Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Artist Spotlight

Artists Showcase: Spotlight on the QDSF Illustrators

One of my favorite movies of all time is Almost Famous. If you have not seen it, you should; it has some fantastic quotes. When I started writing this, some of Penny Lane’s best lines kept popping into my mind: “We are not groupies. [ . . . ] We are here because of the music, we inspire the music. We are Band Aids.”

I wish there was a phrase for art-loving fans that was as perfect as “Band Aids” is for music, because I would wear that title proudly. I am fascinated and mesmerized by courageous writers and illustrators. They are my rock stars. Everything they do, brings me to my knees. I am in awe.

So when Lightspeed asked me to be art director for Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, I had to say yes. This was my chance to ride in the tour bus! No true fan in their right mind misses that chance!

Some of the most innovative and talented queer creators are represented here. The field of speculative fiction is richer because of their contributions. Wait until you see C. Bedford’s clean design and evocative imagery; Paige Braddock’s powerful visual storytelling; Isabel Collier’s compelling, futuristic style; Odera Igbokwe’s potent and fluid expressions; Steen’s superb line and composition awareness; and Orion Zangara’s lush, lush ink work.

Oh, and the stories are pretty amazing, too!

This collection is bringing QUILTBAG artists and writers further and further into the limelight and giving more fans like me a chance to be transported. The future is a better place when there is genuine inclusion, and I think this special issue is a great move in that direction.

Tell me a little about your artistic background and your work in this field.

Paige Braddock, illustrator of “Emergency Repair” by Kate M. Galey: I’ve been working as an illustrator since 1985. I started out doing feature illustration for newspapers, back in the day, and eventually ended up transitioning to licensing in 1999. I’ve always been interested in adventure comics and science fiction stories, so this project was particularly fun because it allowed me to blend both of those things. In my day job, I oversee licensing for the Peanuts comic strip. My “night” job is writing and illustrating my other graphic novel projects: Jane’s World and Stinky Cecil . . . oh, and this comedy sci-fi graphic novel titled The Martian Confederacy, written by Jason McNamara.

C. Bedford, illustrator of “The Astrakhan, the Homburg, and the Red Red Coal” by Chaz Brenchley: Like many others, I’ve started out at a very young age and continued with the drive to get better, to be more awesome next time. There was a lot of trial and error, particularly due to lack of proper study, but it was a fun journey nonetheless. My work itself typically bends toward androgynous types. People insisted I draw other things to “expand my horizons,” but I just wasn’t that interested. That wasn’t part of what I wanted to see or create, or what I had to say.

Steen, illustrator of “Melioration” by E. Saxey: I’ve been working out of Queens, NY for a few years now and have been in a few anthologies and other publications. I work in ink, then scan the drawing, and do coloring in Photoshop. I love making weird textures on yupo paper and overlaying it on the drawing to get strange effects. Science fiction holds a dear place in my heart; the first show I ever loved was Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Isabel Collier, illustrator of “Nothing is Pixels Here” by K.M. Szpara: I’ve been sketching and drawing in earnest since high school and working as a professional artist since college, although illustration isn’t really my specialty. (I try to do a little bit of just about everything creative, however.) I’ve been working as a concept artist and character designer in the tabletop gaming industry (think Dungeons & Dragons and such) for a couple of decades, though. And now, I feel old.

Odera Igbokwe, illustrator of 勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” by John Chu: I am a freelance illustrator located in Brooklyn, NY. I started drawing as a child because of my inspired diet of anime, video games, and cartoons (like much of my generation). As a teenager I had my first art classes and found online communities that provided lots of structure and early critiquing. Fast-forward to college, where I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and studied illustration. And now I am here at the beginning of my professional illustration career, and I’m having a blast. My first published illustration was actually the cover of the December 2014 issue of Lightspeed, so it is an honor to work with Lightspeed again for this very special issue.

Is your illustration for this project reflective of your own life experiences or related more to a larger social statement?

Braddock: I’m not sure it relates directly to my life except that I found the story compelling and would have enjoyed it even if it hadn’t been assigned to me for the illustration. I liked the tone of the piece and the sort of gender neutrality of it. Personally, I love post-apocalyptic stories and images . . . so this was fun for me to imagine. I hope the writer was pleased with the image. I tried to capture the intensity of the moment . . . life and death . . . in the story.

Bedford: I don’t typically align myself with any large social movement (nor do I actively avoid them either), but I feel I can only speak from my own experiences and therefore can only speak for myself. They’re definitely more reflective of my own life experiences. Saying that, being mixed race, along with several other things, I’ve had a hard time belonging to any “larger social group.” It’s difficult for me to actually define social groups or who belongs to what or if I belong with them since I don’t meet all the requirements for anything.

Steen: More related to a larger social statement. I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t gotten much hate for who I am and who I love.

Collier: I think my big statement for this illustration was, “Hey, this is an interesting story. You should read it.” Terribly unromantic, I know. Hopefully, it has a bit of an introspective feel, because it seems that as individuals, we’re often conflicted between other people’s perceptions of who we are, and our own internal understanding of ourselves — which is a major theme of the story.

Igbokwe: 勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” is a wonderful slice of intersectionality and the transcendent nature of queerness. It isn’t simply a story about same-sex romance — it manages to be science fiction, action, slice-of-life, and the beginnings of romance all at once. The story also inhabits this strange space of romantic tension that keeps you turning the page. So for this illustration I opted to strip it down to that moment of tension and connection.

Ultimately, every project and piece of artwork I create is coming from some part of my internal mythos. And my life experiences as a queer child of the afrodiaspora/reincarnated Sailor Senshi/sun goddess are in themselves a social statement. So even though this illustration is meant for 勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace),” it is impossible to strip it from my identity — it’s still an ember coming from my flame.

