No Angel⍟ (Short Story)

As a small child, I believed in angels. Not with a religious fervor, not quite. I never truly cared much for religion or the bible. My mother made me go to church every Sunday and I fell asleep every time.

But when it came to the angels, they captivated me more than anything. At church, I would stare at the paintings of children my age with white, feathery wings floating in paradise under sorbet-colored skies.

“Do they ever grow up?” I asked my mother once.

“I suppose so,” she would reply in a gentle voice. “One day you’ll grow up, wont you?”

I was confused. “Me?”

“Yes. When I needed a blessing, I got an angel of my own: you.”

I was elated after hearing that, spending the entire service trying to “remember” my life as an angel. I ignored the prayers, the gospel tunes and the loud moments of worship.

As the years passed, I cared less and less about the angels. I was getting bigger, experiencing new pains, becoming more aware of the world and how powerless I felt in it. My mother became meaner and stricter with each new day. She lived in a world that wanted to control her and so she decided to control me. What dresses and hairstyles to wear, what to eat, what friends to hang out with. But it made sense. Raising a black girl in the 60’s wasn’t easy, and my mother, as wise as she was, didn’t have all the answers.

Things stabilized eventually in the following decade after my mother realized I had a strong head on my shoulders. I got straight A’s in high school and mostly stayed out of trouble. I had even gotten accepted into my dream college. She was proud of me. She had always been.

I had taken up a job waiting tables at a diner not too far off from where I was going to college to study biochemistry. It was clean, the customers were friendly, and they tipped well. The food wasn’t too bad either. At the time, it was enough to help pay off most of my bills. Everything was good.

I got a call from my mother one night as I was studying. She had cancer. We didn’t cry, though. We thought. Prayed even. Treatment was possible, but paying for it would be a challenge. She wasn’t working anymore and my money was tied up between my bills, tuition, and helping her whenever I had it to spare. We needed a miracle.

On a snowy Christmas eve, I went in to work an extra shift at the diner. My boss said it would be slow, but a few lonely souls would eventually wander in for some pie or hot cocoa. She was right, of course. Through the night, old men would quietly drift inside into the warmth of the diner. A lot of them were widowers. Some didn’t have children. And some just had families that left them behind.

Fiften minutes after the clock had struck midnight, another stranger walked in. This one stood out because he was so much younger than the rest, no more than ten years older than me. He wore a black overcoat dusted with snow over a sharp blue three-piece suit. He was tall and well-built with slightly longer dark brown curls and a thick mustache that was fashionable at the time. His skin was tanned with a golden hue. He wasn’t white, but if he wanted to, he could pass.

The look on his face was… pleasant. Optimistic even, which contrasted with the lethargic expressions of the handful of other men sulking over their food. He took off his overcoat and quietly took a seat at one of the red booths. I made my way over to him as he was scanning the menu.

“Hi there. You wanna start off with something to drink?” I asked.

“Ah, yes please. Hot chocolate with a marshmallow,” he spoke. He had a strange, british-adjacent accent.

“Got it. Do you still need more time to look over the menu?”

“No, I’m ready. May I get a cheeseburger with fries please? Also a Belgian waffle with the strawberries and whipped cream. And a plate of four eggs, bacon, sausage, and three pancakes,” he replied.

“Are… you waiting for someone?” I asked, confused at his large order of food.

“Oh no, dear. I’m alone for the night.” He had an enticing smile. “I’m just very hungry.”

“Okay then. Well, I’ll have your hot chocolate soon and your food should be ready shortly.”

“Much obliged,” the stranger said.

 I poured the steaming drink in a clean mug and placed a big white marshmallow on top that began to dissolve instantly. I returned to the stranger’s table.

 “You might want to let it cool a bit, it’s hot,” I said, setting the mug down in front of him. He immediately picked it up and took a big gulp without flinching.

 “Delicious,” he sighed. I stared at him blankly.

“Anything wrong, dear?” he asked, looking back up at me.

