“Took You Long Enough…: ” My Graphic Novel Story
by Sharnell D. Bryan
Sharnell Bryan is a writer and illustrator currently living in her native Washington, DC. She also has a mostly-natural-hair blog, and is currently working on her first graphic novel. This is the first in a series of articles about her journey toward publication.
I’ve been drawing since I was eight years old, and I’ve always known that I wanted to do something with it. The problem, over the years, was that it has been in constant competition with my writing. I love to write just as much as I love to draw, and the two mediums have always been at odds for my attention. Sure, I could do both, but then I always find myself frustrated over whether or not to turn the writing into illustration, or vice versa. I have typed up two novels, and a third is waiting for me to get over my writer’s block. Of the two previous, I did a graphic novel form of one while still in college, and I’ve since swapped characters and am still debating how I want to put that one out. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally decided that I simply had to take a different route and move forward with creating something that I don’t think there’s enough of – graphic novels created by, and starring, people of color.
And now, the preparation. I’m still in the beginner’s stage – sketching – and even that has been kind of difficult. I thought I had it all worked out, but putting together a graphic novel has more components than I took into consideration. You need both the manual tools and the electronics, and don’t get me started on the prices. I don’t know the first thing about self-publishing, but that is the only way (and cheapest way) I know how to get the book out there. I figure I’ll work that part out later.
What I’ve really been struggling with, outside of actually getting started, is my own fear of not being accepted. The most pushback I’ve received as a black artist has been from other blacks. My drawings aren’t “black enough” because I use both light and dark shades of brown, instead of just my own dark shade (for that reason, people have actually said my drawings looked white. What?). They’re not political like The Boondocks. They’re not flashy, like Marvel or DC Comics. They’re not the Powerpuff Girls, either. African-Americans who love comics, who love to draw, who have a story – we’re out there. Being a black woman, would they be interested in hearing my story? Black nerds are widely visible now (mostly because of artists like Childish Gambino, whom I love), but black women nerds are still having a hard time being taken seriously. The graphic novel industry is mostly men. Who’s going to support and purchase? Why go through with it?
Then I realized, “Why not?”
Never let anyone tell you how to feel, or where your niche is. You make your own. Let your story be about whatever the hell you want it to be about. Someone wants to read it, and they’re waiting on you to tell it. So start drawing.
“Not black enough?" For who? You? Nah. You don’t count.