This past spring, I met Lee Bradford at the annual Horror Realm Convention held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA. She stopped by our table a few times and spoke to us about her work. When I saw her artistic tarot deck depiction of “The Hermit” on Facebook, I truly realized the talent behind this young woman. Since then, Lee and I have discussed the way women are sometimes treated in the arts and I even commissioned her work for book cover art. All artists have their own particular style and the dark nature of Lee’s creations will do nothing short of please your eyes. Take a moment to read the interview below to find out a little bit more about another fantastic woman in the arts.
Christine M. Soltis: Please start out with a mini bio about yourself:
LB: Hi, hey, hello! My name is Lee Bradford and I’m from South Bend, IN. I’m an artist and a writer with a degree in Animation from Ball State University, which unsurprisingly hasn’t gotten me particularly far, but that’s art for you. I have a tendency to dive into a lot of big projects all at once, thinking “hey, that could be fun” and then getting to the end of it and wanting to tear my hair out. Such projects include: a comic series, a series of adult novels, and a tarot deck. I have actually finished… one of those things. But should you ever hear me say “I’m bored”, you now know that you have every right to yell at me for not working on one of my many projects.
CMS: What is your favorite piece of artwork you have created?
LB: Apart from The Sweeney Tarot, picking a favorite piece is like trying to pick a favorite child. But of my most recent work, I think the piece that deserves most of my respect is a character drawing I did of Naal. I learned new skills while working on it, and I think that that is an important aspect of any piece that you do: that you take away something from the experience that you didn’t know before. That, and he’s simply a beautiful creature.
CMS: We already know that you are a spectacular artist. Do tell us about the tarot deck you created, along with the inspiration, purpose and expectations for making it.
LB: Well, I first started getting into Tarot when I went to college and my friend Jason was very into it. So he taught me the story of The Fool and what all the symbols mean, how to read them, a bit about their history. When my dad found out about my interest in Tarot, he gave me the deck (Rider-Waite) he used in college.
And apparently I am very good at reading them, but I digress.
After learning a few things about the occult, I’m not ashamed to say that a few things left a sour taste in my mouth. Wait, we need to back this fun-bus up for a minute. Hold on tight because this is a long one.
South Bend is a very diverse city. People often think of it as being ‘mostly-white’ because of Notre Dame, but those people are not actually from South Bend. We have tons of cultural festivals (ranging from Pow-wows to Serbian festivals, and I would probably guess that if there was a majority population in the part of town I work at, it’s Latino. So I grew up not perceiving white people as a majority. As a result, the characters that I write reflect that sample demographic: a handful of white people and then a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds.
Additionally, to get a little personal, I am part of the LGBTQ community. My characters reflect that, as well. Inadvertently, I sort of developed a very diverse cast of characters.
And to push this even more, I am a non-trad Pagan. This means that my personal faith does not coincide with an existing tradition, and that my faith is built upon beliefs that I hold personally. You would not be able to find information on my faith in a book that I did not write myself.
Given all this information, there are some things in the occult and pagan communities that are very alienating to me. Many tools, such as Tarot, are based on the Kaballah (Jewish Mysticism), and so their images are based in that symbolism. In more modern forms, there’s also a predisposition to use Wiccan imagery, another religion that I am not a part of. So in one part, my purpose was to take a step back from the cultural and religious imagery. I wanted to make this something that a person could use even if they don’t believe in the supernatural. In this sense, the tarot becomes a psychological tool: a means to put the thoughts in your brain into a visual form. In this way, the religious stigma is lifted slightly to allow people who are curious but afraid more room to ease into it.
That is the religious portion of it. But what was much more alienating to me in a lot of occult/pagan imagery was the focus on thin, white women. I felt that it was unfair, and in books that described the meanings of the cards, you see very strict gender norms and I will just come out and say it: racism. A person of color is usually only depicted in a court card if the person in the court card has a note of violence or stubbornness. Every other case is a white person.
What I wanted to see was more representation of the diverse world that I live in. That is why my Lovers card is two women, my Two of Cups is a polyamorous trio, Chariot is a man in a wheelchair, some of my Queens are male, Kings are female, women are warriors, men are emotional, and most of the couples are interracial. One of the recurring characters is even a transwoman.
As for inspirations, all of the characters depicted are characters from stories that I’ve written. It didn’t really intend to happen that way, it just sort of did. I started drawing The Fool, and he became Garrett so I just nodded my head and said ‘sure.’ You’ll actually see recurring characters throughout, which carries another layer of interpretation. For example, if you have a spread that has a lot of Felix in it, its indicative of a person with a good heart, ambiguous morals, and terrible decisions. A spread with Evie would indicate themes of confidence and becoming the person you would like to be.
Expectations (oh wow… I’m still talking) were really that I would have a deck that suits me. I never really intended it to get as far as it did, but as I posted my works in progress online, people started saying “I will buy your deck” and I knew that I had to finish it.
CMS: What kinds of troubles or conflicts have you experienced as a young (and even female) artist with such innovative works?
