Terrell Villiers on creating a space for Black and queer bodies within cartoons

Yet, it’s not just introspection that Terrell draws inspiration from. He proudly calls his characters “fan art” of his friends, pointing to how each of them is in some way alluding to those he knows in real life. “For as long as I can remember, my friends have always served as my muses to my work,” he says. One friend, in particular, is the talented experimental artist and cellist Kelsey Lu, who Terrell closely befriended when working on a comic book project for her debut album Blood. Titled Myristica, the comic was published in Italian publication Kaleidoscope Magazine, with partnership from Gucci. “I found out that I was hand-picked by Lu through an ocean of talented illustrators for the project,” says Terrell, recalling how he first met Kelsey Lu on the project. “Kaleidoscope flew me out to the Cayman islands to meet Lu and acquire more information about them for the comic, and it was an absolute dream.” The two found themselves as kindred spirits, which lent itself well to Terrell’s conceptualisation of the comic. He speaks fondly of Lu’s “immeasurable” energy and humour which helped breathe life into his illustrations for them. “We were really able to connect on a very spiritual, energetic, almost ancestral level,” he tells us.
The two discussed everything and anything, and Terrell particularly highlights their conversation on “carrying that shame of being the ‘delinquents’ of the family throughout our adolescence, which really propelled us into our queer alternative liberation,” he says. These discussions eventually fed into the narrative of the comic, as did the narrative of the comic begin to feed into their discussions. It was a rewarding process for Terrell, who says they now consider Kelsey Lu family. “I’m so honoured to share such a pivotal moment in my career with them.” As for what’s next for Terrell, he tells he not only hopes to have his own animation series eventually, but has also begun to incorporate photography into his illustrations. We’ll be staying tuned.
He explains to us how refining small details in the portrayal of Black characters in illustration and cartoons makes all the difference in bettering their representation: “On the skin of my cartoon characters, I place highlight bubbles that signify the melanin on the bodies.” All of Terrell’s characters glow in ways that read as both fantastically cartoonish and astonishingly glorious, and it’s something close to Terrell’s heart. “Growing up I struggled with my own understanding of beauty politics around skin,” he explains. “I often thought I was ‘too sweaty’ or ‘too oily,’ so I would often run away from the sun or any form of perspiring work to avoid looking ‘too shiny’. But, illuminating my characters in this way helped me accept the beauty and power in melanated skin.” It’s a powerful sentiment that carries through in all of Terrell’s work. By taking something painful and transmuting it into something iridescent, Terrell has created a trademark for himself.