“Uh, no. I guess not.”

I returned to my place behind the counter, still watching the man. Everything about him seemed slightly off, like he didn’t really belong here with the rest of us. But he seemed genuinely kind enough.

“What’s your name?” the stranger asked as I returned with the large tray of food.

“You can call me Nita,” I answered while placing the plates on his table.

“Nita, would you like to join me?”

“I’m still on the clock,” I said.

“Everything seems to be moving slow enough. And what’s the difference between you sitting down and talking to me and you standing over there and staring at me?” he noted.

I rolled my eyes and took a seat across from him. “Fine. You got a name?”

“You can call me Jay,” he smiled brightly.

“Well, Jay, what do you wanna talk about?”

“You. Why aren’t you at home with your family right now?” he asked, being rather intrusive.

“I could ask you the same question,” I snapped back.

“I don’t have much family. I have a son, but he’s working. I’ll see him when the sun rises,” Jay said cryptically.

This man couldn’t have had a son that was old enough to work. He himself seemed to be too young. But I didn’t question it.

“Well, I don’t have much family either outside of my mom. I’m working to pay off my bills and tuition,” I said.

“What are you in school for?” Jay asked.

“Biochemistry.”

His eyes opened much wider than before. “That’s a surprise.”
“Why would it be a surprise?” I asked.  “I can’t like science?”

“No, no, dear. That’s not what I meant. I’m a scientist myself, actually. I haven’t seen many women like you in my days.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “They’ve been trying to keep us out.”

“They have,” Jay said, taking a bite into his burger. “Perhaps I can offer you a job in the field?”

“Working for you? Doing what exactly?” I asked.

“I’ve spent years recruiting scientists trying to move the world forward. Maybe you have a place with us?” Jay said. “I pay well.”

I looked at him suspisciously. “I don’t know about that.”

“Fair enough, I just thought I would ask,” he shrugged.

“Well, what would be the catch?”

“The catch would simply be keeping a big secret,” Jay said with his mouth full of fries. “Don’t worry, there’s no rush for you to make a decision.”

I thought about his offer for a moment. If he really did pay well, it had to be more money than I was making at the diner. Maybe he could help me with my mom’s medical bills.

“Tell me more about your mother, Nita,” Jay said, as if he had read my mind.

“Well…” I hesitated. Maybe if I told him about my mother’s cancer, he would try to help me out. “She’s sick. Cancer. We can’t really afford her medical bills right now.”

“Ah, I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, still stuffing his face with food without slowing down.

Jay reached into his pocket and pulled out a large stack of one hundred dollar bills and placed it on the table.

“That should be enough to cover the food and to help out your mother,” he said in a casual manner.

My eyes were wide. I didn’t think he would react so quickly with such a huge tip.

“I… don’t know what to say. Thank you!” I said.

“Don’t worry about it, Nita. Tell me, what’s your full name?”

“Juanita Johnson.”

“Well, Juanita. My offer for you to come work with me still stands, however, if you don’t want to right now, that’s fine too. But give me about… one week. I’ll call in some favors to get you an internship at a reputable lab. They’ll pay you well and you’ll have more than enough to keep paying for your mother’s treatment and school.”

“Slow down. What’s the catch to all this? Why are you helping me?”

“There is no catch. I want to help. Consider it a Christmas present,” Jay winked.

“Well, don’t you need more of my information?” I asked.

“Nope. All I need is your name. Next week, you’ll be contacted for an interview and everything will move forward from there. Don’t worry, you wont be working for me.”

Jay finished his food and stood, putting his overcoat on his shoulders. “It was nice meeting you Nita. Merry Christmas.”

“Is there a way for me to contact you?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. We’ll probably see each other again one day.”

And he was gone. Out the door and into the cold snow. I counted the money he had given me and screamed, ignoring the few old men staring at me strangely.

