When actress Amandla Stenberg wanted to start her own comic book, it was Chicago artist Ashley Woods that she reached out to after her work caught her eye at a comic festival. Before that, Woods’ work had already gained notoriety within art circles and at conventions, but it was Niobe that put a spotlight on the artist and opened the door to more opportunities.
Now, with a successful series under her belt and projects with Image and Boom Studios on the way, she is rapidly becoming a household name in the comic world.
TUD: How did you get started in comics? Were they always a passion or was it like ‘Hey, I can draw. What can I do with this talent to live?’
Ashley Woods: My mother collected comics in her youth and introduced me to that culture when I was small. I also discovered early on that I was pretty good at drawing, so I was inspired to create my own comics and just get lost in my imagination.
I decided at 15 that I wanted to start planning a career in art because I felt that I couldn’t focus on anything else besides creating and a few years later released my first self-published comic — an action-fantasy story called “Millennia War,” which currently has seven issues. For the next 10 years, I worked in freelance and continued selling my work at comic conventions and various shows. January 2015, I met Amandla Stenberg and Stranger Comics at a show called Black Comics Arts Festival, which is organized by John Jennings. Six months later, I began working on “NIOBE: She Is Life.”
Who was your favorite character growing up?
I really loved Sailor Moon growing up, and that show actually inspired me to draw shapely women at a young age. I mainly loved video game and movie characters for a bulk of my childhood, so I’d also pick Mario, Sonic, Mega, and Blade to name a few.
Do you identify as a geek or just someone who likes comics?
Someone who likes comics. I’ve read some beautiful books [and] graphic novels and really appreciate the medium.
Are you into anything else “geeky?”
Movies, anime, manga, games, collecting figurines, spazzing out to Japanese music and kpop…
Who is your favorite character to work on? Favorite book?
Drawing Niobe was a lot of fun, even though there were some challenges. My favorite books to work on are anything based on my own ideas.
How did you start working on Niobe?
I met Amandla and Stranger Comics president Sebastian A. Jones by chance at the Black Comics Arts Festival in San Francisco January 2015. I went there to sell my work and she swung by my table to buy a few prints. At the time, she and Sebastian were searching for an official artist to work on her miniseries. They liked my work a lot and I was offered the gig six months later, July 2015.
For those who haven’t read it, tell us about the project.
Niobe is an outcast to her own Elvann tribe because she is a half-blood (half human, half elf), so she must learn how to survive alone in a violent world while also holding on to herself and her faith. To make matters more complicated, she’s being hunted by agents sent by her father, the King, who was also possessed by the Devil and is now on a killing spree wiping out all of his offspring. Niobe is the last child left alive.
Best thing about being in comics? Worst thing?
Best thing about being in comics is that I get to draw all day. Worst thing about being in comics is that I draw all day.
What’s it like to be a comic artist? What’s a typical day?
It’s fun, but can be taxing on the body. I’ve taken up eating healthier and exercising as a way to prolong my energy to work during the day. A typical day is drawing and reading scripts all day, drafting concepts and pages, listening to music.
Recently, there has been a lot of attention paid to equal representation in comics in book and behind the pages. What do you think about the influx of characters of color? Do you think they are being portrayed well? What spin would you put on them? Who’s your favorite new or rebooted character? Which character would you redo?
People of color deserve a voice and it’s an exciting time in comics and entertainment because of the growth and changes taking place. As long as those properties are continuously supported, change can continue to happen. I wouldn’t want to redo a character, but create something original infused with hip-hop and fantasy elements.
As a woman of color, how does it feel to be in comics? Do you think the industry is making efforts to change the current status quo? What efforts would you make to bring in more women and people of color into the fold?
It can be lonely, but I don’t give it as much thought anymore. I just focus on my work and having fun. Sure, the industry is making efforts, but that can only go so far. It’s up to the individual on how hard they work. If people like your work and feel something when they see it, it will sell.
What projects do you have coming up?
Lady Castle with BOOM Studios scheduled for January 2017.
What’s your dream project? If you could work on any book or character?
I would’ve loved to work with Satoshi Kon if he were still here. I would’ve liked to work on something related to Metal Gear, or just any project with Hideo Kojima. Also, maybe a movie with Quentin Tarantino, but he plans to retire soon.