Markus Prime has been drawing since he was a toddler. The self-taught artist uses his voice to empower, illustrating themes of blackness and sexuality. Inspired by the women in his life, Prime listens to their stories and illustrates the world as they describe it. With his new book B.R.U.H. (Black Renditions of Universal Heroes), he pushes the idea that black women can—and should—be superheroes. Artist Markus Prime What’s your illustration background? My illustration background is very mixed; I didn’t get any formal training. I’ve just been drawing since I was a toddler. Anime was a very big influence, comics and cartoons, and a lot of Disney animations. I used to just take things from each of those and mix them together. Then obviously there is the blackness aspect too, adding that perspective to it. And over the past five or ten years, I’ve used YouTube to learn different techniques. You mentioned the blackness in your work. How do you incorporate that? Blackness is obviously a very important message. More so, I felt compelled to push black women to the front of it because there’s already a lack of things for black men, but there’s a super lack of things for black women. So it wasn’t necessarily me trying to put on a cape or something, but I saw a need and instead of complaining about it, I felt like I had the ability to do it. It’s more [about] putting all the things I love all together. It wasn’t necessarily me trying to put on a cape or something, but I saw a need and instead of complaining about it, I felt like I had the ability to do it. It’s more [about] putting all the things I love all together. Obviously I want to represent my people—there’s that aspect—and I love comic books and cartoons. I wanted to take two things that I was passionate about and put them together and mix it without being redundant. There’s a lot of work that’s very much “black art,” in the sense like, “ok, we get it.” I tried to make it to where it’s still modern and shows that black people are universal and not just a category that people put us in. Those are my two main perspectives: trying to keep us out of these boxes and still making sure you’re aware that it’s black. Photographer Anthony Prince Something else I really love is that you incorporate a lot of sexuality into your comics in such a beautiful way. That’s really tough because a lot of people are still close-minded when it comes to sexuality. So it took me a while to figure out how to do that in a tasteful manner. Because a lot of people are doing it, or they think they’re doing it, and it’s really just porn. So it was like, “how can I get these types of images or imagery across so people would still want to hang it up in their house?” How do you think you do that? I try to think of it from a woman’s perspective. Most of my closest friends are black women. It’s like market research. The things they tell me, the experiences they go through. A lot of people assume I’m trying to be the ambassador or god of black women, when I’m really just letting the black woman speak and I just draw based off what I’ve learned. That’s the frustrating part. A lot of times I’ll draw things and certain groups of women say, “oh that’s not real. No one does this or goes through this.” You can’t please everybody is what I’m learning. So you have a new book you’re working on, B.r.u.h.? Yes, B.R.U.H., that stands for Black Renditions of Universal Heroes. Over the past couple years I’ve been known for taking a lot of signature superheroes, gender swapping them and turning them black. A lot of people do that, so I definitely didn’t start that, but I think the way I approached it people appreciated because a lot of people were just turning them brown without giving them any characteristics or personality. Why does she have to have a romantic situation? Why does she have to be saved by somebody? Why does she need help? If it was a Superman comic, it would just be Superman. Why can’t a black woman have that same power? So this book is a collection of all those and my favorite pieces from the past year. It’s kind of pushing the issue of “why can’t this be normal?” Why can’t we get used to seeing black women as superheroes as a regular thing? Why can’t a black woman carry a story? And that’s just it. Why does she have to have a romantic situation? Why does she have to be saved by somebody? Why does she need help? If it was a Superman comic, it would just be Superman. Why can’t a black woman have that same power? It’s a coffee table book, but it’s meant to give people that spark of conversation. Like, “oh it would be cool if Dragon Ball Z was all black women, and Adventure Time was about a black girl instead.” It’s a collection of images that hopefully get that representation more vocalized. Artist Markus Prime When did you really start vocalizing yourself as an artist online? Well I’m about to give away my age, but I can take it back to Myspace. At the time, I wasn’t really looking to make any money of it. I would say that was probably in 2002–2003. What do you want people to know about your work? I don’t necessarily agree with everything I draw. I draw based off things that [women tell me] are actually happening. I’m not a black woman; I can’t sit here and say this is actually how all things go. I don’t know that. I just want people to see that there are so many perspectives. Even though we are black, we are still human, and we are as layered as any other human being. That’s all I’m trying to portray.