I first came across the phenomenon a couple of months ago after discovering that specially designed adult colouring-in books were selling up a storm in America.
“Hmmm,” thought I, “this looks interesting … chances are high it’ll hit our own shores soon,” and put it on the backburner. I’ve been digging around the subject on-and-off ever since, planning to write about the topic at a later stage. Now, to my extreme annoyance, it’s gone mainstream, with no less an august publication than The New York Times devoting a full feature to the offbeat “genre”.
The reason for the sudden interest? More than 1-million sales worldwide of Scottish artist Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden, “a 96-page collection of elaborate black-and-white ink drawings of flowers, leaves, trees and birds”.
According to the US newspaper, it recently topping Amazon’s best-seller list, racing ahead of even To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee’s briskly selling, controversial and heavily publicised new novel Go Set a Watchman.
“People are really excited to do something analogue and creative at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the internet,” the illustrator told the paper. “And colouring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or canvas.”
Inevitably, several “serious” publishing houses are jumping on the bandwagon with such titles as Splendid Cities: Color Your Way to Calm already published. More are apparently waiting in the wings.
It’s probably a good job the New York Times didn’t dig as deeply as I did in researching the phenomenon – their readers may well have been shocked by some of the other titles on offer. Talk about putting the “adult” into “grown-up”!
Suffice to say The Fetish Coloring Book, “containing equal amounts of both naked men and women”, doesn’t really need an explanation.
“It will make you laugh and blush,” says the online bookseller, adding: “It is a remarkable way to say ‘I love you’ on grandma’s birthday, your friend’s birthday, your mother’s birthday, your colleague’s birthday, and so on, and so on.”
I can’t imagine what mom and grandma would have to say about that!
And it’s only one of many rude versions.
Less offensive, perhaps, but equally odd is Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace, “a body-positive colouring book – there’s a whole universe of body types out there, and they all deserve to be represented”.
If you don’t fancy any of those, you can colour-in just about everything else, from Game of Thrones to the Dia De Los Muertos: Day of the Dead and Sugar Skull Coloring Book to Unicorns Are Jerks - “a colouring book exposing the cold, hard, sparkly truth”.
Whatever you do, don’t scoff at the idea – give it a decade or two and your crayoning efforts might even be sold as art. Remember those painting-by-numbers abominations (completed versions featuring everything from puppy dogs to crying children are still to be found on junk shop walls)? Not only did a 1950s effort, featuring florid pink flamingos, sell recently for almost R1,500, it was even, said the seller, signed by the artist!
That’s really pushing it, I reckon (although, to be fair, whoever filled the garish picture in did manage to stay inside the lines!). – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch newspaper)