Achilles Duels Memnon

Achilles Duels Memnon

It’s a duel of the demigods that puts Achilles, the famous Greek champion, against King Memnon of Aethiopia (which at the time referred to the territory of modern Sudan rather than what we call Ethiopia today). Both of these characters appear in Homer’s literary universe centered around the Trojan War, with Memnon and his Aethiopian army aiding the Trojan cause against the Greeks. They even go man-on-man together as depicted here. Although it is said that Achilles’s father Zeus (yes, that Zeus) respected both fighters to equal degrees and was biased towards neither one of them, the scales of fate told him to give the victory to his son by having him stab Memnon through the heart. Later accounts would claim that the temple of Asclepius in Nicomeda would keep Memnon’s sword contained within, while his body was either cremated or returned to his native Aethiopia for burial.

Although most historians imagine the Trojan War to have taken place between 1260 and 1180 BC during the Mycenaean Period (if it happened at all), I wasn’t aiming for perfect historical accuracy for either of these characters’ costume designs. They are mythical beings after all. That’s why, for example, Achilles is wearing armor more like those of Greek soldiers from the Classical period (510-323 BC) than what their Mycenaean ancestors would have used.

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The Black Empress of China

The Black Empress of China

This is my depiction of a little-known personage from the annals of imperial Chinese history, namely a woman named Li who was the mother of the Emperor Xiao Wuwen (373-397 AD, during the Jin Dynasty). According to the official chronicle “History of the Jin”, Li got her start as a concubine and and weaver whose colleagues had showered her with abuse for her being “tall and black” as well as a “kunlun” (the Chinese word for darker-skinned foreigners). Thankfully, this would ultimately play out like a classic Cinderella story for Li, since she found herself nominated as Empress (as in imperial consort) out of all the concubines.

I don’t think anyone knows for sure what Li’s ethnic heritage would have been, assuming she was a real person to begin with. The Chinese often used the word “kunlun” for African people, but in other cases it could apply to Negrito, Indian, or even “Mongoloid” Southeast Asians (e.g. Cambodians, Vietnamese, or Malays). Since none of those other ethnic groups are known for having distinctly tall stature like Li, however, I chose to go with an African interpretation for my portrayal of her.

By the way, the phrase Li is saying is supposed to be Mandarin Chinese for “Haters gonna hate!” Go show those catty concubines, my Empress!


In case people wonder where I learned about the story behind this character, I will provide the two sources that brought it to my attention.

  1. Wilensky, Julie. “The Magical Kunlun and “Devil Slaves”: Chinese Perceptions of Dark-skinned People and Africa before 1500.” Sino-Platonic Papers, no. 122 (July 2002). July 2002. http://sino-platonic.org. A passage describing Empress Li as “tall” and with “black coloring” appears in the opening of Ch. 1 on p. 4 of the paper.

  2. Wyatt, Don J. “A Certain Whiteness of Being.” In Race and Racism in Modern East Asia: Western and Eastern Constructions, edited by Rotem Kowner and Walter Dennel, 307-26. Brill, 2012. On p. 314, the author quotes his own translation of the passage from “History of the Jin Dynasty”, which describes Empress Li as tall and having a “dark” complexion, albeit acknowledging that the original Chinese word “hei” could refer to the color black as well.

Apidima 1 of Pleistocene Greece

Apidima 1 in Pleistocene Greece

This illustration depicts the specimen of early Homo sapiens known as Apidima 1, a fragment of whose skull was found in a cave in southern Greece and dated to 210,000 years ago. This would make this individual the oldest discovered example of Homo sapiens found outside Africa, although they probably represented a dead-end lineage rather than an ancestor for any people living today.

Positioned to the right of Apidima 1 herself are two of the species with whom she might have coexisted in the scrubby chaparral of Pleistocene Greece. They are the extinct European straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), and the still-thriving golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

The Dino-Kini

The Dino-Kini

There are few outfits that would benefit a heroine of the prehistoric jungle more than the dinosaur-hide bikini. The tough and scaly hide grants the wearer protective armor where it matters the most, yet the bikini form provides the perfect comfort for hot and humid Cretaceous conditions. Not to mention, it allows her to show off her figure! 😁

(Of course, this would be a shaded version of one of those sketches I did on my recent vacation.)

July Vacation Sketches

Weekend Vacation Sketches

I did these three sketches while on vacation in Washington, D.C., since one of our distant cousins was getting married. It was a disappointing ceremony, to be honest, since the food they served afterward was really bad (despite it being served at a “fancy” venue) and only the bride and groom got to have even one bite of their cake. On the upside, I did get to visit both the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture as well as their Natural History Museum, both of which were real treasure troves of photogenic exhibits.

Going in a clockwise direction, the subjects of each sketch are:

1) A Tyrannosaurus rex, with a speculative “ridge” of jagged scales on its forelimbs inspired by those of some crocodiles today.

2) A “prehistoric fantasy” warrior heroine clad with strips of dinosaur hide.

3) A female Egyptian Pharaoh wearing the traditional blue crown of war (or khepresh).

The Elephant Knight

The Elephant Knight

A wary knight-like warrior keeps an eye on the border of her ancient savanna kingdom (as demarcated by the obelisk in the background) from the back of her elephant.

If you’ve seen the earlier pencil-sketch version of this scene, you might notice a number of changes I had to make during the digital inking and coloring process. For example, I had to alter the curvature of the elephant’s tusks, because the original’s tusks curved so far inward that I realized the animal wouldn’t be able to raise its trunk above them. This is one of the great advantages I’ve found with my method of digitally inking and coloring the pencil drawings I scan into my computer—namely, I’m able to correct any mistakes I made in the original sketch.

Elephant Wrangler Sketches

Elephant Wrangler Sketches

Two sketches of African warrior babes riding elephants, each drawn on a separate piece of paper. In all honesty, drawing a woman riding any kind of big animal presents a challenge of composition if you’re working with a typical sketchbook page. You want to put in as much detail on the heroine as possible without cropping out the most distinctive parts of her mount’s anatomy.

As you might be able to tell, the elephants’ tusks in both of these drawings have artistically embellished curvature to resemble those on extinct mammoths. It is fantasy art after all.

Philos Got Lucky

Itaweret Kisses Philos

The Greek shepherd Philos, the male lead of my novel-in-progress Priestess of the Lost Colony, enjoys a kiss he’s earned at last from the titular Egyptian priestess Itaweret. He’s had a special weakness for her upon first sight, and he very much wants her to return the favor despite the cultural barrier between them. It’s a feeling that I believe any straight young man (myself included) could relate to.

Battle of the Sphinxes

Battle of the Sphinxes

Here’s a brawl between two different cultures’ interpretations of the mythical human-headed feline known as the sphinx. The one to the left is the Egyptian species we all know and love, whereas the other is a younger, winged variation depicted in the artwork of Mesopotamian, Persian, and other Middle Eastern cultures. I gave the latter sphinx a tiger’s body because I felt that would set it apart as distinctively “Asiatic” compared to the lion-bodied African version.