Interview with Jha

This week, we have an interview with Jha, the creator and writer of steampunk blog, Silver Goggles.  Jha is one of the bloggers I first came across after starting this blog, and it has been a real pleasure getting to know her.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Jha, thank you for doing this interview with me and sharing your thoughts amidst your busy schedule. Starting right at the beginning, how do you describe steampunk?

Jha: Hiya! Hm, big question. I tend to focus on steampunk in its literary and aesthetic forms. Steampunk as a literary genre is a combination of science fiction written during the Victorian era by the likes of Verne and Wells and a spin-off of cyberpunk in the 80’s by the likes of Gibson, Sterling, Moorcock and Jeter. Steampunk as an aesthetic is retro-futuristic, drawing inspiration from fashions of eras somewhat long-past, adapted with materials of today.

AA: When I was writing the Getting Out of London post and doing my research for it, your interview with James Ng was among the first I read, which then lead me to your own blog and reading everything you had posted there. How did you get started with Silver Goggles?

JHA: Oh, a long story. Silver Goggles began as a pet project after writing for‘s Steampunk Month, when I realized that I really wanted to explore marginalized narratives in steampunk, fiction and subculture. I’d already been writing occasionally about steampunk on my main blog, Intersectionality Dreaming, and like Mike Perschon of Steampunk Scholar, I wanted a placeholder for materials I would eventually use for my master thesis.

AA: Talking about that exploration, what is the focus of your blog?

JHA: From the About page of my blog: “The purpose of Silver Goggles is to deconstruct narratives in steampunk, with a particular focus on the issues of colonialism, imperialism and politics, as they appear within steampunk literature and/or roleplay, in order to de-center the traditional Eurocentric focus.”

AA: I find each of your posts creative, informative and even inspiring. How do you prepare for a blog post? Where do the ideas come from?

JHA: Nawh, thank you! Various ways, really. If it’s a review, I think about what I want to say about a book, and think about the racialized narratives within it (if there are none, I will comment on that too). Other types of posts are usually reactions to something else I’ve read, written, or seen in the last few days.

AA: After reading each new post in your blog, I always learn something new, either about the things I don’t know – and want to – or about myself and the things I could incorporate into who I am as a person. What would you like people to know, learn, question, or otherwise take away from your blog postings?

JHA: Short answer: Oppression is bad, mmkay.

Long answer: History, society, and thus fiction and the stories we tell are varied. There are many narratives in a single timeline, and it is important to seek as many of them out as possible, because it is enriching on several levels to know the stories of various peoples all over the spectrum of humanity. It is never just a story. It is never just a dress. The meanings imbued in these speak to us and for us; they tell us about ourselves.

AA: What kind of previous experiences prepared you for blogging?

JHA: I’ve always been a writer. Years ago, I was a forum moderator. Coming to university, I found I had many opinions. I also do a lot of reading in the social justice sphere, which is where I learned to deal with detractors and trolls.

AA: As a writer, then, what qualities have served you well and what might help a person be successful as a blogger?

JHA: Academia has helped me immensely, especially my degree in English, which had me writing a lot of focused essays, and response papers. But people’s experiences vary. I don’t really know what makes a person successful as a blogger, because bloggers define success in various ways. For me, it’s just having an opinion, and the willingness to put that opinion out there.

AA: In writing an ongoing blog, what challenges have you had to deal with?

JHA: So far, I’ve not had many challenges to my blog. I’ve had to dole out the cluebat, but that’s what the Reading List is for now. Writing blogposts should be a challenge, but I take it easy on my blog and post when I can, rather than on schedule, to keep things relatively stress-free.

AA: On the flipside, what are the rewards of your writing, what do you look forward to?

JHA: I like fanmail! Various people from all over the world have contacted me about my work. Famous people like me. I get the impetus to go out and meet people at places I otherwise would have shrugged and sighed about not going to. I get asked for my opinion. It’s exciting.

AA: Do you get to talk with other bloggers or authors to trade ideas?

JHA: Oh yes. I chat with Ay-Leen of Beyond Victoriana fairly often. On occasion, I email Mike Perschon of Steampunk Scholar and Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaires for their invaluable opinions. Sometimes, James Ng will spring a picture on me and since we both grew up in Asia and are living in Canada, we discuss our observations on the differences between the two places. I’m also in contact with Allegra Hawksmoor of Steampunk Magazine. I love these people and name-drop unashamedly, because I don’t think they get recognized for the incredible work they do nearly often enough. One day, I will dare to just ping Jeff Vandermeer out of the blue for his opinion on stuff, because he is quite awesome like that.

