It all started with a floating head named Chuck . . .
History of the Mt. Blue Universe
It was a regular fifth grade recess when my friend, Lara (follow her blog The Picky Gourmet!) came up to me and said, “Look what I drew in class.” She produced a penciled drawing of a cartoon face sporting a backward hat, buck teeth, freckles, and crossed eyes. “His name is Chuck. Isn’t he awesome?” He was our mascot for the rest of recess.
I decided I wanted to make one of these cartoon faces too. This one was a girl with black hair, crossed eyes, and a big bow. I carefully wrote the character’s name at the top if the notebook paper.
At a chorus concert put on by our younger brothers’ class, I showed my creation to my friend, Charissa (my current roommate). I told her about Chuck and how, by this point, Lara had drawn a few more characters, including a brunette with a side ponytail named Amber, Chuck’s girlfriend. Charissa loved the idea and declared she wanted to make a character of her own. She created a full-bodied cartoon teenager with blonde pigtails and a more realistic look (no cross eyes) and named her Brandy.
Lara and I jumped on the bandwagon of turning our female characters full-bodied and realistic. We also began signing their names with little symbols – Kiki with a flower and Amber with a star.
Along with their new look was the creation of boyfriends. Chuck was discarded and instead Lara created a Leonardo DiCaprio look-a-like named Tobias (after her favorite Animorph character). Charissa pulled from real life and used Taylor Hanson, her celebrity crush (though he’s referred to now as Jordan, Taylor Hanson’s first name). I created a preppy football player with an earring.
It was around this time that I began writing a journal for Kiki, detailing a drama-filled summer full of break-ups, friend fights, and a meeting with the Spice Girls (can you tell what decade it was yet?). In the midst of the ongoing project, Lara decided to scrap Amber and start over, creating a redhead with a little alien sticking out his tongue as her symbol named Taylor. The alien went to a mushroom and that wasn’t the only change to the group. Our friend, Devon (whom I’ve been friends with since kindergarten and was actually my foster sister for awhile), became inspired to make her own character, Amber. She had no idea Lara had an old character of the same name. Stranger still, her symbol was also a star. Devon followed suit and created a boyfriend for Amber named Jack. But he wouldn’t last long.
Charissa wanted to make another male character, but not necessarily a new boyfriend for Brandy (even though she had grown out of her Hanson phase). She created a black-haired skateboarder with a rough home life named Brent. At first, he was just Brandy’s cousin, but Devon was intrigued with the idea of Amber, who was academically driven and generally well-behaved, falling for a bad boy. They were made into a couple and Jack was briefly transferred over as Brandy’s boyfriend.
Not long after, Lara made a few changes. She changed Taylor’s symbol to a butterfly and grew tired of Tobias, who was now called Kit, since Charissa gave Brandy’s brother the same name. Instead, she created someone unique for Taylor – a sweet goofball with changing colored streaks in a mop of black hair that covered his eyes named Busta.
But Charissa had one final character to make. On the back of her shop homework (which she still has!), she drew a blond boy with a mouth full of braces and a Red Sox hat. He would become Brandy’s final boyfriend, A.J.
All these changes took place from sixth grade through our freshman year of high school. Throughout, we continued to draw our characters on everything from book covers to party invitations to posterboard and even painted them on the cafeteria wall for our junior high mural. Multiple journals and stories were written about the group from the fictional town of Mt. Blue, California, and as time went on, each character developed more of a history and a distinct personality.
By sophomore year, the four of us went their separate ways and not much was done with the characters for the remains of high school. We did have a mini reunion during our senior year where we drew and wrote about our characters, but that’s as far as it went. College separated us even more (well, college for them. I never went) and it wasn’t until our twenties that we got together for dinner and reignited our friendships.
In the spring of 2012, Charissa and I came up with the idea of writing a new story involving all the characters. It would focus on the gang graduating high school and separating, only to come back for their five year reunion. Charissa and I primarily wrote the story, posting chapters on Insanejournal for Lara and Devon to read. After a month, the entries stopped, but the characters and the story remained in our minds and our friendship stayed intact.
Four years later, I finally posted a new chapter. The resurgence of the story not only sparked interest in that project, but multiple others. New drawings, new journals, and music videos – a new medium using footage of actors we felt represented our characters. Plus, Lara once again changed Taylor’s symbol to a diamond (some things never change!). We became more serious about establishing each person’s history and started combing through old notebooks to set a definite timeline.
