[ARTICLE] Color Us Bad: How a "Swear Coloring Book" is Therapeutic for the Author and Her Fans

Co-workers, amirite?  The good ones can make even the most depressing workplace bearable. The bad ones…well, they can about push you over the edge with an endless assault of micro-aggressions, laziness, backbiting or lack of team spirit.


If you are struggling to deal with colleagues in the “bad” camp, we the minds behind the literal workplace horror stories, “Human Resources,” want to turn you on to a somewhat solution. Trust us, it beats bcc’ing your boss in response to perceived slights or eating your feelings at the company snack machine.  

Start coloring.  And not just any kind of coloring…turn your crayon to the pages of the Swear Color book collection with inventive (and invective-filled) names that include Fuck these Coworkers and the excellent companion, Fuck This Job.

The author and creator of these books is Marie Keller, a Michigan native who is now a digital nomad after spending some unpleasant time in academia.  The concept sprang into her mind while she was traveling in Medellin, Colombia and is based on real-life experiences from her own time in the traditional working world. Sadly, what she faced went beyond just normal annoyance with a co-worker.  She tells Myth Lab there was significant racial animus behind the treatment she says she experienced. Keller is now thankfully free of that ugly situation, so she now draws from the deep well of workplace angst shared by friends and family.

After seeing her inspirational imagery and hilarious memes on Instagram via @swearcoloringbooks, Myth Lab simply had to ask Keller more about her pilgrimage to help folks turn crayons into a form of therapy. She also shared some more interesting insights about how to deal with the creepiest of cube mates. [The interview has been edited for clarity and length.]

Myth Lab: For the uninitiated, there are these beautiful drawings that people can fill in with some pretty hilarious one-liners in them.  How does the process work?

Keller: I come up with the concepts [by] talking to friends and family. They still have jobs so it's like a therapy session. I always have more than I need! I don't have any formal art training. I work with artists or designers to bring the work together. 

Myth Lab: How did you come up with the particular coloring book concept for the co-workers? 

Keller: Research suggests that nearly 75 percent of people are dissatisfied with their work. I felt this adult coloring book topic would be very relatable.  This book is my second in the work series coloring books. I started with Fuck This Job. I quit my job as a tenured professor nearly 6 years ago and I still have a lot of feelings about the hostile work environment. I’m very glad that's over. I had serious racial battle fatigue. Location-free entrepreneurship really suits me! I love the freedom now to set my own direction, hours, and relationships. 

Myth Lab: Have customers told you what effect this coloring has had on them? What effects are those?

Customers find them to be very humorous and relaxing. They seem to purchase a lot for co-workers. 


Myth Lab: Would you advise leaving this coloring book out on a desk so annoying co-workers can see it?

Keller: I've had some customers share pictures of them coloring at work. It would be a good conversation starter for sure. 

Myth Lab: Why do you think it's so easy for co-workers to get under our collective skin?

Keller: For me personally it was their lack of boundaries. I think setting up this forced "family" community just doesn't work. I think many of us want to do our jobs well and interact with co-workers in a more genuine way. I don't like team-building activities or forced small talk. I think we can do our work well if respect, not friendship, is the focus. But maybe it's just me, lol.  As I say in the book, "I'm here to make money not friends."


Myth Lab: Give us a pro tip: What is one of the best ways to deal with bothersome co-workers, other than coloring about them?

Keller: I think the best way to deal with a bothersome coworker is to tell them and perhaps your supervisor the way you need to work. I don't think you should let the behavior go unmentioned. 

Myth Lab:  Who do you think would be the most annoying fictional co-worker, i.e. Dwight from "The Office"?

Keller: It would be the supervisor (and co-workers) from Issa Rae's show on HBO, “Insecure.”

 Photo: Justina Mintz/courtesy of HBO

 Photo: Justina Mintz/courtesy of HBO


Myth Lab: Since we focus on juxtaposing workplace horror stories with horror movies, tell us about a job (you can skip the name) you had that was most like a horror movie and which horror movie was it like?

Keller: “Roots.” It's not technically in the [horror] genre but it was horrific. I was the first full-time Black person in the department and I was not welcomed, to put it plainly. Just to give you a few examples of what I experienced, I made a complaint of race discrimination with regard to a hiring committee. I experienced retaliation [following] this claim. The other accuser was fired soon after this complaint was levied.

Myth Lab:  We are very sorry to hear about your experience. Yes, we keep things light on HR the Series but one of Myth Lab’s core missions is to support, advocate for and create diverse workspaces for optimal creativity and output. We are happy you found a way to mine creativity out of what sounds like a deplorable situation. So we are aware of the two coloring books, but is there any new project on the horizon you'd like to share with our “Human Resources” family? 

I have created several other coloring books in addition to Fuck these Coworkers, one related to work Fuck This Job, as well as We Travel in Color and Curls in Color - all can be found on Amazon. 

If you’re interested in following more of Keller’s saga and Swear Coloring Books and other colorful books, follow @swearcoloringbooks and purchase her materials HERE.

Kyra Kyles