‘Comics, graphic novels, and literature in general have always been a voice and vehicle’
A longtime teacher and supporter of the Mint Museum, artist Wolly McNair creates stories through his illustrations. McNair’s “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War” illustrations were featured as part of the 2019 Never Abandon Imagination: : The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph. He’s also has been an active instructor with The Mint Museum’s Grier Heights Community Youth Arts Program since 2009.
McNair found a love for drawing as a child, and received ample encouragement from his family. He created a business to include character design, story-boarding, animation, writing and illustrating for local and national companies. He self-publishes through his brand GOrilla Bred Publishing and currently is working on a couple of his own “intellectual properties.”
“One is a sorta of ‘what if’ story called Super Bastard. Every aspect of the name plays into the DNA of the story. It deals with the idea of power meeting endless power. What happens when the voiceless finally gain a voice and can enact real change by any means chosen. No more asking,” McNair says. “Using super heroes allows it to be entertaining while having a message and not become preachy. I think comics, graphic novels, and literature in general has always been a voice and vehicle to that can place people from different walks of life in the shoes of those they least relate to. See the stories and life of others, be it fantasy or reality.”
If that wasn’t enough, he’s also reworking his graphic novel Fairy Tale Knights that he wrote for his daughter after realizing there weren’t many comic books featuring Black characters. He also is working on a follow-up to his single-issue comic King Supreme. “It is more of a traditional comic in aesthetic feel, but nontraditional in some of its subject matter and content.” McNair shares more about his art and how art is a catalyst for change.
Tell us about the type of art you create.
My work is normally illustration based, but I often work both digital and traditional combining paint, markers, watercolor with digital colors to add texture. On a day-to-day basis, though, I work digital. Professionally I illustrate graphic novels, create worlds for character settings, concepts for characters in film, gaming, and comics.
My more gallery-based work is often larger in scale, and I typically do work that has lots of varied symbolism in it. Some things are literal, while other elements have a reason or meaning for placement. I often do several pieces in a small series with a central, connecting theme. Because I work in a character-driven world, and the world itself is but a stage full of characters, most of my gallery work also has a heavy character-driven base to it.
What do you want your art to say to America today, and what conversations do you hope it may spark?
The same as I would have probably wanted 10 years ago, and not just to America, but to the world. That we as a people (Black people or whatever term is considered appropriate) have a varied voice, have a beautiful hidden and forgotten history, and a terrible covered-up and watered-down history, and have influenced culture since there was such a thing. I want people to stop, maybe admire, maybe question, maybe reflect, maybe actually see … then ask questions, listen. Each piece, each series of pieces, all speak to different things, and I rarely completely explain my work cause lots of it is self explanatory, but I also want people to gather their own honest thoughts and start the conversation from there.
How do race, place, and your environment influence your art?
Race and environment have an influence because both are a part of who and where I am, have been, or plan to be. As the world changes or stays the same, so do the reflections in my art. But the history is always shared as I learn and grow, coming from the background I grew up in, that places a roll in detail, the way I may position elements of a piece, or what I may decide to speak on. Not only I am influenced by these things, I also try to use these elements of who I am and where I am from to influence others in a creative and positive way.
Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events?
Current events are actually the same events, just a different timeline. Many of the things happening have happened so many times before. Some of the “changes” are good to see, but mirror things of the past. I have hope that it will ultimately play out differently, and we are not right back here again. I still create, but I don’t want to create only as a result of another life lost, a continued struggle, racism or classism — I have over 400 years of history to use for that type of influence. I can, and do, create from that space without needing more of it. This doesn’t mean the fight is given up, it just means these events — good and bad — shouldn’t have to keep repeating. I’d rather get inspiration from seeing and knowing my kids won’t have to go through this and can live a happy life. Seeing them smile, not cry, not be afraid, not have to be strong would be so much more inspirational.
What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?
I just want to see a power shift. Power to the people. We already have a positive perspective or we wouldn’t keep getting up everyday, but I understand that those in true power have to come to an understanding, or no longer hold those positions, for the change to actually come and stay intact. I have seen people who only viewed life from where they sit come to realizations from my own personal conversations, and that was good to see.
More allies. I just want to see things handled better, artists of color given fair chances to speak and be properly compensated, voices amplified, corruption called out, and the people standing for each other instead of over each other.
How do you believe art can be a positive influence on kids?
Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet. Art helped me to write, and writing helped to add to my art and the stories I wanted to tell. Art allows an escape as well. It opens up the mind, and it teaches discipline for many — patience and perseverance. Most importantly, it allows expression. I simply think it is needed, maybe not for every child, but it can be a lifesaver or game changer for many. Even in simply teaching kids how art can be used daily, and the options that are out there, at an early age can help them figure out the path that works for them, and test options as they grow.
What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?
I’m not reading much, other than the autobiography of Malcom X. I am listening to James Baldwin a lot lately, and Fred Hampton speeches, and Malcom debates and speeches. I go back to them from time to time. I have a stack of comic books and graphic novels that I haven’t read for mixed reasons, in part due to things I’m currently working on and not wanting to have any other creative elements that aren’t mine creep in.I listen to a lot of instrumental music, including Future Garage/Wave stuff — Nipsey Hussle, Lil baby. I listen to a wide range of things as I work based on where I want my mind to be. My son also creates his own music, so I listen in on it. My daughter is learning piano, so I listen to her. She’s self-teaching at age 9. They prove to me what is possible. I guess I am creating things that hopefully will aid others in the future more than anything.If I do watch anything, it’s the TV show Goodtimes, documentaries, an anime, or Property Brothers or something about buying or renovating houses. It is a different world for a few minutes per day.
Who are you following on social media right now, and why?
I follow a few people of course, but I honestly just float through looking at random things and seeing what catches my eye. There are tons of dope artists out there doing cool things.