Interview: Teloka Berry

Today we’re joined by Teloka Berry. Teloka is a phenomenally talented visual artist from Australia. She’s a digital artist and specializes in comics. She also does portraits, original characters, and fanart. Aside from that, Teloka also does crafts. It’s very clear that she’s an incredibly dedicated artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a digital artist, and primarily a character illustrator and story-teller. I do stuff like portraits, comics, original characters and fan-art, and sell crafts and merch like stickers.

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My very favourite things to do are comics, both short ones and long form ones! I like stories with a strong focus on acearo, queer and neuroatypical characters who are just having adventures in various genres, and my personal schtick leans heavily towards acearo girls who want to form lasting commitments and have relationships with other girls.

I have two long-haul projects. Let’s Celebrate!, my queer magical girl themed webcomic has been live for almost three years now, and features an acearo lead and a bunch of silly festive super powers. It’s very lighthearted but still explores various celebrations from around the world, mental illness and communication, and features a bunch of monsters that the girls/guys/nb-pals fight with improbable weapons like giant candy canes. You can see it here: http://letscelebrate-comic.tumblr.com/

My second long haul project is collaborative with my girlfriend which we’re hoping to release early next year, and it will be an online graphic novel in installments. It’s a supernatural, Lovecraftian kind of adventure-thriller, structured around the Great Australian Road-Trip in rural Queensland. It follows an established acearo f/f couple, who accidentally enter an outback region they can’t leave filled with frightening “Locals” and those long roads that go on “forever”.

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What inspires you?

I’m going to sound super cheesy when I say this but… my girlfriend? Haha, I’m pretty inspired by personal experiences and personal interests, I suppose. I spend a lot of time drawing and illustrating stuff based on things we’ve done together or concepts we talked about and came up with together.

Maybe also like … spite, to be honest. I’m kind of tired of heteronormative stories and the same straight white male leads who fight the Big Bad and get the girl with very little actual effort. I love to write and see stories about girls, especially queer and neurodivergent girls, doing cool stuff and saving the day and being in genres they’re generally sidelined in, like action stuff or zombies.

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That aside I find music and bright cheerful colour palettes quite inspiring, and use both of them a lot in my work. And the work of other artists who I look up to, of course! I’m pretty visual so if I see something that is just aesthetically pleasing to me (like some architecture, a posing angle, fairy lights in a shop window) I’ll probably think about how to incorporate it into an art piece sooner or later.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always been really crafty and drawn or scribbled stuff, so I guess so? I got serious about artwork at about 13, when I entered high school and fell in with fellow artsy-sorts who enabled the habit. I started out like most teens on DeviantArt back then with an anthro fursona, and made more friends online that encouraged me, and so I just… persisted with it. I don’t think I ever had particular plans to be an artist, or to be anything for that matter, but it’s probably my stand out skill now. I draw every day and love my stories and characters a lot!

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Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

Probably like I mentioned in that first long ramble I did, I have a really strong narrative interest in queer stories, and especially a focus on acearo mentally ill girls and healthy relationships. Artistically/Stylistically though… no, haha, I have absolutely zero consistency in my work, I’m so bad at that!

Usually when I pitch it to other people they’ll say stuff like “sparkles!” or “colours!” or “same face syndrome!”, so maybe that’s the answer here? I like colours a lot and playing around with harsh lighting. I also draw a lot of birds, because… birb.

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What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

1. Give it a go! If you want to do it, just do it. It’s worthwhile, even if all it ever does is bring you happiness or relaxation to create; that’s super important and you deserve it.

2. Quite difficult, but don’t compare your creation to other peoples work negatively. Be critical of your own work, sure, and always, always strive to improve. But your work is not anyone else’s but your own, so try not to be disheartened if it doesn’t look like something else you wanted it to look like. It looks like it’s yours, and that’s the best thing it could be.

3. This one is for minority groups in storytelling especially (I figure relevant here on an ace positive blog), and something I’ve struggled with a lot but: Tell that story about your own experiences/preferences if you want to tell it. Create your own representation if you can and want to.

It’s not self-centered, it’s not “too much”, it’s not unpalatable, it’s not boring, and it’s not cheesy. Don’t feel like you can only put one character from a minority group in your story, and don’t feel like you can’t have characters who you relate to or have traits like you in your story. You do not have to write in something for “someone else” to relate to or have straight white men in your story for it to be “acceptable”, regardless of what popular media seems to be trying to say.

