The Perfect Shot

Rain pounded like drumbeats onto the thatched roof of the bamboo observation tower. It must have been the seventh or eighth rainfall Sid Francis had seen over the first two days of his safari. Supposedly, this was what passed for the middle of the dry season deep in the Musiyinti country. Small wonder they called it the rainforest.

Sid swatted away at a mosquito which whined dangerously close to his face. Already the little devils had marred his pasty Kanuck complexion with a bombardment of red bumps, each and every one of them an itching reminder of his lacking the foresight to bring bug repellant. Or maybe he had simply been too cheap. Sid had already spent a third of his living on a suitable new camera and another third on reaching here from halfway across the world. It was too easy to gloss over a variety of important little details in that kind of hassle.

“Are they here yet?” Sid muttered as he continued to defend himself against the insect’s harassment with his bare hand.

His guide, a lithe Bayinti named Masengu, looked up from her handheld GPS to give him a disappointed frown. Her ebony-dark skin, though decorated with lines of traditional scarifications, remained fragrant with repellant and thus enviably unblemished by the bugs. Not to mention, the brief strips of bark-cloth she wore over her bosom and waist would have made for more comfortable attire in this humidity than the heavy khaki getup Sid had to put on.

“Ah, fuck.” Sid would have gotten out his pack of joints to smoke away the boredom, except he had no idea whether the scent of burning cannabis would attract or scare off the local wildlife. All he could do was continue to stand here on aching feet, watching for anything bigger than a colobus monkey to show up in the mess of foliage, mist, and shadow that was the surrounding jungle. And maybe glance at his guide’s curves a few more times from the corner of his eye.

On second thought, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.

“Ever thought of a modeling career on the side, Masengu?” Sid asked, tapping a finger on his camera.

She thrust at him a glare almost fiercer than the tranquilizer rifle she had slung over her back. “You mzungu men are all the same.”

Sid laughed, not the least offended even if she had almost said the local word for white people like a slur. “It’s a compliment, trust me. A good shot of you would fetch as much as any tyrannosaur. Of course, I’ll split some of the profits with you, 50/50. What do you say?”

Masengu rolled her eyes with a smirk. “As long as you don’t ask me to pose nude.”

A deep rumbling groan resounded from the jungle. Except for the pulsing of his heart, every muscle in Sid’s body turned stiff as rock from the surprise.

“They’re coming after all.” Masengu was looking at her GPS again. “It’s a whole herd. Get ready, and stay quiet.”

Continue reading “The Perfect Shot”

Sundiata Keita of Mali

sundiata-keita

My depiction of Sundiata Keita, the warrior prince and conqueror who founded the great Empire of Mali in West Africa. He’s even the protagonist of his own epic, a copy of which I own in my personal library. After seeing a famous old painting of Napoleon on horseback, I felt that the pose would suit Sundiata very well since he was very much like the Napoleon of his time and place (insofar as he conquered a lot of land and founded a big empire, at least).

Beautiful Companion

beautiful-companion

Recently they’ve discovered the dismembered legs of a mummy they think could be the Egyptian Queen Nefertari, the famously beautiful consort of Pharaoh Ramses II. That was part of my reason for drawing her yet again, but also my muse was otherwise a bit worn out that night.

The name “Nefertari” (not to be confused with that of the earlier Nefertiti, who was Akhenaten’s queen) means “beautiful companion” in the ancient Egyptian language.

Roman Imperial Officer

roman-imperial-officer

This portrait is of a high-ranking military officer from the Roman Empire. I drew it after reading an article about the recent discovery of skeletal remains from Roman-era Leicester in the UK, six of which display what appear to be African physical features. That shouldn’t be surprising when you consider that the Roman Empire straddled parts of Africa (including Egypt) as well as the Middle East and Europe. Of course its population would be multicultural and multiracial!

Archer Animation Reference

archer-animation-reference

This is an archer character I drew as reference for a little animation project I’ll be doing over the weekend. My mom suggested that I pursue a career as a freelance animator as a way of bringing together my writing and drawings skills, and this would be my first step onto that path. The technique I’m attempting is two-dimensional and digitally hand-drawn with my trusty tablet pen in conjunction with special animation software like Toon Boom Harmony. It should be enough to keep my occupied over the weekend between homework assignments.

Olmec Egyptian


egyptian-olmec

This woman’s ancestry would be a mix between the ancient Egyptian and Olmec ethnic groups, with her attire honoring both halves of her heritage. What I basically wanted to do was combine the Egyptian and Mesoamerican cultures and represent them together in the form of one individual. It was slightly challenging to pick a “right” skin tone that would be intermediate between those of the indigenous Egyptians and Olmecs, but juxtaposing different cultures like this can be great fun.