AA: With the variety of postings, do you have any favorite blogs, topics, and people on Silver Goggles?

JHA: Everybody on my blogroll and everything I’ve written. I’m proudest of my essay on imperialism and kyriarchy in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I want to write more on macro-issues in steampunk.

AA: You’ve been a speaker at some conventions recently; how did that come about and what were those topics?

JHA: For Steampunk World’s Fair, Ay-Leen knew Whisper Merlot, and she’d already been bouncing around the idea of a panel for social issues in steampunk. This would logically be accompanied by a discussion of non-Eurocentric steampunk for us. I didn’t really expect to be a part of it, but since Ay-Leen and I had already worked on an essay together on this, it made sense. It’s my first con too; previously, I could never find the justification to go out to conventions just to hear people speak, see pretty costumes, and get up to con shenanigans.

WisCon, however, I blame the incredible Deepa D. for making me take advantage of the Carl Brandon Society‘s Con or Bust! fund, specifically for fen of colour. She also got me to sign up for panels. I’d been wanting to go to WisCon for the last few years, and since it was right around the corner from Steampunk World’s Fair, and I was jobless, I saw no real reason to not give it a try. I was on the Politics of Steampunk panel, as well as Strangers Writing Strange Lands, which was about the challenges of writing non-US/Canada settings for US/Canada markets.

AA: And yet another reason for me to regret not being able to make it to the Steampunk World’s Fair last May! What did you think of the convention and what were your favorite highlights?

JHA: It was ridiculously awesome. I did not get to do as much as I would have liked, because that weekend I was nursing a sore throat, leftover from a cold a few days prior. I have depression as well, so interacting in general is hard for me, but the sore throat really did me in. I did, however, get Professor Elemental’s autograph and I got to see his final show! It was hilarious. Meeting wonderful people is also always a blessing, despite my issues. Being able to hang out with Ay-Leen, Jake von Slatt, K. Tempest Bradford, and the wonderful folks from Weird Tales, was so extremely fantastic. I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

AA: It certainly does sound like you’ve met a lot of great people, and I heard that your panels at SPWF were jam-packed full of people for a standing room only attendance. There were also some good photos posted on Flickr. What kind of feedback are you getting from people about the blogs and convention panels?

JHA: Good ones, mostly. Particularly the Social Issues Roundtable, which was a hella lot more popular than RSVPs showed.

AA: Looking at your wish list, if you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one item you’d leap at to do?

JHA: So many things. But I think, most of all, I would travel around the world seeking out local retro-futuristic literary scenes. Learn a lot of languages, maybe, so I can read them in their beautiful, unadulterated forms. Not that there’s anything wrong with English, but the English-language hegemony needs to stop being so self-important.

AA: For the people reading your blog and thinking about writing one of their own, what advice or suggestions would you offer?

JHA: I can only share what I’ve learned from others – Set boundaries and rules, and stick by them. Your blog is your space; you don’t have to deal with freedom of speech shills from trolls who are only out to silence you. If you are talking from a specific context, tell your audience first, because otherwise someone is going to misconstrue something somewhere. If your topics are quite specific and require background reading, prepare a list of links for your audience to read at their leisure so you don’t have to keep answering questions.

AA: Aside from Silver Goggles, what other steampunk things are you involved with?

JHA: I write stories. Sometimes I write non-fiction.

AA: I just read your story, Between Islands, after I saw a link on Beyond Victoriana and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m already looking forward to further adventures with those characters. Looking beyond Silver Goggles, what are your interests outside of steampunk?

JHA: Thanks again! I don’t have a lot of interests outside steampunk per se; a lot of them factor into steampunk a great deal. I’m a huge fan of scifi/fantasy in general. I make a mean chocolate cake. Every November, I do NaNoWriMo. Like most normal people, I like movies and music. I’m heavily invested in anti-racism (obviously), feminism, and disability (particularly mental health), all of which become part of intersectionality.

AA: Do you find any overlap or influence of those other interests with your steampunk writing and blogging?

JHA: Always. That’s how I do what I do.

AA: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today. Are there any final words you would like to add?

JHA: Hi! /winslow

Published in: on July 11, 2010 at 8:43 am  Comments (11)  
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Interview with James Ng – Part 2

Concluding our interview with award winning freelance artist, James Ng.

AA: Focusing now on your Chinese steampunk series, how do you describe steampunk?

JN: A genre of fantasy that tries to create a “what if” scenario, kind of like clashing the past with the future.

