Illustration by Robyn Smith

“The Saddest, Angriest Black Girl in Town” Creates Iconic Image


Submitted 6 months ago
Created by
rebecca.straw

Meet Robyn Smith. Yes, she's from Jamaica, but please don't stare.

Although Robyn Smith was enrolled in the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, she assumed that she would never become a comic artist. The only comics she knew were the serial comics that appear in daily newspapers. A talented portrait artist living in Jamaica, Smith drew slowly with care and precision, lacking the speed needed for a daily cartoon strip. Yet, Smith came to the CCS because she longed to tell stories through her art – not just create a single image.

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At CCS, Smith learned to draw more rapidly and developed her own cartooning style. She was also introduced to a huge spectrum of cartoon and graphic art. Graphic novels have increasingly shed their superhero personas to illustrate the lives of cape-less, normal human beings. They can span many genres, from children’s fiction to memoir.

Smith has used the medium to explore the intersection of race and mental health in her own autobiographical comic, The Saddest, Angriest Black Girl in Town. While CCS enriched her art, her experience as a woman from Jamaica in White River Junction has been filled with “isolation and anxiety,” she says.

Creating an Iconic Image

Smith tapped into both her skills as a cartoonist and a portrait artist to create the poster image for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill," which is playing at the Engine Room in White River Junction from May 24-27, at the Grange Theatre in Pomfret from May 31-June 1, and at Main Street Landing in Burlington from June 7-10. Jarvis Green, the artistic director for JAG Productions, asked Robyn to design the artwork for the play that recreates Billie Holiday’s final performance – a performance in a seedy bar to an audience of eight.

A few of the thumbnail sketches Smith drew.

Both Green and Smith wanted an image that would be easily recognized as Billie Holiday but would show the jazz vocalist from a novel perspective. As Smith researched Billie Holiday – her life and appearance – she knew that flowers would be a necessary part of her illustration. In most portraits and photographs, Holiday appears wearing a cluster of gardenias in her hair. 

Smith created a few thumbnails for Green to consider. Eventually, they selected a composition that combines an intimate rendering of Holiday singing and a more distant angle of her in the spotlight, as the audience might see her.


When Smith first drew the portrait, she envisioned it in lavender, but she later changed the color to a warm mango before showing it to Green. He loved everything about it but the color: could it be a light purple instead? 

Smith will return to Jamaica in July. After enjoying her homecoming, she plans to seek a new residence in the U.S., and she hopes to publish her own graphic novel. Currently, she is working with Jamila Rowser to illustrate Wash Day, a graphic novel exploring a black woman’s natural hair care. 

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