What do Estelle, Cree Summers, Megan Thee Stallion’s security guard, and the whole of Black Instagram have in common?
They all love illustrator Markus Prime.
The preacher’s kid from Warren, Ohio with the sex-positive comic strip, Oh Nah. (Ed. Note: stylized with the period at the end), has been under the spotlight before. His innovative flair with a pen and pixel gave many folx pause when his book B.R.U.H. offered an alternative to the melanin-deprived works of Nate Kitch, Maldo, and Petra Eriksson. Also known as Black Renditions of Universal Heroes, Prime directly addressed the representation of Black women in pop culture by using his work to draw them as superheroes.
“I always drew out Peanuts characters like Charlie Brown, but I’d make them Black to look like me,” he told this very publication in a 2016 sit-down chat. “I wanted to see more women of color. I could complain about it or start contributing.” His art would go viral in ways even he couldn’t imagine. Outside of B.R.U.H., his depiction of Disney princesses Jasmine and Pochahontas smoking hookah went viral, eventually being repurposed into images used on iPhone cases, pins, and T-shirts. “I’m just trying to show that Blackness is infinite.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Prime’s conversation-driven illustrations have turned heads and turned Oh Nah. into a project full of sex-positive Black representation. His uplifting, artistic portrayal of couples extends from his personal life and from those of friends and muses that help to inspire the work that averages 8,000 to 10,000 likes on Instagram. From relishing in the pleasures of self-love to using Star Wars Jedi training as a metaphor for hitting the G-spot, Prime has tastefully brought Black sex into our timelines and garnered a healthy, loyal Instagram following.
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In the past year alone, he has seen his numbers jump from 180K to now, as of this writing, 227K followers, and we’re not the only ones who have noticed. “I’ve definitely had some conversations with some people this year,” Prime told this author during our phone call. “I can’t say too much, but there are bigger plans on the horizon. I am definitely planning on making [Oh Nah.] coffee table books and I would love for this to become something that’s longer and in animated form.” Uncompromising and unfiltered, Markus Prime spoke with VIBE once again to talk about the origins of Oh Nah. comic, how talking about anal play and same-sex relationships blew up his comments section, and why Black women will always be his creative muse.
VIBE: First question I have for you Markus is about how the concept of Oh Nah. came about.
Markus Prime: It’s kind of funny [laughs]. [At the time] I kind of hit a wall creatively. I wasn’t inspired. Last year was kind of difficult [for me]. I felt like I was getting repetitive and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
So, I was going through my Instagram feed — I follow a lot of comics — and I decided to see if I could just do one of the ones that I really enjoy seeing. I thought that I’m kind of funny and so I just drew one of my own [in that style] right before I went to a convention. I did it and I didn’t think anything else about it.
I was enjoying the convention and then a few hours later, I looked on my phone and [my post] has about 8,000 likes [laughs]. I’m like, ‘Wow, what the hell?!’ I didn’t think it was going to go like that, so yeah, it really was just a spur of the moment thing.
And that inspired you to continue Oh Nah. off of the response you got online?
Yeah, man, yeah! I thought even then that it was a one time thing, but that one took off and I was surprised. ‘Wow, you all really think this is funny,’ I thought to myself. I just kept doing them. Even now, every single post I do is just me thinking, ‘Oh, they’re not going to like this one and it’ll be over,’ and no one taps out. They just keep demanding more. So, [this process] has just been really fun for me. There’s no pressure.
For myself and others who follow you, Oh Nah. hits that sweet spot of anime and Black illustration that appeals to us greatly. From Dragon Ball Z to other pop culture references you use, your comic is relatable and funny. What changes did you notice once you got into the rhythm of your postings that was different from B.R.U.H.?
Even when I did B.R.U.H., I have never had anything in my career that has been responded to consistently like Oh Nah. The way the people talk and engage in the comments section, it’s amazing! A friend of mine who is a dope artist that I’ve known for years made a good point to me, saying, ‘Bro, I don’t think you realize that your posts have been kind of educational. You’re opening people up to these dialogues through your comics that folx wouldn’t have been had in the Black community.’