AA: When I first came across the series after reading your interview with Jaymee Goh I was amazed and intrigued by the design, the techniques and the topics. How did this series initially come about?

JN: I did not even know of the term “steampunk” until I started posting my work online and people kept calling it that. I will quote an interview I did for DPI about the series if you don’t mind. “I am very interested in the Chinese Qing Dynasty and the modernization of non European countries. The standard of modernization is basically Westernization, as China becomes more modern, it also becomes more like the West. (Living in Hong Kong is probably why I noticed this trend, as Hong Kong is the most Westernized city in all of China.)

I began to wonder, what if China was the first to modernize during the turn of the last century, if China was the standard that other countries had to work towards, what would things look like today? Perhaps China will still be in imperial rule? Maybe skyscrapers would look like Chinese temples? Cars would look like carriages? And maybe we would have fantastical machines that look both futuristic and historic. That’s the idea behind my personal project. I always think from the standpoint of the “what if” question. It is also important to reflect a bit of my culture in the image, so it’s not just some random robot killing things. Though those are cool too (laughs).When I have this make believe world more developed, I hope to sell it as an entire concept to companies that would be interested in making it into a setting for a computer game or perhaps a movie.”

AA: Creating a complete setting and theme is a great goal! Do you have a favorite piece in the series?

JN: My favorite is the Airship and the Empress. The Airship because it was my first piece and also the most iconic and decorated image in my series. The Empress because it was the most challenging and frustrating piece that I have survived through.

AA: Do you have any plans for a subsequent series?

JN: I will be continuously expanding the series, and have a bunch of ideas right now but zero time. I haven’t thought of a new series yet however. But I will start to depict things of other cultures since the project was intended to reflect the era where the East and West clashed for a power struggle.

AA: What can you tell us about your current and planned future projects?

JN: I am working on a childrens/young adult book cover, and a fantasy novel book cover. Pending commissions are a DVD cover for an indie music video, and illustration graphics for a small budget iPhone game. Also, the inside drawings for the young adult book. And always pending are more pieces for my personal series.

AA: If you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one piece you’d leap at to create?

JN: I would, of course, work on my own series. There is this big book of Chinese fairy tales and myths my mom used to read to me when I was really little. I recently found it again in my room. There is this story about a man who invented Chinese herbal medicine. He had a stomach made from crystal, so he could see what plants did to him when he ate them. I think it would be cool to transfer that idea into my project. So it would be female doctor/alchemist this time, who has a machine torso with a glass stomach to test her herbal brews.

I have another idea about the Forbidden Palace of the Imperial family. It’s got this huge underground prison to hold all the rebels. With so many prison cells, there would be so many keys. The key keeper for the prison is the only one is in charge of organizing all the keys, but he recently passed away. So now only this family of cats, that’s been with the key keeper all his life, can remember which key goes with which door. But they refused to go to work without their master. So the court had the Imperial Inventor reanimate the key keeper’s skeleton with machines, to trick the cats to continue working until they find a better solution. Here is the sketch for this idea. But I might not color it. I have a lot of ideas, but these two seem the most interesting.

AA: Aside from presenting your work at the Steampunk World’s Fair in May, and a possible showing at Steamcon in November, what other steampunk things are you involved with?

JN: I might be featured in a coffee table book later this year that’s all about steampunk. Like I said before, the term “steampunk” is very new to me, but I have been looking at more and more steampunk artwork and media to take in inspiration.

AA: Looking beyond your artwork, what other interests keep you occupied in your free time?

JN: I know nothing about music, but I really want to learn an instrument. Visual arts have become such a huge part of my life, work, ambition, hobby, that I think I need a new hobby to take me away from drawing/painting sometimes. Plus, girls love a man who can serenade them with music (laughs).

I enjoy doing sports a lot. Soccer is my favorite, though surprisingly I don’t really follow any of the leagues. I am more of a “do” person than a “watch” person. If I have time to watch a game of soccer, I’d rather go outside and play soccer. Exercise is very important to me too. I run, swim, or go to the gym 6 days a week. I’ve also been reading books on how to invest in stocks. I will begin learning full contact karate soon. I think I just really like learning and challenging myself in general. Not just in my artwork, but with everything. Music is probably the last thing I am talented in, yet I want to learn it because of that. I also think standing in front of another person and trying to beat the crap out of each other is very nerve wracking, and that’s why I want to confront this by taking full contact karate.

