It’s time for a little Moon prism power (with a sprinkle of melanin magic)!
Welcome back to Black Joy, a series by Reckon’s Black Magic Project focuses on Black empowerment of all types – including those conjured up by Black artists, cosplayers, illustrators from across the South.
Started off with a key phrase from the famed anime series “Sailor Moon” because we are transforming this issue so it is all about Blacktober. During this month-long art challenge, Black creatives take their favorite non-Black anime, cartoon, book or video game characters and recreate them as Black.
All October long, the world has been blessed with Black Narutos, Disney princesses and Harley Quinns. #Blacktober has flooded social media, strengthening the community of Black creatives by giving them space to support each other’s work while also defending each other as they fight off racial harassment.
So I was able to an interview with Cel Cottrell, who co-created the global phenomenon of Blacktober with Afro-Caribbean and Dutch illustrator Céli Godfried. Cottrell is from Philly and Godfried lives in the Netherlands, but I also caught a few Black, southern illustrators who participated in the challenge.
Cottrell said a few factors played a role when creating Blacktober. The United Kingdom celebrates Black History Month in October. So, it was a perfect time for Black artists to come together and have fun. But the challenge was also a response to the drama around another art challenge called Inktober.
The tea is this: Inktober’s creator, Jake Parker, has been accused of plagiarizing the work of Black illustrator Alphonso Dunn. So instead of participating in Inktober, Cottrell said they wanted to create a month to celebrate themselves.
“Black artists and black creators were kind of being fed up with being stolen from and taken from,” Cottrell said. “We were like, ‘You know, we are not going to participate in Inktober. We are going to do something else and make our own event.”
Name: Cel Cottrell
Gig: Tournament operator for Nerd Street Gamers, Founder of Black Card Members on Twitter
This was the first year of this challenge and it has blown up. What are some of your favorite drawings from Blacktober so far?
Oh, Jesus. I would have to say for sure that I love some of the “Soul Eater” drawings. “Soul Eater” is like a classic for me. There are so many Shegos (From “Kim Possible”) and so many Kikis from “Kiki’s Delivery Service” that I really love. I am not complaining about how many I am seeing either. Anyone who has drawn Harley Quinn, automatically captured my heart. She is my favorite. I’ve also seen “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Johnny Bravos.”
I see a lot more of the anime side (than the American cartoon side) because it is also what I personally grew up with.
So how did the whole anime and video gaming journey begin for you?
It has been around me since forever. With both of my parents high-key being anime nerds. My mom especially. I would not be into anime or gaming if it weren’t for my mom. She was the one who sat me in front of Sega Genesis and told me to play “Sonic the Hedgehog.” She was the one who told me when I was younger, “Go watch ‘Death Note.’ Go watch ‘Bleach.’”
She is the blueprint. Literally. The rest of my family is the same way. My grandmother? She is a big fan of “Yu-Gi-Oh.” My brother, he is a big Fortnite fan. My other siblings love Minecraft.
So how does racism show its face in the virtual world?
Unfortunately, with the Internet, people have access to being able to make it seem like a lot more racism than what it actually is. There are many different accounts, but one person is behind those accounts. There are definitely hateful people out there and there is racism around us everywhere not just from white people, but from other people of color as well. Be it Hispanic, Asian. Anti-blackness is everywhere.
It is something you can’t avoid, but the great thing about the Internet is that you’re behind a screen. You cannot affect me. What you say cannot actually harm me. It may make me a little sad, but when I am really sitting here and thinking about it, who is the one sitting here and being successful and who is going on the internet to try to make other people feel bad for their own pleasure? And that is how I have been able to deflect people this past month.
So how does Blacktober fight against that racism?
With Blacktober, it actually was not meant to be a movement. It was not meant to be activism. It’s not meant to be any sort of big statement. We did not expect this event to blow up the way it did. We literally just wanted to have fun. At the end of the day, that’s still what Blacktober is. Blacktober is a fun event, and we don’t want people coming to hijack it and saying this is a big political movement.
Why does black joy and black happiness have to be a political statement? Why can’t we just have fun? When someone says this is a political movement, we shut it down immediately and say, “No it’s not. This person just drew Naruto with a durag on. Please tell me how this is activism to you?”
