HP Fangs “Affirmative Action” Interview
Each issue of Milk & Honey Comic Anthology features artists that can inspire and teach us. Our newest interview is with comic artist Haji, aka HP Fangs. Last February in Wilmington, North Carolina, he had an art show at a local comic book shop called “Affirmative Action”. The theme was a celebration of people of color in pop culture shows and cartoons that often fill the role of minor or side characters in their shows. These characters aren’t typically front and center, but still an inspiration to other people of color, who slide stood out as often being culturally alone in a group of their white peers.
His unique caricature style often revolves around a large smile with at least four very visible rounded teeth. He says that when you draw, you always draw yourself in the picture:
“I was always hella big on exaggerated smiles… the dopest thing in the world. But also growing up, I had big teeth, and it was always a thing that my friends would like, call out, so you know, you’d get roasted like, “Haha you got really big teeth,” and I would be like, “Alright, let me see your yearbook picture bam bam bam now you got big teeth on your face!!”
His “Affirmative Action” Art Show was a reflection on Black History Month, which HP lives through all year long.
He goes on to say that, "Black History Month was every February and I was putting together events for the school I work at. I was like, Oh, I should also do something with my art, and I came to Jake at Memory Lane with this idea. I said,
“I want to do all the black characters that no one pays attention to in cartoons.”
Jake loved it, but I had like, zero work done at this point... just an idea. So just everyday till the show date, I would just get off work and draw till my hands fall off."
"Part of that inspiration was when I first moved to Wilmington, I identified with those characters even more because I got a bunch of white friends and sometimes you find yourself being the only one and you’re like:
'Cool, I’m the Franklin’.
I wanted to be able to highlight that feeling. I’m a cartoon junkie so I see it - I see these characters in the real world as I watch Hey Arnold!, and it’s ‘I see you, Jerald. You want to go home and watch Martin, but all your white buddies want to watch 'Friends’. Watch Martin, my man."
HP Fangs is an art teacher, but it wasn’t always the goal.
"It certainly wasn’t in the plan, but I always worked in the community and I was always building up to working with the youth. I was once the Creative Director for our Boys and Girls Club, and I did counseling. Before teaching art, I used to teach math courses, and I would be available for people that wanted to possibly be adoptive parents. I would teach them on how to deal with traumatized youths. I was licensed to go into foster homes and I would teach positive parenting classes. And so, I led an art program for a school and they went, ‘Hey, would you be interested in teaching art?’ And I was like, ‘Hold up...I get to draw for a living, and get some resolve? Sign me up for that.’ I’ve been doing this for two years now."
A lot of HP’s art is not only therapeutic for the kids he teaches, but for himself as well. We concluded out interview with the big question: What’s Next?
"I have been sitting on this idea where I want to do this series of books for my daughter. All I know is that I am inspired to keep doing art, no matter what. The feeling of being this sort of role model through my art is powerful. I know that there are so many similar artists out there, and I am doper than none of them, but I do like the responses that I have gotten from people who like my art. That is such a huge influence on me to keep going.
I’m thinking of this event from a time where I spoke at an elementary school for a children's literacy night. I was talking about being an illustrator and my ability to be able to draw for a living. All of the interactions I had with those parents and kids were just so dope. So dope. It felt like being Dr. Seuss or Jim Henson. I want to be able to keep doing that - to somehow tie art into working with kids and family...
"...in some way, shape or form it's gotta include: Art, families, and smiling."
Thank you to HP Fangs for your time and for letting us collaborate with your awesome art!
“Affirmative Action” Interview with HP Fangs
Interview Conducted by Adrian Noel Santiago
Transcribed for Text by Giancarlo D'Alessandro
Special Thanks to Memory Lane Comics, Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods, & HeyTVM Art & Apparel, all located in Wilmington, NC, USA