I been wanting to do animation. Not the drawing part, but the story-building part. The team-gathering part. The vision-made-pixel part. The latchkey-kid-before-homework part. The every-episode-with-the-same-clothes-on part. A streaming series that keeps it unreal, centering thinly veiled characterizations of me, you, your mamma, and your cousin too. TOONSKIN is a million more things that I haven't thought of yet, beyond seeing someone who looks like me, having a high concept adventure, on an international streaming platform.
The concept has found its way beyond an exhibition mounted in 2013, to a recovery hotel in Ali Wong's Jungle Asia, with a heavy dose of swamp Florida thrown in for irresistible tackiness—a visual mix of pink, seafoam green, and hunter’s camo. In this universe, a former sex worker and their top john run an interdimensional plastic surgery practice and luxury resort. Twin gods, separated from one another, flung into different times, elicit the help of the same Portal Dealer. In the very same spot. 50 years apart. Here, the young, hot, and fabulous tan themselves blue. An engaged couple unwittingly swaps faces and a Brad Pitt impersonator finally becomes a black woman.
But first, there was my hand drawn comic book, PIMP DADDY AND THE WONDER HOES. No one else has seen it except my mother, the notebook itself, lost to some storage unit on the way to homelessness, or another reason that it didn’t get paid for. But I remember it clearly. That, and one other drawing in the same sketchbook: a brown fist, wrist slit, bleeding red, black, and green. I used paint for that. Besides me, my mom is the only one who has seen this drawing, too. Started and finished somewhere between 7th and 8th grade. I think about how I would react, if my 12-year-old daughter showed me a gang of superhero prostitutes. Especially if she drew them, and penned the catch phrase “fighting monogamy wherever they may find it!”. Before the internet. It still gives me a chuckle at the audacity. The precision. The absurdity of the whole situation. But mostly, at the moment the idea popped into my own head. Low-key, this kind of moment happens all the time, and I am grateful. I can’t recall a major reaction, other than my mom getting the joke and always supporting me in some newfangled hobby, the spoils of an only childhood. And, just like that, I realize I've been making TOONSKIN since the 7th grade.
Doctor Who and Mister Rogers. Sesame Street and General Hospital. She-Ra, He-Man, Webster, Knight Rider, Punky Brewster (but only if I could distract them from 60 Minutes on CBS). The Flintstones, The Three Stooges, Merrie Melodies and Scooby-Doo. The USA Cartoon Express, sometimes, with chicken wings and French fries on a plastic souvenir plate from Silver Springs and a collectible glass from Burger King—Princess Leia and Jabba the Hutt. When I was really little, ketchup on my pancakes. Ducktales and The Next Generation. The Wonder Works presentation of The Chronicles of Narnia, where Lucy's overbite was its own character. The Chuck Jones’ rules for Coyote and Roadrunner (unverified). William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s looping backgrounds, and a Bob Clampett cartooo-ooon. The smorgasbord of any given Saturday, still in pajamas, crackling with static electricity. Y’all remember seeing those sparks in the dark? GoBots, “go go Gadget”, Ri¢hie Ri¢h, Laverne and Shirley—when they were drawn in the Army. The Smurfs, The HULK, The Pirates of Dark Water. Pound Puppies and Gummy Bears. “Mecca Lecca High Mecca Hiney Ho” in the Playhouse. Full House, Family Matters, T.G.I.F. Growing Pains and Golden Girls, and that show, Grand, with the suspiciously philosophical theme song. Matlock and WWF, The Braves on TBS, the Monday Night Movie on ABC and the Cosby Show on Thursday at 8pm. After school with SilverHawks, ThunderCats, and BraveStarr. Before church, with Rocky and Bullwinkle & Friends. School absences with The Price is Right, ginger ale and soda crackers. And Oprah, when she used to cry on camera. Early morning weekdays Zoobilee Zoo-ing, Jem truly outrageousing, and knowing is half the battling. Me and TV is likethis. Acculturation of a latch-key childhood.
In the world of our own making, TOONSKIN is a receptionist who is also the mother of the universe.
So I looked for myself in the cube, only to catch whiffs of it, like jasmine in an unfamiliar neighborhood, or Brenda on 227. I moved from three-years-in-LA, to NYC-for-16, with the idea for an animated short called PLAID TO PLATINUM. A black-and-white fable cautioning music as mind control and the revolutionary powers of a fat ass (body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody, Ah!). The central character was still a dude. Like most, I was trapped in a matrix of pop culture conditioning, a la, Back to the Future, Blood of Zeus, The Last Airbender, etc., I ain’t seen a Qualesha type have a transformative experience as the hero of an animated saga. Yet. A tale composed in multiple dimensions with an ecosystem of characters specifically designed to help her find the stone, or the weapon, or the charm, or the individual that is herself. I want to see the commitment of supporting characters. Witness the belief in an individual so fully, that others wrap their own identity around the notion. That they would submit to a role, for the greater good, using another person as the conduit. (Neck indignantly), “Why can’t it be a black woman?” Ahem, “Black women” since we already doing the work in live action…?