What is your response to the criticism from those who don’t like to see the reanimations of non-Black characters or for non-Black creatives who not being able to participate in this challenge?
People have been doing redraws and art like this since forever. This is not anything new. It’s just all congregated now to one event and people don’t like that. They see the happiness. They see the joy from other people and they are just like, “How dare you have a good time? How dare you say we cannot participate in this?”
And it’s just like, “Well, Why don’t you make one then?” You just don’t have to be hateful about it. And that’s what a lot of people are actually doing, too. There’s Nativember coming up next month, which will be an entire month kind of like Blacktober except it is for indigenous, Native American and First Nations people. So that is going to be really cool. The person who is organizing that reached out to me for tips and advice.
We want other people to do stuff like this. We want to see other people loving themselves the way we are loving ourselves because, at the end of the day, this is us spreading our own joy. This is us spreading our cultural joy. We want to see other people do that and no one is holding them back. No one is stopping them.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT NATIVEMBER!!!!!! I'm literally so excited to boost this event next month it's gonna be great! https://t.co/i5YjkmOCCI
— Cel C. @ #Blacktober (@TheActualCel) October 19, 2020
So what were your thoughts about folks from the South who were participating in Blacktober?
Not everyone who is doing this says, “Hi, I’m from the South.” But when I really thought about it, I was like, “Huh. I wonder how many of my followers who I have retweeted are from the South?”
It was quite a lot actually. There are a lot of people who are from Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina and stuff like that. It really made me think like, “dang, how do I pick out a few of you when there are so many of you.”
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
Gig now: Senior at Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Dream gig: Wants to pitch his own animated show and become a showrunner
Classic cartoon/Anime favs: “Sailor Moon” and “Astro Boy”
I’m very excited to talk to someone from the ‘Sip! My family roots are near Jackson and I went to college there. So tell me a little bit about the shows that inspired you and when did you start to see your first Black characters?
“Sailor Moon” was a big inspiration to me. Personality wise, I can relate to Sailor Mercury more, but I like Sailor Saturn more. She’s cool. As far as the animation in the show, I liked the shot compositions and how every frame could be its own poster. I really enjoy things that prioritize visuals, but it doesn’t take away from the plot or anything.
I also liked “Astro Boy.” Personally, it was the manga I was really into. A lot of the covers had a kind of weird, dystopian vibe.
It was ages before I ever really saw a Black character. I think the first black character I saw was Static Shock and he went away out of nowhere. There were a lot of Black side characters, but not main characters like Tucker in “Danny Phantom”, AJ in “Fairly Odd Parents”. It was a long time before I saw a Black main character.
Yeah, I noticed that growing up, too. Did that lack of representation affect your work?
You know it’s crazy. I didn’t know how to draw Black people the first few years of my artistic experience.
Whenever I was first getting into art, having a little persona for yourself was really important. The first one I made was white because I didn’t know how to draw Black people and there was no push for that. Our school didn’t give us a lot of Black references. Art history was largely composed of white artists. I guess I said, “I mean, if this is all they are going to teach me. This is all I got.”
It sounds like there was a lot of absence of Black art in your life. When did you begin to embrace creating Black characters?
When I realized no one would do it for me. Which is kind of why I want to be a showrunner. I hear a lot of valid complaints about lack of representation and they are like, “Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you make your own?”
I was like, “You know what? Fair point. I will make my own.”
Now I get comments like, “Why don’t you draw any white people?”
Once I got away from my teachers who were teaching predominantly-white art and art history and stuff, I would go to this comic shop and I found this comic book of a character named Spawn, who is Black. I was like, “Holy sh*t, this is crazy.”
Then I started to see comics for Miles Morales and “Spider Punk”. I was kind of heavy in my anarchy phase. So Spider Punk was the only personality trait I could relate to for a very long time. He’s black. It was cool. So there was a lot more variety than what I was being presented with at the time because it was very underrated. You had to hunt for it.
How does Blacktober bring you Black joy?
Being Black, it’s like you cannot exist without your existence being politicized. It is kind of inherent somehow. Just you being somewhere comes off as political.
But Blacktober brought me joy because it was nice to see characters who look like me, which is something we didn’t have a chance to see. If someone shows Luffy from “One Piece” as Black, that’s an anime about pirates. So, I think it was a breath of fresh air to see Black characters existing in otherwise predominantly-white spaces.