A week later, I received a call with an offer for a paid internship at a lab. The interview went well and they offered me the position immediately. I was able to pay off my tuition and my mother’s medical bills. I graduated. They hired me full-time, and my mother made a full recovery. Jay revitalized my belief in angels.

I worked with the lab for forty years before retiring, doing research and making breakthroughs. I even had a daughter who was expecting a child of her own. My mother was still alive, approaching her ninties, but still strong and stern.

It was Christmas Eve and I decided to visit the old diner for the first time since I had left forty years ago. The ownership and staff had changed; many of the other waitresses had found better careers. Some of the other staff, like the cooks, were either dead or close to it. The vintage décor remained the same. The current owner kept everything clean.

I sat at the old red booth where Jay and I first met and ordered a mug of the hot cocoa. I quietly looked out of the window, sipping my drink and watching the snow fall.

“Hello Nita,” I heard a vaguely familiar voice.

I looked up to see Jay, this time in a more casual outfit. Jeans, a flannel blue shirt and a leather jacket. He had shaved off his mustache and cut his curls slightly shorter to keep up with the times, but he hadn’t aged at all. Maybe one silver strand of hair on his temple was visible. But he looked exactly the same. Time didn’t change him.

“You look good Nita!” Jay said, sitting down across from me.

He was an angel. He had to be. He appeared in my life and changed it for the better. And here he was again, forty years later, looking just as youthful as when I first saw him.

“Are you here to kill me?” I asked. “Is it my time to go?”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Jay asked.

“You’re an angel. I know you are,” I said sternly. “You haven’t aged since I last saw you.”

 “Oh, that,” Jay chuckled. “Trust me, I’m no angel.”

“Then explain,” I demanded.

Jay stared at me for a moment. “Remember that big secret I said you would have to keep?”

“Yes.”

“How would you feel about coming out of retirement and taking up my offer to come work for me?”

---

Here's a fun little Chirstmas story about miracles and the unknown. The editing in this piece is a little rough, as I was working with some tight time constraints (which is also why there's no artwork to accompany it). But in any case, I hope you all enjoy it. Please note that all stories marked with a star (⍟) is special and connected to something much larger. Bookmark this and keep it in mind for the future.

The House on the Hill (Short Story)

Technology often evolves at such a rapid pace that it almost feels as if we can barely keep up. I struggle with these new GPS systems. Not in terms of functionality, but the sheer imperfection of the design. It can be slow, unresponsive, and sometimes outright wrong as fuck.

When I started driving, all we really had were maps and memory. Knowledge of the land was passed through paper or oral instruction from a friend or a stranger. It worked well enough. 

I used to deliver pizzas in my early twenties. I lived in Maryland for college and picked up a job working with a couple of buddies at Dominos. We typically drove during the later hours and on weekends. The people we met were pretty cool and they tipped well on a regular basis.

There was a strange autumn night one year. We got a call from someone requesting two large pepperoni pizzas to be delivered to an address we had never heard of. Our manager vaguely knew of the street, having driven past it once or twice. It only stood out to her because the area was surprisingly wooded. The street sign was old, corroded, and hardly visible in the bushes and trees, but she had seen it at least twice.

MapQuest confirmed the street was real, at least, and it was only a ten-minute drive from the Dominos. There was a chance the house was just unlisted at the time, so I volunteered to check it out. It was a short trip, and if it turned out to be a dead-end, I could come back. The customer wanted to pay in cash, so they wouldn’t be losing any money. My manager would understand.

I took down the directions and set out with the pizzas at around 10:00pm. I traveled down the road, made a left, and made a right. I slowly cruised and scanned the foliage to the right of me looking for the mysterious road. It was dark, but the radiant streetlamps made the search slightly easier.

I nearly missed it. 

I slammed on my brakes, aggressively jerking forward before my seatbelt pulled me. There was a wide dirt road hidden in shadows and foliage. I couldn’t see a street sign, but this had to be it, right? There were no other roads to turn into and it matched the description given to me by my manager.

