It’s important to nurture your inner child, and artist Dawn Richard has done so through her passion for animation.
At AFROTECH Conference 2023 during the “World Builders: The New Storytelling Frontier” session held on Nov. 3, 2023, she emphasized its importance.
“It taps into our culture, our story, our roots and that to me is what the power of storytelling is, when you put world building, animation, and imagination together, it’s limitless,” Richard shared from the Innovation Stage.
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Birth Of Danity Kane
Richard, a former member of Danity Kane, says the name of the girl band originated from her 11th grade days when she drew the character while in art class. This sparked her interest in illustration, which would then lead her to develop the comic book series “Danity Kane.”
“Animation wasn’t necessarily where I started,” Richard said at AFROTECH. “I had an incredible art teacher in New Orleans at that time. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I didn’t think illustration would be a place I made money, but I loved it. And she was just pivotal in my life. She asked us one day to draw a character that was our alter-ego superhero. That character’s name was Danity Kane, and lo and behold that name and that character would be the character that I brought up to name the group that I would wind up being a part of.”
She added, “Then after that, I made sure that I wanted to make a comic book from the Danity Kane character that I hadn’t had in high school. I wound up getting rights to the name to do that, and I created my first comic book while I was just leaving Danity Kane. I’d created that comic book. And that was the first time I worked with a Black illustrator, designed ‘Danity Kane’ from the ground up, and that’s when I knew, ‘Okay, I’m on to something.'”
Richard describes the release of her comic book as a success, and it served as a launch pad for her to dive more into animation in 2006.
Working At Adult Swim To Support Black Animators
What’s more, she had a higher purpose in the space to increase representation. She was already a lover of anime, but she recognized there were not a lot of Black animators forging their own lane in the space. This was what led her to work with Adult Swim in 2020. According to Rap-Up, Richard serves as a creative consultant, and her mission is to amplify and create opportunities for Black animators in the space.
“I told them, I think you need to look at maybe tapping into this market,” she explained. “And when I never heard anything on Juneteenth, they had asked me to take over the Instagram. Most of the years I do it, every time I take over the Instagram, and instead of talking about myself like they wanted me to, I said, ‘I’m gonna do an APB’ (all-points bulletin). So, I went on social media and I said, ‘Every Black animator, I want your information and I want it now.’ I had 300 entries in minutes, and I sent all the analytics over to Adult Swim. The next week I was hired to be the creative director for bumps at Adult Swim.”
While on the conference stage, Richard referred to this moment as a fight but later rectified her statement while speaking with AFROTECH. She acknowledged that it was “proof” there could be greater representation in animation.
“We have to always do to prove that we have a major dollar value,” she said. “We have a major representation in these spaces that is undervalued and overlooked, and that was one of those instances where I felt like that was a win because I had not only proved it, but I was able to uplift my people in the process. And low and behold, one of the ones that I reached out to is now working on one of the biggest animated shorts in the last three years, which was ‘Young Love’ with Matthew Perry.”
That individual Richard is referring to is Chaz Bottoms. He also spoke on the “World Builders: The New Storytelling Frontier” panel and revealed he was looking to infuse his culture into animation, since he did not often see that growing up.
“I learned by drawing, by watching cartoons on TV, and copying what I see, and then I would go and try to draw like me or my sister or people, friends, kids in the neighborhoods, and there was little to no reference of what a Black family like the Family-Odd Parents style would look like,” Bottoms explained on the panel. “At that moment, it occurred to me that I can try to do that in my career and really try to bring a certain cultural influence into animation that we really hadn’t seen before.”
Bottoms was one of the animators who Richard recognized early as “super special.” Adult Swim seems to think so as well. Since then, Bottoms has risen in the industry as a story artist, director, writer, and CBA Studios founder. He has worked alongside names and companies that include Disney, John Legend, Steve Harvey, Lil Nas X, Lebron James, and Hulu, Forbes reports.
“He was one of the ones I thought was super special and now look at him, man,” Richard told AFROTECH. “He’s got work at Netflix. He’s about to come out with this incredible hip hop musical that he’s doing next year. And he’s one of many,” she expressed. “He got that all by himself. For him, right, it was just a look. He always grew up loving ‘Adult Swim’. I don’t think that would have been a thing that they would’ve even looked at had I not been there. Nobody, I’m not helping anybody’s come up, they’re dope all on their own. I do not wanna take credit for that. That’s not who I am. But what I do feel like I did is gave a stage for him to just show what he was already doing.”