I’m wondering if that lack of representation also plays a role in the classroom. Since you are in college, is there are a lot of people of color in your courses?
At my school, I would not say there’s a lot of people of color. It’s definitely predominantly-white, which comes with its own headaches.
I literally heard a white boy say, “I have an inner sassy Black woman.” Microaggressions are pretty frequent. During the quest to be different, because you want to stand out, a lot of artists will do things that are culturally disrespectful. So, there has been some clashing with me mentioning things like that during critiques in class.
One animation of yours that really caught my attention was your cartoon about the “N-word pass.” Now, how did that come about?
That one is very, very charged. I had roommates at my college who had one of their friends send me a message calling me the N-word and other transphobic stuff. So I made the “N-word pass.”
I made the characters look like them and I presented that to my class for critique because I was fed up with it. No one was talking about it. The supervisor at my school wasn’t doing anything about it besides just brushing it off.
There have been several instances like that, which is why I make exclusively Black characters. It was two separate events when something like that has happened. I just got to the point where I said, “You know, I am kind of tired of this.”
Another good thing about Blacktober is that it also introduces people to your original artwork and characters. Can you tell me about your character Atlas and the digital comic you have online?
I had a class assignment to create a “show pitch,” and I wanted to create a character who subverted what is expected out of Black boys. So instead of being traditionally “strong,” Atlas is vulnerable. He cries and loves people around him. He is a really happy-go-lucky kind of kid.
The web comic is my pride and joy right now. It has an all-Black cast. I always make jokes with my friends about I want Black people to have something as stupid and long winded as “Supernatural.”
I just wanted it to be fun and silly. I wanted it to be about four Black boys that go on ghost adventures. Whatever happens in between there happens. I wanted something light-hearted because I feel like most Black media is related to something like violence or slavery. We can’t have something that is just kind of stupid.
I know you are in Minneapolis right now, but do you have plans to come back home to the South?
I want to. Maybe open up a studio or something.
There are a lot of things I grew up with culturally that I would like to keep up with in my work. Even down to the certain hairstyles I give characters, or the way characters dress kind of derives from my time in Mississippi. Things like how characters speak and the phrases they use. Apparently, the saying “cut off the lights” isn’t common here (in Minneapolis”) People will be like, “What do you mean cut off the lights?” and I say, “I mean, flip them off!”
Even the foods (the characters) eat. Foods like Kool-Aid pickles are only in Mississippi, which seems like a travesty.
Please put a neighborhood candy lady in an episode of your show. I would love that.
I will! It’s going to be about rotel, candy ladies, Kool-Aid pickles and cutting off lights.
Location: Norfolk, Virginia
Gig: Graphic designer
Dream gig: Children’s books illustrator
Classic favs: “Cowboy Bebop”, “Inuyasha”, “Sailor Moon”
How were you inspired by the cartoons around you?
When I was growing up, I was definitely a Disney girl. I remember being in elementary school and I loved Cinderella and I wanted to be Cinderella. But I remember someone in school telling me that I couldn’t be her because I was brown and Cinderella isn’t brown. My mom didn’t care, so I got to be Cinderella anyway.
When you’re a kid, you don’t realize that (representation) is important to you. I remember seeing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” with Brandy and Whitney Houston and being blown away like, “Oh, my god, it’s a Black Cinderella with braids. She looks like me. And there is a family who is multiracial.”
To this day I still sing the songs and I watch it.
Whitney Houston is the greatest singer of all time. So, it’s one of my favorite films, too. Let’s go back to when a kid said you couldn’t be Cinderella because you’re Black. How did you take those words at first?
At that point in my life, I haven’t really thought about race. I went to a pretty diverse elementary school. Most of my teachers were white, but I did have a Black kindergarten and first-grade teacher. My best friend was white and it was just never something I considered or thought about until that moment. I thought, “oh, my gosh. I’m different.”
It’s just a moment when you are just living your life carefree and the world is full of magic and then all of a sudden, someone says you can’t be something because of the way you look.
