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Communication Arts alum publishes graphic novel, Twins

headshot of Shannon Wright wearing a black shirt and standing in front of a blue wall

In Twins, a new graphic novel for middle schoolers, sisters Maureen and Francine Carter navigate life in sixth grade. Francine—who now goes by Fran—is determined to separate from her sister in hopes of becoming her own person. Meanwhile, Maureen is content to keep everything the same and can’t understand her sister’s sudden change.

The novel was written by Varian Johnson and illustrated by Communication Arts alum Shannon Wright (BFA ’16), concluding a three-year process of scripting, sketching a 250-page book, inking, lettering, flatting, and coloring. Finally holding the book in her hands was surreal, Wright says, after chipping away at it for so long.

Wright also says the book was meaningful for a number of reasons, but particularly because the story features Black children and other children of color as main characters.

“[They’re] not just side characters to push the plot forward for their white counterparts,” Wright says. “We get to see kids of color exist in a story not solely focused on their suffering and how it pertains to society. It’s a love letter to Black kids, especially Black girls, and something I wish I had growing up and even more now as an adult.”

Twins was just the latest example of Wright’s work featuring Black women in all of their complexities.

“I’m not Black first or a woman first; I am existing as both at all times,” she says. “My aim when I do decide to depict Black women is to show our humanity, our dimensionality. When it comes to addressing race and gender, and even sexuality in my work, it’s important not to strip those [I’m] depicting of those two things: humanity and dimensionality.”

The New York Times took notice of Wright’s representation of the characters in Twins. A review of the book noted the diverse skin tones and hair textures, as well as visual details that capture Black girlhood and the Carter family from hair bonnets and a wide-toothed comb on a dresser, to their mother’s variety of headwraps and headbands.

Twins also represents Wright’s aesthetic of bright colors—a feature that’s present in another recent project: the poster for the 2020 Richmond Folk Festival. The typically outdoor festival was held virtually this year, which influenced Wright’s approach.

“I had to figure out what a virtual festival might look like in a fun way,” Wright says. “What I ended up with was a performer isolated on stage with faces all around her, enjoying the festivities from behind their screens. And while the musician and audience members are separated, I wanted to create this sense that they’re still able to be together.”