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What did your R&R look like during childhood?

Did you spend your Saturday mornings watching cartoons with a bowl of cereal? Were you like me and spent the weekend grinding it out on your favorite video game or pulling all-nighters with your favorite anime?

Here’s a better question: How many of those characters were Black? I’m not talking sidekicks, y’all. I’m talking main characters – especially in fantasy video game arena.

There’s a league of Black illustrators, content creators and coding geniuses changing the game (literally) when it comes to increasing the diversity in the multiverse of visual and digital entertainment. Many of them are getting a chance to show out and support each other during Blacktober, a month-long challenge calling on Black creatives to take some of their favorite non-Black anime, cartoon, video game or book characters and recreate them as Black. Follow the Blacktober hashtag on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter and you’ll find Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” with red locs and Black beauties cosplaying as Nezuko from “Demon Slayer.”

When Blacktober started last year, I was able to chat with one of the co-creators, Cel Cottrell, and some Southern illustrators about how they used joy to animate a predominately-white world. I had so much fun, that I had to bring in some more voices to expand on the conversation as the second year of Blacktober comes to a close on the 31st.

Please pass this newsletter along to your blerd friends and fam so we can all celebrate together.

Calamity Darling slayin’ racism & misogyny 

While Blacktober has always been open to illustrators, cosplayers and fan fiction writers, the creators have decided to expand the territory to include gamers and game developers this year. So I reached out to Calamity Darling, a queer content creator whose love for role playing and narrative-based games like Kingdom Hearts has transformed into a mission to make the virtual world a more inclusive space for Black, brown and neurodivergent gamers.

Calamity currently lives in northern Florida, where they originally landed a job that gave them  the ability to pay for school and learn more about software development. While Calamity was understanding the assignment in college, COVID-19 struck like an evil villain busting out the veil of night. Both their job and schooling became casualties of the pandemic.

So in June 2020, Calamity started streaming video games from their Twitch account despite their social anxiety. It actually turned out not to be too bad, they said. Streaming gave Calamity the confidence to express themselves in a controlled environment. A viewer is free to leave if they don’t like the game Calamity is playing, or if a viewer is killing the vibe by being rude, Calamity can kick them out.

“I started noticing that the ‘space’ I found online where I could be myself also existed within myself in personal interaction,” Calamity said. “Reframing it that way had made me a lot better at social interactions.”

The decision to start streaming has led to a dedicated fan base of more than 2,300 followers and a wealth of opportunities that includes raising thousands of dollars through charity streaming, a crowdfunding method in which gamers raise money for a cause as they stream.

Thanks to Code Coven, which provides workshops, accelerators and programs for marginalized game developers, Calamity is also an entry-level game developer. Currently, Calamity is using their new abilities to create a Halloween-themed game with Cel Cottrell for Blacktober. They are also part of a team of more than 70 game developers from across the globe who are creating a video game anthology based off the Major Arcana tarot cards called Cartomancy. The team has already raised more than $12,000 of its $30,000 Kickstarter goal for the project.

Calamity is also part of the stream team for Brown Girl Gamer Code, a digital community dedicated to being a safe space where Black and brown women share their love of gaming and tech without fear of racism and misogyny.

Calamity shared a few moments of Black joy they have experienced since entering the streaming world:

“I was given a platform to discuss the issues in my community and felt heard,” Calamity said. “In the past, I have struggled to share my more ‘spicy’ opinions because I’m not ‘eloquent enough.’ But human rights are not up for debate, and it was a launching point to be more vocal and confident in myself and speaking up for what’s right!”

“I don’t think any of us (streamers) knew each other beforehand, but we became very close during the time we fundraised together and had so many discussions about our individual experiences as Black gamers and creators,” Calamity said. “We even talked to each other through some rough patches in the Black streamer space that happened earlier this year. Being able to speak candidly with other Black creators who understood mental health, content creation and more was so validating.”

No longer playin’ it small

Taylor Jackson is out of the business of making safe art.

The 28-year-old nonbinary multidisciplinary visual artist grew up in the Houston-area watching Disney movies. It was really the music that lured them into the world of animation, like how the Muses narrated “Hercules” by belting out the Gospel truth. Jackson loved how the music added to the storytelling of the film. So, they decided to become a storyteller themselves.

After learning how to create digital art during high school, Jackson decided to try their hand in graphic design. They later decided to fall back from the field after noticing that something was lacking in their artwork.

Jackson didn’t see many LGBTQ+ characters. But they did witness queerbaiting, which happens when a show hints at a character’s sexuality or gender identity but doesn’t make the character a huge part of the story. Jackson expressed their disappointment in season seven of “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” which briefly mentioned one of the character’s ex-boyfriends before killing him off.

Seeing more LGBTQ+ cartoon and anime characters would have made Jackson more uncomfortable to come out as nonbinary to their family. So Jackson wants to fix the issue themselves by dedicating their career to create art that represents Black and brown trans and nonbinary people.

“If I get an opportunity to tell a story on a large platform, I’m not going to sell myself out for other people’s comfort,” Jackson said. “I just I feel representation is really important.”

Jackson has participated in Blacktober for two years now. Here are two ways Jackson said the art challenge has helped them break down their emotional walls:

  • Black hair. Don’t care: Jackson has created brushes and accessories for Black hair in a digital illustration app called Procreate. They made sure they got the texture correct by referencing pictures of their hair and their siblings’ hair. Jackson also dug through their memories of the time their mom would gather all the hair accessories for wash day. So Jackson also included some stables of Black hairhood, like bows, rattail combs, loc brushes and hair picks.
  • A Black Link: Jackson stans fantasy and adventure video games, especially the Legend of Zelda franchise. According to Nintendo Insider, Legend of Zelda’s producer identified Link as male, but originally wanted Link to be a gender-neutral character. Jackson decided to do a Black Link with twist.

“The creators said Link was meant to be an extension of the player,” Jackson said. “So, whenever I play the video games, I feel like it’s actually me. Like, I’m that immersed into the story and I think that’s why I love the Zelda video game so much.”

Keep gaming on and spreading that Black Joy! See you next week!