Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Creator Corner: Interview with Artist Calliope

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One of my favorite parts of being in fandom circles is meeting other artists and creators. When I get a chance to talk with them and highlight their art for others? Even better. That’s why I created this interview series, after all. This time, I reached out to the artist Calliope, best known in Overwatch and A Song of Ice and Fire circles for her stunning fanart. Love strong women kissing other strong women? Gender bending fanart? The idea of a lesbian version of the 1999 version of The Mummy? You’re in luck, because Calliope is the perfect source for all three, and more!

Gretchen: So let’s start at the beginning, when did you start making art and what inspired you?

Calliope: I remember the first time that I started making art. I was really young, probably around four or five, and I was watching a TV show—probably Sailor Moon or Dragonball Z or something like that. A commercial for Toonami came on and they were like “Send in your art and we’ll put it on air! Pencil doesn’t show up well on screen.” I remember wanting so badly to put my art on the air. So I drew Goku every day for months and had my grandmother help me mail it in. That’s what started it.

G: Did they ever end up on air?

No. No. They were terrible; they were really bad.

G: What have been your biggest artistic inspirations? It can be anything from a specific style or artist or culture, just whatever gets your creative juices flowing or sparks your imagination.

C: My biggest inspirations currently are other artists. I actually run a Discord server for queer artists right now, and I’ve cultivated this community of artists from every level, from very beginner all the way to genuine professionals who do this for a living™. Artists like Jen Bartel, Irene Koh, and Claire Roe are incredibly important to me. I’ve learned a lot about line weight and implied form and color theory from all of them just by looking at their art and rubbing my face all over it. They’re really great.

For the last couple of years, artists like Radycat, D_letion, and GloriousDownfall have been incredible personal mentors to me and to my art. Aside from them of course, different forms of media like Legend of Korra, Avatar the Last Airbender, A Song of Ice and Fire, Overwatch, and when I was younger, heaps and heaps of anime.

Portrait of Ned Stark.

G: I know you from the A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) fandom. Did you get your start in fanart in that fandom or elsewhere?

C: I was actually relatively late to the internet, particularly in posting my art to the internet. I think i started posting art on Tumblr in 2011. At that time I was really deep into the Percy Jackson fandom, so my first things I would post were Percy Jackson drawings. They were these scanned in paper and pencil drawings of Percy Jackson characters. They’re horrible. I actually like to go back and look at them when I feel bad about my current art.

Right after that I did start posting digital art of A Song of Ice and Fire, that actually was one of the early fandoms I was involved in.

G: So what drew you (ha!) to the ASOIAF fandom?

C: A Song of Ice and Fire itself is basically everything that I like in media: a medieval fantasy setting, badass women, lots of intrigue and smart dialogue. But, I was actually only recently on Twitter that I became engaged in the actual ‘fandom’ side of ASOIAF, which is the collective of people who are into it. It was actually only through Radio Westeros, who I’ve been listening to for about four years now. They were kind of my intro into the ASOIAF fandom.

G: That’s so funny, they were kind of mine as well.

C: They’re fantastic! I love them so much. I’m actually their official artist™ now, so when they put episodes out, I’ll be drawing for them.

G: Oh wow! I’m really excited about that collaboration, that’s going to be great. So what other fandoms do you draw for? Do you have any favorite fandoms or subject matter?  

C:  The bulk of my followers on Twitter probably know me most from Overwatch. It’s a pretty good game; the driving force of it is the cast of characters because it’s a first person shooter with a little story. The characters are really dynamic and cool. So that’s where I got the vast majority of whatever small measure of ‘notoriety’ that I have online; it’s from doing Overwatch fanart.

Lately, I’ve been really getting into the Dungeons & Dragons (DnD) scene, which is great because my favorite subject matter is beefy women in armor, usually kissing other beefy women in armor.

G: Oof, speaking my language. Big fan!

C: But yeah, I draw a lot of things for a lot of different fandoms. I watch a show like The Dragon Prince or something, and I’ll draw for it because that’s how I express my like of something.

One of many beefy women in Calliope’s repertoire.

G:  When you’re not drawing fanart, what are your favorite nerdy things to read or write about?

C: I’m pretty deep into DnD these days, which is pretty nerdy! Probably the last bastion of nerd-dom. I actually run another Discord server for queer DnD players so we can be free of the cishet white male narrative. I DM and do a lot of playing in those. I’m also, like, a habitual Netflix goblin, avid gamer, and David Gemmell’s fantastic Troy series, which is historical fiction.

G: What are you currently watching on Netflix?

C: I just finished my rewatch of Castlevania and recently finished The Umbrella Academy with my husband. It was pretty good. I have some question marks about it, but overall worth a watch, I think.

G: Do you think that making fanart has changed or evolved your artistic style in any way? If so, how?

C: Fanart’s given me everything. It’s first and foremost given me a platform for anyone to even see my art. But, it’s also really developed me artistically by putting me in the same spaces as some truly fantastic artists like Jen Bartel, Claire, Roe, Irene Koh, as well as content creators. It’s taught me practically how to draw from many different styles that I like and incorporate them into my own flavor in building this vast visual library on the internet where everything is kind of intermingled.

There’s also this collaboration aspect of it. You have people commenting, giving inputs, fonts, talking about a subject that informs the way that you might see a character or color the way that you view them in a way that you can’t do on your own. For example, you and your idea about Lann the Clever. I would have never thought of him as a woman, but it was so beautiful, I just had to draw it. I would never have drawn that without input from the fandom.

G: Can you think of any other examples over the years of that kind of input from fandom that inspired you to have a new take on a character?

C: Are you familiar with The Adventure Zone?

G: Yes.

