By James Fairbanks IV
Animation: for some it’s a fun, humorous form of entertainment; a distraction from reality. However, in recent years animators have developed shows that refuse to talk down to their audience, enabling themes and stories everyone can relate to. Shows like Phineas & Ferb, Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe include stories on finding one’s uniqueness, overcoming mental fears, and facing inner struggles. These aren’t things you would traditionally expect your kid to tune in to every Saturday morning – but now they have become the norm.
This change in animation allowed me the opportunity to incorporate many personal and unique details of my life into my own concept. Connie The Conjurer is an animated series about Connie, a twelve-year-old girl who succeeds at playing violin, but suffers from social anxiety: freezing up and fearfully overthinking when meeting new people (especially those her age). Connie’s life takes a turn for the better when she travels to the melodic but mysterious town of Port Murky, Louisiana. Here she visits her grandmother, Mimi, and learns she’s more special than she thought: Connie is next in the family line to inherit the power of becoming a conjurer! Connie’s family has been catering to the needs of every spirit in Port Murky for generations, and now it’s Connie’s turn to take up that distinct role. However, Connie thinks, “How can I help all these spirits, when I can’t even help myself?” As much as she fears being alone, Connie gains friendships in Port Murky from even the most unexcited faces. Before, she feared nobody would want to get to know her. Now she’s in a place where everyone (both alive and not so alive) wants to know everything about her!
Connie is a story stemming from my past. When I was twelve and new to middle school, I was placed in special education, having been told a year before I had Asperger’s Syndrome. I always had trouble making friends, some of them not sticking around. Fortunately, I had a high school teacher who (unlike other instructors) took teaching special education a step further. He wanted his class to aim higher than what they were being told they could achieve. I didn’t need weekly visits to mental specialists, medications to influence my emotions, or any form of heavy assistance; I just needed a supportive and encouraging family and friend group. Some of that support system would come from a program called Yes I Can. This group engaged me in trips to places I had interests in career-wise, and helped put on events spreading Autism awareness.
As much as I was enjoying the help I received from the Autism community, I knew I couldn’t rely on them forever. I would learn on my own that no medical term or diagnosis would label me. I decided I was going to break out of the special education program, head into the real world, and put my past behind me.
Eventually I was accepted to California State University Northridge. I graduated in 2015, additionally receiving a scholarship in writing and illustrating children’s books from CSU Summer Arts. In that program I created the concept for what would eventually become my first picture book, Crystal & The Northern Lights, which can be found on Amazon. Not long after graduation, I had the opportunity to meet one of my idols: a co-creator of Phineas & Ferb, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh (isn’t that the coolest name ever!). On Twitter he always answered my questions on career advice and we soon became friends. Eventually we met in person, and for the next three years I gained a mentorship resulting in finding my art style, learning industry professionalism, and taking night courses from the American Animation Institute.
As my skills improved, I took a leap of faith and did something every animator does but few gain attention from: create my own animated concept. As a content creator you want to showcase your uniqueness, it’s human nature to try to show what separates us from the crowd. For my premise I knew I was going to have to explore something I thought I’d never bring up again: my past of dealing with social anxiety stemming from Asperger’s. As much as I wanted to shy away from it, I suddenly realized this was a theme everyone can relate to, not just those on the spectrum. Who hasn’t encountered social anxiety at least once? Who hasn’t asked themselves, “What’s wrong with me?” In the same way my influences inspired me, I wanted to create a character that gave audiences a way to find meaning in their everyday endeavors. That character became Connie. Not knowing the impact she would have, I began posting drawings and clips of her on social media.
Within a year of first drawing Connie, I found myself with a bulletin board filled with fan art from people around the world, all of them telling me they hope to see a show about her struggles. Even though the show is filled with fearful creatures like ghosts and demons, the real core of Connie The Conjurer is about overcoming your personal fears. That message has reached a team of people I am working with to bring Connie to life. Those on board include talented actors Francesca Capaldi, Skai Jackson, and Olivia Olson, world-renowned violinist Sandy Cameron, and even my career idol Swampy Marsh as our senior advisor and involving his animation studio to help guide this show to fruition! I’m incredibly fortunate to be in this position.
Connie is born from my life story. Not letting my past dictate my future is what made this possible. Like Connie will, with time I overcame a lot thanks to the people around me. One thing I’ve learned from these experiences: it’s never about “what” you are, it’s always “who.” What I feared would be my undoing became my work’s greatest strength. Fear is a powerful word, but like Connie The Conjurer will show, any fear can be conquered and you are in control of your own destiny. Never be too shy to try! Just try!
If you’d like to know more about Connie The Conjurer or would like to contribute in any way, follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connietheconjurer and check out our Indie GoGo crowdfunding campaign for a chance to get exclusive Connie merchandise and perks and behind-the-scenes videos with Swampy Marsh and our amazing crew “Team Connie!”
James Fairbanks IV is an animator, storyboard artist, screenwriter and children’s book author & illustrator. After releasing his first picture book, “Crystal & The Northern Lights” with Amazon in 2018, James founded 4th Scope Productions and began developing Connie The Conjurer with his animation mentor/friend Jeff “Swampy” Marsh.
James is the Creator, Director, Show Runner and Executive Producer of Connie The Conjurer.