Every month I will highlight a Black artist, form of entertainment, business, or social media personality to help to spread awareness of Black Excellence. Be sure to check here on the 2nd of every month!
As the new year starts I introduce you all to someone who may actually be familiar to some of you. No doubt if you have picked up my novel or visited the Elemental section of this site you've become familiar with graphic designer Jermaine Dickerson; the talented man who created the cover of my novel and the illustrations of the characters in the Elemental series. Jermaine is a passionate artist whose vision aligns very closely to my own, and whose life-long love of all things super has become a viable career option. Check out what happened when illustrator and author finally met below.
M. Haynes: Hey Jermaine! How are you?
Jermaine Dickerson: Good! How are you?
M. Haynes: I'm good, thanks for asking. It's especially good to finally talk to you. We've been talking for so long but this is our first actual conversation.
Jermaine Dickerson: Yeah it's good to finally put a voice to you (laughs).
MH: Likewise. So let's get into it. What is it like being a...well what would you call yourself if you had to name what you do?
JD: Besides being a struggling, starving, broke artist? (laughs) I would call myself an entrepreneur. I'm a graphic designer, an artist, and an illustrator. I try to do a lot of volunteer work and freelance work, and that was what sustained me when I was unemployed this past year. But now I have a job with Quicken Loans designing fliers and signs and logos and stuff.
Oh that's good. So now you have a 9-5 to pay the bills instead of just relying on people to get you to do freelance stuff. Does it ever get awkward, building relationships with people and you never really get to see them in person?
It never really gets awkward or anything for me. I'm the same person online or in person. I'm not fake at all, in fact I'm pretty personable, so when I build relationships with people, even online, they're genuine.
Did you always know that you would be an artist?
I've been an artist all my life. I was really into superheroes and I used to draw all the time, but as I got older I kinda stepped away from drawing. I decided to be a graphic designer my junior year of college, and my passion was reignited from that.
So you majored in Graphic Design*? How was that?
Yeah. I did performing arts and graphic design, but even now I lean more to the fine arts part. One of my teachers saw that I had a talent for drawing and that made me stand out. I started to take more art classes, like 2D and 3D drawing and life drawing*, and all those classes helped me. Not all graphic designers can draw, so it helped to give me more options for a career.
I understand. Speaking of careers, you had to have gotten the speech(es) about how an art-based major wouldn't pay the bills. How did and do you deal with that?
I mean I get it. Most of the people who say that say it with good intentions; they want you to be able to make it. But you can't sacrifice your passion. Personally I would rather live than survive. Like people in Accounting, bless their hearts, but that's boring as heck to me. I needed to follow my passion. I needed to find that thing that was prominent in my life and art was it.
How did you get started following that passion? What sort of jobs did you have to get started as an artist?
It started at EMU. I was an office assistant in Academic Service-Learning and once they saw me doing my design work my title became Graphic Designer. My boss started to reach out to other departments to give me the opportunity to do logos, flyers, and other stuff. I worked for Campus Life designing the posters for the Friday night movies and other campus excursions. It really helped me to get experience, network and build a community.
(laughs) You're not the first person to talk about building a community. So how has that community and experience helped you?
Well I had my first art show, Virtuous, in early 2015 and a lot of people I knew came to support. I got the opportunity to talk about a lot of issues and stuff there and that helped me to build and connect even more.
Talk to me a little about your artistic process. How do you approach a new project?
Well honestly it varies depending on the project. You know logos are one thing, and illustrations and stuff are another. But regardless I try to get to know the person and understand what they want. I have a design sheet I give people to better understand what their business is about and what they hope to do so we can start a conversation before the work even starts. I show the client drafts of the work as it goes on so they can see what it looks like and they can give feedback. When I work with clients it's a partnership; I want them to be involved in the process.
Don't I know it (laughs). We talked so much during this process.
Exactly. And that's important actually. I need to build that genuine relationship to try to understand the work better and put my heart into it. If a work is near my heart its a big thing.
