Christina “Steenz” Stewart initially studied studio art with a focus on illustration while attending Maryville University. Although she honed her visual craft there, she realized she didn’t quite get the tools to become a professional cartoonist.
After leaving Maryville University, she picked up various jobs in editing and retail, eventually landing a job at Star Clipper, a local comic book store. It was there that she decided to try her hand at making comics. She would submit to Ink and Drink Comics, a local monthly gathering of comic fans releasing semi-annual themed short story anthologies, and collaborate on projects with friends.
It wasn’t until she saw comic artist Brittany Williams’ name on a Samurai Jack comic that Stewart realized she could make being a comic artist a career.
“I really do believe that, as corny as it sounds, ‘seeing is believing.’ … I never thought in my head that, ‘Oh, I can’t make comics’ … It was just never an idea that came to my mind. And I think a large part of why that’s true is because I never saw people that looked like me doing comics,” Stewart said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air.
“The second I saw [Williams’] name on [the comic] … I was like, ‘Wait a second; she’s a black woman, she’s making comics — I can do that too,’ and finally it kind of clicked for me too.”
She’s now immersed fully in the craft — from consumption to distribution. Most recently, she took over for artist Mark Tatulli’s “Heart of the City” comic strip. He’s been at its helm for the 22 years it’s been syndicated, and Stewart is now one of the few black women in charge of strips that run in mainstream newspapers.
“I’m really happy that I’m getting the notoriety that I have so that can be the same thing [as Williams’ was for her] for other black comic readers,” she said.
“Heart of the City” follows the life of title character Heart Lamarr, who is now in middle school. Stewart said she was inspired by how activist-minded younger generations are and wants to give Heart more friends of color — and bring teenage issues to the forefront.
“[Diversity] is always there in real life, so it should be reflected in comics as well. [And] the direction that I’m taking it is definitely more focused on her middle school issues and adventures,” Stewart explained.
“We’re going to talk about friends, how to actually be a good friend to somebody, and gender and relationships and family dynamics — that sort of stuff, all wrapped up in little, humorous vignettes.”
In the coming weeks, Stewart is collaborating with the Bail Project on a piece for Vice. The comic will touch on real issues unhoused residents deal with when put on electronic monitoring systems.
In addition to being a cartoonist, Stewart is a comic editor and teaches at Webster University.
Listen to the full conversation:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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