By Becky Jacobs
Nicole LaRue’s first taste of activism came in 2017 when she saw the logo she designed for the Women’s March on Washington displayed in rallies across the country.
“Activism and being part of the community or public speaking was never a part of my vocabulary growing up,” LaRue said. Now 40, she wonders what may have been different in her life if she’d had access to something like her two new books for youth out this month from Utah publisher Gibbs Smith.
“Girl Almighty: An Interactive Journal for Being a Mighty Activist of the World and Other Utterly Respectable Pursuits” fits LaRue’s passion for strengthening women and girls, while the other book, “Small and Mighty: An Activist’s Guide for Finding Your Voice and Engaging with the World,” is gender-neutral.
“Every person, no matter their age or status, can help create positive social change,” said LaRue, who now lives in Salt Lake City, and she hopes her books can be a jumping-off point for people.
As an illustrator and artist, LaRue used to think, “I’m never going to really make an impact with what I do. I just make things look pretty.” But seeing the power her logo had in the Women’s March “changed everything,” she said.
It almost happened by accident. A longtime friend reached out to LaRue on Facebook and asked if she wanted to make a pitch for march organizers. The goal was to create something that unified people and was inclusive. LaRue figured she’d try, and created her design — three non-distinct faces in red, white and blue — in a day, which she said probably helped her not “overthink it.”
“When I gave it to her, I was like, ‘Surely it’s not going to be anything,’” LaRue said. But a few days later, her friend called, screaming, “Oh, my God! They picked your logo!”
LaRue was living in Portland, Ore., at the time, but she decided she needed to be in D.C. for that first march, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. LaRue saw her logo everywhere. And for her, it shows “you don’t have to do something huge” to help make a difference.
‘Create a little honest mayhem’
LaRue described her two new books, out March 17, as “totally wordy,” with scattered motivational quotes throughout each of them. They are marketed for children ages 9 to 14, but LaRue thinks they can be for anybody. “It’s not dumbed down for kids. It’s very real-word stuff,” she said.
Both books, which LaRue said are really more guided journals, start with a “manifesto,” encouraging readers to explore and learn and be brave, followed by six chapters filled with writing prompts and activities. She included stickers and “badges” at the end of each chapter to celebrate what readers accomplished.
“Be unapologetic in your direction, add some swagger to your game, make some space for new conclusions, write all things down, create a little honest mayhem, find new ways of engaging with the world, and challenge every last thing you’ve been told,” LaRue wrote.
LaRue sends readers on creative scavenger hunts, telling them to find a flyer for an art show or a professional magazine cover that features a woman. She gets them thinking with quirky “would you rather” questions, such as, “Would you rather create history or change it?” And she encourages her readers to be journalists and get out in their community to ask other people questions. She purposefully designed the books to flip open vertically like a reporter’s notebook for this.
LaRue said she wants to help readers get their “mind going” and start “engaging with the world and figuring out who they are and where they fit.” And then eventually that kind of thinking “just becomes something normal and something good and something exciting,” she said.
‘Make other people happy’
With her books about to be published and a list of more projects she wants to work on, LaRue said she’s happy to have returned to Utah after years of freelancing and living abroad. She moved back almost a year ago after studying graphic design at Brigham Young University in the early 2000s. Now, LaRue works as the art director at Gibbs Smith in a red barn in Layton, where rescue cats roam around the office.
Over the last year, LaRue has also worked with Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, Gibbs Smith’s publisher and its chief creative officer, on Spumoni Studio and its line of gift products. Recently, she created decks of cards, including one that was summer camp-themed.
Spumoni’s tagline, “because the world already has enough vanilla,” fits LaRue’s own “goofy” and fun style, she said. “I’m quite playful in what I do. … It’s typically full of color and bright and typically quite silly. … If I’m making stuff, I want it to make other people happy.”
In the future, LaRue hopes to create a queer cookbook with her partner, Cat Palmer, a Salt Lake City photographer. “We haven’t quite concepted the whole thing, but it’s going to be a pretty cool project.”
“We do some fun cooking together,” said Palmer, 40.
LaRue also dreams of publishing a graphic novel, titled “Food Fight,” about eating disorders, which is “something I’ve struggled with for a couple of decades now,” she said. Addressing this topic through a graphic novel makes it “accessible to younger people and something that they wouldn’t be embarrassed or scared to pick up,” LaRue said.
LaRue said her goal is simple: She wants what she creates in the future to be meaningful. “I don’t need good feedback on it. I don’t need praise to keep working,” she said. “I just want it to do something.”