I turned on my blinker and made a right, slowly rolling over the bumpy ground. I needed to control my speed because anything could’ve dashed out in front of my car. It was terrifyingly black. The trees were tall and dense, hiding the light from the moon and stars. All I had were my high beams to guide me.

My mind froze for a moment. An uncomfortable “vibration” painfully rattled the inside of my skull for a split-second. I grabbed my head, refocusing my vision. The car was still moving forward at a steady pace.

I was uneasy and began to imagine more fantastical and horrifying creatures of the night ambushing my slow-moving car, popping out in front of me or near my windows. 

Deep breaths.

Finally, I reached a clearing. In the distance was a magnificent Victorian house on a steep hill. I could see lights twinkling in the windows, but no cars in the driveway.

Up the hill. My car struggled and sputtered loud noises during the climb. I glanced at the thermometer. Every few yards, the temperature got slightly colder. 

The owners of this home had to have been pretty wealthy. Everything seemed to indicate they owned every acre of this land. There were no other buildings, houses, signs or vehicles to indicate that this wasn’t private property. Maybe they would give me a good tip.

I parked in the driveway. The air was freezing cold and it was… strangely quiet out. No owls hooting, no crickets chirping, none of those other annoying ass bugs that rattle the night with their collective screeches. I couldn’t hear any equipment running in the house, no heat, no air conditioning, no televisions, no boilers. The world was completely silent.

The house looked much older up close. Some of the wood was beginning to rot and stain. There was a faint stench that I couldn’t recognize.

I walked to the porch clutching the pizzas. A dusty bench rested to the left of the door, right under a wide window with opened curtains. I looked inside.

The light I had seen at the bottom of the hill turned out to be dozens of small candles placed sparingly on furniture covered with dusty white sheets. Every object was covered save for the old portraits hanging on the wall featuring men and women who had to have been long dead.

There was no movement. No life. Just the small collective flames calmly dancing in the ghostly home, but something else was off. I could feel eyes on me. I took a closer look at the portraits. A 19th century man and woman calmly looked off in the distance, nothing out of the ordinary. The other portraits were hidden under dust and a glare from the candles. Who or what was watching me and where the fuck were they?

My heart started to race. I frantically continued to scan the room for a sign of life.

A loud and explosive “boom” shook the house and the floor of the porch I stood on. I dropped the pizza and sprinted back to my car. I sped down the hill, through the dark forest and back onto the main street. 

The Dominos had police cars parked out front. I wondered if they had gotten robbed or something.

I walked through the doors. My two buddies and my manager stared at me with odd expressions, a mix of both genuine fear and absolute relief. There were two cops standing with them with stern expressions.

“What the fuck happened to you, man?” my friend, James asked.

“I went to deliver the pizzas. What happened? Why are there cops?” I replied.

“You’ve been gone for hours. We tried calling you,” my manager said. “We thought something happened.”

“What? I was only out for a few minutes. 30 at most. And I didn’t get any calls.” I flipped open my cell phone. It was 12:30am. I had seven missed calls. But my ringer was on loud.

“I swear, I thought I was only gone for a little bit. I went to the street, found the house and dropped off the pizzas,” I explained.

“Son, that address doesn’t exist,” said one of the cops. “That road has been closed off for years, no one can pass.”

“It was wide open when I got there. It led me through some trees and up a hill. There was a big ass house up there. No one was inside, I got freaked out, and left the pizzas. Then I came back. This only took a few minutes and I didn’t hear a single phone call. My phone was on loud the entire time.”

The officers looked at me with suspicious eyes. 

“I swear I’m not lying.”

My friends and manager looked confused, but eventually, they all accepted my return. The cops wrote the situation off as a false alarm, the story being I had fallen asleep somewhere I couldn’t be found. That was bullshit.

The next day, I returned to the street. As the officer had said, it was closed off with chains, barricades, and caution tape. It was never opened.

So, where the fuck did I go?

