Boom! Wham! Pow! The ComiQuad , having escaped the clutches of criminal mastermind “Senior Year,” has triumphantly returned! This time, it brings with it a new superpower: local artist spotlights! The CQ’s first installment features Kristilyn Stevenson, a Boston-based artist with a flair for blending the adorable and the macabre.
All images accredited to Kristilyn Stevenson.
ComiQuad: Why do you “art”?
Kristilyn Stevenson: I “art” because I have to! It’s a compulsion, it’s the only way to get what’s inside of me out, I suppose. That’s why I art.
I art for a job because it’s the best job for me.
My very first memories of drawing were when I was 2 years old and I had a blue ballpoint pen and I was scribbling furiously over my mom’s bedsheets. I also remember being like 3 or 4 and having crazy nightmares that I would often draw out the next day.
But I always took pleasure in drawing, and that never went away. Over time, it seemed like I was good at it, better than some people. So it kept naturally building.
Where did your “creepy-meets-cute” art style come from?
It’s kinda always been there. I think it came because I finally had the balls to do it. One of the things about doing edgier work is a lot of people tend to think you’re mentally unbalanced, which, you know, everyone has their own head issues [laughs].
I’m into horror movies, I love cult classics …a lot of it, I think, has a lot to do with seeing scary cartoons [at] a young age.
It’s not an easy road. Cute, “totally cute style” sells way more, but I do seem to attract a niche crowd that is really awesome and supportive. It’s really just personal interest.
When did you first decide that you wanted to pursue art as a career?
When I was young, I was really obsessed with Disney, and I would copy and draw a lot of Disney characters, and my life revolved around that. My entire existence as a child up until age fifteen revolved around what was coming out from Disney.
I knew everything about the movies, who animated them, how long it took, etc. I was really deadset on becoming a Disney animator, but I ended up discovering anime, Japanese animation. When I was fifteen, someone lent me a bootleg tape of Akira and it blew my mind [laughs].
Seeing Akira cycled me back to early 80s animation foreign work, and then Disney paled in comparison after that. Akira was phenomenal.
After watching it, I quickly discovered that Sailor Moon was airing in the USA every morning at ten o’clock, so I got into this ritual of putting in a VHS tape when I left for school every morning and fast-forwarding through hours of cartoons just to watch the episode.
I ended up going to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts for animation. I ended up discovering that I had no patience [laughs]. I have absolutely no patience to sit there and animate frame-by-frame.
I had hoped to work at this local studio, Red Sky, but they closed down in 2002, so my plans for that were crushed.
I moved to western Massachusetts and started working as a receptionist at this behavioral school. I started using art as a way to reach out to my students and teach them coping mechanisms for their issues, because they were all kids who suffered some kind of trauma, or some sort of emotional or physical abuse. They would often act out in class, so that’s why they were at the school. I used art as a tool to connect with them, so they could trust me and be able to help cope with whatever they were going through.
Through that, I started teaching art classes, even though I’m not a certified Massachusetts teacher. I was a teacher’s aide, so we could do club-style classes.
I had a lot of time off at school because you could only work 180 days, so I saved up a little money and bought a table at Anime Boston in 2009, and it ended up being super super successful and I kept doing it from there. I moved back here [to Boston] in 2010, and I decided that I didn’t want to work for someone else anymore.
When I moved back here, I decided that I was going to work my ass off and go freelance. And I got picked up by the art community here, which is really welcoming and really supportive. I officially went freelance last year, in October, and it’s frightening, but it’s awesome.
You mentioned helping your students with art. How were you able to do that?
I would show kids how to draw things.
There was one student that I had, I studied Japanese a little bit at Tufts, and one of his coping mechanisms he had when he got upset and couldn’t be in the classroom was to sit and write out in Hiragana and Katakana [components of Japanese writing], so I taught him the simple alphabet and would give him a brush pen so he could practice.
Another student, she would bring her drawings from the night before at her residence and I would go through them and critique them and she would come back and show me what she had done with my suggestions.
It definitely seemed to help them a lot. I still have students who keep in contact with me and it’s been four or five years since I’ve worked there. A lot of them have graduated now, I taught at a high school level, and some of them still keep in touch. And one of them is definitely still drawing.
I’m pretty happy that I was able to influence some kids that might have not otherwise have had artistic influence there.
You’ve found the local comics art community to be really supportive?
Yes. Boston actually has multiple artist communities, but the one that I’m most a part of is labeled the Boston Collectivists. There’s a small network of artists in this area, a lot of them live in Somerville, but they regularly put on music shows and art shows and they’re all sort of integrated.
They’re integrated between performance art, visual art, musical art, dance, there are belly dancers, anything you can think of. Burlesque! I do a lot of work with the burlesque scene.
I do a lot of live show drawing, in addition to illustration, and then I sell the pieces on site. I draw bands regularly. And from that, I picked up more freelance work doing poster design and album cover designs, merchandise design for the local communities. Normally when you’re freelance, you work for DC [Comics] or a couple of different magazines, but I actually don’t have any industry work, all of my work comes from community. Which is pretty rare, as far as I know. And kinda hard to fall into, you have to have the community there, and willing, and want to work with you.
In that sense, I’m probably pretty lucky and pretty unusual.
So local artists gather and work together?
Freelance is a really lonely profession. Aside from going out to shows and drawing at clubs, that is. But, in general, when you’re working on commissions or doing illustration work, it’s very solitary.
But since there are a fair amount of other freelancers in my community, we will host drawing parties. Or meet each other for coffee and sketch.
Mary Bichner holds office hours at her house, so people can go over and work together, things like that.
It’s really positive, uplifting environment where people are constantly trying to find ways to connect to each other and work with each other and meld their art together. I would never imagine that I could be in that kind of community.
You also mentioned burlesque events?
There are a number of burlesque groups in Boston, and through drawing bands I got into live-drawing burlesque. The thing about burlesque, at least in Boston, is it’s not this sort of vintage, sexy strip show anymore. It’s humorous, subversive, political, there’s social commentary, and you get different body types.
It really ends up being quite empowering in seeing all of these people perform.
So I draw the performances. Each act is about 2-5 minutes so it’s an exercise in quick drawing and thinking. But I get the pose down and most of the details.
It’s a really great scene to be a part of.
And what are your plans and goals for the future?
I’ve been working on securing my trademark of my brand, and that’s more or less complete now. I’m looking into licensing some designs of my work. I’d like to try and finish a comic book. I’ve sort have been knocking out things I’m not very good at, and knocking those out one-by-one over the years. So the next on the list is to be able to finish a comic book completely. All of my stories tend end abruptly or mysteriously.
I’d like to work on that. Or collaborate with some other writers and start drawing other people’s comics.
I’d like to do comic book covers, but that’s sort of a saturated industry right now. Those are the things that are on my mind!
For more information on Kristilyn and her artwork, check out her website and brand, Zombie Romance.
Interview edited for length.