Interview: Morgan Lees

Today we’re joined by Morgan Lees. Morgan is a wonderful artist who specializes in fantasy art and illustration. They’re have an ongoing comic entitled Corner the Maze, which is delightful urban fantasy about a racing driver who winds up in a different dimension. Aside from the comic, Morgan also does a lot of freelance illustration and has done some theater (including stage combat) in the past. Their work is beautiful and the detail is extraordinary, as you’ll soon see. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I draw, paint, write, and do theater – some of those things more than the others. I’ve been focusing primarily on my comic of late, and I’m a freelance illustrator. My comic work is done in pen and ink, and I’ve been working with pencil on toned paper a lot lately for other art. I haven’t done much with theater aside from stage combat lately, but I’m hoping to get into it more again when I have more time (which I’ve been saying for years now, so who knows when that will be). I guess the common thread is that I like telling stories with art in one form or another.

My comic is called Corner the Maze, and it follows the adventures of a racing driver who finds himself inadvertently trapped in another dimension after falling into a strange portal during a race. It ties into the same setting as the books I’m writing, and some of the characters end up appearing in both, but I’m making sure that they both work well as standalone things, too.

What inspires you?

Mostly I have a lot of story and character ideas jostling about in my head, and I want to get those out and in some form where other people can (hopefully) enjoy them. I’m also inspired by music, nature, and rather unpredictable flashes of insight coming from seemingly random sources. So, I guess mostly it’s whatever happens to set my imagination off, which isn’t very predictable.

Roleplaying games have also been a big source of inspiration for me since I was really little. A great percentage of everything I’ve ever drawn has been one of my characters or another, either in pen and paper games or from CRPGs, and that probably had something to do with getting me thinking about characterization and storytelling so much as well.

Stylistically, again with the roleplaying games, I always really liked the black and white illustrations found in the RPG books I grew up with – first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and then Middle-earth Roleplaying/Rolemaster – and I’m sure that had some effect on my pen and ink style. Same goes for Choose Your Own Adventure type books.

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

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but I didn’t get serious about it until I was eighteen or so. For some reason, both drawing and writing as career options seemed out of reach to me when I was younger, but then I decided that I was going to give it my best shot and see if I could make it work. I was actually more focused on theater (directing and lighting design especially) when I was younger, but the amount of travel that would end up being necessary for that put me off in the end – that, and what I really want to be doing more than anything is telling my own stories. That’s what led me to the comic, and what inspired me to get my writing in shape.

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?

Not really! I sign my work with my initials and the date, but that’s about it.

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What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Don’t stop practicing. Whenever you’ve got time, as much as you can possibly stand it, practice. When I look back and see the difference between where I am with my work and where I want to be, and look at the people who are where I want to be, the single greatest difference is always that they were more dedicated earlier on. I goofed off a lot when I was a kid and a teenager – there were plenty of whole weeks where I didn’t draw at all. There are lots of different ways to learn, and there’s no one piece of advice there that will work for everyone, but practice is universal.

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Nerevarine

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I’m aromantic and asexual. I’ve simply never had the slightest sort of romantic or sexual interest in anyone else. It took me an oddly long time to realize that’s not how most people are, and once I realized that, it “only” took me another few years to realize the rest of it.

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

The worst I’ve encountered is people thinking I’m weird, but then, the place I’ve generally spent the most time with other people in my life is in the theater – and it is true that people tend to get less flak for being seen as different there than in some other places. I was also home-schooled until I went to college, so overall I’ve had a lot less opportunity to encounter prejudice than many people. I did deal with some in college, but again, pretty mild and not directed at me (I hadn’t yet quite realized that I was asexual at the time). It made me uncomfortable, but that’s about it.

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

I did get a lot of people telling me I would grow out of it when I was younger (although that was only when I expressed a lack of interest, since I didn’t identify as asexual yet), but nothing in that vein for the last six or seven years. Again, I’m probably lucky with my circle of acquaintances in this regard; they tend to be rather reasonable and open-minded people.

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Shadow of Murder

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

There’s nothing wrong with you, and if you’re happy with yourself, that’s what matters. There’s no one recipe for happiness, so don’t let anybody tell you that there is. You don’t need to have a romantic relationship or have sex to have a great life (although of course neither of those things will stop you from it either), and being unusual isn’t worse in any way, just different.

I wish I had more useful advice, but I just went about happily assuming that nobody else actually cared about those things either until I was already in my twenties, so… yeah. I’m kind of oblivious about things sometimes, especially where people are concerned.

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

My comic can be found at http://cornerthemaze.net/ and updates every Tuesday and Thursday, my illustration portfolio is at http://morganelees.com/ (which is also where my writing stuff will be, when I get any of that up again), and I generally post all my art to my DeviantArt account at http://remmirath-ml.deviantart.com/. I try to keep those all just about as much up to date, but if anything’s going to fall behind, it’s usually DeviantArt.