For example, when we started on the roadtrip story I mentioned earlier, we thought “is two whole acearo girls in a story… too many? should one of them at least… be bi?” and while scripting I’ve often wondered ”is this chronically anxious character having too many anxiety attacks…? should I just have them handle this thing better so that their mental illness is showing less?”. And the answer to those things is obviously no. Show that mental illness. Have only acearo leads. Have a whole cast of POC. There’s no such thing as “too much” representation of your minority characters and stories, and if they’re based on your personal experiences or desires- great. Because nobody else can tell that for you; it’s yours.

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I’m a cis girl (she/hers) and I identify as asexual and aromantic, though I might more accurately be quoiromantic as I don’t really understand the difference between platonic and romantic relationships, though I absolutely don’t experience attraction regardless. I previously considered myself panromantic because I “want to be emotionally intimate” with friends quite intensely and have close relationships, but I later realized that I don’t experience romantic attraction so… aromantic-spec it is.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve actually experienced very little ace prejudice. I’ve found straight people to be confused and commit some naïve-microaggressions at best, and mostly they just want me to explain what it meant and expressed general confusion about how I could not feel sexual attraction. (except for those dudes, you know, the: “well you just haven’t been with ­me yet” narcissists.)

I also had an abuser who ID’d on the ace spectrum, who would constantly guilt me about my orientation and say I would be a disappointment to my partner/s, that I was “broken”, or that I was just “trying to be holier than thou” and all kinds of toxic shit. So it really can come from anywhere.

The absolute worst ongoing prejudice I’ve seen has been from gatekeepers in the gay and lesbian communities. No surprises there. So many “sapphic safe place” blogs will reblog artwork of my girlfriend and I, which is clearly f/f and I get the lovely gift of seeing their acephobic descriptions on how ace people don’t belong in the queer community and queer is a slur, while they profit from artwork literally featuring two acearo girls.

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What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Lately there’s plenty of stuff going around tumblr especially about how asexuality doesn’t equal celibacy, and that it’s not a choice. True, absolutely! But I still very often see asexuality conflated with sex repulsion, or a lack of libido (and aromance with a lack of interest in close intimate relationships at all).

Sure, it can be that way, but it’s not universal for all aces or aros. Just like any orientation, asexual people can sit anywhere on the libido and/or repulsed spectrums. They are not the same at all, and it’s super toxic that it has become popularly interchangeable, because I’m often seeing ace characters who “hate to be touched” and it just…

Ace people can be sex positive and interested in intimacy.

Allosexual people can be sex repulsed or simply disinterested.

And sex repulsed people of any orientation can also still be highly sensual and have a libido and still really want to have sex (that’s me!).

All these things are separate experiences. Neither drive nor repulsion are intrinsically tied to each other or to asexuality, which is the lack of sexual attraction, and not the lack of desire for touch.

I think that’s a super important distinction that’s often lost. My stories focus on this a lot, and almost all of my comics and stories feature acearo characters who still actively seek close emotional intimacy- because aro people are not unfeeling robots- and who also like to experiment or be close to their partners physically- because ace doesn’t necessarily mean no libido or interest.

And it’s super alienating to sensual or libido aces to see the narrative that “to be ace means you can’t ever want to have sex with someone else” perpetuated. It feels like something that, in years to come, is going to segue into Ace-Gatekeeping-v2.0, and I’d like to see communication and compassion stop that before it happens.

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What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Auuhhh… uhmmm I’m really not an ideal person to put in like… advice giving roles. I’m still learning stuff myself; the Living Experience is pretty enormous! But perhaps the best thing I found (for me) was to have close friends who I could talk to about being ace and aro. If you have other friends who are already knowledgeable or confident in their own sexuality and ID on the acearo spec then that is probably the safest way, and they can explain things to you and answer questions.

There are also a variety of previously linked ace-help blogs and websites, and probably honestly… a lot of the artists featured on this blog would probably be happy to answer anon-questions and stuff about their experiences if you get in touch? I’d be happy to, for sure. That might be good for anyone who feels isolated or confused and doesn’t want to have a name attached to their questions!

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

You can find my artblog, where I post most of my art and links and updates on the above mentioned projects here: http://berryartistic.tumblr.com. I should warn that there are some suggestive works on there and it’s pretty heavy on the f/f content. There’s nothing graphic and no actual nudity, mostly just implications of intimacy and some power dynamics, but it might be a bit much for some minors or anyone intimacy-repulsed, so take it with a grain of salt.

Let’s Celebrate! is completely PG and can be found here: http://letscelebrate-comic.tumblr.com/ which has links offsite to places like Tapastic.

Thank you, Teloka, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

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