I did one [post] about anal play with your girl, and it was really interesting. The thread in the comments section went on for a day and a half. There were people who were defensive and argued with each other, but there were a lot more people sharing educational things in the thread than just being negative. I didn’t realize that that had been happening in every post. When I do something about homosexuality, the comments would be just so interesting.
People would be having these discussions off of something that was supposed to be a joke and it’s the simplest thing I’ve ever drawn.
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Delving into the anal play topic, in your comics I polled a question from my social friends group, and Tatiana [King] from For All Nerds wanted to know what inspired the change in direction with your art style?
Shout-out to Tatiana, man. That’s the homie right there. I really wanted to do something new. When I started back on Tumblr, I was by myself, but now there are a lot of my previous styles everywhere [online]. So, I felt like I didn’t stand out anymore, that I was just a part of the regular timeline, which was to be expected. I had impacted the game in at least enough ways where I felt there was enough version of me out there now, and I needed to do something different to have fun again. I wasn’t having fun, so I really wanted to just be free and Oh Nah. is very freeing for me.
Speaking of being free, you said in a past interview that a “Black woman can be the most powerful character in her story without her being portrayed as out of the ordinary,” which isn’t something you hear Black men say publicly these days. What has been some of the feedback that you’ve received from Black women while doing these Oh Nah. episodes?
You said that you don’t hear a straight man rarely say these things, I have to be really honest, I wasn’t thinking about those things when I make this stuff. It’s because I’m very fortunate that a lot of my friends are Black women, so a lot of my art is already informed by them and their really positive feedback.
Most of the things that I draw are from their experiences. Even the ones that have to do with me, with a male character, are still influenced by Black women, which is why I think the response is what it is because they see it. I usually ask questions of Black women 90 percent of the time because there’s a lot of stuff I’m drawing that I don’t know about 100 percent, so I hit up my Black women friends.
I wouldn’t be here without them. My whole career is because of their support, and it’s all organic. It’s not something I’m forcing, I am just drawing [these episodes] from what I feel, so I think that’s why [Oh Nah.] is working the way it is.
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Black women have been your inspiration throughout your career, so how do you feel about others in the animation-illustration game over-sexualizing them? How do you maintain such good taste with your work?
That’s a good question. I’m not better than any of those people; I just go to Black women about the process. I’ve listened to their feedback over the years. Black women are 60 percent of my audience online. They’re the ones who are messaging me, emailing me, and telling me, ‘Hey, we see this thing that you might like,’ or ‘Hey, we love this,’ and I think consulting with the muse makes me relatable.
I’m listening when they’re telling me something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very much a believer of “let me do my art.” But when it comes to how Black women are being seen and represented, I am listening to them. If I am going to use them as the subject of my art, I should damn well be listening to them.
To go back to the anal play and same-sex situations you illustrate, you’ll also address those conversations in the comments directly. How do you balance the line between using art to entertain and using it to create these discussions about sex that are often overlooked?
If anyone knows about B.R.U.H., you’ve been at least aware of my work for a while. One thing I hope people realize is that when it comes to anything serious is that I only draw those things when I’m inspired, when I genuinely feel them. In drawing them when I am in the moment, I think that’s why [the comic] gets the responses they get. I don’t tackle a lot of same-sex issues in my comics because it is not my experience. Any of the ones that you’ve seen me do, I’ve asked one of my friends in the queer community like, ‘How do you feel about this?’ or ‘Would this make sense?’
Ignorance of any kind is infuriating and that particular issue had been bothering me, so that particular comic was more so to address the straight men who had issues with [same-sex or anal play]. There were also women who had an issue with it, but nine times out of 10, it’s men who still have to keep letting everybody know how insecure they are when nobody asks them anything. You could keep scrolling, man. It’s such a weird thing. If a straight man gets hit on in public, they get all, ‘Oh, man, I’m not gay. Don’t come at me!’ and I’m like why you gotta do all of that? If you’re secure with yourself, you don’t have to be tripping like that. You could just say thank you and move on, you know what I mean?
This issue is something I’m glad that I’m addressing and I hope that these conversations [via Oh Nah.] become more productive. It just makes them look a bit less confident in the long run.
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Right, right. In that same 2015 interview, you also said that Black representation in the visual arts was “lagging.” Would you say that that has evolved since then?
