Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…in most cases, a glaring lack of representation in pop culture and media.
As of late, Millennials have bore witness to a successful resurgence of the pop culture standbys that made many of our childhoods great: Saturday morning cartoons, superhero movies, comic book adaptations. Even the dark, shame-riddled annals of anime have been plumbed for nearly every drop of nostalgia-laden goodness for media companies to concoct new ways to package, present, and sell our youth back to us. I, a lifelong geek, couldn’t have been more excited for the return of the golden age of entertainment. However, it became readily apparent that as the 90s and early 2000s were set to return to mainstream media, the representation gap was all set to fly back into our lives right with them.
With the rapid influx of newly consumable nostalgic media, more and more young adults–even those who wouldn’t have called themselves fans before, fans who didn’t look or sound like the “typical” comic book fan demographic–have been showing their enthusiasm for the comeback through patronizing and inspiring creative reimagining of the fanciful, enrapturing tales from our collective youth. Because of this, we’ve seen a sure and steady growth not only for the Captain Americas and Batmans of the industry, but in the corners and margins of action-packed panels, where superheroes and protagonists of color tend to be relegated.
Even now, in the era of the hero, minority groups and women–who are a rapidly growing demographic within comic buyers–don’t see themselves represented on the big screens or front covers the way they could, or should.
For many minority geeks and fandom hounds, Wonder Woman and Black Panther only just whet an appetite that continued to grow more ravenous as the market expanded: a hunger for strong, independent female characters and positive black role models. This sentiment led to the creation of the Adorned by Chi comic series, the latest extension of the media company and kawaii lifestyle brand founded by Jacque Aye.
The story centers around Adaeze, a Nigerian college student that discovers she has Goddess-like powers. A reluctant leader, she must work alongside a team of magical soldiers to defeat the forces of evil threatening humanity. The cast of characters includes Adaeze Adichie (power of Empathy), Emeka Ukata (power of Earth), Kairaluchukwu “Kaira” Okoye (power of Water), Chigozie “Gogo” Okafor (power of Sun), and Kelechi Okafor (power of Gravity). Inspired heavily by the magical girl genre, such as the renowned Revolutionary Girl Utena, Madoka Magica, and Sailor Moon, and incorporating traditional elements from Igbo culture & lore, the comic looks to reshape the public image of what it means to be “super.”
Using a winning combination of Jacque’s own Nigerian heritage, inherently fanciful nature, and love for all things sparkly, explosive, and colorful, the Adorned by Chi comic series (now in its second issue) is a truly inspiring project that aims to bridge the gap between the myriad black identities of the world and the artistry and fantasy of traditional magical girl comics.
The saying goes that you should never meet your heroes. In the case of Jacque Aye, that advice was accepted and taken one step further: She didn’t meet her heroes; she created them.
In a recent interview, Jacque provided insight that helped me precisely understand her efforts (as well as the efforts of many other women and people of color) to challenge the nerd status quo. A lifelong fan of anime and all things BANG! POW! DRAMATIC PAUSE!, Jacque opened up about the impact that superhero media has had on her life. As a youth, she frequently debated with her siblings about the strengths and abilities of various superheroes and anime characters.
“My older brother actually introduced me to shows like Sailor Moon [and] Pokémon when we shared a bunk bed back in the day,” Jacque recalled. “I was more of a passive anime fan until I started bonding with my younger brother. He’s actually the biggest anime/video game nerd I know, and we ended up swapping show recommendations and arguing about plots and characters.” Like a lot of blerds—the dubiously affectionate name given to black nerds online—mega popular supers like Pokémon and Dragonball Z call to our feelings of powerlessness and not fitting in. But there was another reason that Jacque said she gravitated toward another type of anime entirely: magical girls.
“My affinity towards magical girls comes from their aesthetics and the message of powerful femininity.”
As someone who agrees wholeheartedly, I’m glad to hear an artist so excited to paint the seemingly incongruous nature of sparkly pink power moves and feminine empowerment in a different light. This juxtaposition, while decidedly objectively important to the greater conversation on representation, has very personal roots for Jacque and ultimately inspired her to move forward with the magical girl comic.
Jacque admits that she has always been what others would likely deem a “girly girl,” and at times she struggled marrying her aesthetic with her desire to be recognized as a comic book artist. She noted that she was often not taken seriously by her contemporaries and that her work was at times downplayed as vapid or not viewed as “real” comic work, which Jacque says is symptomatic of a larger societal problem. Rather than discouraging her, these experiences encouraged her to fight even harder for her comic series.
“I’ve noticed in the media I’ve consumed when someone becomes ‘powerful’ they usually shed those stereotypical ‘girly’ things. The hair, the makeup–[it] all has to go. And nothing is wrong with that at all!” Jacque defends projects like Wonder Woman and Black Widow, which downplay typical feminine traits in favor of brute strength to demonstrate power, but goes on to say there’s something just a little bit, well, magical in how anime like Sailor Moon do exactly the opposite. “[But] I do like that magical girls don’t shed those traits…in fact, they magnify them to become more powerful. Not only do they become more sparkly and fabulous, but they also love more, highlight friendship, and show that power comes in all different packages.”
Jacque’s work with the Adorned by Chi comic series largely aims to magnify and make more accessible that very message: power has no shape, no race, no glitter to usefulness ratio. Her comics are largely indispensable, not just to blerds but to everyone, particularly in the age of swelling pectorals and bare knuckle heroism.
And while the fight for representation may never be truly won, if the battle continues to be fought by rhinestone encrusted Nigerian heroines, I know who I’ve got my money on.