This interview was conducted by email in July 2016.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Slimm Fabert: I’ve been drawing and telling stories for as long as I can remember, and I grew up on Internet art communities like Oekaki Central and DeviantArt in the early 2000s. I got my first tablet when I was in middle school, and I’ve been making digital art ever since. Earlier this year (May 2016) I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute with a BFA in Illustration. Art school was brutal, but it definitely taught me some things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Tory Hoke: A lot of your work blends appealing figures with an undercurrent of menace. What attracts you to those themes? What effect do you like to have on your viewer?
Slimm Fabert: Honestly, I’m still trying to figure that one out! I’m not very good at wrapping my brain around the conceptual side of art, even if it’s my own. I’ve always been drawn to tragic stories, but it’s not a reflection of a particularly tragic outlook on the world. I like to wonder about what it would take for the Good Guys in a story to turn into the Bad Guys, but in a way that the viewer continues to empathize with them even as they turn on everything they used to stand for. I like the aesthetics of death and sadness, in the way that the old masters used to create beautiful (and sometimes even erotic) portraits of saints and martyrs in the act of being killed, or in Greek tragedies where people are ruined by nothing more than circumstance or their average human flaws.
I love the concept of catharsis, so maybe if I get catharsis from making these things, other people can get it from seeing them? The Greeks were into tragedy, and people have been telling stories and making art of grief and death ever since. People can be really beautiful or really monstrous in amazing, unexpected ways, and sadness is a powerful emotion to give your audience, but I think a lot of media today uses tragedy and trauma cheaply, and it doesn’t quite ring true. I want to evoke that sort of tragic wonder that’s captured in things like homicide crime scene photos, or the photos people would take of their deceased loved ones back when being dead was the only way anyone could sit still enough to take a picture. Nothing like a near death experience to make you really feel alive, right?
Tory Hoke: How do you compare the challenges of creating comics versus single panel illustration? What are the rewards of working on each? What are the frustrations?
Slimm Fabert: The biggest struggle with comics is the sheer amount of time and effort it takes to produce every page—for me, at least, and folks who work like I do. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’ve streamlined my process a lot, but there are some things that just can’t be simplified any further, and they take time. For every page, take the amount of effort or thought that needs to be put into a single illustration, and then multiply it by the number of panels on a page, but also make sure that those panels flow well, the timing is right, etc. You always have to choose between maintaining consistency versus letting yourself experiment and change for the better. It’s easier to try new things with individual illustrations because, if it doesn’t work out, then oh well, I just won’t do that thing again next time. I can put a level of polish onto a painting that I just wouldn’t have time for if I were to make a comic, and some media just don’t work out well in comic form. I love painting with gouache, but my only attempt at making a comic in gouache was painful.
On the flip side, comics allow me to be indecisive. Instead of a single illustration distilling a story into a single moment or showing a complex action from only one angle, I can break it up into multiple frames or focus in on only the bits and pieces that matter. I have a short attention span and drawing pages can get pretty boring sometimes, so I’m always trying to sneak things I love into the boring parts (for example, drawing a comic set in a big city helped me realize how much I l?ove? architecture.) It’s forced me not only to learn a lot about happy mediums—like how not to automatically phone it in for the things I don’t want to draw—but also when to allow myself to phone it in for the sake of time, effort, and sanity. It’s taught me how to better gauge how much time and effort a certain approach will take, when that effort is worth it, or when I should take an easier route.
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Slimm Fabert: Absolutely fantastic. Kansas City is just big enough to have a robust, varied art community, but small enough that the bar for entry isn’t so high as to be inaccessible. Painting, illustration, sculpture, ceramics, comics—there are some excellent comic artists who came from KC and are still here. We have amazing, inspirational museums: the Nelson-Atkins Museum for historical works and the Kemper Museum for contemporary works. First Fridays are amazing, and the Crossroads Arts District is always packed. The Midwest gets a bad rap for being boring and lacking culture, but I really can’t talk up KCMO enough.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Slimm Fabert: Ooh, so many. Most of my influences are my friends or people I’ve been following online for years: Sarah Stone, Jon Foster, and Anry Nemo were some of the first artists that I really tried to emulate. Sachin Teng and J. C. Leyendecker influenced me a lot during college, and Em Partridge, Demian Asche, Evan Monteiro, Kaneoya Sachiko, and Lenka Simeckova are a handful of my current favorites.
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Slimm Fabert: More willingness to experiment and less reliance on tropes for either style or content. I’m tired of seeing blue space babes and ridiculous, spiky armor in highly rendered but stylistically uninteresting illustrations. F/SF art and fiction have a long tradition, but a big portion of today’s fantasy is still relying on tropes from Tolkien and '80s tabletop games. While those things are great, we shouldn’t be taking that foundation for granted. I’d love to see some speculative SF art that gets just as experimental with its visual style as it does with its content. More diverse influences and more experimental visuals.
Tory Hoke: What's your dream project?
Slimm Fabert: To be able to tell a story that makes me feel the way I felt every time I walked out of a movie theater when I was a kid. I don’t have a name for the feeling, and I can’t quite describe it; it was the feeling of being so engrossed that I’d forgotten I was watching a film, and the combination of music and story and visuals had all hit this chord so perfectly that I was moved by it. Leaving the theater felt like going to a different dimension. Very little media still evokes that feeling in me anymore because it’s much harder for me now to turn off the part of my brain that’s always critiquing the stuff I see. I don’t know what form a story like that would take for me if I were to make it, but that’s been my goal since I first started.
Tory Hoke: What's next for you?
Slimm Fabert: Right now I’m taking time to relax after four hellish years of school, but I’m working on my own comic project and trying to figure out how to balance paying the bills with not wanting to jump out a window. I keep finding freelance jobs, so I’m going to keep doing that until I can’t anymore, and just see what opportunities materialize postgraduation.
Tory Hoke: Thank you, Slimm! It's been a pleasure.