Wolly McNair grew up in Lumberton, in a neighborhood where drawing cartoon stick figures could get him beat up or, at least, bullied.
Fortunately for McNair, his friends saw the potential in those early comic books created on lined notebook paper. His parents and an uncle he refers to as O.G, encouraged McNair to cultivate his talents.
A highly motivated McNair learned how to market and brand his business by taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College and the Art Institute of Charlotte.
Largely self-taught, he grew his business to include character design, story-boarding, animation, and writing and illustrating graphic novels for local and national companies. McNair self-publishes under GOrilla Bred Publishing. He wrote and illustrated, “Fairy Tale Knights,” a graphic novel after realizing there weren’t many comic books featuring black characters for his young son and daughter to read.
McNair’s latest project, “King Supreme,” is a comic book about a man who inherits god-like powers in his 20s. Through his characters, McNair tackles the everyday struggles he saw people face in neighborhoods where he grew up.
King Supreme must decide if and how he wants to fix or destroy the world in an imagined city based on Lumberton and Charlotte. A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the publishing of the book ends Aug. 27.
Two of McNair’s illustrations, “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War,” are part of the Mint Museum Randolph exhibit, “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi.”
The “Black Hornet” poster was part of the Nike release of the “Black Hornet” SB Dunk High shoe at the Black Sheep Skate Shop during the NBA All-Star Weekend 2019. The exhibit displays through Nov. 3.
McNair answered a few questions for the Observer. His comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What makes you proud?
I’m proud of every piece of art, even the bad ones. I’m an example to my kids and those around me — you can make a path for yourself.
What’s something you’d want people to know before they see your work?
Nothing really. I don’t like giving much other than the work. Each person may see something slightly different in a piece, and it may be what they need at that moment. It’s like listening to song lyrics. Take from it what you may. I don’t want to kill the vibe. Plus, each piece is different and tells a different story. Once you see a piece, ask whatever comes to mind, and we can talk from there.
Can you offer an insider tip for people who are seeing the exhibition?
Check out the big names and the “unknown” names. You never know when that local artist will become a bigger name. Judge the work based on the work, not what you can tie the artist’s name to. Some of those artists are doing more than you may imagine. I only say that because I heard a couple say, ‘Oh that’s just a local artist,’ and walk past our section at the Mint Museum. The biggest artists are still “local” when at home. I have worked all over the globe for different clients and I am sure the rest of the locals in the show do as well. Be proud of what your area is producing and stand up and strong behind it.
What are you trying to do with your newest superhero, King Supreme?
The thing about superheroes and comics is that you think of someone saving someone from a speeding car. We don’t think about what people go through day-to-day, just to survive. What would it be like to have a hero that tackles those issues or someone to speak on those issues?
What’s an obstacle you had to overcome in your career?
Dealing with self-doubt. The fight to believe you can, even if the odds are stacked. Coming from my background, it seemed even more difficult to carve a path in the world of art. It’s still a challenge. But I push forward.
Who is someone you believe to be underappreciated on the arts scene in Charlotte?
I believe the art scene in Charlotte is underappreciated. There are movements, but the arts, especially local, don’t get the support they could. Programs hire and fund the same people, often overlooking things that don’t fit the norm. It has become harder to get the same support for people from the area that is given to people from other places.
Have you had a spectacular failure you’d be willing to tell us about?
I haven’t had a failure because I see giving up is the only point in which you actually fail. As long as you are willing and able to keep moving, you still have a chance to define your success. I almost locked in a huge publishing deal once with a major company. For a few reasons, it didn’t happen. It felt bad at first because it would have changed my life and life for those I care about greatly. But I understood that wasn’t the end, just an option.
When was the first time art had an impact on you?
Ernie Barnes’ art from the television series, “Good Times.” He was a professional black artist from North Carolina with his art on TV. I had never seen that before. I always wanted to meet him and thank him, but never got the chance.
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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