Artists of Color: An Interview with Ky Williams on His Art and Upcoming Comic Book

Featured thumbnail picture taken by Byron Koranteng.

I met this guy in middle school homeroom and thought he was just another kid who liked to doodle. Boy, was I wrong. After years of personal growth and both of us chasing our respective dreams, I got the opportunity to interview him. I now recognize Ky Williams as a daring and overly-talented artist and author. After reading this interview done completely via DMs, you’ll recognize his brilliance to and his ambitious Mojo.

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Boys Night Out featuring characters from Mojo. Definitely a favorite of mine. Art by Ky Williams.

RS: Like they do with me, I know writing stories and writing songs tend to go hand-in-hand with you. Why did you start to pursue art in general? What are your inspirations and when did you start?

KW: I think being born in the late 90s and being conscious in the early 2000s was great for me because that’s when cartoons started to get really good. My love for these shows trickled off into wanting to read the spin-off comics or see the movie adaptation of certain characters. But at some point, I switched from being a consumer and decided that I needed to become a producer somehow. So I remember telling people in elementary school that I wanted to be a cartoonist. From then, I was always doodling my own characters and thinking up these long, incoherent storylines for them.

R: So I’ve always known you as an artist first and foremost, even before the music. Is it accurate to say the art came before the stories?

K: Yeah. For me, art always comes first, specifically character [art]. To me, they’re the most important part of a story. You can have a super cool world with an interesting story, but if the characters are boring, no one will want to interact with it. So when I draw a character, I sort of want you to be able to look at them and get an idea of what they’re about, but also leave enough of a mystery that you want to know more.

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This is the lineup for some of the characters. From left to right: Match, Rudy, DJ, and Zack. Art by Ky Williams.

R: Tell me about this comic book you’re working on. I’ve seen the art and the character bios, but what is it about and what plans do you have for it?

K: Well I did a project during my sophomore year of college about afro-futurism. There’s a lot of different components to what it means, but in short, it means science fiction. A recent example of that would be Black Panther. I was sort of thinking about what the flipside of that would be and I immediately came up with afro-fantasy. The summer before, I was sketching out these characters: Rudy, Zack, and Match. I didn’t know what they were for yet, but I just knew that I liked them. I asked a couple of friends what a cool name for magic would be in the world that the characters existed in and one of them said, “mojo.” I knew it was brilliant and decided I needed to explore it. In class, we had a project where we had to create three pieces that revolved around a topic and I did four dealing with the concept of afro-fantasy, but specifically illustrating characters that exist in the Mojo world. The reaction was extremely positive. Recently, I’ve just been trying to flesh out the world and figure out what stories I wanted to tell.

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Zack using his mojo in Mojo. We can relate. Art by Ky Williams.

R: That sounds groundbreaking. I admire that your characters are black, like you and me, because it’s easier for me to identify with them. What made you want to make them black? What made you want to make some characters white or of other races?

K: Well I think making black characters is second nature to me now. When I was younger, I didn’t really do that because in a lot of ways, cartoons were my teachers and I can count on one hand how many black characters are in cartoons that are actually cool. Static Shock came out and completely changed my life. From then, I made a subconscious pact that I need to draw black characters and make them actually mean something because obviously, no one else will. With Mojo being about afro-fantasy, I wanted most of the characters to be black or of color. There’s little to no representation in the fantasy genre, but diversity is very important to me. Growing up, I was exposed to so many different types of people and I definitely want to explore what that means with my art. I’ve got characters of all different ethnicities and I like to talk to acquaintances about what is accurate or inaccurate when being of a certain nationality. As a black man, it would be silly to say black people aren’t in some way my focus.

R: Definitely understandable. I love it when people support local talent; it’s one of the reasons why I asked you to do my band’s artwork and do this interview. But I have no idea what the art scene is like. Now that you’ve moved from a predominantly Latino/Hispanic Woodbridge onto the predominantly black Richmond—both filled with viciously-talented youth—how has it affected your art, if at all?

K: I think it’s allowed me to explore what it means to be black a little bit more. I’ve met so many different types of black people down here and it showed me that it didn’t mean I had to feed into any stereotype or make art that represented them. In a way, I feel a pride and confidence I’ve never felt my whole life. While Richmond has a lot of black people, VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) is still a predominantly white institution, but more often than not, we are peacefully sharing my experiences with each other. It’s been wonderful for my art.

R: Yeah, that can be really eye-opening and helpful for anyone trying to connect with other people. What advice do you have for other people trying to make their creations known and seen?

K: I think the internet is a great resource, extremely hard to navigate. I would say just post original content consistently and you’ll find a crowd. I also think establishing connections in real life is super important.

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Heroes for Hire. His fanart is amazing and definitely unique, but I’m more excited to see more of his original pieces. Art by Ky Williams.

R: I understand this stuff takes time, but when can we expect Mojo to come out and how can we stay updated on your content?

K: Well next school year I’m taking a two-part comics class and our final is to have a comic finished and printed, so hopefully by May of 2019 that is a reality. In the meantime, I’m posting updates on my Instagram and Twitter @Kywilliams703 for both. And I’m also selling prints, some of which are Mojo related.

Remember this man and his creations, you’ll be seeing them again soon enough.

Nothing but love.

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