Rachel Marie Crane Williams, PhD, was invited to Kutztown University to speak at the 6th Annual Diversity Conference. She draws comics about social issues –prison, poverty, lynch mobs. She also teaches at the University of Iowa. She has a joint appointment at the University’s School of Art and Art History and the Dept. of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies. Her flight from Iowa to Pennsylvania got cancelled (twice !) due to winter storms. It seemed she would not reach the conference. She jumped in her car drove across country. She’s unstoppable!
She raced straight from her car to our illustration class. Her artwork is informed by news, history, politics, and social practice. She shared a stack of images from her graphic novel on the Detroit Race Riots of 1943. She told us how she traveled to Detroit to do research. She obtained original news photos from The Detroit Free Press archives and transcribed contemporary interviews done by the NAACP.
Sometimes her visual essays are sponsored by organizations. The School to Prison Pipeline, for example, was done in 2011 for Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Chicago Freedom School and Project NIA.
She talked about her work inside the Iowa Correctional Facility for Women. A student asked if she liked Orange is the New Black. She said she didn’t think much of the Netflix series, but recommended Image comic’s Bitch Planet. It’s science fiction, but somehow manages to evoke a real sense what life is like for women behind bars.
Dr. Williams asked every student in the class to give their ‘elevator pitch’ for their zine project. She gave lots of good advice. She advised cartooning students to make a font from their own handwriting. A personal font creates a far authentic match to one’s drawing style than using comic sans. There are a number of web sites that will convert your handwriting into a usable font for free. Here is one tutorial.
The pages reprinted above and below are from Black and Blue: Stories of Police Violence. This comic was distributed by Chicago’s Project NIA , part of an educational outreach project about police violence.
Her forthcoming project is the monumental graphic novel, Run Home If You Don’t Want To Be Killed: The Detroit Race Riot of 1943. She began work on this project in 2008. It is finally nearing completion and will be published by University North Carolina Press and the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. Meanwhile, there is much more graphic work by Rachel Marie Crane Williams on her website. All images in this post © Rachel Marie Crane Williams