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Illustrator and Comics Animator, Arie Monroe
Arie Monroe says about her illustrations, “I’m producing work that encourages African American women to be confident as they are."
Arie Monroe is setting the marker for African American artists and looking to redefine the African American image in animation and illustration.
When we think about animation, illustration and comics, we usually don’t see the faces behind the characters we’ve come to admire. Thousands flock to art, comic and animation conventions held annually throughout the country to meet these artists face-to-face. African American artists are rare in this field but they do exist and are making great strides to break barriers in and around the industry. Arie Monroe is one of these artists.
“When I was a kid, growing up, I drew a lot,” said Monroe. “I loved cartoons, literally from the age I could start understanding cartoons—I was watching them.
“So I just watched a lot of them—it was just something I developed a passion for and when I was 11 [years-old], I just decided, I wanted to be an artist.”
Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Monroe’s love for cartoons would be the beginning of her journey. She’s attended many different performing art schools throughout her life. Monroe has her BA in Studio Art from the University of Missouri Kansas City. She has also attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Graphics in New Jersey, where she studied Animation and Comic Book Illustration and has a certificate in Animation and Cartoon Media.
After school, she worked for Mada Design in New York, NY where she gained exposure and experience. Monroe got to work on projects like the animated movie Kung Fu Panda, as well as work for Nickelodeon, Crayola and many other projects. The economic downturn shifted life for Monroe and many at the company. She eventually moved to Ohio in search of new work and new opportunities.
“The one thing that I’m the most proud of [at Mada] is I designed all the characters for Crayola,” said Monroe. “I see my artwork all over the Crayola section. It’s pretty cool.”
Monroe would start doing a lot of freelance work in Ohio but eventually moved back to Missouri. She rented studio space out of Atlas Gallery. This proved to be an exciting time for Monroe as she was getting a chance to start her own business. The passion was there but experience and funds would make it a challenge.
“I was still learning the ropes,” said Monroe, “of trying to learn small business and work freelance at the same time.”
She found work, sporadically, in a variety of places including being published in Black Comix, an African-American comic book. Monroe has worked with John Jennings, associate professor of visual studies at the University of Buffalo, NY and Graphic Artist/Illustrator at TARDEC. Jennings works with and sponsors many African American artists like Monroe who are trying to gain exposure and showcase their talents.
“I became vice-president of a group…the Mid-West Association of Professional Animators,” said Monroe. “We would put together art shows every year and get local animators to come out.”
She would join other groups and network with other independent artists creating comic books, shorts and other works. It may have been a financially strapped time for Monroe but it was definitely a creative one. Monroe didn’t waste a minute using her talent and she did whenever she got the chance.
Monroe sketches a face in front of a crowd of interested onlookers.
“There’s an [event] called First Friday, it happens every month… in Missouri,” said Monroe. “I would go down there and draw caricatures for people for free and do art shows in the gallery—just really trying to push my stuff out there.”
She spoke on the perception of African American artists in the industry and how many people are surprised to see she’s an artist.
“They [Black people] look at me and they go, ‘Can you draw too?’” said Monroe. “I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and they go, ‘you don’t look like and artist.’
“I think that literally sums up the experience, people are caught off guard, they don’t expect to see a [Black] artist. They don’t expect you to have ability, talent or interests in superheroes, comic books [etc.]”
Monroe’s talent is truly evident as she infuses her characters with life, vibrancy and an ethnic-pop not seen in mainstream too often. Her take on popular comic book characters such as DC’s Wonder Woman or Marvel’s X-men are truly inspired and original. Her talents really shine through in her original characters like “Big Booty Jane.”
“She’s supposed to be like this plump, fashionista-type of character, who likes multi-colored hair and likes being crazy and wild,” said Monroe. “The response to her was huge because people liked seeing that and what I’m finding is people get tired of seeing the norm all the time—the thin, beautiful, blonde hair, blue-eyed characters and it’s gotten old.
“There is this gap to be filled so I figured what better person [Monroe] to fill that gap.”
A caricature of rapper Snoop Dogg AKA Snoop Lion by Monroe.
Monroe moved to L.A. last year and is working part-time as a caricature artist at Universal Studios. She has said that her time in L.A. has taught her a lot about the entertainment industry and has given her even more of a drive to be an independent artist.
“I’m more motivated now more than ever to really produce some of my own titles,” said Monroe. “It seems like for years, I’ve done a lot work for other people and I haven’t had the opportunity to really focus on my own projects and develop my own characters.”
She’s currently working on other projects with Jennings developing characters for future projects. Monroe’s drive to depict her kind of art animation and characters has not slowed down or diminished. She remains optimistic that a platform will be more visibly present for African American artists especially for those who are persistent and determined.
“I say, don’t take crap off people,” said Monore, “because people get jealous.
“I feel like, we’re [African Americans in Animation and Graphic Arts] going to endure a lot of B.S. because… we’re out of the norm,” said Monroe. “You just have to be strong and refuse to let people pull you down.
“Do you and have fun doing it—create what you want to create.”
Big Booty Jane
If you would like to see more of Arie Monroe and her work, you can visit her website at www.drawlikecrazy.net and http://mainasha.deviantart.com. You can also visit her blog at http://ariemonroe.blogspot.com