How Afua Richardson's artwork influenced the larger 'Black Panther' universe

When Marvel Studios' "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" — the highly anticipated sequel to the worldwide blockbuster "Black Panther" — roars into theaters on Nov. 11, 2022, one of those carrying personal ties to the movie is artist and New York City native Afua Richardson.

Richardson drew the cover art for Marvel's "Black Panther: World of Wakanda" graphic novel series, which introduced the African philosophical symbolism seen in the first film and story elements that provide the basis for the second. 

"I'm so excited — and also those symbols that I introduced into the Marvel Universe are the basis for the 'Black Panther' language," Richardson said. "So, it was my one drop in the bucket to contribute to this incredible work."

With a passion for writing and drawing, Richardson said she turned to the comic book industry as a career to find her voice" because she was very shy.

"I really identified with a lot of comic book characters, especially characters like the X-Men because they were unusual looking and people didn't like them," she said, "but they were still kind and heroic."

Identifying with a group of outsiders like the X-Men would serve her well when trying to gain entry into a field being an African American woman.

"I think I was received as a strange bird that has landed in an unusual territory — 'What is she doing here? She doesn't reed comics. She's not a nerd,'" Richardson said. "I wanted to make my own heroes. I wanted to make what I didn't see. I wanted to make my images of what I felt was super."

A collection of Richardson's images is now on display at the New York City Society of Illustrators as part of an exhibit that highlights the work of African Americans in the comic book industry.

Karama Horne, the co-curator of the exhibit, was just tapped to write for Marvel's Black Panther Universe.

"I know I would not have gotten that project had it not been for 'World of Wakanda,' Afua, Roxanne Gay — all of the women who were able to break ground before," Horne said.

"World of Wakanda" made history as Marvel's first graphic novel series that was created by, written by and illustrated by an all-Black female artist team.

Richardson has also done work for HBO's Emmy-winning series "Lovecraft Country" and coming to comic book stores next spring is "Aquarius: The Book of Mer," a modern take on mermaid myths from around the world. 

After 17 years in a business dominated by the boys, Richardson said she still enjoys blazing trails for the girls, for whom she has this message.

"That they are worthy of being drawn as super," Richardson said, "that if there's something missing, make it."