Satellite Resident Artist: Daimon Hampton
"To me, art is a conversation between an artist and the viewer—somebody saying, 'this is what I think about the world, this is how I perceive it.' And then someone trying to understand it."
In this interview, I spoke with Chicago-native comic artist, Daimon Hampton, whose work hung at Satellite over the Winter...
Collin: You’re from Chicago, right?
Daimon: I was born in the south side of Chicago 25-odd years ago. It was probably cold out. I grew up on the south side, like 92nd and Marquette. I’ve been drawing since I was three, because my brother drew and I wanted to draw too. It became a really good way to deal with stuff and get stuff out of my head. I always had a bunch of weird ideas so I would draw all these weird characters and stories inspired by stuff I grew up watching—anime, and super hero cartoons, and stuff.
C: Do you exclusively draw comics?
D: Yeah. I’ve done fine art—I know how to paint a little bit. I’m not good at sculpture. Sculpture is hard. I’ve done a little bit of printmaking, too. But mainly I do comic stuff. I feel like I’ve always found this great connection to it. It’s weird—there are certain artists and certain things that people seem to always be really into, like Picasso. For me, I understand why that work is important, but it hasn’t resonated with me. What resonates with me is cartoons and comics—I feel a real connection to that stuff. My paranoia tells me that people think of comics as this thing that you do when you aren’t as good as those people, and you can’t create those renaissance pieces, or whatever it is. But honestly, I just really like telling stories and making characters.
C: I think that’s interesting, especially because art is a form of storytelling. But you look at Picasso or more modern “fine art” and the storytelling is way less explicit than comics are, yet it is valued much higher as a form, despite the immense technical skill required to illustrate comics.
D: It’s funny to me because post-post-modern art seems so intellectual, but to me it always seems a little bit shallow. Like once you kinda “get it,” you’ve gotten it. But in storytelling, the more I learn about it—I practice all the time, I read books on it—you find out how important lighting is [for instance]. Using contrast to tell a story to say more than just what’s explicitly there, but what’s implied, to so strongly give people the meaning of a scene and the underlying feelings that the characters are feeling—there can be a lot to it. There’s a lot to draw from that if you look for it. I’ve always been on the fence about the concept that art is totally up to the interpretation of the viewer, that the artist's interpretation doesn’t matter. On one hand, I feel like without the reason I made it, or some artist created something, it wouldn’t exist. If you look at a piece of art, and it’s a picture of a lemon, and you, for some strange reason, think it means “moose”, that doesn’t make sense. You can put something on the page and it can be miscommunicated. To me, art is a conversation between an artist and the viewer—somebody saying, “this is what I think about the world, this is how I perceive it.” And then someone trying to understand it. And, like in a lot of conversations, those can be misinterpreted. Everybody has their own meaning for specific words. That’s something I’ve been really obsessed with recently—the fact that even though there is a subscribed meaning for something, we all have our own specific meaning. And then, within culture, the meaning for a word can change. Sometimes it can even become a second official meaning of the same word. I’ll say something to someone and I’ll think it means one thing, and the slightest difference—the way that they view the word—can change it. Certain phrases you use are throw-aways for them, and other phrases are super important. And you specifically put those phrases in there to make a point. I think that happens in art all the time—people often are interpreting things from the art, but they’re also reflecting. They’re getting the message, but their also taking that message and telling themselves the story, and I think that’s really interesting. If someone was to look at [my work] and say, “okay, here is what I think this means,” I can be like, "No that’s wrong. That’s not what I meant by that." Am I responsible for that? Am I responsible for someone else’s interpretation?
C: How many worlds are you working on right now?
D: Right now, I’m working on a book that Cordie and I do called “Become”. We formulated that together over the time of knowing each other. It was an idea that she had—it’s definitely her baby and I’m definitely just helping raise it. It’s a space opera story—maybe a little more low-key, not as melodramatic. It’s definitely a sci-fi story about these characters and how they interact with each other. Because she comes from theatre, she focuses a lot on the characters and how they function, and that’s fun for me because on the page I get to do a lot of acting and I get to try to figure out how I can add things and relationships. I’m always formulating relationships between the characters.
