As the movement for added diversity and inclusion within media continues to grow stronger, proponents of the movement are delighted to see more characters of color being introduced into the mainstream. One area that has historically lacked when it comes to women of color is within the comic book industry, however, efforts are now being made to change that, and fans are taking notice.
From the opening of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia last year (the first black woman owned comic
book store on the east coast), to an increase in the presence of black women cosplayers and overall fandom across the country, the release of Niobe: She is Life, a new comic book series starring a black female superhero, created by actress and social activist Amandla Stenberg, has definitely shaken up the monotony.
In our effort to shine a light on talented creators of color, I recently reached out to the woman behind the pencils of Niobe: She is Life, Miss. Ashley A. Woods herself, to get some quick Q & A’s about her work as an artist as well as her work as an illustrator for Niobe.
Tiara Janté: Can you tell me about yourself? Where are you from and how did you become interested in art?
Ashley Woods: I am from the south side of Chicago; my mom introduced me to movies, comics and gaming around 5 years old. She also exposed me to opera, musicals… anything art related was encouraged in my home growing up.
TJ: Who is/are your inspiration(s) as an artist?
AW: Brian Stelfreeze, Hideo Kojima, and Satoshi Kon.
TJ: Are there any issues near and dear to you that you try to incorporate into your art work?
AW: A lot of people were first introduced to my work through my piece, “Family Portrait”, which focused on the victims of police brutality. One of the underlying themes of Niobe is learning how to see past prejudices regarding people’s appearances; everyone who looks different from you is not your enemy.
It’s important to TALK to people and LEARN about them as well as from them. The story of Niobe will touch upon some other issues that are relevant in our world today… issue #4 is going to be pretty exciting. I was so moved when I read the script the other day, I called Sebastian and we spent some time fleshing out more ideas and just feeling really good about ourselves and the work we’re getting ready to release.
TJ: Within an industry (society) that is very white male centered, have you had a hard time finding work and projects on which to contribute?
AW: Not at all. I’ve surrounded myself with people I can trust and truly see me; not complicate things with prejudices and ego.
TJ: What are your thoughts on the lack of people of color within mainstream comic books and speculative fiction books? What do you think can be done to add more diversity?
AW: Growing up until now, I’ve always found it disappointing that there was a lack of people of color (especially Blacks) in comics and entertainment. That issue is being addressed now and this is my first time ever seeing it become such a major topic of discussion. I’m doing all I can on my end to ensure that it’s not a passing phase or trend by producing work. Whatever happens, you can always expect something new from me.
TJ: How did you get involved with Niobe? How has it been working with Amandla?
AW: I first met Amandla and Sebastian [Jones] at the Black Comix Arts Festival (BCAF) in San Francisco January 2015. My table where I was selling my work was next to theirs so she came by and bought some prints. I remember seeing her and her mother on stage with Sebastian discussing their upcoming Niobe project and thinking to myself how I’d like to be a part of it (or something like it), before walking off. Two months later in March, Sebastian asked me to provide the covers for the series. By July, I was fully illustrating the interiors as well.”
Working with Amandla is pretty cool… she’s a normal girl with a big imagination.
TJ: Where do you see yourself as an artist 5 years from now?
AW: I plan to build a brand and have a few of my own series that I’ve been working on distributed nationally / internationally. Maybe even have some animation in the works for it by then.
TJ: Are there any other projects that you’re working on currently, or that are in the works that you can discuss?
AW: Niobe issue #4 is currently in the works. There are a few more things but it’s too early to speak on them as of yet.
TJ: What advice would you give to a young black girl who hopes to illustrate professionally one day?
AW: Some people may not understand you and overthink what you are doing just because you are Black. It’s a concept that I myself didn’t fully grasp until I became an adult. At times you may feel ostracized but continue to focus on your art, the right people will make their way into your life eventually. Truly, the ONLY thing you need to do is draw, so draw to your heart’s content. Whatever it may be, pursue it if it makes you happy and adds VALUE to your life.
Niobe: She is Life Issue 3 is available now in store and online. Issue #4 will be available through online retailers and at comic book stories on 7-27. To keep up to date with Ashley’s work, visit her website at www.ashleyawoods.com.
Tiara Janté is a Writer/Journalist, budding Social Media Analyst, and Sci-Fi & Fantasy enthusiast. She is currently in the process of completing her first novel, Merged, a dystopian themed Sci-Fi thriller. You can stay up to date with her work via her blog at: http://www.tiarajante.net/