An inanimate robot rests against a crumbling wall. Beside it lies a stack of discarded televisions. The scene takes place underwater, with the rippled sunlight cast over the room. Creatures from both land and sea explore the nooks and crannies of this incredibly detailed environment. This is Melancholic Mix, one of many worlds to be born out of Kristen Lee’s talent and imagination.
Often these worlds are created to the tune of atmospheric music like Kubbi, Anamanaguchi, and a variety of video game soundtracks. Her playlist washes out the day-to-day noises that threatens to pick at her attention. This liberation allows her to immerse herself in her oftentimes haunting pieces.
My introduction to Kristen’s work was not Ghost Junk Sickness, but the aforementioned Melancholic Mix. An immediate head turner in the gallery, I found myself lost in the colour, texture and atmosphere of the piece. What’s interesting about many of Kristen’s works is the emphasis she places on the background.
“For pieces like “Melancholic Mix” or “Desert Marauder” which I’ve created back in 2013, my main focus is usually the clutter, objects, and the excessive amount of small detail in backgrounds. I’ve always wanted to maintain a narrative with objects that don’t sit in the focus, and tend to centre a lot of it on the idea of ‘things being left behind’. [Melancholic Mix] depicts a scene of an obvious abandonment of what was once livable, being purged from what we might think roams that particular part of some world, if you would. I wanted those objects to tell what is and was happening there, and with that, it usually leads to a new telling of a story or something the audience could perhaps create to themselves. Hence a melancholy of what used to be, which could possibly a sad realization, to what could be, somewhat of a hopeful thought.”
“I feel as if I can put more emphasis on them, but an emphasis that allows imperfection. Perhaps by focusing on these types of objects/ background material, I’m able to create something not exactly fitting. In Melancholic Mix, you’ll notice the addition of televisions piled up in a corner. What type of room would have electronics stuffed in a corner? What kind of building was this? Who used to live here? I feel as if I’m able to insert open ended questions for the audience.”
Fittingly for this audience, Kristen’s affinity for role-playing games like Final Fantasy 7 influences her work. Aside from the fan art that can be found on her Deviant Art page, the settings of this landmark game have followed her throughout the years.
“I suppose the aesthetic from that game is something I wish to achieve in some works, with the grungy, torn apart state of Midgar, balanced with the serene and otherworldly Forgotten City, I think that stuff just really sticks with me.”
Within her storytelling, Kristen values representation deeply. The world of Ghost Junk Sickness, with its myriad characters, testifies to this value.
“It’s something that so many people are fighting to broaden in the industries of games, movies, comics, etc. I’ve known that I’ve always wanted to have representation of different races, cultures, sexualities in our stories because it’s realistic, and to be very frank, people who write fiction of any kind and lump our world’s cultural and societal norms in, aren’t really good at writing. Why would we have a story based in some other dimensional realm, with aliens and creatures that couldn’t exist in ours, just to keep in the societal norms that we have on earth? That seems almost lazy! And not to say that we can only represent different people in fiction only, there are so many different stories to tell and show that should indeed be about the vast amounts of different people, because again, it’s much more realistic.
I think a key in writing as far as diversity in representation goes is to meet people! There are so many people in our story we’ve based off of people we’ve met through person or vicariously, it opens your eyes to see just how vast and expansive creating a world really is. It becomes more natural writing characters, creating worlds, and your cast and story isn’t restricted. Read journals, autobiographies, short stories, articles of people from around the world, and not in your immediate living space! I couldn’t imagine writing a story that came from just my perspective, because to me, it’s something for everybody, so I’d like to write it the same way.”
As an up-and coming artist, exposure plays a crucial role in building her career. Attending conventions, making connections within the world of art and promoting projects is a towering feat in itself. This road is made all the more daunting by the pitfalls of free work. Kristen warns of the dangers inherit in accepting exposure as payment for work.
“Many people know how much an artist needs it [exposure], and they themselves feel entitled to get free work so they can pay in ‘exposure’, which is something every young artist needs to be aware of! Your time is very, very precious as an artist, and feigned hopes for exposure aren’t going to pay the bills, so keeping yourself in charge of any freelance work you do is important. Make sure you know what’s coming out of a project before you commit, and always ask yourself if these projects are worth your time. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 at times, and I often find myself daunted with what to do to further myself in the field, which makes it important to reach out for some advice from your fellow artists!”
Kristen herself has looked to peers and instructors for direction in her career. Be they over the internet, from conventions or people she has met over the course of her college education, Kristen never forgot the importance peers in her own professional development.
“With my line of work, creating contacts is of course a huge part of the process, so naturally I’ve met many people in my field through various outlets, one of them of course being the internet and conventions. Although many of these connections often fluctuate with how long you stay in contact due to your odd schedules, the time spent together is something I cannot stress any more than being very very valuable! When we had tabled at TCAF, we were with so many amazing people- and even though our time together was short, there was still so much I’ve taken from each of them to improve myself as an artist. With the way they conduct themselves as a business, to how they got there in the first place, I think it’s important to look up to people that don’t necessarily have a constant presence in your life, but enough to create a map of your own steps in which you’ll get where you want to be.”
In Kristen’s journey, Ghost Junk Sickness is a strong first step towards her dream of a sustainable career in comic writing and illustration.
“It’s my passion to tell stories and have a community to share them with, to create pieces that make discussion, and most importantly, have some diversity in that field!”
For now, we have her ongoing collaboration with her sister Laura Lee, as well as a growing catalog of impressive solo work, and the hope of covering her future endeavors.