Disclaimer: Though I’m not a comic book head, I seriously appreciate them. Growing up, I didn’t have the access to reading Marvel or DC, so I was lacking in many parts of the world of superheroes, but as I got older and more acquainted with the geek in me, I told myself that it couldn’t and wouldn’t hurt to dive into them. Gradually, I did, but as that began to happen, my growing advocacy for Black culture started to appeal towards comics that support diversity. And because the internet is such a BIG place, and we’re living in a time where self-publishing is not only a go-to, but a great possibility to profit from, I turned to online comics, specifically created by Black comic book artists.
Somehow, through the grapevine of my search, I fell upon Willie and his web comic series, “Blackguard,” and I fell in love with the drawing style first and foremost. It reminded me a little of “Codename: Kids Next Door,” especially the amazing character, Numbah 5. Add some whimsicality into the art, and you have Willie’s very own drawing style. Seeing how fun it looked, and the fact that I wanted to invest more in Black comics, I gave it a read, and from there, I just had to add Willie on Twitter, and new once I started this series, that I wanted him featured. He’s a hard worker, seen just from the effort he puts into Blackguard. And being that he’s a one man army, his consistency is amazing, which means that this is truly the path he wants and will continue to go down.
So please, without further ado, give a warm welcome to Willie, and I hope you check out Blackguard afterwards!
When did you start drawing (or when did you begin to take drawing moreseriously), what made you start drawing, and why do you continue?
Well, like most kids, I enjoyed drawing and coloring in class. However, I specifically remember being in the 2nd grade, and doing an illustration for my friends of a scene from the movie “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. I was a terribly shy kid, but that drawing got me noticed in the classroom. I liked the attention I got from that drawing, but even more so than that, I enjoyed recreating a story for an audience. About a year later, my mom, who was a school teacher, gave me a notebook that one of her students had left behind in her class. In the notebook, was a hand made comic that the student had drawn himself. It featured a blatant rip off of the Ninja Turtles, but as Cats. At this moment, the light bulb went off that people actually MADE comics, and that I could actually be one of those people. Those two moments pretty much sent me down the path I’m on now.
How would you describe your main (if you have many) drawing style?
I would narrow it down to an Urban take on the Anime/Manga style, as well as an urban take on the western comic book style. I draw inspiration from many styles, though. Both Anime and Comic Books have influenced me, but I also borrow ideas from classic “Looney Toons” cartoons and Disney cartoons. The expressions those animators could capture back then STILL amazes me to this day. However, more than any thing else, I’d say my ultimate influence would be Bill Watterson, the creator of the “Calvin And Hobbes” comic strip.
Do you practice discipline, where you draw even when you don’t feel like it, versus drawing when you want?
Oh yeah, I try to draw every day. Even if it’s a simple sketch on a napkin. But, I never really have to force myself to draw because I really like doing it. I do, however, have to discipline myself to work on things I struggle with, like vehicles and landscapes and hands. Hands are TOUGH.
Where do you want to take your art, career wise (if it’s more than just a hobby for you)?
Ideally, I want to make comics for a living. To be able to be paid to sit home and illustrate stories. More specifically, my OWN stories. I currently work on a web comic with my brother, Jerrod Smith. The web comic is called “BlackGuard”, and it’s something he and I started and created from scratch. The comic, the web site, everything. To get “BlackGuard” to a point where it’s a fairly well known independent comic would be nice.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve created? Your least favorite?
Techincally, my favorite piece would be the “BlackGuard” web comic itself. My brother and I always created in depth stories with our action figures as kids, so to now tell stories with him as an adult is really fun. I’m also proud of the fact that we’re doing an all Black/African American super hero team. A lot of our fans praise us for doing that. To see young, black, teenage artist on Deviant Art getting really excited because they can see a bit of themselves in our characters is really cool to me.
As far as my least favorite piece, I would have to say every page I finish becomes my least favorite once it’s done lol. Once I finish a page, I immediately see all of my mistakes. It’s hard to look back on them. It’s like every new page I draw is an attempt to out do and escape what was done on the previous page.
What piece of illustration (whether it be a cartoon, a comic, an animated film, fanart, etc.) inspired you so much, your views on art took a turn for the better?
I’d definitely have to say that the final two episodes of the anime “Cowboy Bebop” changed my perspective on everything. Not just drawing, but my philosophy on life in general. The idea it presented was that the life we live is nothing more than a dream, and that death itself would be the moment we “wake up.” That spoke volumes to me. At that point, I knew I wanted my own stories and characters to have that kind of weight and impact on my audience. Where it wasn’t just a fun story, but a story that could enlighten and even educate the viewer.
Sites like Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram give artists a chance to share their art with a community of artists. Did your confidence shift when you discovered other artists and their styles of drawing? If so, how do you stray from that mindset?
I wouldn’t say my confidence shifted. If anything, it motivatated me. Having a community of artist to share art with is healthy, in my opinion. It’s a healthy competition. There are days when I’m a little burned out, but then I’ll see one of my peers post up a new piece they did, and then I’m like “Oh, word? It’s like that? Okay….time to crack open the sketch book.” I also think that comes from my days of rapping and emceeing. When one guy would deliver a really good verse, you HAD to follow up with something to out do them.
How has online distribution helped you with your art?
It’s definitely helped my brother and I in the sense that we can post our comic online, as well as offer the comic for digital purchase for those who wish to read it on their iPAD and what not. Other than that, personally, I think I may be a bit behind in that area. I’m more of a “draw it and mail the physical copy to you” kinda guy. But things like Paypal have made payment much easier.
Tell us about you comic series, B.O.S.C. Comics. What’s it about, and how did the concept come to you? Also, what have you learned in the process of creating the series?
