For many children, their introduction to newspapers comes through the comics page, reading syndicated strips like “Garfield,” “Peanuts,” “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side.”
Cartoons have long been dominated by white men, but the media niche is slowly inching toward diversity. Last year, Bianca Xunise and Steenz, who both identify as nonbinary, became the second and third Black femmes — and the first in recent decades — to draw nationally syndicated comic strips.
Xunise, a contributor to the syndicated strip “Six Chix,” which is shared by six artists and published by King Features Syndicate, has gained attention for autobiographical cartoons on topics ranging from racism and mental health to goth fashion and punk music. Their graphic novel, “Punk Rock Karaoke,” will be published in summer 2023.
Steenz, meanwhile, first came to prominence with their 2018 graphic novel, “Archival Quality,” in addition to webcomics and zines, such as Encyclopedia Brown remade with a Black femme protagonist. Later, Andrews McMeel Syndication approached Steenz to take over the long-running comic strip “Heart of the City,” which centers on a young girl named Heart, after its creator, Mark Tatulli, retired. In Steenz’s version, she’s a middle school student with a diverse set of friends and classmates. Steenz is currently working on a compilation book of their “Heart in the City” comic strips, to be published in spring 2022.
NBCU Academy: What was it like becoming syndicated comic strip artists?
Steenz: It was very stressful at the very beginning. That’s a lot on someone’s shoulders, to be one of three Black femme people making syndicated comics, ever, in the history of comic strips. I was sweating at my computer, like, “Oh my god, I’m supposed to be representative of an entire ethnic group.”
Are your comic strips autobiographical?
Xunise: At this point, [my “Six Chix” character] “little Bianca” has kind of become like “Cathy,” where sometimes they’re true, sometimes they’re fictional, sometimes they’re wacky scenarios I decided to put myself into.