Updated: May 25, 2021
Growing up, I would to draw animals, buildings and pictures of my family. Anything I saw in front of me, I was able to put it on paper. The main thing that really helped me gain my skill however, was drawing the characters from cartoons I watched as a child. I would draw the PowerPuff Girls, Dragonball Z characters and more often than anything else, Pokemon! I was always trying to be the first best (artist) that no one ever was. Drawing characters from different animated-styled cartoons expanded my own artistic style in many ways. As I grew older, I started to create my own character designs (even my own Pokemon!) and I started to gain the skill to be able to create my own style of drawing to which now you see here in front of you today. As much as it was amazing to work off of these popular creature characters, a lot of the human characters I loved on the TV shows I watched did not look like me. There was barely any representation of a black female character, let alone black characters at all, in the media I was consuming at a young age. That was something that always stuck out to me. At first, I thought creating fan art was just for good practice. As I advanced artistically, I found the real reason why I was so drawn (get it, drawn) to creating fan art.
So, what is ‘fan art’ you may ask? Wikipedia’s definition is:
Fan art or fanart is artwork created by fans of a work of fiction and derived from a series characters or other aspects of that work. As fan labor , fan art refers to artworks that are neither created nor (normally) commissioned or endorsed by the creators of the work from which the fan art derives.
Now, some you are probably thinking - ' isn’t that just stealing someone else’s idea?' My response to that is yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I did not think of Daria nor Naruto originally for example. I did not design their make up to what we see on TV and I was not a part of any process in the making of either show. The reason why I also say a firm no to your question is because they also were not involved in the design that I, the fan artist, have come up with for these characters in my fan art. The creators of Daria are never going to make a Black Daria, nor any of the many Darias I have created in the 3 years in my Diverse Daria series. The creators of Naruto are not going to make a ‘Narufro’ spin off character like when I painted Naruto an afro. One of my (many) favorite quotes from Bojack Horseman is when he calls Mr. Peanutbutter out for having the same sitcom as him get popular, if not more popular, than Bojack’s Horsin’ Around, to which Mr. Peanutbutter retorts, “You may have invented it, but I think our show perfected it.” The same applies. It’s not about “stealing” anyone’s idea. It’s about recreating your own idea around it. The reason I think it’s so important to recreate these characters, in my case in the likes of Black men and women, is because of the fact that we never had that growing up. We barely have it now...
Representation Matters. This has always been my artistic message. In 2018, I curated and hosted my own solo art showcase called Representation Matters. I created a lot of the art work from my own original ideas, however I also created fan art for the other half of the gallery. I recreated characters from shows like The Simpsons, Daria, Naruto, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon and many other cartoon characters we loved growing up. I recreated them as black characters not just because it is fun but because it’s important. It’s important for young kids to see themselves in the media that they are absorbing every day. I know as a child, that was something I always looked for in cartoons and never found - myself. And as much as I loved creating fan art to practice when I was young, I create it now for the purpose my younger self would have needed it for then. To be seen. To be heard. To be acknowledged. To be included without being the stereotypical black character that we so often see. I wanted to see me, us, as a main character. So, If a big cartoon studio isn’t going to create a black character (properly) then guess what? We will. With Fan Art.
This Sunday's blog post is a bit shorter than usual because I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of the Toronto Comic Art Festival's Digital Online Exhibition taking place from May 7 to May 15, 2021. I will be a guest speaker for the TCAF's artist online panel discussion around Fan Art with Faduma Gure. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop and join us on May 9th at 6 PM for "Subversive Power of Fan Art with ORANGEinal" where we will discuss even deeper the subversive power and importance of fan art!
Thank you for reading and stay ORANGEinal!