Using Illustration to Empower The Community: The Ervin Johnson Interview

In America, the overall image of the black man that’s shown to us is a negative one. If you pay attention to the media’s portrayal of Black society you would think our most prominent figures are either athletes or entertainers.
So, when Melanated Fathers of America finally got the opportunity to speak with the creator of the comic strip Single Dad Diaries, Ervin Johnson. We were extremely excited to show our audience that there are many layers of black creativity & expression.
During our interview, we discussed the differences between his father and stepfather, the relationship he has with his son & why he decided to use illustration to empower the Black community!!!



Okay Ervin, talk to us about the Dynamics of your household growing up??

Okay, so I’m the oldest of four children. I had two brothers and one sister, one brother is actually deceased now. My father is still alive but he and my mother divorced some years ago. So, I would say from my early teens my mom was a single parent.

My father and I keep in touch and every now and again we do get together. Recently, he fixed something on my car for me and in return, I took him to his favorite spot to eat, which is Cracker Barrel. He’s from Georgia and that place has a southern feel to it.

I think it reminds him of his childhood or something(Laughs), ‘cause I can’t get him to go anywhere else.

You mention that your parents divorced before you were a teenager. When your dad was in the house with you, how was your relationship with him??

My father was one of those old-school dad’s, he believed in working really hard, so he was always busy. When he had down time I remember him being the life of the party, always outgoing and everybody wanted to hang with him.

He wasn’t a touchy-feely type of father. However, every now and again if you said something he thought was funny he would acknowledge you by palming your head with a little twist. (Laughs)

So, once he left we would get phone calls from time to time, but at that age, it wasn’t much to talk about. We didn’t see him much at all until we were no longer children.

Did you have a male role model growing up, since your dad wasn’t around?

As a matter of fact, I did. He was my stepfather. He was a silent type of guy, but he wanted to get in good with my mother, so he made more of an effort. He was a military man who enjoyed teaching us some judo techniques he had learned. Overall, he was a very good role model.

What were some of the biggest things you learned from your father and your stepfather??

From my father, I learned that appearance can be a big thing. My father was always a great dresser. He always paid a lot of attention to what he was wearing. His shoes were always shined. He always had a hat on with a brim or a Kangol cap.  

He made sure to be polite to people and was very approachable. I learned from my stepfather that priorities come first. My father captured people with his wit and charm. He was a storyteller but my step-father was more of a disciplined man, more methodical.

I paid attention to both of them growing up and learned from what I saw and what I didn’t see because I wanted to make sure I had valuable information to pass on to my child.

Speaking of kids, how many do you have?

I have one son that is 21 years old.

From your perspective how has your relationship been with your son?

Our relationship is great, and I’ve told him on more than one occasion he’s the best thing that has happened in my life. When you have a really good kid it feels like you have to remind yourself that you’re their parent. I understand that being friends with your kids can be detrimental, so I was always mindful of that.

He is in the Navy. He will be going on his third year pretty soon and it’s something that he decided to do on his own. I didn’t want to force my path on him. I was actually proud of him but initially, he tried to hide the fact that he wanted to go to the Navy from me.

I brought him to his recruiter once, thinking he was filling out civilian job applications he heard about from a friend. I was disappointed that he didn’t trust me enough to share with me his goals. We had a conversation about it in the parking lot of the place, and it just tore him up inside that I was disappointed, because he wanted to impress me. It was important for him to pay his own way and I respect that.

I just wanted to make sure I provided an environment where he felt comfortable telling me anything, and ended up raising a son who wanted to find his own way in life. I let him know that you’re going to make plenty of friends in life but none of them are going to have your back like your mom and dad. I gave him some dap and a tissue, we stopped for some cheesesteaks and went home to stream a movie.

You’re definitely right about that, once your child leaves your home the world can be a cold place. So, let’s talk about your comic strip for a minute: Single Dad Diaries, tell us a little bit about why you decided to create that? 

In this country, I think that the black man gets really bad PR. I feel like this is a gift that I was given. I had an opportunity to start this career right after high school and go to a really good School of the Arts, but I passed on it.

At my previous job that I worked at for maybe 13 or 14 years, I became known for bringing my son to work on days when there wasn’t school or something. I had this idea of doing a comic with that premise. It definitely concerns me how the black man is treated in this country. When you look at the news and all of the black men that get shot while unarmed, it’s ridiculous.

Even looking at a lot of the negative things people say on social media. So, I thought it would be an honor to God as well as my son. I try to keep a moral compass with the comic strip even with all the zaniness because you have to keep your readers engaged. I try to mix it up, but ultimately with the comic strip, I’m trying to evoke a certain emotion from the father-son relationship.

I definitely want to get more people reading and just help everyone start the day with a smile. I want my comic strip to be the first thing people read in the morning and hopefully put a smile on their face. I try not to make the topics too heavy. I definitely want the adults that read my comic strip to share with their kids, just to get them in the habit of reading. 

I like your approach. I think a comic strip is a great way to get people of all ages reading. Okay, last question. In your opinion, how important is the black father / black man to the overall structure of the black community?

I think it’s very important. I try to spend time on social media promoting just to get a gauge for what people are saying and how people feel about things. When I see some of the stuff young brothers are putting up there, I just cringe.

I wish they would understand that how other people relate to us, is in part our own fault.  It’s important for black men to look beyond their own lives and think about what’s in the best interest of us all.


Thank you for taking the time to share your story, Ervin!! Melanated Fathers of America appreciates your input!!!   

Connect with Ervin:

Facebook: @Ervinjohnson @singledaddiaries



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