House Final.jpg

---

This was inspired by an allegedly true story that was told to me by an old work colleague. I took what he said and added a few interesting elements, but the general plot is the same. He went missing for hours in an attempt to deliver pizzas to a house, though, to him, he was only gone for a few minutes. What are your theories as to what happened?

Inferno (Short Story)

Every day, I tend to find myself treading a path inhabited by darkness. It never starts that way, though. I always leave my cabin to clear skies and bright sunshine, but no matter which path I take, I wind up in a hellish land that's not quite dead, but not exactly alive either.

The valley that surrounds my cabin is green, almost unnaturally so. The grass reminded me of green apple-flavored candy in both appearance and scent. The sun vividly lit the land while not being painfully bright, and the stars and moon did the same when it was their turn to clock in for the night. The mountains were a cool gray, but the stones were shiny enough to enhance the blue sky. 

This was the world I ultimately chose. A lonely cabin in a massive valley. I have the space to think and work without disturbance. If I need anything, such as food or company, I can always walk to the village further out in the mountains. 

The people there are... complicated. They can be kind but saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time can make them rather unpleasant. So I don't say or do more than I have to.

I can't say I blame them for their mercurial moods. They live closer to the outer reaches of this world, the darker parts, where a force more powerful than anything they had ever known exists. 

I've only heard stories from the villagers that speak of prodigious, destructive force of nature. A raging, red energy that is the only source of light in the vast darkness. 

Each day I find myself lost, slightly closer to the darkness than the day before. It’s always strange, because I swear no matter what I do, the world around me changes, and the paths shift, forcing me in the direction of the beast that lurks beyond the mountain.

Every afternoon, I take the same route to the village. I climb the hill and take the cleared path that leads me straight to the man who sells the red pears. But when it’s time to go home, the path is gone. I find a new way by another salesman or near the area where the local children like to play. I know it sounds odd, but it’s my only option. So I walk.

The green grass gradually becomes browner. Eventually, the grass and other vegetation just… disappear. The cool gray stones and gravel get progressively darker until they begin to look like coal. The sky gets blacker, and in the distance, I see the hellish red light.

And then I turn around and walk until the sky becomes blue, the grass returns and the coal turns back to stone. I re-enter the village, which is mostly unchanged, but the original path near the pear salesman is back. I take it home.

I sit by the fireplace with a glass of wine, irritated at the time wasted from walking on a path I never chose. This was a beautiful world that was consistently changing. But no matter what I did, I found myself closer and closer to the darkness beyond.

Truthfully, I knew what it meant to find myself surrounded by a surreal wasteland each day. I needed to venture beyond and see the force terrorizing the outside world. I couldn’t fully enjoy this world that I had chosen and curated without understanding every aspect of it.

But I was afraid. I am afraid. And I don’t think I can escape it. Maybe I’m supposed to venture off and confront the monster. Will I die? Maybe. But realistically, I had no idea what it was or if it even truly existed.

I tried to convince myself that there was nothing wrong with feeling afraid. But why did it feel so wrong in the first place?

The morning sun pierced through my window once again. I treated myself to a pleasant bath, and a hearty breakfast that featured pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. I spent the rest of the morning’s hours finalizing a project I had been working on for a while.

At noon, I polished the emblem on my cloak, threw it on, and left the cabin. I took one final whiff of the green apple candy aroma that surrounded my home and climbed the hill. I took note of the unnaturally large yellow sunflowers that surrounded me. Maybe I could pick a few and give them to the villagers as I passed through.

I approached the path with four sunflowers in my hand. I would give one to the pear salesman. One to the lady with the woven baskets. One to the old woman who liked to feed the sparrows.

“How are you today?” The pear salesman tipped his hat off to me.

“Can’t complain,” I muttered. “How are you?”

“I’m as good as I’ll ever be. Today will be a good day,” he replied.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“I see you’ve picked some flowers. I didn’t know you liked that sort of stuff,” he said, ignoring my question.

“I can like dainty things.”