But my mom always taught me to do what I wanted to do and not let anyone tell me what to do. But looking back, I didn’t share as much of myself as I probably should have at school after that. At home, I was a goofball, but I tried to keep my interest to myself at school because I didn’t want to be judged for liking something that maybe didn’t fit with what was expected of me.
So how did becoming an illustrator help you navigate that world?
My mom definitely was the person who pushed me to be creative. I was probably in the fifth grade and I showed her a drawing I did in Crayola crayon and she asked me, “This is really pretty, but how come you never draw any brown girls?”
I looked at it and I looked over my other drawings and she was right. It never really dawned on me that I was drawing people on TV. I wasn’t really drawing people like me. When I did draw me, it was very Eurocentric. I had the anime pointy hair, small nose and green eyes. I thought, “this isn’t me.”
So from that moment on, I tried to make a conscious effort to draw more brown-skinned people. I asked myself, “Why don’t I draw Black girls? What’s wrong with me?”
From then on, I almost exclusively draw brown people. I don’t mind drawing people of other races and identities, but there needs to be more. My goal for myself is if I can make one little brown girl feel accepted and seen, then I have done some good in the world.
So for Blacktober I saw that you redrew characters from the MTV show “Daria.” What lead you to do that piece?
When I was thinking about what characters, a lot of them just came from different phases I went through growing up. I definitely went through my angsty-teen phase and “Daria” just kind of spearheaded that – Just watching a lot of MTV and being pessimistic about things. I loved Daria because she keeps it real.
I was actually shocked at the number of the people who liked it and shared it on Twitter because I didn’t think I was going to get the kind of response back.
It seems like a lot of Black creatives gained attention through Blacktober. How did the challenge give you Black joy?
It was amazing to see that much Black talent and people being supportive of each other. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who didn’t agree with Blacktober and a lot of artists ended up getting harassed.
It was nice to see our community come together to support those artists. Complete strangers just showing their love of art, defending each other and speaking out against people being racists. That was just really powerful to me.
It got me thinking about how I would relate to this character had they’ve been Black. Someone did Emily from “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” My mom read those books to me when I was a kid. It’s almost like the best example of a story where the character could have been Black and it would not have changed a thing. It’s a story about a girl with a huge dog. So I am seeing characters who I haven’t even thought about in a long time.
What would you say to people who think that recreating a non-Black character to look like you is wrong?
If we had equal representation across the board, then yeah, I can see someone being a little upset, but we don’t have that. So it kind of speaks to a need people wanted to see for a very long time.
Most of the female characters, or characters in general, that I had to look up to didn’t look like me. I had to grow up relating to white characters and that was just kind of the norm. I did have my Susie Carmichael (from “Rugrats”) and Number 5 (From “Kids Next Door”), but that was pretty much it. When I was really young, it wasn’t something that concerned me. But once I started getting into playing video games with other kids and was deciding which character I wanted to be, that was when it started to register that I didn’t have any characters to choose from.
So really Blacktober is about, at least for me, seeing characters who I loved growing up, reimagining them as someone who looks like me and giving myself that person to relate to on that level because a lot of these characters could be brown and it wouldn’t change the story.
How do you think seeing Black characters changes a child’s worldview and place in the world?
I think it can broaden the scope of what we can be. Unfortunately, a lot of the times I heard, “Oh, you can’t do that. That’s white people stuff.” Or “That’s not what Black people listen to.” I loved to listen to classical music growing up and I liked to watch ballet on TV and they would be like, “Oh, that’s weird. Why do you do that?”
So, I think if you have a broader range of characters who don’t fall into these stereotypes that we do see, a kid can be like, ‘Yeah, I can do that. I’ve seen someone else do that. My favorite character did that.”
So making a white character Black, it releases them from stereotypes and they just become that character.
Name : Christian Bradley
Pronouns: He / Him
Location: Tampa Florida
Gig: Freelance artist / Illustrator
Classic cartoon/anime favs: Digimon
Where to find him: Twitter, Instagram
Which cartoons caught your eye growing up and how did the lack of representation of Black people affect you?
I was into “Dragon Ball Z” and I liked all the “Pokémon” games growing up. But it was something about Digimon that gravitated to me.
My first hobby was drawing different things. I gravitated towards it. My father is an artist. I remember watching the “Proud Family” and he would stop the show at certain parts and he would draw Oscar Proud and it would be on point. So I kind of got it from him.