When you illustrate a story, do you look for a scene or character within the piece or do you approach the art in a broader, thematic sense?

Braddock: I always start with a character, and then I build the scene out from there. If the image of a character feels authentic . . . if that character captures the emotion I’m after, then I feel like at that point I can build the rest of the scene. [My colleague] Jose Mari Flores did the color for this image. It’s always interesting to see someone’s color interpretation of a line drawing.

Bedford: I think I approach things in a broader sense, but it definitely depends on the work in question. I like trying to include as many parts of a work as possible as I tend to think things, stories especially, are fluid. We feel a certain way about a part of a story later on because of the events that have happened beforehand. I want my work to be reflective of that.

Steen: It depends. With this one, I instantly latched on to the idea of Petheridge being huge and pink. What a great visual for this guy who is menacing, but [who] I pictured as soft as a wad of chewed gum.

Collier: Honestly, it depends on the story. For “Nothing is Pixels Here,” I wanted to avoid any major spoilers, so I tried to focus on the characters, and on the recurring theme of the “glitch,” while not getting too specific with anything.

Igbokwe: I’m less interested in taking a snapshot of narrative events, and I’m more interested in using symbolism and iconography as metaphor. However I also love character exploration and the personalities that keep us grounded in these fantastical stories.

This dynamic tends to create scenes that don’t necessarily occur in the story and ultimately pushes the illustrations toward the underlying mythology and dreamscape of the narrative.

Do you feel the look, mood, and design of science fiction movies influenced the content and look of your illustrations? If so, in what way?

Braddock: Well, as I mentioned, I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories and movies. I definitely think movies and books like The Road (a personal favorite) informed this image. I think the thing I like about post-apocalyptic stories is discovering what gets left behind. Every apocalyptic tale is really a meditation on what has meaning. There’s almost a spiritual component in those stories that I find compelling.

Bedford: Some works, yes — most definitely yes. There were many great sci-fi films that came out just around the age of the peak of my imagination, and have forever instilled their influences in me. Sometimes I completely forget that until I re-watch an old movie or re-read an old comic book. It’s striking how much I’ve drawn from these things. At the same time I find myself trying to explore more visual themes and follow what feels right rather than sticking to a specific genre.

Steen: I’ve been really getting into 1970s sci-fi art lately. A lot of it is very strange, some of it bordering on abstract, but there’s such emotion that comes out of it. Their bold, unusual color choices really influenced me.

Collier: Undoubtedly. Artists are magpies by nature, and are constantly pulling out and re-purposing shiny objects that they have mentally hoarded in the past. In this story, though, the science fiction elements and influences aren’t very apparent — most of it is going on in the layout of the illustration.

Igbokwe: My knowledge of classic science fiction movies is pretty limited, so I can never sense a direct influence on my illustrations. Typically I ingest science fiction when it is fused with something else (e.g. fashion, music, gaming, etc).

So while I love Metropolis, X-Men, Octavia Butler, and Outlaw Star, the typical sci-fi influence that rises to the top is more along the lines of “I sure do love the subtle Afrofuturistic aesthetic of that Aaliyah music video, ‘We Need a Resolution.’”

With this illustration for 勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace),” I think I subconsciously implemented colors and textures from my science fiction memory bank. However for some of the mark-making and brush strokes, I specifically remember thinking “I want this to feel like a cross between the iconic green text of The Matrix and the glyphs that float around in Final Fantasy IX’s Oelivert.”

What did you love most about the story you illustrated?

Braddock: One facet of the story I liked was that you get a sense of what these characters meant to each other, even though only one of them is speaking. You understand how strongly this one character feels about the other as she goes through the process of basically performing a radical medical procedure in a battlefield situation. I like stories where character is revealed through extreme survival circumstances. I also like that the story doesn’t actually resolve everything for the reader.

Bedford: I really enjoyed the abstract ideas put forward. I liked that the communication between everyone was not just through words, but the entire way everyone was as a being and reacting off of that. There were a lot of feelings involved rather than direct visual cues to describe what was happening, or the sensations that were effecting the characters. I also enjoyed how the narrator was an active observer, but an observer more than anything else.

Steen: I like how none of the characters are good or bad. I sympathize with all of them, and I still don’t know who was correct in their actions. All of the characters were justified, save for Petheridge. But does he deserve his fate in the end? Who is right and who is wrong? I love stories like this.

Collier: I think my favorite thing was the repeated use of hands to describe the characters, and as a pivotal part of the narrative. I find hands fascinating, so that was kind of playing to my bias there, anyway.

Igbokwe: I love the metaphor of strategy and gameplay in regards to this romance. The story also occupies this space of desire, where there is a heavy palpable tension that keeps you turning the page.

Furthermore I think it’s critical to have a diverse spectrum of visibility for queer romance. 勢孤取和 (Influence Isolated, Make Peace)” captures a subtle shade of queer romance that we don’t get to see often. And that in itself is a revolutionary act.

So, uh, welcome to the revolution where any gender can have passionate, primal, agapeic romance.

Where genderqueer telepaths can explore masturbation on the astral plane.

Or, you know, a Taiwanese man and a cyborg start the beginnings of a loving relationship with a simple game of Go.

Elizabeth Leggett

Elizabeth Leggett

Elizabeth Leggett has illustrated for Lethe Press, Spectrum22, ArtOrder’s INSPIRED, Infected By Art Vol 3, Quillrunner Publishing, Quiet Thunder Publishing, Little Springs Design, S.J. Tucker, and private collectors. She was cover artist and art director for Lightspeed’s special issues Women Destroy Fantasy! and Queers Destroy Science Fiction!. In 2013, she published a full 78 card tarot and successfully Kickstarted the project. In 2015, she won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist. [illustrations]