“I can also see you shined the wolf emblem on your cloak. Special occasion?” 

“Uh, maybe. I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I wanted to give this to you.” I handed him a sunflower.

He stared at it for a moment, his blank expression slowly forming into a smile. “I told you today was gonna be a good day!” He grabbed it.

He handed me a large pear. “It’s on the house. Good luck today.”

I nodded and ventured further into the village, munching on the sweet pear. The locals waved at me, all wearing surprisingly huge smiles. I waved and smiled back.

It wasn’t long before I approached the woman with the woven baskets. She was playing a joyful tune on a pan flute. 

She stopped. “are one of those for me?” she asked, taking note of the remaining three sunflowers I held.

“Actually, yes.” I handed one to her.

“Why thank you. What’s the occasion?”

“Nothing in particular. You just never know what tomorrow brings,” I said.

“Of course you do. That’s the whole point of this place, isn’t it?” the woman replied.

“Pardon?”

“We’re supposed to be safe here. That’s why this place exists.”

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“You do,” she said, sternly. “You’re going to the dark lands, aren’t you?”

I stared at her for a moment before walking away. I gave her my gift, there was nothing left discuss.

I crossed the cobblestone bridge and walked past the boulder where the children played. They excitedly chased each other holding sticks like swords. They caught eyes with me and stopped to wave. I waved back.

The old woman sat hunched over on the bench, tossing bird seeds all around her. Adorable sparrows chirped at her feet. One even flew up onto her shoulder. I expected them to scatter as I approached, but they stayed in place. Eating and chirping nonchalantly.

I took a seat next to her.

“You don’t have to be afraid,” the old woman said to me in a somewhat deep and scratchy voice.

“How did you know I was afraid?”

“I see it in your eyes. You’re well fed. Your emblem is polished. You’re passing out flowers like you’re going away forever. You’re finally going to the dark lands,” she said.

“Finally? You’ve been expecting me to go?” I asked.

“Who else is supposed to?”

“I don’t know. The sheriff, maybe. One of the dozens of men that live around here?” I snapped.

She let out a soft chuckle. “They didn’t choose this world. You did.”

“Well… here.” I handed her a flower.

“Thank you. Who’s the other one for?”

“Myself, actually.”

The old woman looked directly at me and smiled. “Smart.”

A new path had appeared right in front of us. I stood and walked forward, nervously waving goodbye to the old woman.

The sun didn’t shine as bright. The grass wasn’t as green. The stones weren’t as gray. Life slowly disappeared from the world around me. No more birds chirping or insects buzzing. No more rabbits chasing each other. There was only me.

I finally reached the point where I usually turned back. I stood and observed the world around me. I could feel pain and despair in the air, and this only amplified my fears. In the distance was the infernal red glow shining brightly in the overwhelming darkness.

I looked down at the sunflower I was holding. It was the only real source of color in what felt like an ocean of gray and black. I clutched it close to my heart and took another step. Then another. Then another.

The skies quickly turned black with streaks of red in the clouds. The ground was covered with soot. I could see nothing but the intensity of the red light.

Just a few paces away. I caught a glimpse of the cliff and the devilish red light from below. It could’ve been mistaken for a volcano, but this red was almost alien in its richness.

I stood at the edge of the cliff and looked below. It rose to meet me. It was a familiar creature the size of a skyscraper and made of pure red fire. A giant wolf with a nose bigger than my body. It stared at me with its ears perked up. It didn’t appear upset, or angry. I couldn’t sense any emotion from the beast. He just stared. I slowly looked down at the emblem on my cloak. I looked at the sunflower in my hand. I pondered the words of the villagers.

I took another step…

---

My first short story I'm sharing with the public. This is something I wrote while at the Ribs and R&B festival in downtown Detroit as a means to provide context to my own mental health. It was also created as a companion piece to my latest illustration, The Red Wolf.

If you liked this story and want to see more like this, be sure to support me on Patreon.

