Briana Lawrence on ‘Magnifique Noir’ Book Two and Queer Black Girl Magic
Briana Lawrence’s ‘Magnifique Noir’ is for Black girls who realize that they’re fine being themselves and that there’s no singular way to be.
Briana Lawrence is the creator, writer, and one of the illustrators of the magical girl inspired illustrated novel series Magnifique Noir. Magnifique Noir focuses on the misadventures of young, college-aged Black queer women as they come-of-age as young adults while battling monsters as members of the magical girl superhero group Magnifique Noir.
Magnifique Noir is made of the following characters: bisexual gamer Bree Danvers (aka Cosmic Green), asexual, fat pastry baker Marianna Jacobs (aka Galactic Purple), lesbian kickboxer Lonnie Knoxs (aka Radical Rainbow), and the enigmatic wise leader Blaze. Book 1 also introduced a mysterious new magical girl named Prism Pink. While not much about her has been revealed, Briana Lawrence has stated that Prism Pink is a trans woman.
Having reviewed Book 1 of the series last year, I decided to have a chat with Briana about Book 2.
Congrats again on the success of Magnifique Noir and the release of Book 2. This series really is one of the best contemporary magical girl series I’ve ever read. For those not familiar with the series, how would you describe it?
The short answer is “Black queer magical girls”; that’s the elevator pitch we use at cons. The kinda longer answer is that it’s my take on the magical girl genre if the characters were more of a reflection on how I was feeling when I was 18 and trying to figure out who I was. The end game is for them to become content with who they are, which took me a long time to learn. Basically I want a story where there’s a variety of Black girls who realize that they’re fine being themselves and that there’s no singular way to be.
That’s amazing. I really love how each member of Magnifique Noir has their own personal quirks that influence their abilities. And their outfits are on point too! How did you go about developing the characters?
By accident! They started out as little original character paintings of just their faces with kinda cosmic hair, and I wasn’t going to do anything else. But people liked the art and my (now wife) brought up the idea of doing more with them. After that I sketched outfits and we talked about personalities, using ideas from existing series.
Sailor Moon was a huge influence and also Madoka Magica. I knew I wanted an epically nerdy girl (Bree) and a girl who could fight without being transformed (Lonnie) and like… a fashionable girl (Marianna). I wanted different kinds of Black girls who were into different things, but still friends.
I can definitely see the influence of both series on your books. Book 2, in particular, reminded me of Madoka a bit, especially as the heroines recover from the aftermath of a difficult battle. Why is it crucial for them to check in with themselves and each other while continuing to fight monsters?
I used to have this mindset of having to be strong all the time. It kinda tore me apart. I’d have days where I just breakdown because I’d spent weeks denying being hurt by something. I realized that we HAVE to take care of ourselves, especially Black women, who have this narrative of being strong that ends up being so heavy that it kinda takes away our humanity. I grew up in the “Waiting to Exhale” era of Black woman, and while everyone always praised Angela Basset’s cool portrayal, they never addressed the before scene of her breaking down and the aftermath — all part of the story, just not something folks talked about because, “Damn she torched the car!”
So I knew that I wanted to focus on aftermath. These are young women putting their lives on the line, and they don’t even really know why, since they don’t know where the monsters are coming from. And there’s a kinda guilt with being like, “I don’t wanna do this” because they volunteered. But just because you decide to fight doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to step back and breathe.
Whew, I definitely feel you on all of this. It was wonderful to see the ladies be vulnerable and comfort each other. The scene where they sleep in each other’s arms was a favorite. Book 2 also tackles other serious topics such as online harassment and the policing of Black women’s sexuality. What do you hope Black female readers gain from seeing these things discussed?
Oh man, THAT chapter.
I think the most important part of that moment is Bree and Lonnie coming together. Like, the harassment is rough, but I think we as Black women already know that the harassment we get is rough. So the main point is how Bree and Lonnie deal with it in two different ways and learn to respect how the other deals with it.
In the end, they both apologize for hurting each other (since they argue about which method is best) and realize that there’s merit to both methods.
THAT’S the main takeaway. We as Black women know people are gonna talk shit about us, so what really gets me is people calling me out of my name for having feelings. Basically: allow us to have feelings and allow us to work through them the way we need to.
I agree. Both Bree and Lonnie have very different ways of handling emotions and allowing themselves to do that and work through them is what I think allowed them to do that epic combo “8 Bits of Rainbow”. The artwork for that is stunning, as are all the illustrations done by you and others. How did you go about selecting the artists and the moments you wanted are for?
I made a list of scenes I really liked, the ones that I felt would have the most impact, and tried to match it with various art styles and what artists were comfortable with drawing. Also working with artists who could do various shades of Black girls, and different sizes, and who were cool with queer content. Quite a few of the artists themselves are either Black, or queer, or both. Bless the hashtag #drawingwhileblack and any other hashtags that highlight marginalized creators.
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Speaking of marginalized creators: it’s all too rare to see Black queer characters written and drawn by Black queer artists. What advice would you give to Black queer creators looking to make a webcomic, comic book, or illustrated novel?
To absolutely go for it. I once told someone that I wish I could say this was some balls to the wall “I’m gonna show them” book. I mean it is, but it took me a long time to reach this point because I assumed that I couldn’t tell this story, that if I wanted to get anywhere in writing that putting girls who represented me on the cover was an absolute DO NOT. I fell into that “white is the default” mindset and stayed there for a while.
I know it’s hard because there’s so many very loud detractors, but I promise you, the feeling of telling the story you want to tell outweighs all of that. And you’ll realize that there is an audience hungry for this kind of content, and in need of it. You being out here will do so much good in the world.
Well said, Briana! Now for a fun, final question: If you could have Magnifique Noir crossover with any magical girl team, who would they be?
The Sailor Senshi for sure! I think Bree would die if she ever met them though and give a PowerPoint presentation why working with them is such a huge deal.
Also if they ended up in the Utena universe that’d be cool, too. Or if Utena and Anthy ended up there. Maybe that’s where the pink car drove off to from the end of the Utena movie.
Latonya Pennington is a prolific freelance pop culture critic and poet. Besides Wear Your Voice, they have also written pieces for Gamercraft, Brain Mill Press Voices, Comics MNT, among others. Their poetry can be found in online magazines such as The Asexual Journal, Color Bloq, and Fiyah Lit magazine.
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