C: So, The Adventure Zone is an example of a really cool phenomenon that I think is informed by this. Rarely do Griffin or the other guys who DM give physical descriptions of characters, but the fandom always draws them. I remember I drew the Lady Flame, who is one of the characters in the Amnesty Arc of one of their campaigns. I drew her and then I posted it and then I saw everyone else’s drawings of her and they somehow all looked alike. And nowhere has Griffin ever described her as being a woman of color or having a mohawk with fire colors in it, but everyone did it. And I just think that kind of collaboration is really cool. So now, she’s almost canonically a Black woman now with this cool fire in her hair. Everyone drawing her that way is just really neat to me.

G: That’s fascinating! Everyone had the same collective thought process somehow.

C: Right? And I hadn’t seen any fanart of her before I drew her, but I think that everyone just kind of thought, “Oh, I saw so and so draw her that way, and I see her that way to.” Again, no physical description was ever given for this character other than that she wears a leather jacket. Of course there are other people who don’t draw her that way, but most of the fans draw her the same way, which is really interesting.   

G: Wow. So, outside of fanart, do you have your own original art that you’re working on, or want to work on if you don’t have time right now?

C:  I do actually. I’m trying to write a comic with a friend of mine. It’s this classic archaeology adventure story, but with two women as the leads and they’re gay. So, like, the 1999 The Mummy movie, but lesbians.

G: OMG. That’s one of my favorite movies of all time!

C: Yeah, same. Rachel Weisz was all of our gay awakenings I think.

G: Hoo, yes. I still have a lot of strong feelings about Rachel Weisz.

C: I think we all do! My friend is an archaeology student, and I served in the military for seven years. So you have the British archaeologist and the American gunslinger, so there you go.

G: That’s amazing. How far are you into creating this?

C: It’s still pretty conceptual. I’ve done some streams on Twitch where I’ve been working on the character sheets and the turnarounds.

So yeah, you’ve got this small, grumpy, tired, doesn’t take care of herself, ‘I’m smarter than you and kind of condescending about it’ British archaeologist and the genuine, kind but practical American gunslinger who is very…not that smart.

G: Oh wow, you are hitting so many of my favorite tropes.

C: That’s actually something we really want to do about this story. In a lot of media you have queer characters who are like, “I’m gay, but I’m really sad about it because everyone is mean to me.” Which is fine, because we need coming out stories and stories about overcoming homophobia. But for me, it’s been a long time and I’m ready for a positive story where I can take tropes that have been around for a while and slam lesbians into them. That’s all I want.

Lady!Lann the Clever.

G: As a fellow queer woman and content creator, talk to me about representation. Do you see fanart as creating space for more or different kinds of representation than we get in ‘canon’ media?

C:  Yes. I think that Lann the Clever is a good example again. You imagining this character as a woman is a fun thing to do.

Representation is really important. When I was a kid I read the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce. It’s about this redheaded tomboy who pretends to be a boy so she can go to knight school, and as a redheaded tomboy that was really important to me when I was a kid. So to have that really cool representation to tell me, “It’s okay to be a tomboy, you’re going to be something really cool later,” I really like to give that to some queer kid in, say, Minnesota who is afraid to come out to her parents. I like to put people of color in my stories and queer people in my stories as naturally as anything else because it does matter.

G: Yes. The stories we read when we’re kids create space for us to imagine what our future is going to be like, and if we don’t see ourselves, what does our future look like?

C: Exactly. And fanart is a really good way to do that. Like with Lady Flame. I don’t know that Travis has ever imagined her as Black, but everyone else did and now she is. That’s a really good and positive thing because she’s a good character to have representation for. Or like, any other kind of media where race is ambiguous and people can play with that. For a while people were writing and drawing Hermione Granger as a Black girl and that’s fantastic. I love that! Of course it’s not ‘canon’, but damn is it good.

G: Where there’s ambiguity, there’s space for the fans to step in and make it theirs.

C: Right, and fanart is a such great place to explore that without having to write your entire own universe, you know?

G: What would you like to see when it comes to the representation of queer women characters and stories?

C: I want to see it normalized. I want to see a main character who is a lesbian and she’s just living her life out there. Obviously there’s going to be homophobia™ that you have to deal with, but I don’t know. I don’t deal with that every single day and I’m not thinking about it every minute of my life. I want to see lesbians that are in a relationship and one of them doesn’t die. Stop burying your gays. Gays are immortal now, I’m decreeing it.

I want to see queer women of color. Don’t just give me the exact same cis, gay, white man love story. Give me a woman of color and a trans woman. Give it all to me. I want it all and I want it all normalized and I want to shove these really cute tropes that the hets have claimed for so long right on in there.

G: Any advice for people out there who want to get into making fanart or original art?

C:  Draw. Draw everyday. Draw everything. It’s going to be terrible until it isn’t. Consume a variety of media. If you’re into anime, that’s awesome, be into anime, but watch other things, too. And if you’re not into anime, watch some anime. Build up your visual library, build up any kind of repository of knowledge. Absorb everyone’s different styles that you like and turn it into your own flavor.

And draw, draw draw. It will be terrible until it isn’t, and then you will get there.

G: I feel like that’s great advice for any kind of creative endeavor: writing, drawing, sculpture, painting, any kind of art.

C: A lot of well meaning people will say, “Oh, you’re so talented. I wish I had your talent for art.” But I wasn’t born with a Wacom tablet in my hand. Everyone is terrible at things until they work on them. You wouldn’t say to an IT guy, “Oh I wish I had your talent for debugging computer systems.” No, I went to school for it, what do you want?

G: Thanks for talking with me, Calliope!

C:  You’re welcome, thank you for having me!

If you’d like to follow Calliope and get updates about her original art and fanart, check her out on Twitter. Don’t forget to check out Calliope’s website for more of her art or her Twitch to follow along with her streams.

Images courtesy of Calliope

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