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Drawing from the SOUL

When brothers David Sims (Dawud Anyabwile), Jason Sims and Guy Sims decided to collaborate on a promotional comic book, they didn’t set out to change the game- but that didn’t stop them from doing just that. The brothers, each creatives in their own right came up in a family that taught the benefits of using one’s unique skills and personal drive to forge one’s own path in the world. The resulting product, Brotherman, became an international sensation and revolutionized the comic book industry in the early 90’s. After selling nearly a million copies independently, the story-line was brought to a sudden halt. In the 15 years that ensued, Dawud mastered the art of reinvention, reorganization and re-commitment. Brotherman is back and his mission to save our souls extends beyond the pages of the comic and into real-world lessons that we all can use…

Check out The 15 Project’s interview with artist and icon Dawud Anyabwile:

T15P: Your comic book, “Brotherman” was a national sensation and irrevocably transformed the business model in the comic book industry. How did it come about?

Dawud Anyabwile: There were many stages to the origin of that story but to summarize it I would have to say that it began as a promotional tool to advertise a custom airbrush shop that my brother, Jason and I were operating in East Orange, NJ in 1989. We wanted to create a comic book for the Black Expo 1990 to promote our airbrushed t-shirts. The idea for a comic came first, the actual story came second. We called on our other brother, Guy Sims, to write the first book and in three months we wrote, illustrated and published issue number one in time for its debut at the Black Expo NYC on April 7, 1990. It was received with immediate success so we decided to do the book full time and cease the custom airbrushing to focus on building the comic book company, Big City Comics. The books evolved over the years and we eventually sold three quarters of a million issues independently.

You are an illustrator with the soul of a painter. What informs your style? Who are some of your artistic inspirations?

I never really categorized myself since I feel that I ran the gamut of art styles coming up. I was an art major throughout high school, I had an interest in comics since I was young but to this day do not consider myself a “comic book artist”. I worked at production studios wearing many hats as character artist, background artist, concept artist, etc and I also did animation on several projects but do not consider myself an animator. Illustration would be my strongest point of interest, however I also love fine art work which I have not had a chance to do much while working on comics and animated projects. My core “soul” is connected to studying life. My experiences and memories are embedded in me and come out in my fine art work as well as my comic art. I am definitely focused though. I am not a jack of all trades; instead I like to experiment with styles which help me to become greater at what I do overall. Studio productions force me to draw and create things that I would normally not even care to do on my own but once I do them it opens me up to incorporating new approaches to my personal work. My inspirations as a child were Marvel comics, Mad Magazine, Overton Lloyd of Parliament Funkadelic, Ernie Barnes, Philly graffiti writers that I knew coming up and the whole hip hop movement since I was a junkie for diggin’ in the crates back in my DJ days. That was a big influence on my work. I can’t forget family which was my number one inspiration. My parents and my brothers all supported my craft and I theirs. Our home was a place that cultivated the arts and independence.

We’ve seen some images and heard rumors of a Brotherman animated piece in the works. Is this true, what’s next?

Until I have something inked on paper I leave it as rumors. Not to say there are not possibilities of this reality but there are many steps to making these major things happen and without patience it can be chaotic. I move with whatever the universe decides. I have had many studios approach me in the past and I now currently have opportunities at the table but I take my time to make sure what is before me is right. Once that connects then trust me the world will know it’s not a rumor but a reality.

Brotherman came to save the day and then was gone almost as quickly as he came. What led to his absence? What initiated his return?

Big City Comics and Brotherman were birthed from a family business, a family that has worked closely together for years before there was even a Brotherman. As a young man I was impacted greatly when my mother passed on the evening of a major trade show in NYC. We had just released the 10th issue and for an independent company 10 issues and almost a million sold takes a lot out of you that many people may not fully understand. Soon after my father passed within a year of that event and I was feeling empty inside. Brotherman and Big City Comics was no longer a priority in my life. My spirit could not produce and fight the fight like I was doing. The reality of the pillars that we were holding up seemed to be revealed and the pillars at that point seemed extra heavy to me and I had to break from it. I had to do something else. So I ended up at a studio in NYC doing character designs for a Pink Panther CD Rom game. I used the money from that job to get issue #11 of Brotherman out but I did not push it like we used to. The book had to go on hiatus. Little did I know it would be almost 15 years before it was to return. I have since worked in LA as a character designer on “Wild Thornberrys” and “Rugrats” as well as many other production gigs like storyboarding music videos like “Big Pun “I’m Not A Player” featuring Joe. I eventually came to Atlanta where I developed a relationship working at Turner Studios. During this time I was still working on finishing where the cliffhanger of Brotherman left off in 1996. Those past fifteen years were not easy for me, however I move on spirit and eventually the people that I needed in my life began to appear, the situations that seemed to be negative in my life soon became blessings and signs that it is time for me to bring Brotherman back to the forefront. It was also the calling of the fan base everywhere from NYC to LA to ATL. I would run into people who would express what Brotherman meant to them and they kept emphasizing the importance of it’s return. Although I knew I wanted to bring it back I knew it would take the right assistance and timing. Which brings us to today.