What would you say is your favorite part of the partnership? Starting a project anew? The end result?
My favorite part is definitely the end if they liked it (laughs). It just makes me feel like I offered something special. I love for clients to be pleased with the results, and to see how it all came out.
So a lot of your love for art came from your love of superheroes. Even now you still have the love for them. How have you held on to it for so long?
I just love it, man! When you love something you can't just let it go, so I haven't. Even if you don't agree with everything they do, you still love it. Like for instance Superman is probably my favorite hero. When I was younger I went through an identity crisis with my skin, hair, nose, etc. and seeing Superman made me feel powerful. I needed to feel bulletproof like him because I broke so easily. Wonder Woman is probably my favorite now, but I still love what superheroes like both of them have to offer. They represent imagining humanity as its greatest self.
I can definitely agree wiht that. You mentioned how you don't agree with everything superheroes do, but you still love them. One of the biggest controversies right now, in superhero comics, fiction, and geek culture** in general is the problem of diversity. Weigh in on that.
Aw man. Ok well clearly it is still a problem. I mean, yes it is slowly getting better, but the issue still stands. There's not enough diversity in characters or writers. Big name companies are so hesitant or maybe just afraid to include diverse characters. I really don't get it. Why is it so hard for a black woman to be in a fantasy story? To be in space? We see Thor, Han-Solo and all those other guys do that stuff all the time, but no one else. D.C., as much as I love them, is really bad about it. Like Nubia***? They didn't know what to do with a black woman so they got rid of her.
Why do you think it's so hard to diversify?
I think the problem is deeper than just making diverse characters. True diversity is speaking to an audience through perspective, not perception. So many artists try to write their perception of diverse people, or what they see or think they know, and it ends up being offensive or just not good. More need to write from those people's perspectives, and get feedback to understand the people. Like I can come from a black man's perspective, but unless I talk to a black woman I'll be giving my perception of her. You gotta do the work to make it a success, and we still have a lot of work to do and a long ways to go.
Okay you told me about your favorite superheroes, now tell me about your favorite cartoons. If you had to pick three favorite cartoons which ones would you pick?
Ah why are you doing this to me! (pauses) Young Justice...Legend of Korra. There's so many 90s shows I wanna put for the third one: Dexter's Lab, Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Powerpuff Girls, anything from Toonami...(pauses). Superman the Animated Series. Young Justice, Korra, and Superman.
I couldn't choose between Avatar and Korra. It would have to be those, X-Men the Animated Series and the original Teen Titans for me. So just like we can talk about these shows years later, people can talk about us years later. Where do you want people to see you years from now? What is your endgoal?
To be honest I don't really know yet. I know I want to start a movement in my community next year. I taught some middle school students drawing classes and that was great, plus I have a lot of business ideas. I just know that I have a passion for superheroes and I want to show kids that they can be super, so I will just take the steps to get wherever I need to be.
I can definitely agree with that. So do you have any last comments? Anything you want to leave the readers with?
I have so much to offer the world and I'm excited to share my passion with everyone. I believe all people deserve the chance to be empowered. My hope is that I can do that through my art and love for superheroes. I can't give up; I won't.
* = As a Graphic Design major Jermaine learned how to design logos, posters, fliers, etc. by using what is most appealing visually. Drawing does not necessarily go along with that as he said, so the art classes he took helped to marry Jermaine's degree with his natural talent. Life drawing is one such class; it is where you draw nude subjects in class.
** = Geeks, by my definition, are people who deeply enjoy comics, fantasy and/or sci-fi works, video games, and anime. Geek culture is the many different communities for these people and how these communities act and interact. Geek is different from nerd, though the two can overlap. This article may help you understand my definition.
*** = Nubia is Wonder Woman's black twin sister (long story). When Jermaine brings her up he refers to the fact that Nubia was all but forgotten after her introduction and even renamed. He suspects (as do I) that the idea of a black woman superhero who could lay claim to the title of Wonder Woman was too much for D.C. to handle.