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Why a comic book artist wants to school people in how to draw black figures

It’s not enough to get the technicalities right, it’s about illustrating a cultural identity.


All of us or none comic artwork (Malik Shabazz)

All of us or none comic artwork (Malik Shabazz)

All of us or none comic artwork (Malik Shabazz)

An artist is on a mission to improve how black figures are depicted in art by schooling people about black culture.

Professional artist Malik Shabazz says a generation of artists have been taught how to draw people through tutorials and books which focus on white people – leaving a big gap in their knowledge around black culture.

It means depictions of black people often end up being stereotypes with “large brutish black men” and “black women with over-sexualised features”.

The 33-year-old from Los Angeles has launched a 16,000 dollar (£11,000) Kickstarter campaign to change what he sees.

Shabazz, a stay-at-home dad who works in comics, thinks art can do more to influence people than policy and that educating people about different cultures will help artists’ depictions.

In his Kickstarter video he says: “Basically, a lot of folks just don’t know how to draw black people.”

“It’s a bold claim, for sure, with so many talented artists out there in the world, more talented than myself even. But to be real, there’s a lot of evidence to support the claim,” he told Press Association.

“I’m not just talking about whether artists know how to draw a person that looks black, I’m talking about illustrating our cultural identity.

“If you Google ‘how to draw a face’ right now, you’d likely get a lot of diagrams showing how to draw a ‘generic’ white person. Google ‘how to draw hair’ and you’ll get a lot of tutorials on drawing straight hair in fashions popularised by white people.

“And even if you did get a diverse selection, none of the tutorials would explain the cultural context of things like ‘colorism’ or the significance of hair in black culture.

“That’s the missing piece How To Draw Black People fills.”

Shabazz considers there to be two key elements to the upcoming book.

“The first being that by understanding black culture, artists can create more authentic characters and stories that will resonate with black people, a resonance that carries over and reaches wider audiences,” he explained.

“The second reason: if an artist knew not only that something was offensive but why it was offensive, they can make informed decisions about the characters that they create.

“If artists were made aware of the marginalised people they often unintentionally exclude, they may decide to think about the type of characters they make.”

Money raised through Kickstarter will cover the cost of paying other artists working on the project and their models plus printing and distribution. Rewards will ship worldwide.

To find out more see the Kickstarter campaign and follow Shabazz’s Facebook page.