Own Voices


  • SVS OG

    In the end I don't care if you're a black gay woman or pudgy white guy with a mullet...story is good, art is good...I'll buy it....don't think these small children are looking at a picture book and analyzing it's deeper hidden meaning.....most picture books have what..500 words...people are over thinking this....it's the bottom line...you better sell some books



  • Just wanted to mention a side note... has anyone checked out the #MSWL tag on Twitter yesterday? Wow, literally every agent mentions they're looking for diverse books and #ownvoices. Which is great. It's such a hot topic right now (obviously, this thread a prime example of that!). Unfortunately, when everyone says the same thing (and doesn't mention what ELSE they're looking for), I find that the whole purpose (of MSWL - Manuscript Wish List) to be defeated. I'd imagine that even for the people with #ownvoices manuscripts to find it frustrating - I mean, it's not really narrowing down for you which agents to submit to, when ALL of them say they're open to it!

    @smceccarelli I hope you resolved your original problem or at least had a great conversation about it with your agent. I feel bad for you that your original thread seems to have been totally taken over!



  • This is a huge topic. I was asking my friend the same question a month or two ago, and we gave each other a high five as we don't think of ethnicity when we design a character. I honestly just draw personalities. Yes some would recommend diversity while some say no. I would stick with what I believe is true and hopefully people we see the same. I would pick the one that has the most personality and make people not to think of ethnicity at first impression. I hope this helps.


  • SVS OG

    At the end of the day I think one of the most crucial words is ‘authenticity’…which illustrator is going to make the story feel real and the characters come alive to the audience, so that they can empathise and feel the same struggles as the characters. A lot of different factors are going to come into that choice - not least the quality of art, and the storytelling, as well as their “own voice” distilled from their overall background, influences and experiences of life. I don’t think that’s going to automatically include or exclude illustrators purely on the basis of race/gender etc. Making sure people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to tell those stories is of course something to aim for.

    On a side note, thinking about the actual content of my picture book collection, you wouldn’t think you could have such a politically sophisticated discussion about them! (my collection is aimed at the under 5’s though)…it’s full of animals being friends, lost library books, tigers losing their smile, two boys digging a hole, a dog getting dirty, lost cats, assorted nursery rhymes, tigers coming to tea…I mean it’s all cute, and the modern ones are ethnically diverse when there are people in them, but it’s not charged with the racial issues that adults are more tuned into. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to have this discussion - of course it is - but one of the things I like about picture books is that they can talk about timeless topics that are simply ‘human’, by layering them into stories about animals or aliens or whatever.


  • SVS OG

    @Dulcie you said what I was thinking (with much more grace) I think kids need to be able to stay kids for as long as they can without having to worry about this stuff....



  • I think I am just going to draw robots from now on. Just sidestep this whole thing.



  • I think all responses here have been insightful - casting lights on different aspects of the issue. And no, I do not think the topic has been sidetracked - all aspects are related. I am at SCBWI NY, and there was a keynote speaker addressing this topic for illustrators - it is really a hot button right now, my agent was right. It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way. And is also, in a very big way, about being authentic, being true to who you are, where you come from and your experience of the world. This is for me the biggest take-home message.
    So art directors nowadays is simply not likely to hire an illustrator to illustrate a story that has a distinct ethnic or cultural connotation unless the illustrator is either from that cultural space or has a style that deeply resonates with that particular culture - there is therefore little point in putting such depictions into your portfolio, though you can freely do it for your personal work (with the risk, however, of misprepresentation). It does not mean that you cannot include different ethnicities in a story that has no specific cultural resonance. Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life. Clearly stories that I, for one, would be completely unfitting to illustrate anyhow. In this context, I can understand the "own voices" movement a lot better.



  • @smceccarelli said in Own Voices:

    It is not so much about not being able to illustrate cultures other than your own, it is more about making sure that these are correctly represented, in a respectful and considerate and truthful way.

    Several examples were made, and the books discussed were really embedded in a specific cultural universe - Mexican folklore or Native American family life.

    I would imagine that this would seem reasonable to most people.

    Thank you for the insights/clarification!


  • SVS OG

    Totally off topic, but I so wish I was at the conference this year. I feel like so many of my internet friends are there and I wish I could meet them! And it sounds like you're getting lots of good info. If it wouldn't be too much to ask, maybe when you go home you could make a thread sharing your biggest insights/lessons learned, for those of us who couldn't make it.



  • @Sarah-LuAnn I will definitely do that - it is quite exciting to be here!



  • I spoke with one of my friends today who got her YA book published, and I asked her about this topic. She said that it is one of the biggest topics right now in publishing, and she has had to bite her tongue a few times with her agent commenting on her book. She is half white and half asian, and designed her main character around herself. Her agent and the publisher both tried getting her to change her main character from half white and half asian, and remove the reference to her having freckles, because as they put it "asians don't have freckles", she replied by telling them that the character was based off of how she looks, and she does have freckles.

    So to be fair, this isn't easier or harder for one group of people. Everyone is seeing this trend as a bit of a hard pill to swallow.