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Turn Away

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

Interview: Siri Spencer

Today we’re joined by Siri Spencer. Siri is a phenomenal and versatile artist. She’s an incredibly passionate cosplayer who hand sews most of her costumes. Siri also does stage combat and acting, which is awesome. She’s starting to learn fire-spinning as well and has already done her first fire dance. Siri is also a dedicated writer and her fantasy novel should be out soon, which sounds absolutely amazing. 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 do both moving art and still art; I write and I perform for people in both cosplay and stage combat/acting.

I’ve been writing for years, ever since I was about twelve. It started with something that seems to have become a very popular trend for writers these days: fanfiction. That slowly evolved into a passion for painting pictures with words (since I am terrible with ink and paint). I’ve written a few small, published pieces and am currently working with a publishing company to put out my first full-length “high fantasy” novel.

I’ve been doing cosplay for many years now; since 2009 at conventions, but I’ve always sort of done it by being my favorite book character or movie character for Halloween. I make all my own costumes by hand and usually hand stitch since I don’t have a sewing machine- it takes me a very long time to complete any costume so I don’t have a lot to show off, but the ones I do have I am very proud of.

For the past two years I have been performing in cosplay at Metrocon (an anime convention in Tampa, Florida) and just recently I did a performance in Boston as well. I have had the honor of performing in Metrocon’s Anime Human Chest Match (stage combat show), Fantasy Masqurade (a play/musical/dance show), and also Metro Night Live (a stand-up comedy show). In Boston I am currently learning fire spinning and just did my first mini fire dance at a small festival.

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What inspires you?

In my writing I suppose it is a little of everything. Music, art, the people I walk past in the streets, the conversations I overhear on the subway, the shows I watch, the books and comics that I read, my friends, my family; but more than anything else is the time I spent traveling. After college I spent five years traveling, mostly around Asia. It gave me insight to the world and I saw things and met people that re-inspire me every time I think about those years. Travel and discovery take a huge part in everything I write.

For performance it’s a little more difficult to say. I believe my inspiration comes from the people around me. Yes, I have a character that I am supposed to portray and that is influential in the way I must act or fight or dance, but it’s my fellow performers and the people sitting in the audience that really push me to do my best. I want to draw their emotions out in the minute. I want them to clap along to the music, cheer for the good guys in a fight and boo the bad, I want them to cry and laugh and feel.

This motivates me in both my arts; I want my readers to have the same reactions when I write, but when I’m on stage I can also get lost in the moment and it is something that is almost indescribable.

Most of all, though, my inspiration and motivation comes from the idea that maybe, somewhere along the way I can inspire someone to make their own art. There is no greater compliment than knowing I moved someone to create.

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

I’ve always loved art and from a very young age I knew I wanted to do art and make it, but I had no idea how or what kind of art. It took other people to show me that I had a talent in something because I was (and still am from time to time) always so busy watching other people do amazing things I never thought I could do something like that as well.

When I was in the fifth grade I had an assignment in language arts class to write about “An exciting event in the first person.” I wrote about seeing Nancy Kerrigan and Christina Yamaguchi figure skate in person. After I turned in the assignment, my teacher Mrs. Cassara sat me down very serious and told me that I had written about their performances in so much detail that she felt like she had been there herself. She told me I had something special and that no matter what happens I shouldn’t let it go. I haven’t looked back or stopped writing since.

As for stage performance, I danced for a good sixteen years of my life and it’s something that has been and always will be a part of me, but when I realized I couldn’t do it professionally due to a knee injury I sort of lost the motivation. Part of my writing passion spilled into theater when I wrote a couple children’s plays for a summer camp and it was there that I found my love for acting performance and costume making and being on the stage again. Once in college I started going to conventions and began to cosplay my favorite anime, video game, and comic book characters.

It wasn’t until just a couple years ago when I was telling a co-worker about my old hobbies that he suggested I try out for this convention that he performs at. That is where I discovered a new passion for stage combat and I never want to stop. Stage combat isn’t fake- not at all. We use real martial arts and real weapons that can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s terrifying and exciting all at the same time and also really hard to explain. Most people tell me I’m crazy, but I just call it fun. It pushes me to be better than I am and the group of people I get to do it with are more like family to me than friends or performance partners.

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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?

In performance and cosplay I can’t say I have any sort of signature which I weird now that I think about it. Maybe I do and I just haven’t realized what it is yet. On the other hand, my writing has always had one defining theme- my narration. I write the way I talk, like I am sitting in front of you telling you my story and a lot of people over the years have told me that when you write you need to find a “narrator voice,” but being different is what nailed me my publishing contract. I have a small excerpt from the prologue of my book that I can share!

Finding that sweet spot of ‘back story’ is always the worst. Even for simple things like answering the question of “What did you do today?” I can start from the moment my alarm went off and I brushed my teeth. Then I proceeded to burn my eggs because I got distracted with a game on my phone, but you’ve seen that a thousand times in a sitcom on TV or read it in a comic on the Sunday Funnies page.

Also? No one actually cares about that stuff- unless it’s your best friend and they get to use that juicy bit about the eggs as blackmail to embarrass you in front of someone you’re trying to hard to impress. Story for another time.

On the flip side, I can’t just jump into my day. “It was fairly normal. Did some good research at the library. My mentor made me run five miles because I’ve been in “nerding with books” too much this past week- (yes I know “nerding” isn’t a word, but it was his “word” not mine). I fought this chick named Loki and almost died, but hey there were brownies in my fridge that I forgot I made yesterday so I think it turned out to be a pretty damn good day.”

