Today we’re chatting with NEN, a concept artist, illustrator and self-described “low brow artist who occasionally dabbles in comics.” NEN’s work is absolutely gorgeous and I’m proud to say that she’ll be on my Women in Media panel at the Nashville Comic Con next weekend.
Here is a little info about her work: “NEN has worked on SHINOBI CLANS for Posthuman Studios, Project: Paradigm, and many other independent games. She has appeared in Menton3’s THE MEMORY COLLECTORS and been featured repeatedly as a cover artist for SUGAR NINJAS. Currently, NEN is illustrating for Legend of the Five Rings, Synthicide, and several other undisclosed projects. She is also preparing to return to more fine art related pursuits with a low brow gallery showing called PORTRAITS OF A DEAD GIRL related to her personal graphic novel project ISCARIOT, a surreal horror book about two Asian American girls fighting over a heart transplant.”
Check out what she has to say about sex positive feminism, working in the medium and her technique.
Legion of Leia: You described your belief in “sex positive feminism,” which I love. Can you tell the readers more about what that means?
NEN: A woman’s view of feminism can vary drastically based on her upbringing, social climate, race, class structure, and prior sexual experience so I always have believed that feminist belief is very personal from woman to woman. For the sake of simplification, sex-positive feminism is a form of feminism where sex is not considered to be a negative thing in and of itself and is a positive, strengthening experience for a woman. Very much simplified, and again to reiterate, every woman’s views are influenced by her history and experiences through life.
For me, sex-positive feminism is about the freedom to do what one wants with who one wants without fear of judgement or shame, to identify with whatever gender one feels comfortable with whenever one feels comfortable doing it whether it is on the scale of male/female or not, to wear what one likes because one likes it and not because one is adhering to a construct of what is deemed acceptable or sexy by a patriarchal society, and to pretty much just do as one will without fear of backlash, shame, or violence in reaction to ones choices. I don’t believe that all consensual sex is positive sex, but I also don’t think that sex or anything relating to sex is something to be ashamed of. The stigma attached to sex and the silence with which the majority approaches it would be better served with openness and acceptance, but that would get in the way of shame. I believe that shame is the primary vehicle through which cis-women, trans-women, and anyone who even identifies as female even 10% of the time are controlled. The goal of feminism, for me, is to overcome that climate of shame and step beyond it, to take control of how I portray myself, and to not feel ashamed for any decision I make, sexual or not.
Legion of Leia: There is quite a negative climate in terms of women in comics these days. You have companies that both court female readers and then show them things like the Spiderwoman variant cover. What do you think is the reason for this and what can we do to change it?
NEN: I believe quite strongly that in order to truly support female readership, one has to support female creators and creators who are making a genuine effort to create women in the media. Not “strong female characters”. But female protagonists. Female antagonists. Any sort of woman who makes a decision that doesn’t immediately validate or seek the approval of a man. I’ve talked about this a lot in the multi-cultural panels I’ve chatted on where a lot of the primary focus is on how comics have been changing the race of a character to be more palatable to minorities, and I do believe that very little of it is genuine. I think most of it is marketing ploys in order to reach past the typical white male audience of comics– and I don’t think that the way that women are treated in mainstream comics is much different. In order for us to break out of this cycle of creating “strong female characters” we need to focus on telling new stories and not retelling old ones. Women have a point of view and we are in a position to publish, to draw, to write, to speak our minds. All anyone else has to do is listen. All anyone else has to do is read.
We can create a new mythos that challenges what it is to be a “strong female character” and show everyone that you don’t have to be a cisgendered man to be a hero.
Legion of Leia: How did you get into art and what influenced your style?
NEN: When I was a kid, I actually collected X-Men cards with my father. He died when I was nine. I kinda reclused after that, creating my own characters and stories and constantly drawing things. My style is definitely influenced by my multi racial background and my endeavor to find identity with my Asian side and figure out where I stood in that.
Legion of Leia: I read that you work in traditional mediums and rarely digitally. Can you talk about your process?
NEN: I work entirely in watercolor and ink. Typically, I’ll design the character that I’m going to use separately, then I pencil the composition, ink it, and then paint it. On average, it takes about forty hours to complete a painting, but it can take up to 150 depending on the size and the amount of detail involved.
Legion of Leia: Who was the first sci-fi/fantasy character you connected to as a kid?
NEN: The first character I really connected with as a kid was Alita from Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel. She began very vulnerable and became stronger and more independent as she realized that she was really ultimately abandoned and had to stand alone. She is still very close to my heart.
Legion of Leia: What are you working on now?
NEN: Currently, I’m working on a few cards for Legend of the Five Rings and am working on a few RPG source books that I can’t really discuss just yet. I’m also working on my personal graphic novel project Iscariot and an accompanying low brow gallery showing.
Legion of Leia: What other comic book artists should we be watching?
NEN: I really like the work of Templesmith and Menton3. My friend Joe Dragunas also does a super cool pen and ink comic called The Sires of Time. I don’t follow a lot of comic artists, mostly painters like Brom, Yoshitaka Amano, and Takato Yamamoto.
Check out NEN’s art here: