Plymouth anime artist, Vegalia Jean-Pierre, always longed to see herself, a Black woman, represented in the fantastical realm of literature. What is often considered as a place for individuals to escape from reality didn’t always feel as such for her.
Breaking barriers, Jean-Pierre took matters into her own hands and created a coloring book, Melanin Magic, to provide a positive representation for people of color and uplift diverse creators. “I didn’t even notice that I never had that growing up,” Shanice Penn, one of the Melanin Magic artists, says about the lack of Black animated characters in pop culture.
The book features a collection of 35 original fantasy designs showcasing a variety of mermaids, magical beings, fairies, hybrids and mages with Black-centric features. “It is beyond being magical, it is building on to a world that doesn’t necessarily exist and there is no reason why Black people can’t be in that space as well,” Jean-Pierre says.
Collaborating with 13 other Black artists from around the world, Jean-Pierre says she wanted to share the opportunity in the hopes of reaching a larger audience. Connecting via social media, they were able to conceptualize, design and share ideas digitally from start to finish. Creating a variety of original images, the only requirements consisted of the incorporation of Black-centric features and a tie to the genre of fantasy.
“It is a very organic, authentic feeling when something is made with you in mind without being forced,” Melanin Magic coordinator and artist Kiki Agee says.
Incorporating these elements helps individuals feel heard and connected to the pages they are coloring in. “To see someone like you in that space, it makes you love it more and you feel more a part of that community,” Penn says.
With more culturally inclusive projects in the works, Jean-Pierre hopes to continue to encourage her followers to connect with Black or brown characters. “I hope that little girls and boys can see themselves as magical beings and fantasy creatures or characters,” she says. “I hope it inspires people beyond just the ones that are coloring in it.”
As one to color outside the lines, Jean-Pierre also launched a collection of digital paint brushes on her Gumroad website that emulate Black-centric hair with the swipe of a pen earlier this year. (These brushes featuring braids, twists and curls, can also be purchased to be used on the digital version of the coloring book.) Her viral creation ignited the idea to physically translate these hairstyles to paper.
Even though you can draw and color different natural hairstyles for Black people, it is much more impactful to see the textural features already in the book, says Penn. “It inspires youth to love their hair as is.”
Hard copies of Melanin Magic can be purchased on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble or get a digital copy on byvegalia.gumroad.com.