When I saw B.R.U.H. available on Amazon, I knew I had to pick it up. B.R.U.H.: Black Renditions of Universal Heroes, is a great little art book by Markus Prime featuring exactly what it says: Black renditions of heroes from fiction.
The book itself is very well structured. It starts with a preface describing Prime’s philosophy behind his art and the book in general. After that, there is a tweet of his which frames the ideology in the book. Throughout, the book has rotations of tweets, character shots, full page art, and patterns. There are comic book superheroes, American cartoon characters, anime characters, and video game characters. It’s a lovely experience. The only problem I saw with the book was that when the art is two pages wide, the crease/spine makes it impossible to see 100% of the picture. This doesn’t get in the way too often, but the few times it happens are fairly annoying. But I still quite enjoyed it.
First of all, the art is very pretty. Prime has cultivated a style, done with Copic markers, that has a watercolor feel to it. Since the characters come from many different styles (such as anime, western animation, and superhero comic), the coloring aesthetic helps unify them. Beyond coloring techniques, there is a solid stylistic through-line in the art. Since these are Black renditions of heroes, Prime did more than just simple recolors. The characters have hair, lips, and other features more in line with African lineage. Prime also utilizes the ankh symbol to further symbolism. According to an interview he gave: “People were taking signatures and watermarks off of images at the time. The ankh was like my symbol to show, That’s Markus Prime. And the ankh was the Egyptian symbol for eternal life and the bond between man and woman and creation of light and it was where the Christian cross deviated into the symbol for femininity. It just made sense.” All in all, it gives the characters a very Black feeling.
Similarly, there is another interesting change Markus Prime added to his art. All of the renditions are female (with one small exception). Whether the characters were already women (such as the Sailor Scouts) or were changed to women (like Naruto or the Ice King), all of the people in his book are now women and girls. This is important for the same reason as Black representation is important; we still have a shortage of positive women characters in our same media. In the same vein, there’s not always any real reason why the characters couldn’t have been women in the first place. The re-imagining provides a very fresh take on these classic characters. Seeing Goku and Vegeta or Mario and Luigi as Black women is both interesting and cathartic. I had never considered Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter as women of color, but the concept works for me. Essentially, these characters are supposed to be universally relatable in their qualities such as honor, pride, and bravery. Prime’s renditions of these characters is a great reminder that stories can be applicable to many demographics.
And this is great! There is a huge dearth of Black characters in fiction. And while this book doesn’t change the number of them, it does entertain a valid “what-if” scenario. Many of these characters were created by white men, so the lack of diversity tended to be an unfortunate side effect. Based on characterization, however, there isn’t much reason why these characters couldn’t have been Black. For instance, the Dragon Ball Z story works really well with ethnically diverse characters. Similarly, Superman is already an immigrant story, so pairing that with Blackness is a natural fit. Again, none of this would work if the art wasn’t beautiful and well done.
Overall, I’ve said it so many times, but it’s still true: representation matters so much. This book really shows the benefit of that. I felt such a sense of joy looking at each of the pictures and seeing the Black and brown faces on each page. If you are a fan of art, Black representation, female representation, and the intersection of that, I would definitely recommend this book for you!
[Images courtesy of: i-d.vice.com and are reflective of what is in the book!]