I’m [also] working on my book which is a webcomic called “Hold Me Down”. I’ll sell it hard copy when I can, but it’s hard to get prints. That came out of this frustration from another project and being not able to quite figure out how the pieces fit together the right way. A lot of times I come up with characters first and ideas, and then the story comes from me trying to find a logical way to put these ideas and stories and characters together. For a long time there was a story I was calling “Reminders”. I actually do a whole series of t-shirts around the characters. It’s about a band, and it has super hero elements to it, but it’s mostly this expansive melodrama. I couldn’t quite figure it out at the time, and I had this idea a long time ago about doing something with Little Red Riding Hood, and wolves and werewolves. And that changed once I saw Twilight (and thought it was weird), and thought the basic concept was kind of interesting. I was like, I could do this better. I came up with this story about a girl who is a werewolf and her boyfriend is a vampire. He disappears, he leaves for some reason and she’s trying to figure out the mystery of why he left. I was dealing with a lot of feelings of having broken up with somebody, and this feeling between acceptance and the break up where you want answers, you feel like you deserve answers. You’re thinking about the past and you’re trying to re-conceptualize everything because you remember things a certain why and they might not be that way. So it became this thing about how people deal with love and relationships and how they relate to their past, how their past affects how they treat people in their future.
Then I’m doing a book with a friend of mine named A.J. Luna called “Neon”. That’s about Chicago in the future. Most kids go to school through virtual reality, and we live in a police state at that point, and these kids run together in this gang-thing. They’re in a band, too. They run into this drug that gives them super powers when they use it, and it makes them glow neon, and they use this to turn the tide of oppression in their community. I like that story because it’s something that I would love to read, but I would have never thought of.
C: How often are you collaborating with other artists, and what does that usually look like?
D: It all depends on the person I’m working with. With Cordie, it’s really collaborative. It’s a lot of us talking beforehand and going over notes. With “Become” she told me an idea, and I just drew a bunch of characters, and then she gave them names. And she decided who was important, and then it was like, okay, what’s driving this? And we would go back and forth with those notes. It’s really just us doing it organically together, and that’s fun. With some other people I’ve worked with in the past, they have a script and they have ideas, and they give me free reign to do certain things, but they have a very firm concept of what it is in their head that they want to do. They trust me enough that if I want to change something, I can, but I still have to run it by them. There’s a bit more planning on their end. It honestly depends on whom I’m working with, what they like to do. I’ve also had projects where people just gave me a script, and I had to draw it exactly the way they wanted me to draw it.
C: You grew up on the South Side—where do you live now?
D: I used to live down the street in Uptown, but right now I stay with my mom in Blue Island, IL, which is a suburb right outside of Chicago. I don’t recommend it. It’s no fun. We’re trapped between three different train tracks. It requires a lot of waiting. It takes me, like, two hours to get any place in the city. Everything’s in the city, nothing is really out there.
C: Would you say that growing up in Chicago influenced your artwork?
D: I think, as far as process, I learn so much about how to draw comics from the Chicago artist scene. So many of my friends in the scene and people older than me have given me advice. I guess this is the chance to talk about this thing I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I was trying to figure something out—why the alternative comic scene was so dominated by middle class kids. A friend of mine made a comment one time—he was just spit-balling—he was like, “kids in the suburbs are more introspective than kids in Chicago, in the city.” And at first I was like, okay, that’s kind of weird—it’s not really true. And later he took it back, so it’s not a big deal. But it made me think about what it was like hanging out with kids who grew up in the South Side who drew, versus the people I know from the North Side, or outside of Chicago who draw, and what their experiences are. On the South Side, I think a lot of kids draw the kind of stuff I draw—a lot of people are influenced by anime, a lot of people are influenced by comics. And I think, for us, we re-interpret our experiences through escapism. The concept of the power fantasy takes a different direction—this concept of somebody being able to actively have an influence on the world around them, in a way that you can save people and do stuff and protect the people around you. If you’ve grown up in places where it’s not weird for a kid that you went to school with to be killed, you want to be able to do stuff about that. It’s hard to spend as much time mulling on the condition you are in as a person. You want to escape from that. People from safe parts of the city, and suburbs, they don’t have that—their environment isn’t attacking them. It’s very interesting. I think that’s why a lot of kids—no matter what race they are—from the suburbs tend towards autobio comics because those are about mulling over the meaning of your existence, at the end of the day. Whereas people from the South Side tend to take that stuff and turn it into fiction and re-contextualize it in these out-of-this-world, overarching stories. And I think that being from Chicago has influenced me that way.