B.O.S.C Comics is actually the name of our company, or better yet, our publishing name. Much how Marvel and DC publish titles like “SpiderMan” and “Superman”, B.O.S.C(Brothers Of Spontaneous Combustion) Comics self publishes it’s own titles that we’ve created. Right now, we publish the web comic “BlackGuard”. “BlackGuard” is about a dysfunctional super hero team that consist of four former convicts/villains/bad guys, who are being trained to be the world’s first all African-American/Black super hero team. They’re founded and led by the first black super hero from the civil rights era, who was recently reawakened from a 30 plus year coma. A 30 plus year age gap between the leader and the convicts, as well as the difference in morals, pretty much sets the stage for an action comedy adventure, that parodies pop culture, black culture, as well the super hero genre itself. The idea came at us simply by jokingly saying one day, “What if there was an all Black super hero team who didn’t really want to be super heroes?”
The one thing I’ve learned from working on this comic for five years now, is pacing. Pacing a story, pacing character development, and pacing a schedule that won’t kill you, but will allow you to meet deadlines. Staying three steps ahead is ALWAYS your best bet.
How do you prep yourself for a drawing session?
For the most part, I just do it lol. But the one thing I most definitely need while drawing is music. I LOVE music, and can’t go a day without it. And I’m very picky about what I listen to while I draw. I definitely couldn’t draw a page while listening to today’s top 40 on the radio. Though there’s too many music artist I enjoy to name on here, I always keep artist like Fat Jon and any type of instrumental music on my playlist. Any music that allows my mind to drift is all I really need for a drawing session.
Do you aim to spread your artistic horizon, such as doing comics, graphic novels, or even animation?
I’d love to do a series of illustrated short stories. The “BlackGuard” web comic started as a comic strip, but it’s pretty much turned into a full comic series, so there’s still part of me that would like to do my own comic strip, like Bill Watterson’s “Calvin And Hobbes”. I’d also love to contribute to animation, mostly with character design. Other than that, in my spare time, I enjoy making music and instrumentals on my lap top and keyboard. Creating soundtracks for my stories is really fun and relaxing. As vain as this sounds, I enjoy drawing my characters while listening to music I’ve made for my characters.
What message do you want your art to represent?
That’s hard to say because a lot of my art tackles different messages. I consider myself to be a storyteller, so what ever emotion I’m trying to draw out of my audience is the message I’m trying to convey. I could do an illustration that evokes purity and holiness, and then follow it up with a drawing that showcases devilish deeds, and that’s because I enjoy looking at both sides of the coin. So, if anything, I would hope that people find balance while exploring my art.
What struggles have you endured on your journey to becoming a better artist to your own standard?
The main struggle is trying not to uphold my standards to the standards of others. There are times I see other artist and I wonder why can’t I draw like them. But then I remind myself that they can’t draw like me, either. Eventually, you have to find the style that suits you. For the longest time, I wanted to draw like Jim Lee and Joe Madureira because I thought that’s how comics should look. But then, I started studying Bill Watterson’s “Calvin And Hobbes” strips, and saw how great they were and how with Watterson, less became more. From there, I started studying more cartoons and approached a more cartoonish style, which evolved into it’s own thing. But for the longest time, I wanted to draw like certain artist, and it frustrated me when I couldn’t duplicate what they did. I had to learn from that.
Who are a few artists you’ve made friends with online (or who’s work you admire from afar)?
There’s a great community of artist I’ve connected with, espcially on Facebook. Artist like, Johnny C. Edwards, Jonathan Mullins, ShaNee Williams, Afua Richardson, Nikolas A. Draper Ivey, and many others. Those guys constantly put up work that keeps me inspired to work harder on my own stuff. From a far, I admire artist like Shawna Mills, LeSean Thomas, Sanford Greene and Khary Randolph. I feel that those artist have and will set the foundation for up and coming independent artist.
Is there a person of color who you thoroughly admire for their eccentricity and artistic style of being?
First person that comes to mind is Andre 3000. Also, his female counter part (to me, lol) Janelle Monae’. As I’ve said, I’m a story teller. I also love music. When music and story telling come together, I’m in heaven. And those two do it so well.
What’s an opportunity that came your way through your art?
I’ve had the opportunity to be featured in a few Comic Book conventions that show cases Black artist and black culture in general. Conventions like OnyxCon and ColaCon are really great for those who want to see what Blacks and African Americans are doing in both the Comics and Animation world. But really, any body can come to those conventions. Black, white, whatever. And that’s what I enjoyed about being at those conventions. It felt more like a melting pot of cultures. Especially ColaCon, which is a comic book/hip hop convention.
What’s the BEST advice, from experience, you can give to an aspiring artist and/or fan?
This sounds so cliche’, but I truly know now that you can’t be afraid to fail. At anything. If you don’t know how to draw something, try drawing it anyway. It’ll probably look bad, but you’ll learn from that. Then try drawing it again and again and again. Five years ago, I had no clue as to how to put together a web comic. But, after drawing page after page for that long, I just started learning. I learned from each page I drew. I will say, however, that it doesn’t hurt to study. I read any and every comic I can get my hands on. And by read, I mean study. I study comics, as well as television. Anything that involves story telling, I study it and break it down. So yeah, in a nut shell, study and practice everyday.
Do you have any projects in the works that you’re okay with sharing?
Of course, I’m still working on “BlackGuard” which can be read at www.bosccomics.com. My brother and I also work on a montly comic strip for our local radio station, Rock 106.1, which can be seen on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Rock1061/timeline.
And you can see whatever side artwork/sketches/drawings/music I do in my spare time via these links:
Deviant Art: http://suicidalassassin.deviantart.com/