Today we’re joined by Naomi Lattanzi. Naomi wrote what remains my all-time favorite email subject line: “Asexual Artists Assemble!” Marvel references = automatic awesome points. I was so tempted to rename the blog (I might yet). Anyhow, Naomi is currently co-publishing a graphic novel with a group and working on getting a grant for another one. She’s a very talented graphic novelist. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
Before this year, I would have called myself a writer rather than an artist—mostly because I was comparing myself to my artist friends and calling my own work doodles. I’m still a writer, a singer, an unrepentant doodler, but now I am also one of a team of artists publishing a graphic novel about a Chinese American activist in the 1800s named Wong Chin Foo. This mostly leads to hours spent crouching over my desk trying not to smudge ink lines, or fixing smudged ink lines on photoshop, or coloring pages and editing them later—but it’s my art on pages that will be printed and distributed in the next couple months, and it’s led me to try creating my own graphic novel with a friend this summer. Fingers crossed that we manage to get the grant!
What inspires you?
Music! I can’t work without listening to something, often singing along. I like reading webcomics and fanfiction. It’s inspiring to see the work of other people who do art for the pure pleasure they get from sharing the stories in their heads.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
One of my best friends, whom I met in seventh grade, started me on the road to visual art. I’ve been a bookworm since I was four years old, but until my friend started lending me manga, I was completely focused on the written word. Manga opened another world to me, one that prompted me to start practicing my drawing and eventually join graphic novel projects in college. I’ve always wanted to be an author, but now I’m thinking that I’ll continue to mix the visual and written media, rather than just writing. I’ve dabbled with other forms of art—painting, acting, dancing, martial arts—and I like being able to switch it up.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in our work that you’d be willing to reveal?
Hmmm… this year’s graphic novel has a hidden motif of sunfish, but that wasn’t my idea. When I’m writing, I often try to include characters who don’t conform to the gender binary, but that’s difficult to do in a non-fiction graphic novel set in the 1800s. I can say that this year’s novel has a side character (unnamed) who we have decided as a class is a transgender man who would have been the main character if our actual main character was less of a show-stealer.
I’m also a fan of making fun of your own mistakes, so I manage the blooper reels for our graphic novels. Mis-drawn and mis-colored panels can be hilarious if you caption them properly.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Hell, I’M a young aspiring artist. I pretty much have no idea what I’m doing, and the unfinished drawings, stories, story ideas, videos, etc. I’ve accumulated over the years far outweigh the projects I’ve actually finished. I guess the best thing my experience with the graphic novel project has taught me is to let crappy art happen. It’s infinitely preferable to sit at a table and cringe over shaky lines and bad proportions than to put it off until you’re in the right mood to try and get it right. Crappy art days happen. That’s why there’s photoshop. White gel pens also work pretty well when you’ve messed up inking. Command-Z and Command-S are your best friends.
Just read Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech, he says it better than I can.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I am strongly asexual and pretty aromantic. I don’t foresee ever being in a romantic relationship, much less a sexual one. That said, I do feel romantic attraction to people (mostly feminine and female-presenting, but not exclusively), but don’t feel compelled to act on that attraction. It’s more like desiring an intense, close platonic relationship.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Sometimes—the first time I came out to friends in my GSA, they said asexual reproduction was something bacteria did. I’ve also faced some cultural gaps of understanding when I studied abroad in Japan and tried to explain to coworkers that I did not have, did not want, and never would want to have a boyfriend. Most people probably just assume I’m a lesbian, which doesn’t really bother me.
I’ve been made uncomfortable by people who talk about sex in really graphic detail and assume that it’s something I should have an interest in, but I mostly just try to redirect the conversation. It’s harder to deal with people who don’t respect personal space or try to touch me. I don’t like being touched at all by people I’m not super intimate friends with, but I don’t feel like I can communicate that without being rude. That’s led to some awkwardness in the past. There’ve been coworkers who tried to get me to go out with them before and wouldn’t listen to soft refusals, which was REALLY uncomfortable, so I played dumb until they lost interest. Passive aggression is my main defensive strategy, I guess.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
I haven’t personally encountered many misconceptions about asexuality, mostly because people don’t tend to know that asexuality is a thing. They tend to think of asexuality as something to be “cured”, kind of in a “if you meet the right person you’ll feel the urge” sort of way. I don’t deny that orientation can shift (and in fact, two of the aces I know have shifted on the spectrum pretty recently), but it’s not easy to be seen as a “real thing” when people around you peg your orientation as nothing more than a phase.
I had a teacher who assumed that because I’m ace, I’ll never be able to have biological children, which was slightly eyebrow-raising. I reminded him that artificial insemination was a thing, as was single parenthood, which stopped the conversation.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
The “It Gets Better” message isn’t just for non-heterosexual people. I found that a lot of the stress I felt as an ace in high school simply wasn’t there in college—your world gets bigger and people get less interested in imposing sexualized norms. That said, we do live in an extremely sexualized society and it can be pretty isolating to feel like an outsider to mainstream culture. I definitely had times where I felt like something was getting lost in translation between me and the rest of my peers, or felt like something in me had to be broken to not want what everyone else seemed to want.
My best advice would be to find a way to be happy with yourself. Let the rest of the world go on the back-burner for a while if you need to, just do what makes you feel happy and whole and find people who recognize the wholeness in you. It’s okay if it takes a while, just let yourself believe you’re not broken and that you will be fine.
Also platonic dates and even self-dates can be massive amounts of fun. Take yourself to a movie you really want to see, or go dancing with a good friend, get dolled up and walk around a mall or take yourself to the library, the aquarium, the Nutcracker. You’re an awesome person in any crowd, so don’t feel like you have to stay inside for any reason other than that you want to.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
Graphic novels: Google Stanford Graphic novel project or visit the (very sparse) Tumblr for this year’s graphic novel : wcfsgnp.tumblr.com
And the Facebook page for info about last year’s graphic novel: A Place Among the Stars
Miscellaneous writing: figment.com/users/8764-Naomi-Lattanzi
Thank you so much, Naomi, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.