Céli & Cel

Céli Godfried and Cel Cottrell are artists and the creators of #Blacktober, a month-long challenge in October that encourages Black artists to imagine Black people in their favorite animated stories.

Céli is an Afro-Caribbean Dutch freelance illustrator currently based in Denmark, specializing in the cute, colorful, and expressive. After working as a Creative Digital Marketing assistant, graduating and getting her Graphic Design degree – she moved from the Netherlands to Denmark to pursue a professional career in her field of study. You can always wake her up for spicy chicken wings! You can find her on Twitter at @pianta_.

Cel is an Afro-Caribbean American community manager, illustrator, and game developer based in Philadelphia. She specializes in creating community spaces and projects that are made by the people for the people. Cel earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animation in Game Arts with a minor in Illustration and continued to do community work all throughout college. After graduating she pursued a career in community management in the art field and now works in eSports! Cel enjoys good food, cozy games, and fun people. You can follow her on Twitter at @TheActualCel.

Missed out on #Blacktober? Check out the the Official Recap Zine for #Blacktober 2020!

Black Girls Create: What do you create?

Cel: It varies! But mostly a lot of character designs and stories based around the BIPOC LGBTQ+ community and stuff for kids! I also make a lot of space + food themed merch!

Céli: I use my graphic design knowledge to create whimsical, colorful illustrations and character designs that center BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. I aim to create works that I wanted to see as a kid.

BGC: What inspired you to create #Blacktober?

Cel: I wanted to work with one of my best community members! Céli and I have worked together multiple times before and each time has been a blast! When I saw she was thinking of the concept of #Blacktober, I decided to reach out and see if she wanted assistance! From there, we both worked together to create something that would finally give the Black community a break. I’m always down for helping to make inclusive space and working on the visibility for BIPOC people, but a chance to do it just for the Black community? Couldn’t pass it up! 

Céli: Giving visibility is something that’s always been important to me and now that I have the platform and audience to do so, I wanna do everything I can to put the spotlight on those who need it most. This year has been especially tough for our communities and there was a desire to create a space where we could celebrate ourselves and our creations. A space where we were at the center of positivity and joy, after years of being underrepresented and misrepresented (especially in nerd spaces!). I joked about it at first but the response was so positive that it inspired Cel and I to turn it into something real, and here we are!

BGC: Why do you create?

Cel: It’s been ingrained in me since I was a child. My whole family is full of creatives in their own way so it was inevitable that I’d be the same. It took me some time to figure out my path and why I wanted to do it and I learned that overall I just want to put smiles on people’s faces from what I make, while also creating the characters I wished to see when I was younger.

Céli: Same as Cel reallyI’m passionate about creating cute, diverse, and meaningful stories and characters, in hopes to empower, encourage, and uplift marginalized people! It’s my way of letting my voice be heard. This creative outlet helps me cope with the world we live in today.

BGC: Who or what inspires you to create what you do? 

Cel: Other creatives! For Black artists specifically I really look up to Geneva Bowers, Kiana Mai, PlasticBottru, Céli, Shauna Grant, and a bunch of other people! They all have varying styles, sure, but I see love and passion in everything that they do and I wanna give the exact same vibes with my stuff!

Céli: The Black art community inspires me to do better and let our voices be heard. There’s so much hidden talent that needs to get out there. Plus, I want others to look at my art and say, “Hey, that’s me!”

BGC: What was it like seeing your creation, #Blacktober, take on its own life among so many other artists?

Cel: It was wild!!!! I would have never guessed it would have gotten as big as it did! I’m so happy that it has reached Black creatives literally around the world.

Céli: It was amazing and empowering! I never fully realized the impact my words and creations have on others until I saw this all unfold in front of my eyes. I am so proud of us all.

BGC: Throughout #Blacktober there were non-Black artists centering themselves in the challenge and critics questioning Black artists race-bending characters. What was that like? What advice would you give to other Black artists on how to push past that and create with joy anyway?

Cel: A lot of the concerns unfortunately came from a lot of people who saw #Blacktober as more of a political statement and also saw it as people saying the Black alternatives were “better” and should be replaced. The majority of the people participating in the event did not think so and if anything just wanted their recreation to stand side by side with the original (and there are a lot of pieces showing this as well). A lot of the words were rather harmful, truthfully, and misguided which led to anti-black/racist comments. However, in some small chances, it also led to people being educated and learning that the character concepts were just for fun and that anyone in the creative community can do it as long as there’s no negative intent behind it. 

The best word of advice I can say on working past the hate of people trying to bring down harmless fun is to keep creating. Even if you’re not posting it online. Just keep going and always keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. Once again, as long as there is good faith behind your actions you’re on the right track. (But don’t be a stranger to criticism either! No one is always correct in what they do and can always take the time to learn!)

Céli: #Blacktober was born as a response to the unprompted harassment Black creatives receive for existing in fandom spaces. The goal was to create a positive space for Black creators, by Black creators. Unfortunately, this means that the efforts to silence or belittle us aren’t entirely avoidable, and I am of course sad about that. Even with the extra effort of providing specific rules and other means for non-Black people to uplift Black creators, there will always be misguided rotten apples. 

For me, the positive responses will always outweigh the negativity. The feeling I got seeing Black Princess Peach for the first time is something I’ll never forget, it’s something special that resonated with so many folks. The kind and heartwarming comments from Black parents and their kids, saying #Blacktober art helped them feel seen, Black creatives saying it inspired them to create again or create more Black characters/stories, or Black folks generally saying it helped them love their skin color, will stand above anything else and it’s what inspires me to keep going, and I hope it does the same for everyone.

Because in the end, no matter what marginalized folks do — create their own spaces, celebrate themselves, find joy and community — it can be seen as a threat to those who hate to see us thrive. The best act of resistance is to rise above that and continue creating what you enjoy and keep doing you, unapologetically. By doing so you will be able to surround yourself in a community who will support and uplift you in return.

BGC: Why is it important for Black people to create and to see themselves in others’ creations?

Cel: It builds their character. It shows them that they’re just as important to be seen in the media they consume. Having representation is more than just seeing someone that looks like you. It reminds you that there are millions of others out there that are just like you. 

Céli: It can feel so alienating not seeing yourself in the media you enjoy while growing up. That’s why it’s important to create stories and characters that reflect and include us, and for Black people to be behind it so their voices are heard and centered. So you don’t have to end up wondering why it was never there, or why it all felt so empty.

BGC: Any advice for Black artists?

Cel: Everyone starts somewhere. Don’t put yourself in a position where you feel you have to follow someone else’s tracks. You are your own train and you’re gonna go down your own rails. Sometimes you’ll have to stop and reflect, but at the end of the day you’ll never keep moving that engine! Also please remember to eat and hydrate! Set an alarm if you need to!

Céli: Finding your voice and figuring out who you are as an artist takes time. You might make mistakes, but that is okay. As long as you create things you enjoy and believe in, your passion will shine through and reach someone. Also, don’t forget to do some stretches, your lower back will thank you! Haha

BGC: Any future projects?

Cel: More charity zines, celebrating the 1st year anniversary for the Black Card Members community February 1st, and #Blacktober 2021!

Céli: At the moment, no, but I am always looking! Hopefully I will participate in more of Cel’s charity zines and I would love to focus on a comic or graphic novel of some sorts in the future… And of course looking forward to the next #Blacktober!