Dawud Anyabwile: Essay

A New Toon
by Robert Trujillo
Originally appeared in Mosaic #24, May 2009

I discovered Dawud Anyabwile’s work about two years ago while researching illustrations that were representative of African Americans and Latinos in contemporary comics and graphic novels. I had never read his stuff before, but I immediately recognized his work. The steely eyes of a superhero; his forehead emblazoned with a huge “B” was permanently imprinted in my mind. I thought “What? I’ve seen this before!”

Dawud AnyabwileI can’t say that I remember exactly which magazine I first saw his work in. I wasn’t much of a book reader and spent my days buried in all kinds of magazines. Lowrider, Yo!, Fresh, Word Up, Vibe, and The Source were a part of my daily diet. I didn’t find books until I began to question who I was, where I was, and what was happening around me in a profound way. So, I started taking African-American and Raza (Latino or Hispanic) history classes to learn more about myself. It was after reading ancient traditions and many articles or newspapers dealing with terms like capitalism, imperialism, sexism, socialism, and communism that I began to hunger for some type of comic or visual artwork that tackled some of these issues. I had been drawing and studying art forms such as graffiti, graphic design, muralism, fine art, and illustration my entire life. Dawud’s work spoke to the creative and inquisitive side of my brain.

I was quickly reacquainted with his art and discovered Dawud is a veteran illustrator, cartoonist, animator, and OG Comics creator. I scanned previous interviews he had done on his and other websites and discovered some actual pages from the first few issues of his comic–his original Brotherman comic came out in the early nineties. When I saw some of the pages from the comic, I flipped out. His characters were ridiculous. I looked at it and said to myself, “Damn this #@&% go hella hard.” Raw! What I mean is that seeing African features in young teens and adults in this story was inspiring. Not only that, but it was empowering. I got a sense of destiny and validation. I committed myself to the study of illustration so that I could one day achieve such a level of excellence. I immediately started to read the words and figure out the theme of the narrative written by Dawud’s brother Guy A. Sims–they team up on a lot of Dawud’s projects. Their setting is a fictionalized fusion of Philly, New Jersey, and New York. The characters seemed inspired by brothers I’d seen. I’ve been following his work ever since, and found out that I wasn’t the only one. Many young illustrators, visual artists, and cartoonists also tune into his site regularly to show recent work, appreciation, and respect.

In the artistic sense he is not only the illustrator of Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline, but he also creates much of the artwork that decides how Turner Studios’ Cartoon Network will look, feel, and act. If you’re lucky you can catch him at various speaking engagements where he shares his work and experiences. This is priceless information coming from someone who, with the help of his family, has sold over 750,000 comics without major distribution. This is an important achievement considering that it took place in the early ’90s and that some major recording artists (not to mention cartoonists) don’t move that many units today.

I already tell my son about Brotherman and I can’t wait to see if Dawud creates an animated short or a live-action film based on his hero. Brotherman is by far my favorite of all of his work. It encompasses graffiti, hip-hop culture, traditional comic aesthetics, and elaborate scenery. The hero of the story addresses some tough issues like apathy, laziness, and political corruption.

Thanks for doing what you do Dawud! Much love and respect! You can find Dawud’s work at http://www.brothermancomics.com.

Robert Trujillo is a Bay Area bread muralist, illustrator, and arts educator. Since his arrival in Brooklyn he has created an online forum of illustrators and writers of color called Come Bien Books. In addition, he paints, tours, teaches, and exhibits with his crew; the Trust Your Struggle Collective.