In the midst of more and more characters of color coming to the forefront in comic books, and more racial tensions arising in the world, artists of color are also stepping out and making their voices heard. I was able to get to the inside scoop with D.C. local comic book artist Tony Dortch of DortchDESIGNS while I covered this year’s AwesomeCon. His comic series The Pure focuses on seven feuding Western-defined families all of which obtain unique traits.
Dortch takes an interesting approach in his comic art style, using real people that are painted from head to toe and then animated for the digital and print versions. Dortch’s models aren’t just found in D.C. He’s traveled to Colorado, California, Florida and Europe to name a few and has other models in these areas that are eager for him to return. With those models sporting everything from yellow to blue skin, The Pure focuses on the privileged and the poor and how we can look at issues through two different colors and see how they directly reflect what’s happening in today’s world.
Nerd Caliber: What inspired you to create this comic?
Tony Dortch: I was inspired because I do fine art and I originally did a series that was called The Privileged where you had rich people that would interact with the poor. The rich were yellow while the poor were blue and when I displayed them; it was just interesting to see different ethnicities and how they saw it. So for example sometimes minorities would say, “Oh my God, that’s showing slavery,” and Caucasian people that would look at it and say, “I really don’t get why you even painted it.” So that then turned into the comic book where I could add more detail and characters and it just blossomed from there.
NC: How did you choose the colors blue for poor and yellow for rich?
TD: Yellow was decided because it was a replacement for gold — it symbolizes the rich. Blue was an accident at first. The people were supposed to look dirty and look black and brown but I bought the wrong color. So they came out an ash-looking blue but in the end it began to remind me of a term that we say amongst African Americans — “Black-blue” or so blue they look black. It ended up being amazing for me because when I went to add a third culture — the mulatto — what happens when you mix yellow and blue? You get green.
NC: What is The Pure about?
TD: I think the title kind of says it all for people. I think a lot of people think of Pure like there is a character that is actually pure, when it [the title] is actually meaning the opposite, meaning no one in this world is pure and that is just what I think of people today. There is no one in society that is actually pure, even if you have good intentions. There are some characters that are like that and some that are modeled after politicians today. It’s supposed to be showing what’s in today’s society.
NC: D.C. is one of the most impure cities in the US … what’s it like being a creative type in Washington, D.C.?
TD: I’ve been struggling with that for many years. My friends say I always push my style and try to get a style that’s uncommon but I don’t want to fall into what is repetitive, I want to push creativity and show what options are out there. I will honestly say what I do has been done before, I don’t want to say I’m this innovative guy but I will say the way I merge common things together is what sets me apart. I do graphic design, photography, the body paint and the storytelling along with short videos that showcase The Pure. What really helps me to go forward is my fan network and my fans are also the people in The Pure. They constantly push me to continue this.
NC: As an artist of color, what in your life has driven you to tell the story of The Pure?
TD: My early days I didn’t really know racism. My first case of it was when I moved to Savannah and the people there were like “You seem nice but you’re one of them.” Who is them? Who are you talking about? They would point to a black kid that had his pants hanging around his butt. I wasn’t even like him, though. I was a preppy kid. Can’t you see that a person is a person? And of course people wanted to pick fights because I was black. I might not have gotten a job because I was black but of course, that was the South. So when I came here [D.C.] you can still see the racial difference. There’s just ignorance here. I feel like the art community in D.C. is very stagnant. We have few adventurous artists that are trying to push a new skill.
In addition to racial and societal issues The Pure features gender and sexuality as well. I recommend it highly for the comic geek who enjoys a dash of real life thrown into a colorful tale. You can support and check out more on The Pure here.