Africa in Sid Meier’s Civilization Series

Cross-posted from Medium.com

I have played Sid Meier’s Civilization series since the third game came out back in 2001. Most recently I got the sixth iteration on opening day last October, and so far it’s been every bit as engrossing as its predecessors (even if I’m a bit impatient for the modding tools to come out already). As much as they’ve deserved the showers of praise they’ve received over the years, there is one recurring trend in the games that I find rather bizarre and maybe even a bit troublesome. I am talking specifically about how they’ve tended to represent Africa and its indigenous cultures.

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The kingdom of Kongo and its leader Mvemba a Nzinga, as represented in Civilization VI

 

No, I’m not submitting a clickbait-style accusation that Sid Meier and his development team are all racist against Africans or other non-Europeans. For the most part they’ve always done an alright job of incorporating cultures from across the world into their series. Europe has tended to be disproportionately represented among the playable civilizations, but perhaps that’s to be expected given the creators’ Euro-American cultural roots. Otherwise almost every game in the series has included several nations from regions as different as the Middle East, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. In fact, discounting those civilizations which might be added in the expansion packs, each base Civilization game tends to feature precisely two African civilizations.

That wouldn’t be so problematic, except the first African civilization is almost always ancient Egypt, and the games (like most other media) typically misrepresent this as a “Mediterranean” or “Middle Eastern” civilization of stereotypically Arab-looking people. Often Cleopatra VII, a queen from the originally Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty, is chosen as the Egyptian leader, as seen in the most recent Civilization VI.

civilizationvi_art_leader_cleopatra_landscape_1920_po68593fnd
Cleopatra VII as the leader of Egypt in Civilization VI. This is what the other 50% of African civilizations in each Civilization base game tend to look like.

This leaves us with only one civilization from Africa per base game that is portrayed as dark-skinned, or what some might call “Black African”. Exactly which civilization fills this slot varies across the series. In Civilization III, it was the Zulu from South Africa. In IV, it was Mali. V’s introduction was the Songhai, another West African empire that rose after Mali, and most recently in VI it’s the kingdom of Kongo in Central Africa. But the basic trend has remained the same throughout the series’s history: on opening day, you get one black civilization and one whitewashed (or should that be tan-washed?) ancient Egypt. Two slots for Africa, and only one of them is portrayed as genuinely African at all.

It’s uncannily equivalent to the old “Token Black Guy” trope.

To be fair, the expansion packs that have been a staple of the series sometimes add more black nations. Civilization IV’s expansions added Ethiopia and the Zulu to join Mali, and this same pairing reappeared in the expansions for V. Only time will tell what the inevitable expansion for VI will include (although I’m confident the Zulu will pop up again at some point). Clearly the developers are aware of multiple civilizations in Africa other than Egypt. But that’s the thing, if Sid Meier and his team have that knowledge, why do they insist on starting out with only one slot for Black Africa every time they begin a new iteration of the series? Why delay the addition of others to the expansion packs? It’s a truly strange policy for a series that is otherwise above-average in its representation of the non-European world.

Thankfully the newest addition, Civilization VI, corrects one other trend in representing Africa that the other games have gotten wrong. Between Civilization III and V, African nations tended to be portrayed as having the same“Middle Eastern” look to their cities and human units as the Babylonians, Persians, Arabs, etc., with only their unique units (e.g. the Zulu Impi or Malian Skirmisher) having dark instead of tan skin. Even their background music sounded more Arabic than African, especially in the case of the fifth game. But at least Kongo in the new game has distinctly African architecture and dark-skinned units distinct from the rest.

We can only hope that, when Civilization VII launches in a half-decade or so, they stop limiting their civilization roster to one token black civilization. The very least they could do is give their Egyptians a bit more melanin next time, as they should.

Until then, I guess I’ll have to wait until VI’s modding tools come around to rectify this.

Queen Tuya

queen-tuya

Portrait of the Egyptian Queen Tuya (1326-1259 BC), the consort of Pharaoh Seti I and mother of Ramses II “the Great”. You may recall she was the motherly Queen in the first act of the Dreamworks animated film The Prince of Egypt. I wanted my portrayal of her to resemble the Dreamworks version, especially with the big hair (albeit mine has a curlier hair texture, of course).

The Girl with the Hungry Eyes

the-girl-with-the-hungry-eyes

This is based off a 1949 short story by Fritz Leiber titled “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes”, about a mysterious and seductive pin-up girl who grows ubiquitous in advertising thanks to the efforts of the photographer protagonist. I won’t spoil the climactic twist for you, but suffice it to say she has a very sinister secret revealed.

I will say the girl’s physical appearance is mostly left to the reader’s imagination. She is only described as on the thin side and having “tumbling dark hair”, but that second trait could be found in almost any racial or ethnic group. The red color of her eyes in this illustration is my own invention however, since it’s meant to make her look more sinister.