Today we’re joined by Emily Griggs. Emily is a fantastically talented and versatile visual artist and writer. She has a thoroughly entertaining webcomic entitled “Heartless,” which has been signal boosted on this site before. She has an incredibly bright future ahead of her and I cannot wait to see more of her work. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
My business card reads “author, illustrator, maker, nerd” because I’ve never been able to pick just one thing to focus on, but everything I do tends to be geeky. I make fannish cards and prints on Etsy, I run a webcomic, and I write and illustrate tabletop role-playing games and genre fiction. I also dabble in jewelry and sewing, but much less seriously.
What inspires you?
Mostly, stories. Comics, games, movies, TV, podcasts… whenever there’s characters and a narrative, I tend to fixate on bits and think “wow, I want to do that… but with this change and that change and this other thing” and before you know it I’ve got something original. That’s one of my favourite things about tabletop RPGs, you always get to make the story your own as you go.
My visual art also revolves around storytelling. If you leave me alone for five minutes with a pen and paper, I’ll probably start drawing my tabletop RPG characters or someone from my webcomic.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
When I was quite young, my mother quit her reliable day job to become a professional knitting designer, so I learned early on that it was okay to make your creative passions your professional ones too. Exactly what type of art I wanted to do for a living has changed dozens of times over my life, as my passions and opportunities changed.
I got into my exact field through a series of coincidences: a spur-of-the-moment idea, a blind submission, a forum post I happened to see. I’ve kept my eggs in quite a few different baskets, and the ones that have worked out are the ones I’ve continued to focus on. Fortunately, I’ve always been pretty flexible about my art, and working on several different projects at once suits me very well.
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?
I’ve never really settled into one specific style or set of symbolism, and I don’t usually sign my work unless asked. Somehow adding a signature always feels too fancy, and I’m really not a fancy kind of person most of the time 😛
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
If you’re interested in becoming an artist professionally, remember that creative jobs are still JOBS. There will be parts of being a professional artist you hate, and you’ll need to get good at those too. Practice your art as often as possible, but learn about networking and marketing and customer service too, they are equally important to being skilled at whatever it is you do. Be open to new paths, and try to support your fellow artists wherever you can – nine times out of ten they’re more like coworkers than competition, and if you work together you can all prosper.
Also, never be afraid to apply for an opportunity, even if you feel under-qualified. It’s good advice in general, but it can be extra hard when you’re part of some marginalized group. When the world keeps telling you you’ll never make it, it isn’t easy to work up the courage to try for something that seems out of reach. But be brave if you can, and send in that story proposal or that creative job application or that illustration idea anyways. Put yourself out there: the worst they can do is say no, and maybe they’ll surprise you by saying yes! I’ve had both happen, and the few times I’ve been accepted been so, so worth all the nervousness and frustration around applying to opportunities that haven’t worked out.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I’m biromantic grey-asexual, though I often shorten that to just biromantic asexual. For me, the ace part of my identity is far more important to understanding who I am and what I have experienced than the occasional mild exceptions that make it “grey”.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
A little over a year ago, I attended a panel on queer comics at a major comic event. One of the panelists began their answer to a question with the phrase that was something like “the queer experience is about the moment of sexual attraction.” The other panelists and the audience nodded along, and I was far too shy to raise my hand to disagree.
I’ve never experienced overt aggression or belittlement for being ace, but that passive erasure was deeply painful. I was just starting to get back into comics, I was trying to write a script for one myself, and here a room of people who should have been my greatest allies were telling me that I didn’t belong without even noticing what they were doing. And it’s a kind of microaggression that’s happened again and again to me in all areas of life: this passive assumption that sexual attraction is universal.
I handled the incident at the comic panel by being utterly miserable about it for a few weeks, then doubling down on my efforts to complete a comic script with an asexual protagonist. Stories are what I do, and I can’t think of a better way for me to combat casual ignorance than by filling the world with stories about people like me.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
In person, aside from the misconception that we don’t exist, it’s been the idea that asexual people don’t enjoy sex or have low/nonexistant libidos by definition. It’s hard to make people understand exactly what not experiencing sexual attraction feels like, and how it’s different from the above.
In media, it’s the ever-lovely trope that asexual people are heartless. More than once I’ve had to stop and cringe when a show I’ve otherwise been enjoying uses “asexual” as an insult, or to show how bad a bad guy is. It’s pretty frustrating, but I try to use that frustration as fuel for writing more ace-positive media.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
For a long time, I was terrified to admit to myself that I was asexual because I wanted to be normal. I made excuses for how I was feeling, convinced myself that if I just tried harder I could experience sexuality in the same way other people did. I was sure that if I was asexual, it meant I’d be miserable forever.
But after accepting my orientation, I have never been happier. I’m more confident in myself, and my relationship with my (allosexual) partner has improved because I have the language to explain my needs and preferences without lies or half-truths. Sure there are still moments when I wish I could just be allo, but for the most part I feel so happy to have figured out an important part of who I am. Despite what the media is going to keep telling you, you can live an amazingly happy life without experiencing sexual attraction.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
My art portfolio, publication credits, and other nonsense:
My Etsy shop:
My RPG company, Supernatural 20 (which I run with my roommate, who’s also ace!):
My webcomic, Heartless:
Thank you so much, Emily, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.