I do feel like visual representation has evolved, but not necessarily as much as I feel it can because we’ve been doing it. I think more so than evolved it is just getting a larger light shined upon it, you feel me?!
Oh Nah., in my opinion, shouldn’t be this big of a deal. It still feels like a “first,” if that makes any sense. I’m not the first one to talk about sex or even do Black art in this style, but in terms of the response, I feel like we’re hitting a lot of milestones [as a creative collective] that should have been hit a long time ago. And when I say visual representation, it still feels like a lot of things that are being spotlighted are being done as a favor for us. Like ‘Oh, we’ll let you have this one’ or ‘We’ll let you have two Black people on this show this time.’
We wouldn’t care [as much] if we had as many options as our white counterparts. They have a million things to watch, read, and experience, so it doesn’t bother them when there’s a sad movie out because they’ve seen several other positive stories out at the same time. They can pick from the litter. We deal with Queen & Slim for the next few months and then here comes Just Mercy and then we might get another next quarter. We have to hold on to whatever we get. I think when we get to a point where we have multiple things at one time, it’s not going to be a big deal.
Oh Nah. is very sex positive and it is one of the few places that I know in the Black space that really promotes this conversation in a kind and imaginative way. With that said, I wanted to know what your thoughts are about sex positivity in your work and in the visual arts world?
It is a matter of my experiences versus the way the media has given us our own experience. I joke a lot that white people have finessed us so well because they’ve taken things from us and they re-gifted them back to us [laughs]. It’s like they took a plate of food from us, ate most of it, and then they gave that same plate back to us with a little leftover. That’s how I feel like sex has been portrayed to us from a Black experience. If you look at most of the ways in major films or TV shows, Black sex has always had this stigma to it. It is always shown as this rough and aggressive, one dimensional view of sex and that’s not true of us.
Even in other factors, if it is a gay couple, they have this very stereotypical approach to it. They’ve got to be super-flamboyant or they have to be overly-exaggerated, which means we’re only getting a handful of the same looks. I’ve been fortunate thanks to traveling around the country that I’ve never seen one version of anything.
Gay wasn’t one way to me [and] by the time I was old enough to understand what was happening, I had met so many different people that I had learned that this wasn’t how everyone acted. That’s just what the TV or movies tried to show me as a kid. I think that’s why it is easier for me to draw these comics the way I do and talk about it in that way because sexuality is one of the only places where we’re not willing to acknowledge diversity.
I feel like that’s where we’re really hypocrites. We’ll talk about everybody being different: different cultures and religions, but when sexuality comes up that’s when people are like, ‘Oh, that’s wrong. You should only be like this.’ And that’s so backwards to me!
As I mentioned earlier, you drop references such as Dragon Ball Z and Naruto into your work, but those shows rarely — if at all — feature any Black characters. Some of my personal favorites like One Punch Man and Baki don’t do a bang-up job with the Black characters that currently exist in these shows. What would it take for a major creative shift to happen given how much Black people love and support anime, in your opinion?
Shout-out to LeSean Thomas, the creator of Cannon Busters, as this has been a discussion I’ve been having with friends my whole life. His contribution to the culture with that show is inspiring because it’s Japanese and there are rules to how they do their stuff. Not everyone can do it and they just don’t let anybody in. We deal with that sort of segregation in our own country — even now — with our own media, but [with anime] it is an even higher mountain to climb because we’re not really represented there.
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I think it’s interesting that with both of these white and Japanese animations, we spend so much money on them and then their response to that is acting like it is such a hassle to let us in the industry. It really would have to be an issue of pride for both the white and Japanese sides of the industry to let its guard down. What’s really the problem, you know? If they are going to take our money, at least stop drawing us with those big pink, donut-shaped lips. That’s the least you could do to start out.
Secondly, hire us for voice acting instead of a white person or someone who isn’t Black. We need baby steps in our direction, to be frank. From drawing our hair a little different to working on the texture to just giving a damn — these things could start the change [in the anime industry]. There are some anime examples where they’ve done us justice, but it’s very rare. So, I think they have to care first, which seems like a huge, huge, huge feat.
For those who have yet to get familiar with Oh Nah. and your style, how would you describe it to them in five words or less?
Five words or less? [Laughs] “Adult Calvin and Hobbes style.”