Several years ago, I was working on a prose version of my memoir Just Another Meat-Eating Dirtbag, and although I loved the prose version, I knew deep down that the story had to be illustrated. The only problem? I had absolutely zero artistic ability.
This is where the talented artist Chai Simone comes in.
You see… I had no idea where I could find an artist to partner with for my new book. I searched high, I searched low, and then… I searched Reddit. I was browsing the Reddit sub-forums one day when I came across some of the best comic artwork I had ever seen. The colors, the saturation, the linework, even the attitude I could sense from the artwork. I was in awe of the talent.
At the time, I had no idea who Chai was, where she lived, how old she was, or anything about her story; I just knew that she was a killer artist and that we needed to work together. Eventually, I reached out, we talked, worked on some sample pages together, and then next thing I knew we had an agent and then a book deal with the famous graphic memoir publisher Street Noise Books! And now our book is out!!!
Anyway, without further ado, here is my quick interview with the talented artist Chai Simone.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I think a part of me was always aware that no matter what it was I did, it would be done with an extreme artistic sensibility. I always figured as a kid, whether I was a baker, a mechanic, an engineer, or whatever, I would do it because it was art to me. Of course, a lot of this realization also came from my mom also being an artist and having fantastic tastes in art and film. By extension, she lent me a wonderful education in the arts, whether it was writing, film, or drawing. Growing up I played around with the idea of writing for visual media, but the two definitely came hand-in-hand as my first loves. I was guided by this passion (feeling like itches in my brain and tightness in my heart) to create images and stories with as much depth and detail as possible. Thankfully they were hobbies and coping mechanisms that snowballed into something far more productive, leading me to seek out doing things like screenwriting or commission art projects. And then I just sort of fell into it, this inevitability of being an artist, but in a much more grown-up and official kinda way. It’s silly that I only recently allowed myself the title of ‘artist,’ but I think it’s because I wanted to be one so bad I made myself work even harder for it.
What percentage do you consider yourself an artist versus writer?
This is a difficult one! But if I were being honest, I’d always consider myself a writer first. It’s honestly rare I can draw anything outside of the constraints I set for myself as a writer and storyteller, as words are always the first tool I use to flesh the story out. Rather than running to the drawing board, I head to my laptop and notebooks to feverishly write and string together notes and ideas that just pop into my brain, and I don’t believe drawing gets those ideas out nearly as fast as my brain rolls them out. Not to mention my ADHD makes it hard to focus on one thing for too long, so writing gets everything down as I’m thinking it. I’d settle with a good 65% as a writer, and 35% as a visual artist. Art is my home and my career, but writing will always be the driving force behind all my projects and creativity.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
It’s easy for me to pinpoint who my greatest influences are, and I think when people sometimes fall into the same niches as my interests, they start to realize I really wear my inspirations on my sleeve. Growing up, I loved graphic novels, specifically the nostalgic and youth-friendly aesthetic and stories by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Faith Erin Hicks, Neil Gaiman, Jillian Tamaki. My favorite painters that inspire me most often would be Edvard Munch and Zdzisław Beksiński. I’m also hugely inspired by film, video games, and television, I actually sought out to become a filmmaker after realizing that I craved certain elements that books can’t always quite deliver. I love the surreal and subversive, which also pits me into loving a hell of a lot of horror. I love the moodier works of David Lynch, the creepy themes and aesthetic of the Silent Hill games and movie, and the concerning character studies of The Sopranos. I’ll also throw in that I’ve recently fallen down the Shuzo Oshimi rabbit hole, and find that Aku no Hana is one of the greatest works of psychological horror I’ve ever read. Those are just a few examples of what are probably hundreds of titles I’ve fallen in love with and have been inspired by. On top of that I love all sorts of music and often creative extensive playlists to score my workflow and projects, and I always use it as a mechanism to set the tone. Honestly, I adore all forms of art and media and can find myself fixated with any a thing at any time, but those that I mentioned are some my long-time loves.
How do you find the time to write/illustrate/create while working full time?
Ohh it’s difficult! But I prefer doing the day job thing and working at my own pace with my projects than enforcing myself to monetize all the work I do. I’ve learned from previous experience that while it is possible to work as an artist full time, it also takes up a lot of creative energy that I can’t always keep up with, and that definitely affects the quality of work and leaves less for the personal projects that I had started with in the beginning. But to find the time to create and do my projects definitely requires a LOT of consideration for my well-being, meaning trust and forgiveness. The process of not having to force these images and ideas from myself I find is far more important. Wearing different hats definitely makes it easier to keep my creative mind space freer and motivates me to make better use of my time. That being said, I also make at least two to-do lists a day, that helps to nail what I need to do in my brain!
What advice do you have for your fellow illustrators, artists, and writers?
Take care of yourself, it’s okay to be protective of your creative environment. Sometimes we take ourselves to more challenging spaces in order to create our art, and that can be hard on the psyche over time. Overworking oneself can wear you down and leave less room and energy for the projects that you want to work on, so it’s important to be gracious to yourself. I believe it’s sort of a myth that artists have to suffer for their art, seeing that suffering in life is already guaranteed. The space to cultivate your art should be what makes you the most charged and electric. It’s difficult to communicate what is desired or to be interpreted when it’s too hard to even bring yourself to work, right? You can’t always be an assembly line of productivity. It’s for that reason I also try to gauge how much I surround myself by art and influences. I’m known for creating extensive mood boards and playlists to translate what I desire to convey through my art, but I’m learning more and more there’s also something to be said for silence and emptiness, and above all else: boredom. My advice is, allow yourself to be bored, to feel or not to feel, or even to be in ruts, in a space that respects you and your needs. It’s good to challenge yourself and something you’ll have to do time and time again, but conquering so many hurdles, whether internal or external, also means you’ll have to become more considerate towards yourself as a human being. Trust that the art will come, and put out your work, even if it isn’t perfect.
What are the next projects that you’re working on?
Thanks for askin’! I always put too much on my plate, but there’s nothing wrong with being advantageous. I have several stories and collaborations right now in the works, the kind of stuff that people haven’t really seen from me yet, namely because these things typically take years and years to develop and branch out. Currently, my main focus is my upcoming comic series run HOLY UNDERGROUND, a project that I started in 2015 (in high school) and just could never shake as it kept getting bigger and crazier and cooler. It’s an offbeat action-horror that combines gothic elements and takes inspiration from surrealist, psychological works while also including lots of creative gore, unique mythology, and scares. It follows Evan, a young woman struggling with mental illness, addiction, systematic abuse, and poverty, who is brutalized and killed in a traumatic string of events and is subsequently resurrected by a demon in the condition that she takes the perceived “evils” she encounters in the world and react to them with ultra-violence. It considers a wide range of themes, including how cycles of abuse and violence are perpetuated by different factors, the minority-female experience and pain that comes along with it, and horrors our minds are capable of under the impression of justice and hatred. A lot of it will be based on real-life events that cause us, and myself, to question what is right and what is justified. To put it a bit derivatively, it’ll be quite a bit like a Lynchian Deadpool, The Crow, or Punisher, also with elements of dark comedy, and character study drawn in a sketchier, grittier, expressive style.
Where can people follow you and see more of your work?
People can find my artwork, photography, and links on my Instagram @limina_1999
. I also encourage them to check out filmsnobreviews.com
, an outlet I’ve been writing film reviews for since 2018. We also have a podcast, Snobcast
, on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.