Talking to people from the North Side, talking to people who do a different kind of comic, it makes me want to add a certain amount of depth to my characters and not rely as heavily on archetypes, or at least try to subvert those archetypes. I think about the queer community too. I’ve started to use a lot of queer characters in my comics and I always feel a little bit weird about it, because I’m not a part of that community. I don’t ever want to cross a line of being ridiculous. But I also want to be inclusive; I want to be a part of that being normalized. As long as I don’t try to tell that specific story, those characters can be in it. At the end of the day, I know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable or different, or to know what it’s like to be in love with people. So the broader concept of that can be implemented in stories without me trying to tell a uniquely queer story. I think it’ll work—I hope it’ll work. And hopefully if I’m doing it wrong, someone will tell me before it gets too bad.
Growing up in the South Side was weird. At least in the neighborhood I grew up in. I hate when people try to speak for all black people. I’m me, I can only really talk about myself and how I function. People don’t really talk about that, you know? I remember the kids who didn’t come out until after high school, and you’d be shocked. They would do a complete 180. They are [for instance] really masculine displaying now but in school were the most femme person around—you took it for granted, that person must be “straight” or whatever. And you find out later that’s not the case, that’s not how that works. When you are in less-fortunate areas, and in places that are less economically stable, people feel pressure to fit into society’s standards, because they feel like they have to, they have to in order to get a leg up.
C: Is there anything else you want us to know about your art or philosophy? Or Chicago?
D: My friend who passed away of cancer last year in August was working on a big autobio comic about turning 40 and stuff, and he couldn’t finish it before he passed away. So we are all getting together as a community of artists and working on it. The book is called “Fucking 40”. We’re going to try to have it out by around June. It’ll be a big anthology. I’m a part of it, a bunch of other Chicago artists are a part of it. I only bring it up because Andy was a person who really encouraged me to do art, and really to believe in myself as an artist. I’ve been doing art for a really long time, but I’m a very vocally self-deprecating person. Meeting him, at the time, he was like, "None of that matters. Go out, do art, make it." The stuff he said really stuck with me, and made me really think about my art not as this daunting thing that’s bigger than me, but as work that I do that I enjoy. And hopefully people will pay me for it. This year has been the most productive year of my life and his advice really helped me get to this place. I want people to know about the book. We’re going to do a Kickstarter later this year!
Daimon is a comic book artist and comedian out of Chicago. His origin story starts with UTBChicago, a studio founded by him and five other artists and writers in 2012. Over the last four years, he’s done Illustration work with Rotten Apple Comics, Roundtable Companies, Onli Studios, and Let's' Make Comics. His published works include 12 Gauge Stereo ( w/ Steven Scott Jr), The Lost Hero (w/ Joel Siegel), Outta This Place (w /Anthony May), Become (w/ Cordie Nelson), Oh! Valencia and the weekly webcomic Hold Me Down on Tapas.io.
He is also co-host of the podcast Dawn of Nonsense with Matthew McCandless and a frequent contributor to Nerd Boy's Comic book Blog. When he isn’t busy immersing himself in the latest creative endeavor, he enjoys lively pop culture discussion and indulging in desserts on a Honey Sempai level.