  • SVS OG

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56UfBZzaM0w Will Terry and Tyrus Goshay little bit on this subject



  • What a great topic and great comments - I'm not sure if my comments will further this discussion but I felt prompted to try. I don't speak for SVS - these are my personal feelings. We are artists. Art isn't safe. Art doesn't always follow social norms but often challenges them. It is our job to tell visual and written stories. Stories are based on our own personal experiences and imaginations -but we can't know what it's like to be each character we illustrate because most of the time they have similar but different experiences. If we limit ourselves by illustrating only that which we have experienced we will cease to explore, innovate, imagine, create, conjure, describe, relate, depict, conceive, fantasize, and visualize - the essential components of art making. Art doesn't have rules and constraints to prepare and package it for consumption - it must remain unrestrained and unrestricted. We don't all value art the same - so how can we value creativity that conforms to a set of guidelines? If we self censor by creating only that which we have personally experienced - we would have to turn down 99% of all assignments offered. -Will Terry



  • I have my personal opinion about this case and it coincides with yours! http://bigpaperwriter.com/blog/cultural-identity-essay is talking about culture as a way to identify your country and nation!



  • @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.



  • @Tyson said in Own Voices:

    @smceccarelli thankfully chefs do culture appropriation since who knows when and we get to taste their diverse flavor of cultural appropriation all the time. What about individual appropriation? How do you live in an ethnically diverse world and not appropriate from others you live and interact with? Sounds like a super killjoy. I love art and I don't live in Platos cave.

    I would love someone who feels strongly against "cultural appropriation" to give me a concrete definition of just exactly what they mean. The definition I have that I THINK some people mean is, frankly, daft, sickening, and completely against the experiences all humans have been having for the last several thousand years.

    But I'll refrain from telling everyone how I really feel....



  • I really appreciate how everyone has tuned in on this conversation - each adding a new dimension and new perspective on a topic which is multi-faceted and controversial. This, I believe, is exactly how we should face any discussion about art and society: openly and respectfully sharing our opinions.
    This is clearly a major topic in the publishing industry today (meanwhile, I have met two "sensitivity readers" - a profession that I did not know ever existed before). Still, I think it is important to put it into perspective: I believe it is a topic only or mainly in the USA (which is the major market for English-speaking literature, so it is not inconsequential). Identity politics and identity discussion have shaped and continue to shape Amerian society in many different ways, not all of them fully healthy. Racism and discrimination exists everywhere, but I believe that insisting on defending the integrity of an "own" culture (be it ethnic or sexual in nature) is not a weapon against it - quite the opposite: it is a way to fuel it.
    But, we are commercial artists, and the concerns of publishers (assuming we are interested in working for them) are our concerns too. I just hope they will get over the "walking on egg-shells" feeling soon.
    On my side, I will continue to be amused and not offended when Italians are depicted as "pizza-pasta-mamma-mafia", in pop literature, British as tea-loving aristocrats and Swiss as dull but prissy farmers. And the character of the dumb blond will not send me into a feminist rant either. Admittedly, being associated with three different cultures and three different professions helps to put everything in perspective 😉

    And now, just to put more fuel into the fire of this discussion, this is something that was on my FB feed today - not sure if they have a point - their analysis seems self-serving:

    Rebel girls video



  • I see both sides of this argument and maybe because I am biracial but don't really view people in colors/race but see it come up a ton. On one hand I think diversity is great regardless of what the race the illustrator happens to be. I think it is a great idea to include a multicultural scene especially since some races are definitely under represented clearly by the numbers in children's books. However I also get the argument that one authenticity should be valued vs just painting someone a color or worse really not hitting the mark and it become offensive out of ignorance. Also certain races will definitely be able to tell their stories better, there are racial nuances that someone will not just understand if they are not apart of that cultural /race. And there is also an economic factor to consider, I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.



  • Read some more of the posts response sorry for the double post. Also I want to comment on something else. I think it is important. If you are a brown person or a fill in the blank person even as a child it is very clear to you that you don't see others that look like you in books. So I disagree it should not be overlooked, it should be worried about vs just making books to sell if you truly are wanting to touch a child's life. I know I was grown before I ever saw a little girl in a book that looked like me. The world is not completely full of caucasian little girls with blond hair and yet that is all I saw in books growing up and whether you want to admit it or not it affects us as a society if this is not a good representation of us all in any form of media and affects children's self esteem.



  • @Stephanie-Hider said in Own Voices:

    I don't know the numbers but I believe Will Terry even mentioned this field is dominated by white males. It seems economically injustice to not allow illustrators if they are just as talented to illustrate "their stories" if that makes sense.

    So, what you are saying is someone should be chosen simply because of their race? I'm sorry, I disagree.

    An AD should choose whomever they think will do the job, whomever will work as easily as possible with the staff/publisher/etc., whomever will meet the deadline with the least amount of drama.

    If it is a white male, great, if it is a female person of color, great. But to choose one over the other due to their gender or color, is bigotry.


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