This article is written by guest artist Iris Eel.
Online, I go by IRIS EEL. I illustrate and collage comics and artists’ books, and on rarer occasions also ANIMATE and design GAMES.
My primary tools are graphite and color pencils, ink pens, and digital coloring software like Photoshop. To a lesser extent, I also use acrylic and oil paints.
What are your favorite tools?
I used to rely predominantly on graphite and color pencils, but recently I’ve been shifting towards more computer-based tools, so a wacom tablet and stylus. Currently, I still draft most of my artwork with pencil and/or pens on paper, refine their scanned lineart in Photoshop, and then color them in digitally. Then I print the resulting images back out or put them online.
What kind of audience are you catering to with your zines/comics?
I imagine my primary audience would be indie readers with an academic tilt, or vice-versa. Basically any purveyor of artists’ books who enjoys dense, colorful visuals and — this may sound a little too academic — interdisciplinary deconstructions of language/narrative/sense-making.
My upcoming project, ZÀO, is an artist’s book that deals with all of the aforementioned themes, but it also has to do with fascism, agriculture, and revolution. It will also have two versions — one in Chinese and one in English — so with this project, I will also be trying to expand my readership to include Chinese readers, which is very important to me as someone who grew up between mainland China and the U.S. But I would also say that the subjects that interest me are usually quite niche and heterogeneous, so I’m not sure there’s a solid, coherent audience for my work yet. I can only work harder so that one or a mix of the attributes in my work’s content, medium, and/or form will pique readers’ interest, and that that interest will give them the patience to delve into the rest of the work from there.
How did you first get into art & what kind of training did you receive?
Like many other visual artists, I've been drawing since I was 3. Punctuated by a phase of excessive appreciation for Michelangelo’s rendering of human musculature, most of my work has been inspired by mangakas, comic-makers, and image-text artists in general whom I admire. I’ve complemented this self-taught practice with a number of courses, ranging from life drawing to experimental illustration to 3D modeling.
Which artists do you admire, and whose influence do you find in your own works?
Since my current work focuses on narrative collage and illustration, I find myself going back most often to visual artist-writers like Emily Carroll, Sonny Liew, Matt Madden, Phoebe Gloeckner, and Scott McCloud. Hito Steyerl doesn’t work in artists’ books, but her work with authoritarianism and playfulness has been very inspiring as well.
I also admire many writers and critical theorists, who I think have had just as strong of an influence on my work. In particular, I draw from theories on trauma, postmemory, negative commemoration, genre, memorialization, the historical present and historical subjectivity, and the hermeneutics of suspicion.
* 2019 Update: Anouck Durand, Nora Krug, and Mia Kirshner have also become artistic role models of sorts.
Then, in no particular order, other inspirations include: Q Hayashida, Kentaro Miura, Talking Heads, David Mazzucchelli, Shintaro Kago, Egon Schiele, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Koyamori, Nozmo, Hokusai (and Ukiyo-e in general), Bada Shanren, James Jean, Shitao, Michelangelo, Takashi Murakami, Don Hertzfeldt, Hayao Miyazaki, early Disney animated movies, Porpentine, Xu Bing, OMOcat
At which events do you display your works?
I mainly promote my work online and at comic conventions, so CZF (Chicago Zine Fest) and local library shows. I also have some zines at Build Coffee in Hyde Park. It’s a lovely place to be, and also has an array of other cool zines everyone should check out, even if mine’s not your style. I mainly post updates on Instagram as iris.eel, though I have a more official portfolio at https://iriseel.myportfolio.com/work.