So now that you know the history of how these characters came about, I want to talk about the evolution of my particular character, Kiki. As I said, she started off just a goofy cartoon. I don’t remember when I gave her the last name Littles. I do remember it was fifth grade that I started drawing her more “realistically” (read: without crossed eyes) and drawing her in clothes that I thought were cool.
I know it was also fifth grade that I created Jake and I think he always had the last name West. Nothing about him has ever changed. He has always had brown eyes and side parted brown hair. He’s always been dressed like a poster boy for American Eagle and he always was obsessed with football. So back to Kiki.
Even though Kiki is the oldest character in the “Mt. Blue crew,” as we call them, I feel like she’s gone through a lot of changes. She started off with long hair and bangs, but I quickly changed that to a straight, chin length bob to match Victoria from the Spice Girls (Yeah, I liked the one that never smiled and always wore black. Shocker). We used to draw different outfits for our characters (from normal things like prom and cheer-leading to more obscure occasions like babysitting and cat-walking), but my default outfit for Kiki was baggy jeans and a crop top. At some point, I started drawing her with a medium-length layered cut and a baseball tee. When I got together with my friends our senior year, I actually draw Kiki with a more goth look, reflecting my own clothing choices and what I liked.
I scrapped that idea pretty quick though. That wasn’t who she was. At that point, Kiki had become her own character. In the beginning, she was a reflection of the sort of girl I wanted to be, someone that could wear what she wanted, had a hot boyfriend, etc. But now she was someone different than me in so many ways and remains to be.
I actually gave her traits that I personally couldn’t relate to on a personal level, but were traits I didn’t see represented in the TV shows I watched or the books I read. When she was first created, she was Caucasian, hence the bland last name Littles. I don’t remember when I decided to make her Mexican. I remember I was learning Spanish (which I can’t remember any of now -_-) and I thought it would be fun to incorporate that into her. I thought I made this decision later on, but looking back at some of the oldest stories, she had a little brother named Miguel and she talks about visiting her family in Mexico over the summer, so I think I made the decision earlier than I thought.
I also wanted her to not be very good in school. Again, I don’t know where this came from because I was pretty good in school (until eighth/ninth grade when I suffered from severe depression and my grades suffered along with it). I knew Kiki wasn’t “stupid” or even had a learning disability. Back then as a teenager, I just explained it as “school just isn’t her thing.” She worked hard at it and was smart in a practical sense, but she still brought home D’s.
Again, I didn’t see this represented much in the characters I read about or watched back then (this was 90s and 00s). Now, decisions to make characters that are POC or in an interracial relationship or representing that not everybody learns the same way is intentional. For me and Kiki it just happened. It’s just who she was and who Jake was. Maybe it was “progressive” back then, but I didn’t think much about it.
As I said, I’m going to be posting chapters for a new story based on Kiki in my blog. I don’t have a definite plot set out, but I know I wanted to get back to the root of when my friends and I wrote our characters, when it was the six core characters together and coupled off and having the “ideal” high school experience (whatever the hell that means). But I also wanted to touch on those themes of race and school, particularly how Kiki sort of struggled with these things on her own.
It’s a bit scary. For one thing, putting your fiction out there for anyone to read is a little intimidating in and of itself. On an honest note, there’s a fear of putting Kiki out there in the world. She’s so personal to me and I have such a deep history with this character. Writing and drawing her has always been like breathing for me. I know her like I know me. But we also live in an era where people are easily offended. While I’ve never made Kiki an offensive stereotype (and I don’t fear that I will), there’s more the nerves that people will roll their eyes and think that I need to check my “white privilege” before I write a story about a Mexican-American. I mean, I’m 50% Irish, 50% Italian, single, and my parents were born in bred in New England. What the hell do I know about being Latinx with an immigrant parent and being in an interracial relationship?
But it goes back to why I gave Kiki those traits to begin with. I wanted her to be different than what I saw out there back in ye olden days of Dawson’s Creek. Sure, she and I had different heritages, but we both liked shopping and cute boys and music and had annoying little brothers (Sorry, Spencer). I think representation is important (that might be the most millennial sentence I’ve ever typed) and I don’t think writers should hold back from creating characters that are different from themselves because of the fear that they’ll “get it wrong.”
So why me?
Why not me?
So here she is, ladies and gentlemen. Kiki Littles, eyes uncrossed and the realest she’s ever been.