Member Spotlight: Melanistic Magazine Making Space for Black Representation

Date: 23rd August 2021

By Sarah Moore

It’s a small magazine, measuring only 14 cm by 21.5 cm, but Melanistic Magazine is doing big things by providing positive and diverse representation for Black communities in Alberta and beyond.

The idea for the quarterly urban lifestyle publication came from co-founder and creative director Nigel Williams.

In 2019, he realized there wasn’t a lot of representation of Black people in magazines. He’s the PR representative for the National Black Coalition of Canada, and the closest thing it had was an annual commemorative booklet for Black History Month.

It wasn’t enough, and “it didn’t represent the Black community well,” says Williams.

He wanted a publication that would “show the positivity across the board and the diversity of the Black community.” Common negative depictions of Black people in both television and the news – as people who are always angry, fighting, or involved in gangs and drugs – weren’t representative of reality.

Williams met with Greg Davis, the publisher and other co-founder of Melanistic Magazine, who also saw a need for something new.

“For years in terms of media and the Black community, the overall quality of the output has been underwhelming,” says Davis. “There’s been a hunger in putting out something that we can proudly say ‘wow, the quality is great, we love this, this is our own.'”

In January 2020, Melanistic Magazine was born. The name comes from melanin, a skin pigment that causes colour. As Williams notes, melanin is present in both Black and white people.

Five issues in, the magazine is “changing the way we look at ourselves as a community [and] changing the way we present ourselves as a community,” says Davis. “We control the conversation and we control the tone.”

One important aspect is that is all contributing writers are Black.

“You don’t necessarily have to be Black to read it, but to get that perspective, it is important to have somebody writing that is aware of what it is like to be Black in the community,” says Williams.

The choice makes the writing – and the magazine – have authenticity.

“You need to have writers that have that lived experience, not just expertise of something, so you can properly articulate what you’re talking about,” says Davis. “You need the emotion and context in the writing so that the readers can really get a feel for what you’re trying to say.”

Based in Edmonton, Melanistic Magazine is increasing its reach. In January 2021, it entered the Winnipeg market, and now has contributors from Edmonton, Calgary, B.C. and Toronto.

“Long term, when you think of Melanistic, we are the dominant brand in Canada […] in terms of quality, recognition, and how we represent the Black community,” says Davis.

It’s a realistic goal for Williams, who has built this idea from scratch with the rest of the Melanistic team.

“It’s like Lego pieces and you’re just putting each Lego piece together and then you see that you’ve created this gigantic, amazing piece,” he says. “But then you realize it doesn’t stop there. You can make it bigger. It can get better, it can get further, it can reach people you never thought that it would.”

What was the first magazine you fell in love with?

Davis: National Geographic. The visuals – people being outside, nature, wildlife – caught my eye and attention.

Williams: Reader’s Digest. I was always at the hospital and always at the doctor’s because my mom was a nursing instructor. I would read all the comics in Reader’s Digest and all the jokes and just loved every second of it. To this day when I go to the doctor, I go looking for Reader’s Digest and I go straight for the comedy portion.

What is your favourite thing about working in magazines?

Davis: When it comes off press and you go to pick it up and you open that box for the first time to see the new issue, that’s always my favourite part of the process. The boxes are sealed and you cut it open and it’s like a big reveal.

Williams: Watching a person read it. I have the opportunity to get that first-hand feedback and watch people scroll past everything to get to the comic and they read the comic and start laughing. That brings me joy, to watch people in real time, who don’t know that I wrote it or had anything to do with it, read it and laugh at it.

How would you describe Alberta’s magazine industry, in a couple of words?

Davis: It’s almost like the Wild West. It’s not mature enough yet, it’s still evolving and there’s still room for new titles and development. An evolving market, I’d say.

Williams: It’s a growing market. And I think because of us, too, people are starting to see different things happen here in Edmonton in the magazine scene for sure.

Who is someone whose work you especially admire?

Davis: The three publishers I’ve worked with over the years: Rob Tanner of Tanner Young Publishing Group, Matt Robinson of Outpost Magazine and Gardner Robinson of Outdoor Japan. They’ve all mentored me and shown me a different aspect of the magazine industry, like learning about finding your passion in the media that you’re working for, to the business side, to making it relate to community.

Williams: I would go for a photographer. I really enjoy the pieces coming out of CARTER Magazine. You’ll notice they have a lot of Black people of every type of generation, from Beyoncé all the way to Nat King Cole and beyond and you see these pictures in black and white, and they always give you a sense of history. I also enjoy most of the stuff coming from Ebony and Essence. The high definition pictures that go in there bring you to the scene and then drop you at the scene and then you figure it out while you’re reading the article. It makes you feel like you’re there.

What are you looking forward to in the next year?

Davis: Seeing us expand into a couple other markets for distribution.

Williams: Taking over the world. That’s what I want to see next year. The entire world gets taken over by Melanistic Magazine.

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