February 8, 2023 • By Jonita Davis
Afua Richardson on Art and Legacy
Afua Richardson's rise to be a sci-fi "Jane of All Trades" is something she talks about freely. For the multidisciplinary artist best known for her cover art on the Eisner Award-winning Black Panther: World of Wakanda 2016 limited series, the moniker aptly describes what it means to come from a long line of multi-hyphenate predecessors.
“I have a lot of people in my family who are scientists but also artists," says Richardson, who is an activist, writer, trained musician, songwriter, beat boxer, and vocalist who has performed since she was 17, and has opened for Alicia Keys and Raphael Saadiq.
According to Richardson, her grandfather was the first Black forest ranger in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and a forensic photographer. Her older sister is an engineer as well as a photographer and flower arranger who creates her own clothes. And then there's her father, William Edward Richardson.
"My father is a physicist, but an oil painter and a sculptor," says Richardson of her dad who she says helped develop string theory and MRIs when he was in college. "He was also a part of the Hadron Collider when the project was here in the United States in Illinois."
This extraordinary lineage is what powers one of the most forward-thinking creatives in Afrofuturism, comics, and science fiction. But part of the reason her talented family practices art alongside other professions is the times. In the Black community, careers in education, politics, and science have typically been seen as more noble than ones in the arts, and Richardson’s family is no different. Art is valued more for its impact on community, like a way to cope with living under white supremacy, than it is considered a way to make a living. Only in the past 50 years have Black Americans had the opportunity to pursue art as a serious career.
"At the point that [my father] was building his career as an artist and scientist, that road was cut off to him," says Richardson. "I feel like I was granted opportunities that he was not because of the time that he grew up in."
L-R: RICHARDSON COSPLAYING AS WONDER WOMAN. RICHARDSON ON THE SET OF LOVECRAFT COUNTRY. RICHARDSON COSPLAYING AS A DORA MILAJE. PHOTOS COURTESY OF AFUA RICHARDSON.
Richardson credits her family's ability to excel in both the arts and sciences as giving her the fortitude to pursue a career as a multifaceted artist.
“I come from people who are tough, faith-based, who came from incredibly difficult circumstances, and who still dared to be kind and still pushed to be excellent," she says. "They never allowed life to define who they were and dampen their expectations of their own excellence.”
Which isn't to say that Richardson didn't experience pushback. Like many millennial creatives of color, she didn't immediately have her parents' full approval.
“I feel like I finally made it when my dad stopped asking me if I wanted to get a real job," says Richardson, a self-taught illustrator who has worked with such comics publishers as Marvel, DC, Kodansha, and Image, as well as media organizations like NPR, Fox, HBO, and Condé Nast.
The income Richardson has earned from her artistic endeavors is a natural byproduct of mastering her craft and from working in an age where Black artists can make a living on their creative skillset. But for Richardson, artwork is more than entertainment. It's a service. It's something that she does for the enjoyment of the community and the audience, not for personal gain.
"I can now say to [my father], because of your sacrifice, I can now go and pave our own way," she says. "We don't have to let anybody give us the opportunity. Where there's no road, we make a road. If there's a wall, we make a door.”
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See Afua Richardson's latest Marvel variant cover on February 15, 2023 with the release of Marvel's Voices: Wakanda #1, Marvel's special Black History Month one-shot. Her upcoming quarterly comics series Aquarius: The Book of Mer releases May 2023 from Image Comics. Find Richardson on Instagram at @afua_richardson and on Twitter at @AfuaRichardson.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jonita Davis is a film critic, writer, and pop culture junkie behind the online publication The Black C.A.P.E. Magazine (theblackcapemag.com, @theblackcapemag). She is also a freelance writer, a published author, English professor, and podcaster. She has a master’s degree in English (Literary Criticism Concentration) from Purdue University and has taught writing at Waubonsee Community College, Aurora University, and Purdue University.
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