Let me introduce you to Jonathan Edwards, the creative mind behind Solar Powered Umbrella.
No seriously: check him out NOW because this brother is bound to blow up.
By Day, Edwards works as a social worker in the heart of Washington DC and by night he is transformed into a savy social commentarist, who scribbles the stark realities of a black life, using only a piece of paper, some colored pencils and an objective lens (Actually, I don't know if that's what he does at night. I mean he is married so I imagine that some of his evening is spent doing chores around the house and spending quality time with the Mrs. But yeah, he has to squeeze his drawing in at some point in the day, right? Whatever, just play along.).
Edwards has been drawing for as long as he could remember. However it was his experiences as both a high school student at a top-tier prep school, where he encountered white people with incredible affluence and access, as well as a student at Morehouse College, where he had first come to fully appreciate the true diversity of black folks, that ultimately propel him to take a more serious tone in his artwork. And after a successful yet short-loved stint of selling his powerful illustrations on t-shirts for fellow classmates around campus, Edwards decided to create Solar Powered Umbrella, in hopes of giving people around the world a chance to not only experience but connect with his art.
Check out more of what Edwards had to say about being a cartoonist, his influences and the Solar Powered Umbrella below:
Jonathan Edwards: Growing up, I loved reading “The Far Side” and was fascinated by Gary Larson’s ability to tell a whole joke in a single frame. I also read “The Boondocks” every day in the paper, and I loved how McGruder combined humor into social commentary from a black perspective. My art has always been how I articulate my beliefs, and a reflection of my personality. In college I was developing my own personal philosophy about the world, as well as my artistic style. I printed some of my drawings on t-shirts to sell on the [Morehouse College] yard, since people liked my drawings but weren’t buying my prints. Around that time, a friend told me that one of my drawings reminded him of some work by Emory Douglas, whose work I’ve come to admire for its strength and emotion. It would be a huge and unwarranted compliment for me to say my art is in the same vein as any of their art. But I’d love for my brand of art and commentary to eventually garner the same level of respect as theirs does.
Me: Solar Powered Umbrella: that is an unusual name. Is there hidden meaning or a double entendre behind it?
Edwards: There’s no real deep meaning behind the name; it’s just a silly concept I thought of that summarizes the type of art I like to make fun of. At first glance, a solar-powered umbrella is probably pretty impressive- I’m sure it takes a lot of ingenuity and engineering to put together. But ultimately, all that effort is pointless because the product is useless. It’s an umbrella that only works when the sun is out. I’ve often felt that if art doesn’t have a clear purpose, it’s not worth making.
Me: Is this your first foray into political and social comics or is the blog an extension of some projects you might have or are working on?
Edwards: I’ve been drawing political cartoons for a little over five years, but since I haven’t been affiliated with any publication since college, The Solar Powered Umbrella has been a way for the public to see my work regularly. Also, I’ve started a number of projects, and the blog has been a way for people to be aware of all of them. It’s also been a means to generate publicity for “The Slave who was Allergic to Cotton”, a collection of my artwork and essays that I’ve been selling out the trunk of my car. Also, for years I’ve been printing my artwork on t-shirts, hoodies, handbags and posters under the unofficial moniker “Pocketlint Productions."
Me: In the "about me" section of your blog, you call yourself an Angry Black Man. Usually our folks are doing everything in our power not to embody that label. However you embrace it. So what makes you angry?
Edwards: Growing up, I was often the token black in majority white environments. I know all about minority scholarships, diversity coordinators, sitting by myself in the cafeteria and everything else that comes with being the “only one." I’ve been forced to be a spokesperson for black people, which has definitely given me a complex about advocating for the race and a chip on my shoulder. I am definitely a victim of multiculturalism. I’ve been told that I can make any issue about race and class, usually by black people who are in denial about their own anger or white people. I think that we’ve been conditioned to react over-emotionally to things that shouldn’t shock us and to let things go that should bother us more. Ultimately, I try to have a social-justice mindset, a heart for the oppressed and an affinity for the underdog. When you think like that, you can’t help but be angry.
Me: Your illustrations deal with some very heavy themes including gentrification, the materialization/denigrations of hip-hop, and various black pathologies. You also deal with universal political themes. How do you come up with the topics for the drawings? What is the agenda behind your work? Are you trying to free minds, spark controversy or push some political cause?
Edwards: I’m inspired by current events, television and other media, barbershop conversations, and my own personal experience. I’m also a social worker and licensed mental health professional, so I try to promote a social justice message and challenge old ways of thinking. My overall agenda is to inspire people to approach heavy issues with humor and realism without doing anything too controversial just for the sake of controversy.
Me: Are there any themes that you will not touch? Or better yet, some themes you have already illustrated but decided that they are too hot for publication?
Edwards: In short, there’s no social or political theme I won’t try to touch on; as long as I can figure out a clever and visually striking way to do so. There’s really no such thing as “too hot” for anything nowadays but simply playing off people’s attraction to controversy isn’t enough. For example, cracking on celebrities and political figures can limit the scope of a drawing because people tend to get lost in the figure, rather than the issue that the figure represents. That’s one kind of approach I try to shy away from.
Me: Many of the illustrations come with your own commentary while some of the other illustrations, you let speak for themselves, what is the strategy behind that?
Edwards: There’s really no strategy with that. Ideally, I’d love to be able to write a commentary with every drawing and painting, but sometimes new ideas come quickly and I’d rather draw than write. Eventually, I’ll write commentaries for all my drawings and put them together in “The Slave who was Allergic to Cotton: Volume 2”.
Me: So what's next for The Solar Powered Umbrella and Jonathan Edwards? Where do you see this blog, as well as the comic, heading in the next few years?
Edwards: As for the immediate future, I’m going to continue to post all my new artwork and some excerpts from “The Slave who was Allergic to Cotton” on my blog. I’m also developing a comic strip about two runaway slaves that are transported to modern times and become rappers. I’ll start posting it once I get some more followers. In terms of my own artistic career, I think the sky is the limit. I aspire to try graphic novels, television and film, fashion, children’s books and all kinds of things. I’d love to be able to try everything, see what I enjoy the most and really make a career out of it.