Becoming Mike Tré

Beginnings

2016 was a very intense year for a lot of us. Between losing so many legends and the presidential election, it was a very… destructive time. Personally, it was a year of both destruction and growth. I hit many low lows, but it would be disingenuous to ignore all the highs as well. My life had been sent into a slow and steady free fall that was both terrifying and liberating in a way that allowed me to discover both who I was and who I wanted to be.

After getting my Bachelor’s at the end of 2014, I spent all of 2015 at a job where I was overworked, underpaid, and severely underappreciated. I was miserable, but I stuck around because “I needed the money.” By 2016 things had only gotten worse. I was (thankfully) fired before April.

Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty angry. Not because I wanted to keep my job, but because there’s something sobering about being exiled from an environment you had more or less become accustomed to, and one that was pretty lucky to have you there in the first place.

But there was a silver lining: With a decent tax refund, an extra check from my unused vacation hours, and unemployment checks, I finally had the space to finally work and live for myself as a creative professional for at least a few months. I could remind the people around me that I wasn’t just a graphic designer, I was also an illustrator. I was a writer. I could take the time to experiment with materials and develop my style, study other creatives and finally consume the media I was missing out on for the past year.

And that’s what I did. Beyoncé released Lemonade in April, so I made a made a piece about that, experimenting with vector; I wanted to see how far the medium could go outside of graphic design. When Prince passed, I continued to experiment with another tribute. Then I made Seeing Stars.

 Seeing Stars -  May 2016

Seeing Stars - May 2016

Seeing Stars was special in that it was inspired by a vision of mine. A tribute to the important women in my life, especially my late mother, who died of breast cancer back in 2008. The woman I drew ended up having a face similar to hers, which meant she had a face vaguely similar to mine.

I understood that in many ways I was a direct reflection of my mother. There are things that set us apart, like gender (obviously) and my introverted nature, but my overall personality, interests, & drive was either inherited or learned from her. This stayed in the back of my mind going forward.

A few months later, I made Press Start, my ode to black women in gaming. My style evolved further, now incorporating line work inspired by calligraphy. But shades of Seeing Stars still existed within this piece, particularly with the hero, her environment, her style, and the color palette.

 Press Start -  September 2016

Press Start - September 2016

This frequent palette of blues, pinks and purples is something that I hadn’t yet realized spoke to me beyond a superficial level. I can’t say any of those are my favorite colors, and yet, whenever I saw them together, an undeniable sense of tranquility came over me. I was getting bored with my previous preferred colors of black and gold or black and silver. They began to feel… pedestrian and said more about the person who I was trying to be instead of the naturally changing person I already was.

I was evolving, and it was time for my brand identity to catch up.

Conceptualizing

My previous brand identity was pretty abysmal. The name “Michael Tré” written in all caps in a bold variation of Century Gothic. My business cards were screen printed; black cardstock with silver ink, and were stylized with a silver maze because I had an unhealthy obsession with the film Inception at the time.

 Original Logo.

Original Logo.

 Recreation of original business card.

Recreation of original business card.

My website was a bit of a mess. I used a grid layout to display my portfolio, which was an unorganized mix of graphic design and illustration.

 Screenshot of my original website layout. Navigation links were originally in a sans serif font, but I think it disappeared with google's archiving process.

Screenshot of my original website layout. Navigation links were originally in a sans serif font, but I think it disappeared with google's archiving process.

In retrospect, it wasn’t that bad. My logo was just a wordmark, but the wordmark itself worked to an extent. It was slick, clean, easy to read, and presented itself well with the silver ink on the business cards. The website was… fine. People could find and see my work easily. But as a brand, none if it really stood out. It didn’t say anything about me. It was boring.

“Michael Tré Design” was also becoming irrelevant. That name and url was forcing me into a box solely for graphic design, but I was illustrating too. I was also writing. Design was one of multiple hats I regularly wore, and my new brand needed the space to embody all of my identities, present and future.

