The comic strip Heart of the City, set in Philadelphia, dates back to when everyone read the daily funnies on newsprint. A year ago, then 29-year-old Christina “Steenz” Stewart assumed Heart's authorship, giving its cast of Philly families new looks and 'tudes.
Steenz, with characters imaginative enough to find Bigfoot at the Wawa in a bad Gritty outfit, carries her fresh take on the comics beyond the Inquirer, with fans following her work on Instagram and Twitter, and in two graphic novels so far! We celebrated Steenz’s anniversary with an interview, helped by Chiamaka Udem, a young artist and West Oak Lane Library user.
Why did you start drawing?
Because I loved it! I was given crayons, colored pencils, and paint sets as a child and I was drawn to it. My mom said I always told people I’d be an artist when I grew up. So it’s been a goal for as long as I can remember!
Was it your dream to draw comics?
Not originally, no! I knew that I liked drawing, but I didn’t really feel confident about my ideas. It wasn’t until I was 21, nearly ten years ago, when I realized that I could make comics for a living!
Which cartoonists inspire you?
All of my peers! Fellow syndicated cartoonists like Tauhid Bondia (Crabgrass), Olivia Jaimes (the Nancy reboot), Bianca Xunise (Six Chix), and also graphic novelists like Wendy Xu, Brittney Williams, and Philly’s own Box Brown!
How many Black women have authored major daily comics?
There are only THREE nationally syndicated cartoonists currently who are Black women and I’m number 3! But before us, there was Jackie Ormes, the first to get her work in the papers! (Note: Last summer’s Google Doodle about Jackie Ormes was by local cartoonist Liz Montague, a pioneer in her own right.)
How do you choose the local touches in Heart of the City?
I’ve actually only been to Philly once to visit my best friend and creative partner, Ivy Noelle Weir! She’s born and raised in Chesco so I often look to her for ideas. I do want to return sometime for more inspiration!
Any Heart of the City books in the works? What’s your next graphic novel?
I’m currently drawing a nonfiction graphic study of tabletop roleplaying games! My co-creator Sam Sattin and I are your hosts as we travel through space and time to explore the history of TTRPGs. We also include some memoir sections on gaming’s influence on our lives!
You sometimes reference fine art in the funnies. How come?
I went to school for art, and art history courses were my favorite. I studied the Italian Renaissance, African Art, Mayan art... I think it’s really worthwhile to study the art of the past if you’d like to create new and exciting works in the future!
As newspapers falter, where do the comics go?
Comics are everywhere! Your local library, bookstores, corner shops, and daily comics live on in collected editions. GoComics.com does a really great job of keeping syndicated strips online and updated every day.
How does it feel to tell a story?
It feels great! It’s hard work, definitely a skill you need to hone. But while you grow as an artist, readers appreciate the hard work you put into what you make. So my advice for younger creators is to get busy drawing! You’re not gonna improve unless you make the effort, so don’t hold yourself back. Jump right in!
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