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When animator and illustrator Alicia Robinson was a child, she couldn't believe how familiar The Proud Family felt to her. The Disney TV series, which ran from 2001 to 2005, was groundbreaking for depicting a middle-class African-American family living in a neighborhood inhabited by a majority of people of color, and it also happened to have an amazing opening theme song.
Ideas began percolating in Robinson's head — she and her sister already illustrated their imaginary friends for fun, so why couldn't these fictional characters look like them? Why couldn't heroes and protagonists use the same cultural references as she did?
"It was the first cartoon family that I could really relate to," Robinson told SYFY WIRE via email. "[The show had] storylines and jokes that were never told before. As a young person watching the show, I began to understand the importance of representation in animation." Robinson grew up to study animation and illustration, and she's been an active member of several geeky fandoms since those early days watching cartoons.
We spoke to Robinson about comic book heroes, her artistic process, and the dream of a truly diverse media landscape.
Did you formally study illustration, or are you self-taught?
I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art from 2014-2018 and was an animation major with an illustration minor. Now, I’m currently taking Visual Development classes at Concept Design Academy in Pasadena.
Can you describe your artistic methods, both as you develop your ideas, and when you start to use materials? What are your favorite materials?
First, I come up with a vague idea of what I wanna do, like I wanna draw a cool lady today. On days where I can’t come up with ideas, I watch a movie, go on Instagram or explore outside to get inspired. Once I have a concept, I search for reference images, usually on Pinterest, then do a rough sketch in Photoshop. After that is line work, then I color and put in some highlights/shadows. Most of the work I do is done digitally in Photoshop.
How long have you been an artist? Do you remember your first attempt at a drawing?
I've been an artist basically since I was able to pick up a pencil, so like around four. My first memory of when I began drawing is when my sister and I would come up with stories and illustrate the characters.
What geeky things (movies/TV/comics) were you into as a kid? Do you still enjoy them now?
Do you feel that your illustration is adding something in the culture that wasn't there before?
The work that I make is intentionally diverse to represent groups that you don’t really see as much in the media. I am very passionate about creating material that makes others feel like they have a place in this world, like they belong in animation.
You drew Miles Morales (Spider-Man) meeting Riri Williams (Ironheart) — can you tell me a bit about what that scene means to you?
The Miles meeting Riri illustration means a lot to me because I am a big Spider-Man fan and an even bigger Iron Man fan, so when the Riri Williams comic came out I was ecstatic. There's a version of Iron Man that actually looks like me!
Then Into the Spider-Verse came out and I became super inspired. If they can make a Miles Morales movie, there can be an Ironheart movie, and better yet, [they can put them] together. There are so many fans of color out there, especially female fans of color, dying to see a superhero that looks like them on the big screen and I just wanted to show that it's possible.