Artist Feature: Christopher Lee
An avid toy collector, fans can see his impressive collection via Instagram and purchase prints and apparel in his personal store, from galleries such as Disney’s WonderGround, IAM8Bit Gallery, and QPOP Shop and Gallery, and at upcoming conventions.
Can you tell us about your personal background and what drove you to become a professional artist?
I suppose my story is not unlike those of other artists out there. I’ve always enjoyed drawing from a young age and thankfully my parents nurtured that interest while growing up. I didn’t want to be an artist (as a profession) when I was a kid, however. I really wanted to be a marine biologist because I was fascinated by ocean life. Plans tend to change though.
There really wasn’t a defining moment or event that drove me to do what I do today. It was more of a natural progression of figuring out what in art interested me and then pursuing it. The thing that captured my attention during my senior year of high school was graphic design.
I graduated with a BS in graphic design from Sacramento State in 2006.
We absolutely LOVE the Power Rangers and Kamen Rider inspired pins. Did you grow up watching any kind of tokusatsu shows or movies? Any favorite shows?
I was born and raised in Sacramento and the rest of my family lived in the Bay Area. Sometime in the early 80’s, this local station in San Francisco (Channel 26, I believe) would play Godzilla movies during the week and my grandfather used to record them for me on VHS.
I watched those tapes for years and even had my parents help me hunt down some of the harder to find films back then, like Destroy All Monsters. I think that early introduction to Godzilla really cemented my long standing love for giant monster movies.
Outside of Godzilla, I loved the US versions of Power Rangers and Ultraman and dabbled in the various knockoffs, like the Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad.
What inspired you to start Night Cake Press?
I wanted a new platform to play, so I created one.
What’s the difference between Night Cake and your main brand, the Beast is Back?
Night Cake is about experimentation and doing things without the constraints of what I’ve established on The Beast Is Back. While I’m just offering pins and patches at the moment, I hope to expand the brand further with prints and other items that just wouldn’t fit under The Beast Is Back.
Is there a story behind each brand’s name?
The Beast Is Back was conceived in college (around 2003?) as a moniker I could work under for my graphic design and illustration work. I wanted to a name that was flexible, ambiguous, and maybe even a little mysterious. As my style and tastes evolved, the name would be the constant.
In the beginning, the logo (more like an illustration, really) was a man in a business suit with a beast head ringing a doorbell. The beast was literally back. Version 2 of the logo, which I used for many years, was a furry beast head with half of a heart above its head.
Night Cake was created with the same principles really. I wanted a fun name that would be fun to brand. The crescent moon-cake logo came to me while driving home from the gym. That’s when I knew.
How did you get to work with Disney and feature your work in the WonderGround gallery?
For Disney Consumer Products, it was through an old contact I had that worked at Lucas Licensing who later moved on to a position at Disney. A representative from WonderGround scouted me at a Designer Con event and invited me to be part of the gallery.
As a toy collector, do you have a specific figure you’re particularly proud of having?
This is a really hard question! I don’t have a singular favorite figure. Each piece in my collection represents something different for me. I guess if I had to pick a few it would be the new-in-box TMNT Sewer Playset, the X-Plus 30cm Yuji Sakai 1991 Godzilla vinyl, and a carded Egon from The Real Ghostbusters line by Kenner.
What inspires your particular art style?
A little bit of everything really. Mid-century modern aesthetics, toys, childhood innocence, nature, old children’s books, vintage advertising mascots, giant monsters, and of course other designers and illustrators.
What have you found to be the most rewarding experience for you as a freelance illustrator? What’s the most challenging?
The most rewarding would have to be the freedom. I’m at a point in my career now where I can say “No” to a lot of jobs that come through the door and only working on the jobs I feel like I’m going to be able to give 100% to.
The most challenging aspect would probably be the ever looming threat of an uncertain future. That constant threat is what motivates me to put so much emphasis on personal projects. You never want to be the person who only has one rabbit to pull out of the hat so I’m always trying to create opportunities and surprise people.
For those unable to make it to these events, the best way to purchase his fantastic artwork would be directly through his website.