Often when an artist becomes known for a particular work or style, it becomes difficult for others to accept change in them. Did you find it difficult to move beyond Brotherman? What type of work did you do post-Brotherman?

It wasn’t difficult for me at all. I admit that many people know me for Brotherman but I was able to branch out and work on major international animated projects and films that had nothing to do with Brotherman nor my signature style. That is just how my life went and I embrace it. Brotherman has helped me to obtain some gigs and in some cases it was my work on other projects that helped me to move forward. I never felt “type casted” as an artist. I have been independent for most of my professional career and was used to making my own way by doing things like caricatures, illustrations, painting cars, motorcycles, doing animations and whatever so my portfolio reflected that variety. Brotherman was just one aspect of my “being” not my totality. Although it is now a major part of my life I still don’t see it as “my life” but instead a part that needs cultivation in order to be fully realized.

Volumes like John Jennings’ “Black Comix” shine a spotlight on comic and animation artists of color and highlight the fact that there is not a great deal of recognition for artist of color in that industry. Have you found it difficult to navigate that world? Do you think that there is still a big disparity with the number of artists of color vs. white artists in that field?

This is where my past comes into play. My father raised me with an awareness of my place in this world. If there is something I want or something I think is lacking then it is MY duty to fill that void. As difficult as it may seem to fill a void it can be done and it will be done was the mantra in my home. That can be applied to comics, filmmaking, music and any industry. If you approach it with the mind state that you are redefining and creating what you feel needs to be out there, then you don’t spend a lot of time concerning yourself with those who are trying to shut you down, hate on you or compete with you. You just DO what the Creator has guided you to do and what happens happens. I always knew that we were outnumbered in “their” field however when it comes to creating our own genre I am NOT outnumbered. I am the majority, the vanguard. I am here for a reason, to offer new alternatives to my children and kids like me and to show kids of other cultures that there is another way to view us. Now don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the fact that more white artists dominate the comic, animation and effects industry but with the advancement in technology that barrier has been lifted. We can publish books with ease now, animate from home and create productions at will. The issue of distribution and finances is still there however with internet we can at least be seen and have a voice which can be the bait to an investor or other supporters who can help you get to the next level of success. I always say that we are the ones we are looking for. We hold the answers to our own success. Just utilize the tools that we now have access to.

Your “speed painting” videos are amazing to watch. What inspired you to begin creating/sharing these with the world?

Thank you!  I’m glad you are enjoying them. I created an art instructional video in the late 90’s to early 2K’s called DRAWING FROM THE SOUL. It was revolutionary at that time as well because there were no popular art instructional videos featuring a Black art instructor that taught from another perspective. It was even highlighted on the Tavis Smiley Show. Just as Brotherman was groundbreaking, Drawing From The Soul inspired a lot of young kids to draw and I intended to bring that back to the forefront as well. The speed paintings are just precursors to generate a following to prepare them for the tutorials which will be more in depth in the teaching. I enjoy making the videos. I also like to share and help those that may find the videos inspiring. So right now it is to build a following and generate excitement in the arts.

In addition to being an accomplished artist, you also teach and lecture around the country. What advice would you give to a young animator?

Well, my main piece of advice is to be yourself. Be inspired by others but never lose yourself in someone else’s work. Drawing From The Soul means to pull from your spirit and share that with the world. That is one ting that cannot be copied. Your true self. Show us what YOU can do. Also, circle yourself around positive people who want to see you succeed. Keep your distance from those that put you down or drain your energy. Focus on your craft and practice every chance you can.

For more information on Dawud Anyabwile, Brotherman and/or to order comics, t-shirts, get news and much more visit: http://www.brothermancomics.com/

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