created for the 2022 Black Comic Book Festival and the inspiration for it?
Artwork: Micheline Hess
Inspiration came from a few different places. The scene takes place in a world I created for the character Dayo. (The girl riding the bug-eyed reptile) This world is fantasy-based, and showcases characters like blacksmiths, sorceresses, strange creatures, and cozy, tree houses surrounded by nature. Everything is centered around the joy of reading comics and graphic novels. Given all the crazy things that have been going on in the world, I wanted the image to point more towards the opposite: feeling safe, welcomed, embraced by family and friends, happy and encouraged to enjoy the fun of reading.
Tell me about a moment that stood out to you during this process and why?
Initially I was having a hard time coming up with a concept for the piece. I thought about it as I was driving Upstate, and seeing the trees, grass, and open spaces made me want to create something that included nature, but also had an element of Saturday morning cartoons, or a party.
What does it mean to you to create the artwork for the 10th anniversary?
When I realized that this was for the 10th anniversary, I was really nervous. How do I create something that measures up to a number like that? I had to try and forget the number and just follow my feelings. Overall though, it’s a HUGE honor to be asked to create something like this, and whatever the subject matter ended up being, I wanted the image to be telepathic and bring a smile to the face of anyone who looked at it.
In addition to being a graphic artist, you're also the author behind the children’s comics Malice in Ovenland and graphic novels such as Diary of a Mad, Black, Werewolf for adults. You’ve accomplished so much as an independent artist. Were there moments you doubted yourself? If so, how did you overcome them?
I doubt myself CONSTANTLY! It’s one of the hardest things to overcome in the course of creating. What if no one likes it? This looks too cheesy…what if the colors don’t work..what about composition? It’s taken a loooong time to realize that if I just trust my instincts, things generally come out fine. Self-doubt has kept me from sharing my work as a storyteller for a long time, but it’s important to not pay too much attention to those voices.
What changes have you observed in the comic book and graphic novel industries because of events such as the BCBF over the past 10 years?
Two things that I’ve observed are more parents coming to the realization that there are creators putting out content that speaks directly to Black people and other POC. The second thing I’ve noticed is more and more women coming to the forefront who are doing great work writing and illustrating their own stories, as well as selling awesome merchandise, like pins, bags, posters, and T-shirts.
Although there are more women of color working as illustrations and artists, it’s still a small number within a small number of women of color working in the industry. Please share your inspirations on your career journey.
When I was starting out I met Regine Sawyer—founder of Women in Comics Collective International, and realized there were other Black and POC women who were on the same journey. Creating comics can be a lonely path and it was inspiring to know there were others out there like me! Regine is the most Never-Say-Die person I've ever met. She’s worked tirelessly throughout the years to elevate the women in comics platform.
Do you think events such as the Black Comic Book Festival are still needed?
YES! I think events like this are definitely still needed. There are so many Black creators out there who work tirelessly on creating top notch content. They deserve a platform to broadcast from, plus people need to know that we’re out here. I love seeing the looks of surprise and delight on the faces of kids and parents when they see the vast array of comics and graphic novels that also have a voice that’s relatable and not showcasing stereotypical characters or stories.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Don’t wait! If you have an idea for a story or character, create that! These days there are so many more ways for artists and writers to get their work out there, and so much of that is low-cost or free! Work with friends or work alone, but don’t worry about whether or not folks will like it. Just start and utilize platforms like Google and YouTube to learn more about what makes a good story, or world. You can also find great reference material out there as well. It’s all at your fingertips.
Anything you'd like to add?
Things are crazy in the world these days, so enjoy reading your comics and (if only for a little while) enjoy being someplace else.
You can also see what I’m up to on Instagram @michmasharts.
Return to the main page of the blog series: Black Comic Book Festival Is Turning 10!
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