So we go from no one cares to your context needs context.

I think I’m just really sarcastic, honestly.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Art is hard. It’s so amazingly difficult and you are an absolutely amazing person for creating any little piece of art for this world to cherish. Whether it’s fan fiction or an original story on paper, music recorded on a crappy phone program, a doodle scribbled in the corner of a page, a small dance done while waiting for a bus… you are an artist and no one can ever tell you otherwise.

Keep at it. Do it if you love it, stop it if you hate it, and then start again and remember why you love it and keeping going. It won’t be easy, but nothing in life worth doing is (is that a movie quote? I’m pretty sure I’m not that witty).

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I am completely asexual and completely aromantic. I’m definitely a very ‘love you for everything you are, but from across the couch’ sort of person.

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

In my art fields I have been so fortunate with the people I know and work with.

I’m pretty sure my editor doesn’t care about anything so long as I get my edits in by her deadlines. I am curious to find out how my readers and how critics will react in the future should my book ever see some real limelight (long shot but hey, I can dream). I know I could get some serious backlash and it’s always a sticky situation with media. Even if my editor doesn’t care the publishing company could drop me because of bad reviews or just being affiliated with me. It’s something that all artists have to anticipate; I just haven’t seen it first hand, yet.

In performance I’ve encountered a few ignorant people, but no real hate or discrimination. I have a great group of friends that stand by me for who I am. I am very lucky.

In my day job it’s another story. I’ve had co-workers call me some terrible things because they just don’t understand where I am coming from. I’ve been labeled things from ‘really strange’ to ‘a liar’ to ‘freak’ to ‘a relationship saboteur’. It’s all pretty ironic considering I work for a very ‘we accept everyone openly’ company (we have some group or another boycotting us on a daily basis), but just because a company believes in something doesn’t mean all the workers do.

Luckily I got to where I am and have the position I do because I am damn good at my job and I worked my little booty off to get to where I am. That has nothing to do with my sexual orientation and I remind them of that. That my lack for needing an active nightlife in bed gives me traits they’ll never have and lets me see people from a point of view that they will never understand.

I feel that I know myself better than most people and I am closer to the people who matter in my life.

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

That we are not really a thing that exists in this world. That being asexual can’t possibly be an orientation or even possible. That we aren’t human because we don’t feel that same attraction to someone else that ninety-nice percent of the rest of the world feels.

There is always some excuse: “You just haven’t found the right person.” “You just haven’t had someone show you how it’s done right.” “You’re just scared to get personal.” “You’ll see when you get older that this is just some silly phase.”

Well I’m older now, 29, and I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out at this point. You all just didn’t want to admit that I’m different from you.

Or there always has to be some reason- some event to explain it all. “Did you get raped?” “Did your mom and dad just not hug you enough?” “Did you have a bad relationship?” “Have you ever even had a real relationship?” “Did you just try it once and not like it?”

It took me a long time to not take these kinds of things to heart. I’ve honestly only just come to terms with where I’m at and who I am. I always thought that there was something wrong with me- especially in high school and college when everyone else was easing into relationships. I was always the black sheep. I took on a persona that I just didn’t want a relationship of any kind, which wasn’t true, and I was very lonely because of it.

I shouldn’t have to explain myself. I am the way I am and if the person standing in front of me isn’t open to that without needing an explanation I don’t need them. I shouldn’t need a reason. I shouldn’t need an excuse. I shouldn’t have to try anything if I don’t want to.

It wasn’t easy realizing any of that and I still have to remind myself of it constantly, but life is nothing but a giant lesson and some lessons take longer than others.

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

You are you and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Everywhere you go there will be people pulling and tugging and pushing and turning you to be something you are not. Make your stand, arm yourself with your knowledge, and let them see that you are so much stronger a person for being you than they ever will be. Because if they have to belittle you or try to change you they aren’t as great as they think themselves to be.

It’s confusing, but do what you feel is right. If you’re uncomfortable with something stop it. You might not understand why but it doesn’t matter- you will figure it out eventually and no one can rush no matter what.

You are not obligated to explain anything to anyone. Ever. Period. No more discussions.

Be proud. You stand out, yes, and that is scary. But you are unique and different and brave for being true to yourself and that is something to be so incredibly proud of.

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

I unfortunately don’t have a big online presence and am sort of an old person in that I’m not very up to date with a lot of internet media types.

I do post things from time to time on my Tumblr:

http://celirian.tumblr.com/

I only just got an AO3 account so if you’d like to read a couple fanfictions that I am working on check it out!

http://archiveofourown.org/users/Celirian/works

As for performance pieces you can check out the production company that directs all the shows at Metrocon on their YouTube page. Team Dynamite is amazing and I wouldn’t be anything without their training and the opportunities they’ve given me. I only worked with them for two years, but you don’t need a long time to know you love something.

https://www.youtube.com/user/metroconops/featured

More recent performances are on this page

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbMpGZDt92kRA4kvR-fcO6E43zdxM5rh4

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