Mike Tré. That was it. No design, no illustration, no writing. Just Mike Tré. Mike was a name I was referred to by my peers my whole life. It’s easier to say. It looks better. It conveys a better image.

“Michael Tré” had an air of grandeur to a point of feeling disconnected from the world and my own reality. “Mike Tré” is simply who I am.

But who am I really? What makes me… me? Going over my rebranding with my good friend, I realized I needed to build my logo and all of the accompanying materials around my traits. Physical, mental, emotional, and everything in between.

Unnecessary humility wasn’t going to do me any favors. I needed to be completely objective about myself based on what I and others had observed.

·         I’m tall.

·         I can be read as intimidating.

·         I’ve been called handsome.

·         Forward thinking.

·         A reflection of my mother.

·         Wise.

·         I can be a grumpy old man at times.

·         Flirty.

·         My company is most often shared with women. A lot of them think I’m pretty cool too.

How do I effectively unify those elements?

Well I had no reason to be ashamed of my own face. Personal logos don’t often portray the person’s face for the sake of ambiguity. Things change, so do our appearances, and the world has its biases. But this wasn’t about the world. This was about me.

Execution

And so I sketched until I found a concept I loved…

 Scan of one of my (many) sketchbooks.

Scan of one of my (many) sketchbooks.

And then I worked, bringing drafts to life…

 Earlier logo drafts.

Earlier logo drafts.

Until it was perfected.

 Final (Vertical)

Final (Vertical)

 Final (Horizontal with subtitle)

Final (Horizontal with subtitle)

Two of my favorite design styles of the past are Art Deco and the Miami 80’s Style. Art deco had a sense of power and strength while not being exceptionally complicated. Miami style was extremely colorful, rambunctious and unapologetically nostalgic. I needed to marry these two with my own sensibilities to come up with my logo.

Miami style design incorporates a lot of color, and two of the most prominent colors used frequently are neon variations of pink and blue. My two biggest pieces of 2016, Seeing Stars and Press Start also incorporated variations of pink and blue. These were the colors I increasingly found myself gravitating to over time. They had consistently been giving me a sense of balance that was missing for the majority of my career as a creative professional. I had found my color palette.

  Drive  movie poster designed by James White (Miami 80's Design Style)

Drive movie poster designed by James White (Miami 80's Design Style)

Art deco is very angular and dynamic, and sometimes even minimal. There’s a sense of progression in almost every piece of art, architecture and design. There’s also a large, monumental quality to it all that conceptually matches up with my naturally large stature. So I portrayed myself as large, breaking through the box I’m placed in, constantly looking forward. On my face is a sense of power, mystery, and wisdom. My face is stripped down to the bare minimum, features only defined by shadows and hair.

 Architectural sculpture on Chanin Buildingby Rene Paul Chambellan

Architectural sculpture on Chanin Buildingby Rene Paul Chambellan

The font I ultimately used was Clayton by Kyle Wayne Benson. I had unknowingly purchased it in a bundle with numerous other fonts, and after sorting through my licenses, I discovered it. The bold variation was perfect. It was tall, strong, and straight to the point, much like myself (sort of).

Going Forward.

So… what now? Well, I’ll continue to draw, design and build up my freelance clientele. I'll continue networking and collaborating with multiple creatives in various fields. I’ll keep writing and will try to get myself published hopefully within the next year.

I’m also determining the future of BLKBOARD, the platform I created with Jermaine Dickerson. Hopefully some news regarding that will come out soon.

There are some other various projects & endeavors in the works that I will hopefully be able to share sooner rather than later.

This feels like a brand new journey; my first day embracing an identity that I can truly call mine. I can't say that I know exactly what the future holds, but at the very least I have a strong idea. My portfolio will continue to grow and my abilities will continue to develop and improve. My name will become more meaningful as I continue to forge creations that resonate with individuals. One way or another, my mark on the world will be made.

 This is probably coming across as a little egotistical but I don't care.

This is probably coming across as a little egotistical but I don't care.