LB: Well, I am not going to lie: I live in a spare room at my parent’s house, making little above minimum wage. Art business is always slow-going when you’re young and its like feast or famine. Which often means putting yourself in public places where you are subject to ridicule. For me, this means comic book conventions.
Conventions are great, really they are. I love meeting people and hearing about what they’re working on. But there is this problem in the genre, and maybe you have heard of it, about ‘fake nerd girls.’
It was my hope, being quite female and a comic book artist-and-writer, that my presence at conventions would be met with curiosity and intrigue by male patrons. That they would be inclined to ask questions about the subject of my comic books.
My hopes have been thoroughly dashed, however. The majority of commentary, when someone picks up a card for my ongoing comic book about brotherhood and cannibalism is reduced to “It’s probably about boys kissing.”
It is my experience that women in the art and writing world are more subject to ridicule, that we are sequestered to one and only one genre: romance. And there is nothing inherently wrong with romance, but to think that it is an inherently female trait is rather backwards when traditionally it has been the man who initiates a relationship and not the woman.
And I feel that romance, because it is considered a woman’s subject, is also seen as lesser and maudlin by comparison to the genre of horror or science fiction. People turn their noses up at it, and I personally feel that the femininity of it is the reason for that.
This often leads to people speculating why a woman would enjoy writing or reading something that is not traditionally feminine. Clearly they must be seeing some romance in the genre that isn’t there (I am totally into HP Lovecraft for the steamy sex scenes; definitely), or they are writing fan fiction about the characters or they are just trying to attract attention (a personal favorite) from men. It doesn’t occur to them that a woman might enjoy something for the same reasons a man does. And I think that is ridiculous. The purpose of a convention is to meet people who like the same things you do and bond over that, not squabble over who is the better fan. A recent article on the statistics of con-goers stated that 49% of people in nerd cultures are women, and yet women are treated as rare or mythical creatures and must be approached with much skepticism.
But, alas: though I might scream from the rooftops that I deserve the same respect as any man in my field, I still watch as they pick through my work to find its feminine qualities to set me apart from my otherwise equals. Any hint of romance is a black mark on my record because I am a woman, even if it is overlooked when written by a man.
And it is ridiculous. It is for this reason, amongst others, that I go by an androgynous name. If a person were to stumble upon leebradford.tumblr.com, they would say “hey, his stuff is pretty good.” I take a small amount of pride in the fact that I can pass for masculine online at first glance. It is one part a survival technique and one part rebellion. I am not my gender. I am my art. That is the way that it should be.
But apart from the issues that come from being a woman in a field predominated by a male bias, the challenges I face are pretty much what one might suspect for a person just starting out: sometimes my workload doesn’t seem like it yields enough success to be worth the fight. But the fact that I keep doing it, despite my relative obscurity as of yet, bespeaks to me a kind of poetry: I could have quit a thousand times over by now if I were not actually in love with what I do.
CMS: What are your inspirations, future artistic plans and endeavors?
LB: As I said, I am co-writing a book series (These Corpses of Men) with the lovely Jamie Selner. Oh, you know… end of the world. Zombies. Man-eating sirens. Giant bird demons. Possession. Pretty much all the bad things that could happen to four people and then make one of them a witch. Gonna be good times.
Currently, though, we are taking a break from working on These Corpses of Men so that we can do a tactical analysis of the publishing world (getting our names out there, putting out some short stories, saving people, hunting things. The family business.)
I’m working on some in-universe comic books to go along with the series, which is kind of like if you took Warehouse 13 and Torchwood and deep-fried them in an eggroll, lightly seasoned it with Dresden Files, and dipped it in Cthulhu mythos.
Oh dear lord, what am I NOT inspired by? Poe, Lovecraft, Florence + the Machine, Supernatural, Dresden Files, pre-Crowlean mysticism, Goosebumps, that guy on the street that asked me for a dollar, A Clockwork Orange, TS Eliot, holidays, not-holidays, made up days, Welcome to Night Vale… I have to carry several pads of paper around so that I can write down something someone said at the grocery store that seems like it could be the basis for a short story and make sketches out of something that I saw out of the corner of my eye. I go back into old notebooks from years ago and come across some random paragraph with a hardly-visible sketch of what appears to be a hound with moose antlers and suddenly it’s got a whole section in my grimoire of weird stuff I saw in a dream. Being creative is never, ever dull!
CMS: How can your fans help spread the word about your work? Feel free to list work-related contact details.
LB: Hooray, the part where I get to write my own plugs! If you’re on tumblr, you can bug me over at leebradford.tumblr.com.
For those of you who are trying to avoid being distracted for five hours and therefore are not on tumblr, you can find updates about our book series at https://www.facebook.com/corpses.of.men [You must sign into Facebook.]
And if you’re into tarot and want to buy yourself a deck where people will look at you in utter awe, you can purchase the Sweeney Tarot here: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/the-sweeney-tarot
And finally, if you want to bug me about a commission, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know of any persons or events that deserve attention in our local community, feel free to message Christine M. Soltis through her Facebook page SolsticeNightSky Productions