Chiquanda Tillie, creator of Tickle Me Purple, along with her work (Photo by Shakeem Jones)

Columbia’s Black animators are creating what they wish they had growing up – diverse animated characters.  

Chiquanda Tillie’s niece, Zoey, wanted an expensive doll that Tillie said did not look like her. So, Tillie made a doll that looked like her niece with a matching outfit, and she loved it.

“Other people said, ‘You made a doll that looks like my niece, can you make me one?’” Tillie said.

The Zoey Doll gave her the idea to create children’s books with characters that looked like her nieces and nephews. Thus, Tickle Me Purple was born.

Tickle Me Purple, created in 2012, specializes in creating both adult and children’s coloring books and puzzles that center on diverse characters. 

Available for purchase on her website, Tickle Me Purple’s collection features coloring books filled with positive affirmations and depictions of young Black boys with crowns on top of their head. Its puzzles feature Black children as doctors or riding bikes, smiling from ear to ear.

Tillie said she wanted to create images that were positive in nature for children. 

“I want them to feel like they can be anything they want to be,” she said. “A lot of my books promote believing in yourself.”

The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison examines and conducts data on the diversity of children’s books. The CCBC found that of the 3,420 new books it reviewed in 2021, only 340 focused on Black characters — and only 314 of those books were written by Black authors.

The diversity shown in Tickle Me Purple is what some young adults wish they had during their childhood.

Hannah Bruce is a third-year pre-pharmacy student at the University of South Carolina. She is bi-racial and said she has never seen a character that reflected her identity growing up.

“It made me feel like there weren’t any people like me out there,” Bruce said.

Animator Corey Davis saw a similar need for representation in the comic book world. Davis was a fan of comic books at a young age, and said he did not see any characters that resembled him. 

Davis has a serialized comic book, “Jet Boy,” that can be found at local comic shops and on his website that depicts children of color. 

Jet Boy follows a 10-year-old boy who works for a top secret government agency that polices alien technology.

“It’s pretty much like a love letter to young Black men,” Davis said. “They can actually be heroes as well.”

Davis said he hopes kids are able to see themselves in his characters.

Tillie and Davis both said they see a future where more diverse characters will enter animation. 

“When you are able to see yourself represented, it also helps with your self-esteem and your sense of self-worth,” Tillie said. 

Major industries also are working to diversify children’s animation. The 2023 live adaptation of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” will feature Black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel. 

But it has not come without heavy backlash. Social media users have voiced their displeasure of the mythical mermaid being a different race compared to the 1989 animated film’s white version.

Public health graduate student Deata Dewitt couldn’t believe the hate she has seen spewed on social media. 

 “It’s a lot of racist memes as far as ‘Da Little Mermaid,’ spelling it ‘Da,’ instead of ‘The,’” Dewitt said. “It just means certain people look at Black people as uneducated and ghetto. A lot of us don’t talk like that. It just puts Black people in a bad light.”  

 Third-year USC biological science student Darvae Williams has put the negativity aside and is excited for what this remake will mean for Black girls.

 “I’m fully in support of it,” Williams said. “It’s fantastic. It’s a good way for little girls to see themselves as princesses because now there’s a Black princess they can look up to.”


Comic book character, Jet Boy (Photo courtesy of Corey Davis)

Cover of “Flower Girls,” a coloring book from Tickle Me Purple (Photo by Shakeem Jones)

Puzzles available through Tickle Me Purple (Photo by Shakeem Jones)