Artists speak to college students about diversity in animation.
Award-winning comic artists and sisters, Shawnee and Shawnell Gibbs joined a panel discussion on diversity in animation at Cal State University Northridge last Wednesday, March 30.
The conversation was part of a series of events by [email protected], which allows students to get an inside perspective on the industry. The Gibbs sisters, who create comics and cartoons with Black characters, were joined by Japanese artist MariNaomi to share their experiences in the latest event of the series, titled Women of Color panel.
“Today I wanted students to walk away empowered. You know, seeing a panel of women of color creators,” said Shawnee Gibbs. “I’m just glad that these students were here to hear about telling and creating diverse stories, it’s terrific.”
The panel focused on the challenges, along with the rewards, of being different in the animation industry. The panelists told the students to recognize their differences and use them as strengths whether it’s their youth, race, gender or style. They also encouraged students to go independent if their ideas are being compromised.
“There’s a certain amount of satisfaction when you can create without someone saying, ‘lighten up that character’ or ‘that won’t sell,'” continued Gibbs.
Once it was time for the students to talk, the panelists were surprised to hear that some of the same obstacles that they faced in college are still alive and prevalent. Students made references to being told that Black people can’t do Sci-Fi and that stories about racial issues won’t sell well. The panelists admitted that being different will have its challenges and sometimes it’s going to be hard to speak up, but reassured the students that they should always strive to create how they feel.
“Being a person of color and a creator, it’s important just to tell the stories that you want to tell, the stories that you have inside of you and to get it done despite any opposition or anything in your way,” siad Shawnelle Gibbs.
Along with being creative, the sisters also stressed the importance of having organization and deadlines for yourself.
“It’s important to have deadlines and schedules, especially as an independent because nobody is on your back,” said Gibbs. “It’s just a matter of being on schedule, being kind to yourself and staying persistent about the stories you want to tell.”
The students enjoyed hearing the stories and experiences of the California based artists who have been successfully unique.
“It was very informative and very inspirational. It’s very uplifting to see minority groups who are out in the public doing great things,” said Britney Henry, a student at CSUN. “I thought that it was nice that they acknowledged that there are going to be pitfalls, but then still say, ‘I’m going to do it anyway.'”
The sisters were also blown away by the students and their involvement in the conversation.
“I was really excited about the turnout and to see young people and the next generation of writers and creators here to hear about diversity in comics,” said Shawnelle Gibbs.
To contribute to the inspiration, the Gibbs sisters were approved funding that same morning to make two issues of their latest comic book project, “The Invention of E.J. Whitaker,” which follows a Black woman inventor during the early 20th century. To get more information on the artists, visit www.gibbssisters.com.