This story is featured in CityBeat's April 5 print edition.
Cincinnati-based digital artist Brandon Hill’s line of coloring books fuse anime, hip-hop, western comic books and pop culture influences, and they’re created with mental wellness in mind. Flip through volume 3, Bad and Bushido, for example, and you’ll find uplifting affirmations interspersed with samurai philosophy, trivia and journaling prompts.
Sold under the business moniker In Fly We Trust, each coloring book volume speaks to a different era of Hill’s own mental health journey.
“When we talk about mental health, in a lot of communities, there’s a stigma attached,” Hill tells CityBeat during an interview at Downtown’s blaCk Coffee Lounge. “This is well known, right? Especially in men, who may not be apt to speak about what’s going on inside of them. The response oftentimes is, ‘I’m good.’ But we’re not good. We’re in pain like everybody else, and it’s unresolved and we’re trying to figure it out.”
On July 26, 2018, Hill was hit by a car while riding his bike in Cincinnati. The accident left him partially disabled for a few years – he says he had to use his father’s cane. In the following years, Hill also went through a divorce, which he says affected his children. Hill explains that with these changes came fear, depression and anxiety. The first volume, Weed and Zen, released in June of 2021, is a culmination of years processing that heavy anxiety.
“You come to a conclusion – or no, a decision – that you’re either going to let it bring you down or build you up,” says Hill. “Those are your options. Like, that’s what the options are. And I had the thought that ‘I’m not going to let this break me down, it’s going to build me up.’ And I didn’t understand how that was actually going to happen.”
Hill says that newfound purpose came partially after he moved back to his hometown of Louisville in the summer of 2021. There, Hill began selling postcards at events like MELANnaire, a pop-up marketplace that champions Black-owned businesses and was founded by Nachand Trabue. (Hill moved back to Cincinnati in October 2021 so that his son and daughter could live in the same city). Postcards eventually evolved into coloring books, though he still sells plenty of the former, along with other items like canvas prints and t-shirts. According to Hill, the initial move to Louisville, and selling at pop-up fairs and marketplaces, was the push he needed to change.
“The people that bought the coloring books and came back and saw me later and told me the impact that the books were having on their lives was mind-blowing,” says Hill. “I didn’t understand how necessary it is for people to have resources and see positive images.”
At the time of the interview, Hill had self-published three volumes: Weed and Zen, Hustle and Motivate and Bad and Bushido; he’s aiming for the fourth, Capes and Come-Ups, to be released in May. There’s also Love and Lou, a love letter to Louisville in coloring book form, and Scribble and Scrawl, an activity book aimed at children with an emphasis on emotional development.
Hill describes Capes and Come-Ups as a resource for kids around the age of 10 that adults can enjoy as well; similar to Scribble and Scrawl, it aims to help build emotional and mental skills in youth and encourage self-discovery.
“You don’t have to wait until you’re an adult to be an amazing person that helps other people and also yourself,” says Hill of the Capes and Come-Ups goal to show children their value. In fact, Hill says his own children – 16-year-old daughter, Assata, and 9-year-old son, Ausar – have been there since In Fly We Trust’s inception.
“One of the things I wanted to do with art was to create a legacy for my children,” says Hill. “And my son and daughter have been a part of that legacy.”
A Cincinnati-themed coloring book is also in the works; Hill says that it will spotlight the Queen City’s businesses, urban landscape and people. Four of Hill’s coloring books have been translated into Spanish, with the intent to release translated versions of each, a decision Hill made to be more inclusive to often-overlooked and marginalized Spanish-speaking communities.
The coloring books can be ordered at inflywetrust.com, at Rookwood’s Joseph-Beth Booksellers and art fair events throughout the year, including at Findlay Market. Hill’s business will also get its own retail space at 5846 Hamilton Ave. starting April 15 via OurShop College Hill, a program that allows local entrepreneurs to test out a brick-and-mortar space rent-free for six months. He will share the space alongside fellow OurShop recipients Brent Hodge and Zonieke Alston Betts.
“I’m excited and I’m also nervous,” says Hill. “It’s one thing to do pop-ups and be all over the place, but it’s another thing to have a dedicated retail space; but the program is very supportive. They work with you and show you how it’s done. And it’s something I hope to understand better. It’s like the universe has aligned itself properly.”
Hill holds a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies and African American art from Northern Kentucky University. While he says he has done graphic design professionally since around 2012, Hill notes that if he takes college experience and his activist work during the 2001 Cincinnati riots into account, his design experience goes back 20 years.
“I did flyers for demonstrations and for protests around the university and within the community of Cincinnati and in Covington as well,” says Hill. “Those skill sets that I learned early on really helped create the foundation for what I’m doing right now.”
Another important piece of Hill’s work is accessibility. From larger canvas prints all the way down to postcards, Hill says he wants his art to be accessible to all. Whether it’s a small piece, postcard, coloring book or larger canvas print, Hill wants everyone to have the opportunity to bring art into their homes.
“It’s been a blessing, to be honest. I’m much more for inclusivity in the arts. I don’t want to be economically exclusive,” says Hill. “Also, I want the average individual to feel like they can do it. And this is how you do it. This is how I did it.”
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