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Look up at the sky!

It’s a bird?

Is it a plane.

It’s…..you.

(And before you get started no this newsletter is not going to be about the Netflix series “You.” Joe and Love’s toxic relationship has no space here lol.)

But is about you being the superhero of your own story. Now, we may not be fighting off giant monsters or demons. Your archnemesis maybe all things adulting. But metaphorically speaking, we all have more power than we think to change the issues we see in the world.

Today, we will introduce you to two Black southerners who are adding more melanin magic to the predominately white illustrative world. Whether you know how to draw or naw, I’m hoping our two interviews will inspire you to make that move – big or small – to make the world better for yourself and others.

But before we all glow up and transform, consider passing around the Black Joy by forwarding this newsletter to a couple of your folks.

Let’s get it!

— Starr

Manga mania with Blake Showers

Blake Showers is changing up the manga industry one illustration at a time.

The Birmingham native would check out stacks on stacks of manga books from his local library when he was a kid. He dove into stories featuring kid protagonists, like Pokémon Adventures, which is based on the anime. But even in these epic tales, he found something that was lacking: characters who looked and acted like him.

Now 28, Showers is creating artwork that aims to increase Black representation in manga, otherwise known as Japanese comics. His manga series, “4strikes,” follows Meleak Williams, a shy, timid Black teen who becomes a bat-wielding demon hunter. The series is co-written by Showers’ editor – and fellow Birminghamian – Daniel Williams and is published in Saturday AM, which is the world’s most diverse manga anthology. While he is now studying art education in Pennsylvania, “4strikes” still has many Southern touches, which Showers talks more about in my story on Reckon’s site.

To give y’all a taste of Showers’ work, I asked him to share some of his Blacktober artwork. You can read more about the month-long art challenge that asks Black creatives to reanimate non-Black characters as Black in last week’s Black Joy.

Showers said Blacktober’s daily prompts, which are posted on social media at the beginning of the month, challenged him to be creative on a deadline – factors that are important while working in the manga industry. He chats with me about his favorite Blacktober submissions and why they brought him so much joy.

Day 1 – Greetings: Along with redrawing or cosplaying non-Black characters, Blacktober participants have also used the prompts to share their original work or a moment of joy, like a favorite family memory. Showers introduced himself by drawing up different types of Black people – old, young, dark skinned and light skinned – along with a spread of hairstyles. Not surprising, since he entertains his legion of 189 thousand TikTok followers through art tutorials. His clips about the versatility of Black hair have collectively gain him millions of views and caught the eyes of a few major sponsorships, like Mountain Dew. We’re talking box braidscornrows with the edge up and the fade, an afro mohawk with braided up sides.

“I really wanted to show a broad spectrum of just different kinds of black people to show like, ‘Hey, my people aren’t just this or that,’” Showers said of his Blacktober piece, “One thing that drives me nuts is playing a video game and a character only having like Afro or braids. But there are so many ways you can show Black people’s hair. There’s so many ways you can make this person more personable to the player of the game.”

Day 2 – Black Joy: Showers’ artistic style is actually influenced by the multiple ways he found joy during his childhood. Along with reading manga, Showers said he really enjoyed listening to southern hip hop with his dad. So, he decided to spread more joy some more with this Blacktober piece, which was inspired by videos of parents who tried to prank their kids by having horror characters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees sneak up on them. But he noticed that most of the kids would just laugh.

“The kids don’t find this stuff scary like they’re supposed to,” Showers said. “I have a little cousin who is really into horror stuff. She loves “Chucky” and “It” and just all these things that I wouldn’t have watched when I was younger. This is kind of based on her a little bit. Like, there’s nothing wrong with liking horror films or anything weird.”

‘We are beautiful’

Morgan Bissant has come a long way since she started drawing people who looked like potatoes.

Her mother says she has been drawing since she was one. And in the first grade, Bissant actually got in trouble because she drew so much while in class. But sis kept sketching away despite disses from adults who told her she wouldn’t make a living as an illustrator during high school.

Now the 30-year-old New Orleans illustrator has become a sought-after talent. Her more than 23,200 Instagram followers have awed at Bissant’s stretching her illustrative muscles by redrawing a range of anime characters as Black. She also draws her own renditions of Black life during different time periods. While I am a big fan of how she reanimated  “Demon Slayer” characters, her re-illustration of a 1972 Ebony Magazine wig ad also slays as much as the hair styles from back in the day.

Bissant chats with me about the artwork that has brought her joy along the way. She’s heavy on the skin tones and other Black features when it comes to her work. Bissant noticed the lack of Black main characters as a child. She hopes to change that through her art.

“I hope they can feel a sense of inclusion – a reminder that we are beautiful,” Bissant said. “I want them to see what we may not have seen growing up – more characters who look like us in the forefront and being important”

Inuyasha: Inuyasha wasn’t her all-time favorite anime. But at the request of a fan of the anime, she decided to do a redraw of some of the Inuyasha characters – but with a twist. Inuyasha is set during Japan’s Sengoku Period, which falls between 1467 and the early 1600s. So Bissant got on top of her research game and decided to place the characters in an African kingdom that existed around the same time frame. Bissant picked the Songhai Empire, which was the dominant kingdom in West Africa during the 15th and 16th centuries. She reworked the characters’ clothing, jewelry, hair and headdresses. She even translated the characters’ names to Zarma, which is one of the Songhai languages.

Bissant studied Swahili and pre-colonial African history during college. So, she really wanted to work that knowledge in while redrawing Inuyasha.

“It’s just always cool to see that kind of stuff because, I never really saw that growing up,” Bissant said. “While I enjoyed a lot of the cartoons, movies and things that I saw, you didn’t really see a lot of stuff for us, and even when we saw stuff from different countries, it would be like France or Italy.”

Marcella: The viral nature of Bissant’s work also helps her get more eyes on some of her original characters, some of which are faith-centered. Marcella is based off Ephesians Chapter 6, which describes the armor of God. Bissant said the armor empowers Marcella to fight demons and evil spirits.
Like with her Inuyasha series, Bissant also looked to African culture as she illustrated Marcella. This time, she pulled from the Tuareg people, a seminomadic people who reside in North and West Africa. Marcella’s weapon is based off a Tuareg sword.

Since Bissant isn’t much of a writer, Marcella hasn’t been included in a story yet. But when she does get her chance to shine, Bissant said she wants Marcella’s personality to stretch beyond the labels placed on Black women on television.

“Marcella is a warrior, but she’s still a really passive, shy lady who doesn’t like talking and isn’t really like super angry or in your face,” Bissant said. “We already see the angry Black lady sort of thing.”

That’s all I have for y’all this week. Now go up, up and away and continue to spread your Black Joy! See ya’ next time!