What do you do when you don’t see yourself in the fandoms you love? If you’re magnifiqueNOIR writer/creator Briana Lawrence, you roll up your sleeves and dive in. And maybe bring some friends along for the ride. Lawrence, who has gone viral before for her amazing, plus-size cosplays, found herself doodling a set of magical girls, and the new magnifiqueNOIR book series was born.
"I ended up sketching a girl then asked myself, 'What if she were black?' So I did that and was like, 'Okay, what if she had...galactic hair? Like...purple!' So I did that, too. I sent my partner a picture and she said, 'Cool, now make more!'" she recalls. "So I sketched more girls. I thought it’d be cool if they were a team of magical girls, kinda like Sailor Moon. In the process of doing that I asked, 'What if one of them was queer? Wait, what if ALL of them were queer? What if their outfits had the colors?'"
The rest was hammered out, like so many creative projects, in the car. The project got enough buzz that Lawrence started having artist approach her, and what started as a story quickly found it’s way to become an illustrated novel. Artist like Jenn St-Onge and Musetap Studio reached out with art they had created, and the book began to come together. Like so many indie projects, it was a learning experience.
"I’ve never done this before, but I really want this to work!" said Lawrence. "I’d released books before, but never something like an illustrated novel."
The book focuses on four queer, black magical girls, who fall across all sorts of spectrums, not just the vivid colors tied to their magical powers.
"Being black and queer is front and center with this work," said Lawrence. "I decided to create characters who reflected different aspects of who I was. I really wanted a variety of black women, from sizes, to skin tone, to personalities. Marianna (Galactic Purple) is an asexual, plus size fashionista who is extremely studious when it comes to school. Bree (Cosmic Green) is the opposite when it comes to school, and she’s a bisexual gamer obsessed with Game Grumps, anime, and other geeky things. Lonnie (Radical Rainbow) is a lesbian kickboxer who is all the way out the closet, like, she’s crushing on girls left and right with absolutely no shame. And Prism Pink, well...she’s my transgender magical girl, but the rest is a mystery... for now."
"I especially wanted to show a range of emotion with black women. The girls are strong, but they also have disagreements. They cry, they love, they encourage each other and support one another. They do everything that I—and other black women—do as people. I talk a lot about representation and have a lot of discussions about the issues in the communities I’m involved with. So I decided to have some of that in the story. One of the things I love about geek content (like anime and comics) is that their stories are about people...they just so happen to have super powers. There’s so many coming-of-age stories wrapped in magical powers and mecha. There’s so many topics that are tackled in these stories and I wanted to do the same thing—just with black, queer girls."
No matter where her work takes her, Lawrence is ready to fight for all. When asked about her viral cosplaying, she talks about love and acceptance. Her favorite Con moments are when someone looks through magnifiqueNOIR and finds themselves on the pages. She wants the people she reaches out to to know they are magical already. And most of all, she wants people to create, especially those who don’t see themselves out there already.
"It took me a long time to feel confident enough to write a story with girls who represented me," she said. "When you’re surrounded by stories that don’t feature you and are told that’s what people relate to, you kinda fall into this mindset of thinking you have to do the same thing, you know? The audience isn’t the only victim of the notion that white is the default. Creators (including POC creators) fall into it, too. When you keep seeing backlash for black characters and keep hearing excuses as to why they aren’t included, you just assume that white is the way to go. Same with queer content. When you see people excuse things like queer erasure or not mind yet another story where they’re burying their gays, you figure it’s much better to just not have queerness in your story. What’s the point if it’ll be seen as some kind of agenda or removed?"
"This is the first time I’m really embracing both so much that it’s a full-length novel, the girls on the cover, and the word queer right there in the description. As hard as it is to push through all the 'not relatable' nonsense, keep trying. I know you’ll get there and create something wonderful. This book helped me have that creative epiphany!"