Fight or Flight - Where Animation Meets Black Girl Magic Q &A With Animation Artist Kaitlin Reliford
Three-year-old drawings of animals and people flooded Mr. Reliford business white board. It was not until then when The Relifords acknowledged their daughter's ability to create Digital/Traditional Cosmic Art.
Self-taught Los Angeles-based artist Kaitlin Reliford, showcases diversity through her storytelling animation , Fight or Flight. The comic follows four magical black girls who are challenged day by day to either uses their powers for the greater good or for their own personally use.
In between balancing her degree towards environmental engineering and her five-year plan of working for an animation studio, the 21-year-old is currently tapping into her magical creations and getting to know her characters on a personal level. Discover how this multi-talented artist keeps on perusing her dream.
Q. You mentioned on your Instagram you’ve been drawing ever since you can remember but didn't start considering working in the animation industry until you saw Japanese directors Hayao Miyazaki, Spirited Away. Can you please share your experience on how you felt when you first saw the film? What were your thoughts? And how did Miyazaki inspire you? Does any of his characters reflect yours?
A. This is probably one of my favorite questions to answer! Always takes me back. The first time I watched Spirited Away I was in completely wonder and awe. The character, Chihiro, was the same age as me at the time so I could easily relate to her situation. The movie always takes me to a different world, a world so different from ours but yet the same. The music by Joe Hisaishi along with the animation completely engulfed me.
It wasn’t until I saw the making of the film, however, that I was hooked on animation! I was about an hour of behinds the scenes footage of the animators, sound effects artist, musicians, voice actors all coming together to create this film. With Miyazaki even being one of the animators! It was so cool to see a group of people working on something bigger than themselves. That’s when I knew animation was the industry I needed to be a part of.
I think the only traits my characters have in common with Miyazaki’s is that then are strong female main characters that are tossed into a world different than ours.
Q. I was thrilled to see that majority of your characters are women of color. Additionally, all of your women come in different shades, weight, and sizes. In your words, why did you feel as if it was important to artistically represent a diversity group of women?
A. I like celebrating diversity. I often like to people watch and take notice of the varying body types I see. Especially the variety in African-American women.
I want my characters to represent these varying body types I’ve seen in a positive light. I want them to be relatable to younger African American girls, but also have them be relatable to girls in general. When I was younger I would have loved to have a character that looked like me, and I’m hoping with my girls I can do that for others.
Q. What inspires you to develop your characters do you seek inspiration from family and friends? Do you personally relate or see yourself in any of your characters if so who and why?
A. I got the idea for these characters about a year ago. While exploring some older anime that I used to watch while I was younger, like Sailor Moon, I realized that there had never been a magical girl group, that I know of, consisting of all African- American girls. I wondered why that was and decided to create them myself!
I seek inspiration from friends, family, and strangers I might meet through my travels. Sometimes I will go on Pinterest for fashion ideas and sketch them out and see what sticks.
I will say out of all the characters I see myself the most in Sanna. She is a lot like me when I was in high school. All of my characters have a little bit of my personality or the personality of people I’ve met, but Sanna is almost me reincarnate haha.
Q. Can you briefly describe the main character's personality who are they how did they all meet?
A. Yes, I can. Sanna is our main character, we see a lot of the story through her eyes. She’s quite and reserved and very unsure of herself at the beginning of the story. She does eventually grow into herself. She has healing abilities, which she hasn’t used that often until an event forces her to.
Lessi is her best friend. She’s almost the opposite of Sanna. She confident, outspoken, and rarely questions herself. She does have a little bit of an ego. She has super strength.
Nia, like Sanna, is very quiet and reserved. She doesn’t talk unless she feels like she can add something significant to the conversation. She’s a quiet storm. She does become the self-appointed leader of the group, having trained her powers the most. She can control plant life and natural elements.