I’ma reject this idea that we’re somehow absent, unavailable, or ornery. Shake that ass into another manner of creating, and showing, and sharing, and collaborating. Especially when there are no upstarts aloud. Ahem, allowed. TOONSKIN is a crowbar, a slipped Mickey (Mouse), Mighty Mouse snorting a flower, and a shoehorn suggesting that a showrunner can look any old kind of way. That a team isn’t built upon that cracker that will tell you unnecessary stories about his “ratchet” ex-wife and never come through with a promise. Rather, it’s an unexpected cadre. A new father in Omaha, a muralist in Gainesville, an animator, gone viral. A composer in Columbus, a font maker, a shit-starter in Philadelphia, and two bitches in Brooklyn building characters and backgrounds, when they have a little time in between their shifts, pandemic notwithstanding. In the world of our own making, TOONSKIN is a receptionist who is also the mother of the universe. An intergalactic game show host, box-headed. A pair of legs (always stilettoed, and occasionally pussy popping in the cosmos). An anthropomorphic dog/militant revolutionary, and a Christ-figure with outstanding warrants (first name “Warrant”, last name, “James”).
TOONSKIN suggests that we all have an experience of motherhood, just by being born, and that birth is simply a form of interdimensional travel. Understanding the pussy-as-portal, and elective surgery as Art. Whether it’s gender transformation, or asses inflated, neither is more righteous than the other. Because I am having an adventure. Gainesville Gurl vs. The Bro-tasm. Conceptual, physical, spiritual, natural... These 60-TOONSKIN-seconds are worth their weight in Lena Dunham, a grrrl with her own adventures played out on HBO. Or Issa Rae, rap reflection eternal, and Sister Night who ate the egg. Butterfly Ball, I am the Walrus, and I still just want to do hoodrat shit with my friends.
We way too segregated on the fun shit. Or the personal shit. No wonder why we're drawn back into the loop. We don't really know each other. One step forward, three steps back (repeat).
I want all kinds of friends, too. WHITEBITCHES, BLACKBITCHES, MIKEBITCHES, CRAZYBITCHES, CORPORATEBITCHES, RICHBITCHES, OLDASSBITCHES, CHONGABITCHES, EDUCATEDBITCHES, DUMBBITCHES, LITTLEBITCHES... They all my bitches, *irregardless* of phenotype, nationality, genitalia, modality, and/or liquid assets. I'd much rather break bread. Twerk. Perreo. Scroll. Sing karaoke. Listen to your grandaddy's stories, 'cause I'm actually invited over to his musty-ass house. I wanna see pics of your family on those prints with the rounded corners or that scalloped edge, in black and white. I want to be an auntie to your peach/praline/ebony baby. I want to brag about something you taught me that I never knew before. I want to hack the programming of our embedded *izm*, nurturing care from pursued interaction. And listening to. And laughing at, and crying with, each other. We way too segregated on the fun shit. Or the personal shit. No wonder why we're drawn back into the loop. We don't really know each other. One step forward, three steps back (repeat).
I live in a small college southern town. It's Florida, so all the rumors are true. Wackadoo is a state of mind and a location. The same I-10 that stretches across the bottom of the Untied States, has a billboard just before you get to Gainesville, and just after a massive confederate flag on somebody's property, adjacent to the interstate. It reads, “No Rap, No Crap.” I think it's for a radio station. My musical tastes are more Christopher Wallace and Christopher Cross, Baroque and Beyoncé, Megan Thee, and Mellencamp. But I bet, on that stretch of I-10, we all know what a water pig is. Recently, I got a grant from Alachua Country, with money collected from the purchase of artsy license plates. I was one of three grantees, and we immediately started making plans. Work plans. Reading group plans. Virtual seminar plans.
But I'm glad we opted out of those distracting tasks, because friendship is a revolutionary act, animated and live action.
TOONSKIN Credits: Jaamal Benjamin (Font Design), Kevin Bhall (Animation), Jazzmyn Coker (Graphic Design), Kara Crombie (Story Development), Gen Jackson (2-D Character Design), Counterfeit Madison (Music Composition/Supervisor), Luke Severson (3-D Character Design), Alma Elaine Shoaf (Storyboards), Jordan Unverzagt (Backgrounds). The artist would also like to give special thanks to Derek Ballard, Jaamal Benjamin, Kevin Bhall, Vivian Chui, Jazzmyn Coker, Kara Crombie, Gabriel Florenz, Juliet Gray, David Everett Howe, Gen Jackson, Counterfeit Madison, Kathleen Massara, LaJuné McMillian, Terence Nance, Gary Panter, Kendra Jayne Patrick, Luke Severson, Alma Elaine Shoaf, Jordan Unverzagt, Steffen Vala, Michael Vogel, Trent Williams, and Ziyang Wu.
For my Mother. Always. (And welcome to this dimension, Eve!)