I think a very common thing with people is they stop wanting to learn new things as they get older, in fear of failing. If you ask an adult to ride a bicycle, but he does not know how to yet, he would rather not try in fear of falling down. But that same person, as a child, they would probably have hopped on the bike before you even asked him to try it. I was really enlightened on this subject by [English poet] William Blake‘s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. It talks about the maturing of human beings. I can’t pretend to be smart enough to understand it all, but that’s what I concluded after the reading.

AA: Those are all great reasons to learn something new and learn more about yourself at the same time. Are you finding any overlap or influence from those interests with your art or steampunk?

JN: Mmm, not really, no. Although, I have recently developed more and more interest in martial arts (karate), I started liking Bruce Lee more and more. I was thinking of making a steampunk Bruce Lee as a super-hero type character in the world I am creating. But then I think the real Bruce Lee is so bad ass that he doesn’t need to be steam-punkified (laughs). Maybe I will just give him some crazy numchucks.

AA: You’ve done a lot of traveling and lived in a number of cities. You are back in Vancouver, British Columbia for awhile; are there any plans for where your nomadic traveling will take you next?

JN: I REALLY want to live in Argentina for a few months while I work. I always have this image of Argentina of being a passionate place, where people really know how to enjoy every day life. Where neighbors are real nice to each other, and kick it on the steps with some red wine (laughs).I probably been influenced by movies, but still I really want to check it out.

AA: Thank you so much for sharing your time and your ideas with us today. Do you have any final thoughts to share?

JN: Would it be okay to quote my “artist/career statement” from a previous interview?

“If I chose something more stable and “normal” as my career path, maybe my life would be safer and more steady. There is a huge risk being a professional artist. I knew there will be a chance I could fail and that nobody would like my art, or hire me to draw. But I think without the chance to fail, without taking risk, there is no room for success. After all, you can not win when there is no possibility of losing.”

AA: Thanks again, James, we look forward to seeing your future work and hearing from you again soon.  James’ Chinese Steampunk series is available in his online store.

UPDATE: James did a project with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed a few months ago. He mixed their assassin with his Chinese steampunk style and the result is here.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 8:14 am  Comments (3)  
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Interview With James Ng – Part 1

Without much of a spoiler preamble, presented today is part 1 of 2 of an interview with James Ng, an award winning artist who created a series of Chinese Steampunk images amongst his other commercial and personal works.

Airship Ambassador: Welcome James! You are a very busy and successful freelance artist these days and I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule for this interview. Let’s start right at the beginning: how did you get started as an artist?

James NG: I always wanted to be artist when I was young. My mom told me I learned to use crayons to draw before I learned how to use the chopsticks to eat. So even until now, I get made fun of at family dinners because I don’t know how to hold the chopsticks properly. I hold them like pencils and just kind of squish them around to get food (laughs). I took art classes since I was three, up until the end of high school. After that, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago on a scholarship, and later transferred to School of Visual Arts in New York to finish my Bachelor in Fine Arts. I did two internships during my college years as a graphic designer and an illustrator. During my first year in college I did my first freelance commission, and they slowly increased in number through my years in college. In my last semester in college, I was spending half my time doing commissions and half my time doing school work and my own portfolio work. Freelancing just continued after I graduated till now.

AA: Now I don’t feel so bad for not being able to use chopsticks, either!With that lifetime of training and real world experience, was there anything in particular which helped prepare and lead you to where you are now?

JN: I think entering contests really helped promote myself as an artist. I entered a ton of contests when I was about to graduate from college. The most important one that I competed in and won was probably the Society of Illustrators 2008 show, in which the piece “Angry Bee” got into the exhibition. The next year, “Immortal Empress” and “Imperial Airship” were in the 2009 show, with the ship winning a scholarship award. Last year, I was honored with the Digital Artist 2009 award for the piece “Night Patrol”. It also allowed me to travel to London for the exhibition and ceremony, where I was able to meet David Gibbons who was the host for the show. Contests are a great way to get your work out there, even though some cost a little money, its a great way to get into books and shows to help spread your name.

AA: Over the years, what have you found to be important qualities or characteristics necessary to be a successful freelance artist?

JN: I think the most important thing in being a freelance artist is determination and discipline. It is very competitive, and to be successful you would have to devote a lot of time to your craft. It is like a never ending challenge to improve your work. It is also important to enjoy the challenge that you present yourself so you can truly give your best shot at each piece.

AA: What advice or suggestions would you offer to people who want to make a career being an artist?

