#Merky Books celebrates modern day superheroes through illustration

A new book written by Sophia Thakur and illustrated by Denzell Dankwah features profiles on figures like Riz Ahmed, Dina Asher-Smith and George the Poet

Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength is a new book celebrating contemporary figures in the spotlight along with everyday heroes such as NHS workers. The book was curated by the team at #Merky Books – the imprint founded by grime artist Stormzy and Penguin Random House – along with Stormzy himself, who also provides the introduction.

Addressing the lack of characters of colour in children’s books, the team wanted a book that would allow “the younger generation to see themselves represented in a way that they may not have experienced before,” according to assistant editor Tallulah Lyons.

Michael Dapaah

The first #Merky Books publication aimed at children, Superheroes features over 50 people including presenter and director Reggie Yates; writers Reni Eddo-Lodge, Candice Carty-Williams and Theresa Ikoko; actor Riz Ahmed; fashion designer Bianca Saunders; athletes Dina Asher-Smith and Katerina Johnson-Thompson; designer Yinka Ilori; and spoken word artist George the Poet.

Each entry comes with a profile written by poet and author Sophia Thakur and an illustrated comic-style portrait by Denzell Dankwah, who had just finished his first year of university when he reached out to the #Merky Books team through Instagram. “Initially I was trying to find out if they did any internships or work experience. Months later I was suggested for being a part of this project,” Dankwah tells us. “It didn’t even occur to me that I was capable of illustrating a whole book!”

Leomie Anderson

The publishing imprint introduced Dankwah to illustrator and character designer Dapo Adeola, who has addressed stereotypes and representation through his work. “He has been a big influence in how I practice illustration, from figure drawings to capturing movement,” Dankwah says. “We would also look at character designs and he’d break down what works and why it does. I would learn these things from him over Zoom sessions and apply them when illustrating the book. I’ve still got a lot to learn, however I’m proud of how it turned out.”

The book follows on from Stormzy’s 2020 track Superheroes and accompanying animated music video, which together celebrated everyday heroism. “I was at home watching Channel U and saw other people that looked like me — artists making waves in the music scene and being successful. It was then that I was inspired to start my own journey,” Stormzy writes in the introduction. “I want this book to be for you what the old-school Channel U was for me.”

Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Strength is published by #Merky Books; penguin.co.uk