Spirit Pizza, Polarity and Afro-Latina Women in Comics, An Interview with Amber Lee Jones

Thu, 10/20/2016 - 03:18

Amber Lee Jones is an up and coming Afro-Latina writer, artist and 2D illustrator from Brooklyn New York. She received her BFA from Pratt institute and is an advocate of diversity and representation in media. She is currently working on a project called “Spirit Pizza” of which the first few pages is set to drop in just a couple of short weeks. I had the pleasure of talking to her about her journey as a content creator, as well as her passions and future aspirations. I promise you all she's as awesome as her work is, and a HUGE anime head. I hope you all enjoy!

IVWall: Hey Amber, I'm glad you took a few minutes to chat with me. First of all, I suppose we can start with a simple question. Where are you from?

I'm from Brooklyn, NY but I'm currently living in Illinois.

IVWall: Awesome, my family is from Chicago, and I've spent some time in Brooklyn as well. So when did you realize you had a real gift for drawing?

Maybe this is just semantics but personally I wouldn't call it a gift? I think I'd call it a kind of NEED to do it that happened when I was maybe 5 or 6? My parents had a comic collection and I would dig through and read through most of them that caught my eye. The Amazing Spider-man was one that really stuck out to me among The Incredible Hulk and X-men/New Mutants. But I remember doing fan-comics in crayon of Spider-man and his clones and thinking "what if I could do this for 'real'?" and it stuck obviously, But, I'm not sure I recognized my art as decent until maybe late middle school.

IVWall: I certainly see it as a gift. How old are you now? How long have you been an artist?

I'm 22. I've been drawing *technically* since I was 4-5 but more seriously from 10 years old to now. So about 12 years give or take.

IVWall: The years behind your skills show. What kind of art do you do mainly? Mostly penciling? Or do you do inking, and coloring as well? Any digital art?

Thank you. I do all of what you just listed plus animation but I'm a bit rusty at that haha. I just tend to gravitate towards sketches and quick brush pen drawings when I'm busy with other work. For example: I'm doing digital comic pages (inks+graytone in photoshop/krita) that started out as pencil sketches for a project I'm doing with Kevin Wayne Williams called "P.S. 43". Typically when my work load is less, I do more digital work with color, etc. But right now it's balancing freelance work and "Spirit Pizza", so pencil sketches and inks are what I can manage right now.

IVWall: Do you have a mantra, or a mood you get into before drawing? What inspires you to draw?

The word "Go" forms in my mind a lot when I sit down to draw with my coffee for the day. Or even really when I'm running out of steam. I think of where I want to be with my art (doing comics, storyboards professionally, even doing something like LeSean Thomas where I'm heading an animation team, stuff like that) and then I draw. What inspires my art is making what I wanted to see in cartoons and comics when I was a little girl. Like. There was Storm and I loved her, but there were no black "Kitty Prydes" if you get my meaning. There was no Moongirl back then for me to look at and go "hey that's me!" so I believe it's necessary to make more work that accurately mirrors minorities, namely black females in a positive light.

IVWall: Oh Moongirl is just so awesome! And since you kind of mentioned some of what you like, what other comics, shows, anime etc. are you into?

She is! I think that comic is handled really well. Now I have to dig for what I've been looking at. There are probably a couple of corny things on this list. Supergirl is something I started as background noise while inking and then turned out liking it the further I got. The actress was a good choice. Mr. Robot, Z-Nation, The Magicians. I don't watch Naruto, or Bleach anymore but Kizaniver, One Punch Man, Erased, Ano Hana, KLK, and Kyoukai No Kanata are some more recent ones that I remember liking because I watch a lot. I actually look at a lot of slice of life too so Hanasaku Iroha is a long time fave. Also excited for anything to do with Little Witch Academia.

Longtime fave animated movies are Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Akira, Nausicaa... I'm pretty basic honestly but if I list everything this list will be very, very long. The last thing I remember liking was Zootopia and I haven't seen Kubo yet.

IVWall: As nerds our fandoms can run DEEP, and the list can be nigh infinite, I know. So, we've been talking about your work and interests in general but let's talk a little about your upcoming project "Spirit Pizza." What is it about?

"Spirit Pizza" is about a girl named "Pan" that becomes a pizza delivery girl because she needs $$$ live. The pizza delivery service, "Ya Madda's Pizza" kinda lands her in a bunch of mess with the supernatural entities around town because it's a bunch of delivering "after dark". She starts seeing spirits and whatnot once she takes the job. Through Pan, the comic also touches on depression, loss, and complexities of purpose.

I say all of this but really "Spirit Pizza" has actually been very fun to draw. It isn't a story with with a super grave-tone all the time (no pun intended). Like, compared to something like Dorohedero it's definitely not that.

Pan's attitude goes between "why me" and "Okay. I GUESS I have to do this, so I will."

IVWall: That sounds incredibly interesting, and it will be amazing to see an Afro-Latina character take the spotlight without the story intrinsically being about her race. This is more of the kind of content we need out there. And it’s nice to that you are both writing and drawing it! When should we expect “Spirit Pizza” and where can we find it?

"Spirit Pizza" should have its first pages up on Tapastic on Halloween.

IVWall: Awesome, I can’t wait. Any other projects you have in the works?

Aside from "P.S. 43" with Kevin Wayne Williams for the Creators for Creators grant which I'm just doing art for, I think "Spirit Pizza" is the only one of my personal projects that's ready to be seen via actual comic pages. I may show art of my characters from my larger projects (Polarity, Projekt: Invalid) once in a while but they'll be in the works for a longer period of time. Every artist or writer has a One-Piece length "saga" that requires the finesse of a more mature eye to execute correctly so I need to sort of work up to that by doing "Spirit Pizza" first.
I can say that "Polarity" at its base level was inspired by Akira but features two young women and focuses on how they relate to each other and how their powers affect the city/world around them figuratively and physically.

IVWall: It’s nice to hear that you have multiple projects in progress! I know we will be looking forward to more work from you. I’ve gotta thank you again for talking with me. I do have one more question for you though. As an up and coming content creator, what are your aspirations? Do you have anyone that you’d like to work with, or are there any companies you’d like to work with?

I think I've always wanted to work on a Cartoon Network show--it would make me really happy to work on Steven Universe as a Storyboard Artist. I have Art Director-ish goals when it comes to Dreamworks. I've always wanted to work for Marvel--to do a couple of issues of Moongirl & Devil Dinosaur and Spider-man or to be on some other new thing featuring a black female protag would be a dream come true.

I think I mentioned LeSean Thomas before, working with him would be dope as well as Shawna Mills. There are few black women in the animation industry so she's someone that I've found really inspiring since her DeviantArt days and she works for Lucasfilms.

IVWall: That's awesome. Well before I let you go is there anything you'd like to tell other aspiring and up and coming, Woman of Color content creators?

I'd tell them to keep creating no matter what people around them say, because there's always going to be someone who hates what you're doing for really no reason other than them being afraid of change. The worst thing you can do is to stop creating period.

IVWall: Wise words if you ask me. Thank you Amber for coming to speak with me on the IVWall. I'm looking forward to "Spirit Pizza" and the rest of your future work.

And there you have it. As she said herself, you can find "Pizza Spirit" on Tapastic on October 31st.


You can also check out more of her work at her site http://ajoneslee.wordpress.com and follow her on twitter:

Sceritz

Sceritz is John B. Robinson IV and John B. Robinson IV is a cosmic blerd with a passion for a obliterating the the IVth Wall and setting free the hordes of geek and fandoms scattered throughout the multiverse in the form of rants of epic proportions. Creator of IVWall.net.