I remember drawing my own character and showing it to my dad. I had to be under ten years old. He liked it, but he was like, “Why don’t you draw any Black characters?” I remember just being like, “Because there are no Black characters. You almost never get them.”
I remember seeing tan characters like Brock on “Pokémon,” but it was like you didn’t really know if he was Black. As a kid, I felt like there were a lot of ambiguously-Black characters.
With “Afro Samurai”, I definitely knew he was Black. Around that time “The Boondocks” came around. I think I was in middle school.
So how did it affect you when you did see Afro Samurai and other characters who looked
I might have not known it then, but it definitely opened up my horizons to think that, “Ok, there are Black characters in anime.”
In middle school, I made a comic called Afro Thunder. The main character had an afro and he had two best friends. One of them was Indian and another white.
It hit a point in time where I was like, “Why do the characters they draw have to be something other than my color.” I wanted to see that reflected more and I was like, “I am going to go ahead and take that on.”
I remember in high school, for some reason, I heard a lot of people tell me, “Go be the lawyer. Go be doctor.” If you became an engineer, they made it sound like you were set for life. But I don’t remember anyone encouraging artists to do what they love. So, what made you choose this career path?
Growing up it was always kind of looked down upon, or not really thought of as a main career, to do art. So, I kept it as a hobby and I went to school to University of South Florida to pursue pharmacy because your parents want you to be “successful.” Being a pharmacist or a doctor is a career that can make you successful.
But I would be doing homework and be thinking about drawing or being a cartoonist or a character designer.
How did you switch from pharmacy to illustration and how was that transition for you?
I ended up not finishing my bachelors and I moved to Atlanta in 2017. I was thinking about going to Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. I didn’t really have it all planned out. It ended up being way too expensive. But as I was getting a job and working, any free time I had, I was just trying to draw and get my stuff out on social media.
At that time, that was when I started seeing people on Instagram doing art and kind of blowing up with it and being able to sustain their lifestyles by taking commissions. It clicked in my head that if I can’t be a character designer at the moment, there’s always me putting out art and getting commissions to do that. That’s when I noticed that I could make art my career path.
Right now, my main focus is doing just that. I moved back to Tampa in 2019. I started working on two different webtoons with clients. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job at the moment. I am just focusing on putting out my own work. Just trying to pursue the whole dream of just being able to do my art and being able to sustain my life.
I know it cannot be easy, especially during the first couple of tries, to get your work out there. What were the struggles that you faced and how did you keep your head up?
The struggles early on, especially now with the algorithm on Instagram, it is harder for your stuff to be seen. Some days you look at different people’s stuff and notice how many likes and followers they have. Sometimes you have to sit down with yourself and be like, “What is for you is for you. This isnt’ a competition. You are in competition with yourself. Just keep doing that and people will gravitate towards it. Likes and follows don’t determine your worth at the end of the day.”
One of the pieces you submitted to me was an original character of yours called Flowerchild. What type of vibe did you want this character to give off and why did you create her?
I was just going with whatever I was feeling at that moment. Halfway into it, I was kind of like this is something different than what I usually do. It’s more on the cute and girly side. I wanted people to see a different side of my work and also to kind of give off that fairytale, fantasy, flowery vibe as well.
So one of your pieces that hit home for me was the Kingdom Hearts redraw. It was my first video game growing up and I am still obsessed with the series. That artwork brought me joy. What about Blacktober brought brings you Black joy?
The fact of seeing so many different creatives and their different interpretations of blackness. You never
know how your art is going to affect the next person.
With the Kingdom Hearts piece, someone commented that there isn’t a of representation in that series when you think about it. People were like, “Oh, I hope this makes it to the Kingdom Hearts creator’s desk to see if they can put some Black characters in the game.”
It’s different things like that. Asking for representation in certain things. Giving ourselves the power to create characters or anime with people who look like us during Blacktober is also empowering.
Don’t forget that you, dear reader, are empowering as well. Now, go forth and spread your melanin magic! Until next time.
Your weekly roundup of Black Joy is produced by the Black Magic Project, a Facebook group where we celebrate and discuss Black culture and community. You can join the group and spread your own melanin magic by clicking here.