I mainly work in visual storytelling, which is a fancy way of saying I like to draw pictures that tell a story. Throughout the years, this has meant working in animation, editorial, and now, children’s books. Drawing and writing for kids is something I’ve always wanted to do, because when I was a kid, I loved stories and movies and books, but I wanted more of them to look like me (rather selfishly, I admit). This is a pretty common thread amongst a lot of creators and storytellers I meet. We become artists so we can add to the mix and enrich the narrative with our perspectives and experiences and dreams.
I guess a lot of times when people look at my art, they notice a few common things: One, probably a lot of magic. I love fantasy and I love adventure. Another common element is that all of my main characters are kids – sometimes a little older, sometimes a little younger, but kids with big imaginations and endless possibilities ahead of them. And finally, people often comment on the diversity of my work. The frequent use of characters of color, the unexpectedly queer relationships, the parallels between what it means to be a good person and what makes a good monster. I am often asked, “How come this character has darker skin?” Or, “Don’t you think you’re trying too hard?” I once had someone tell me that my own personal comic was becoming “diverse for the sake of diversity.”
I realize my line of work is not overtly political or activist-geared, and that amongst careers in art, mine is very commercial. In animation, there are executives, corporations, merchandizing teams, and focus groups to navigate through. But children’s books open up a world of possibilities, where I can bring these ideals very directly to kids. I can’t tell you how life-changing it was for me to see a character that looked like myself when I first started watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and met Katara – not a fetishized, under-dressed character with stereotypes abound, but a girl who was my age, who was complicated and wonderful and sometimes horrible. Representation saves life and creates dreams. Ask the little black boy who fervently reads the Miles Morales run of Spiderman, or the little Chinese girl who watched Mulan five times last week, or the boy on the playground who records Steven Universe and sees a kid who is shaped like him. Identity is complicated and weird and I’m still figuring it all out, but at the end of the day, I want to tell stories that haven’t been heard yet. There’s no such thing as diversity for the sake of diversity in my work. I create work for me and for others who are lacking representation, to tell the stories that selfish, small me dreamed about when she was younger and needed her own heroes.
Olivia Aserr is a Los Angeles based illustrator who works in animation and writes and paints children’s books. She reads a lot of fantasy, draws a lot of magical monstrous girls, and is currently working on multiple projects featuring a very diverse cast of characters. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and her work can be found at http://oliviaaserr.com and http://oliviaaserr.tumblr.com.
Illustrations provided by Olivia Aserr.