JN: Love learning new things. Practice does not make perfect. If you are doing something wrong constantly, it will just create a bad habit. Apply knowledge into practice to try to achieve perfection. This knowledge is gained from being critical of your own work, find something to improve on. And be critical of other’s work and find something you can learn from. I don’t mean to say that I think my work is perfect, matter of fact I don’t think I ever will create anything that I feel is perfect. But that’s okay, that means there is always something to learn, and that’s the fun part!

AA: Learning new things is a beneficial lesson for everyone of every age and background. While working on school, commissioned and personal works, what challenges have you faced?

JN: The most challenging for me, personally, is knowing when to stop and move on. A piece of art is never really done, as there is always room for improvement. But sometimes it’s better to just stop and start a new piece instead of fussing over little things for days. Even though I understand this, I still tend to revise my “finished” paintings for days after its completion.

AA: Following up on your comment about enjoying your own challenges, what do you look forward to when creating and finishing a project?

JN: Rewards of my work would definitely be what I learned during the process of the creation. To me, the creation process and problem solving is what I enjoy the most. The painting is just a by product by the time I am done. I guess I could say I look forward to figuring out the problems I present myself with, because after that I will know that my knowledge in my craft has expanded. There is no greater reward than that. But of course, recognition from others serves as a great encouragement too!

AA: In learning new things before, during and after a given project, do you talk with other artists to trade ideas or discuss techniques?

JN: Not that often. Though I do search through forums to look at work by other artists for ideas and eye candy, I don’t really talk to that many artists besides my friends from college. Most of the time my commissions have non-disclosure agreements, so even if I am stuck on something, I can’t really send it to my fellow illustrator friends to ask for help or comments. When I work on my personal works, I actually prefer asking people who are not proficient in the arts. Their comments would point me in the right direction, and they have a “common” eye which often spots the problem right away that I overlook, because I am being too technical when critiquing my own work.

AA: How varied have your projects been? With different demands for school, contests and businesses, what kinds of topics and media have you worked on?

JN: Professionally, I’ve worked on a range of things. Pre-production concept art, game art, book covers, motion graphics (where I provided the images in layers and someone else animated it). A very different commission I did was a large painting for a tram wrap in Hong Kong about 30feet wide. I have also just completed a double decker bus wrap at an even larger size. The file crashed my computer a few times (laughs). But to summarize, it’s always been 2D graphics that I am commissioned for. In my own time I am constantly working to expand my series of Chinese steampunk images. I also used to do sculptures but haven’t had the time to do that lately. I would love to turn one of my concept art paintings into a little figurine.

AA: That’s quite a variety with extremes in form and substance. Is there anything in particular that you look for in a subject or topic?

JN: Well commission wise, I think more business orientated. Things like budget and exposure are important, as I look at it more like a job, and I need money to pay rent and eat (laughs). On my personal time when I create a piece for myself, I look for a connection to myself. The Chinese series is very evident of this. Not just because of it being Chinese, but the mixture of East and West in my artwork is very descriptive of my growing up as a child, since I moved between the East and West equally during my studies. I also make sure there is something new I haven’t done before. Though it might not be very evident to someone looking at my gallery, I try to add in something I have never drawn before to each piece. Sometimes it fails but I always learn something new.

AA: With all of that external and internal drive for variety and trying new things, what is your process to create new works?

JN: I’ve never found myself in a spot where I have time but don’t have an idea or something I want to work on. It is ALWAYS the other way around, where I have a bunch of ideas but not enough time to work on them. When I finally do get time to create a new piece, I pick an idea from the bunch and start researching. I think the more I understand something the better I can depict it. I read a lot of Chinese history books before I began on my Chinese Steampunk series. I also read about the Industrial Revolution in England. I learned that it started because farmers were getting smarter and had better tools. No longer needing so many men to tend to the farms, allowing the extra people to have time to learn new crafts and go to school. That eventually led to new knowledge and invention in machinery that paved way for the Industrial Revolution. So farming tools were an important part of the industrial revolution, and this is why I created the piece “Harvester” as my second image in the series. I kind of went off track from the question, but I guess it shows how much I value research when creating new works. The rest of the process is just reference gathering, sketches after sketches, then coloring on the computer.

AA: With a lifetime of drawing and creating, from crayon to computer, what differences have you seen in your work and techniques over time?

JN: I see my work becoming more ambitious. My painting technique has improved, but I realize that there is more to learn. It is a weird thing. It seems every time I learn one thing, it teaches me that I do not know three other things.

End of Part One

Please join us for Part Two, where we ask James more about his Chinese Steampunk series.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2


Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 7:38 am  Comments (17)  
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