Annya is the baby of the group. She bubbly, talkative, and is a dreamer. She rather ignore unpleasantness if she can afford it. She is the most sheltered member of the group and is very innocent. Her power is the ability to makes objects and tool out of the materials around her by melding them together with electricity.
They all meet slowly, chapter to chapter through the strange occurrences happening in their town. They don’t become a team until at least chapter 4 of my story, where the villain, Van Buren, appears to challenge all of them to test their abilities.
Q. I noticed in one illustration Sana was comparing herself to the other girls, stating she was not slim, creative, or pretty enough for Cris. She even stated he may not like her because she is not Asian. How did you feel while setting up this scene,? Do you feel as if some women come across this daily in relationships? How did you turn this scene into a healthy learning experience?
A.I was very emotional while writing this scene. It was almost painful because I hadn’t written something that's close to me in a while. I wrote it spur of the moment too!
I can’t speak for all women on this matter but I know it is a feeling I’ve experienced. I feel we all struggle with feeling worthy of someone’s love, romantic or not. We all compare ourselves to someone once in awhile and think “hey, if only I was like THIS, then maybe THAT person will appreciate me more."
I turned the scene positive by having my character, Chris, admit to Sanna that he loves her. It’s not stated in the comic since it is a small snippet of the story, but Chris appreciates Sanna for the bravery she faces in battle and the little quirks she has. That if he wanted someone else, then he would have already. He loves her for who she is, and not what she could be. He never tries to change her, which is something I love about their relationship.
Q. According to your Instagram page, the concept of your art is fight or flight. In details, explain the theme. What guided you to this specific concept?
A. The overall theme of my story is changed. My characters are high school graduates, probably one of the biggest changes a person can experience. The story takes place in the summer between high school and college.
Throughout the story, they are forced to either use their powers for the greater good or for their own personally reasons. They can either accept themselves and their powers from who they are or turn away from it. I got the title Fight or Flight from this idea.
Q. Can you briefly describe the art process, what materials do you use and how does your work become digital?
A. Sure! I do a light, messy sketch in pencil to get a feel for the pose I want. If it’s something as big as a comic page I’ll do thumbnails before doing a full out sketch.
After the sketch, I’ll use reference if needed to make it accurate. Afterward, I’ll ink the sketch, either traditionally or digitally. Then I go into the color process. In the past, I’ve used gray tones with a pop of color for significant things but since I’ve started getting back into digital art I’ll decide on a color palette and go from there.
After coloring is done I’ll adjust the color levels until I like how it looks and then I’m done!
Q. Do you happen to have an art sanctuary, If so, please describe the location? Is there a certain ritual you have during your art process such as music, hot tea, etc.?
A. My room has become my makeshift art studio/ sanctuary. Depending on what kind of art I’m doing, commissions or personal art, I’ll put on some music being played by Pandora. A station that I’ve listened to a lot recently is the Nat King Cole Pandora playlist. It’s very calming to listen to Frank Sinatra and Elle Fitzgerald while writing or drawing a kind of slow, calm scene. I’ll put on the 90’s playlist for more intense, fast scenes.
Q. How do you want people to feel while viewing your art?
A. I hope that my art is seen as something positive. I always aim to have that sense of adventure and fantasy in my art.
Q. There will be a second giveaway when you reach 300 followers on Instagram. What will your followers win if they enter?
A. When I reach 300 followers I will give away a free art piece, either digital or traditional. I am hoping in the future to start giving out physical prizes like prints and buttons after I start vending.
Q. Can you please give me a sneak-peak on future projects. I’ve heard talks of building a website soon. Will you be selling your artwork on your site? Can you share a teaser on projects? How can we support?
A. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything usable to show for the comic yet. I’ve been busy with commissions and script writing mostly. The drawings I do have for the comic are all messy thumbnails that only I can probably understand haha!
I do plan to sell artwork on my site when I do create it. Having some guidance on making a website would be really helpful actually, thank you!