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SYFY WIRE Interviews

How do you turn fan art into a career? At NYCC, a Doctor Who artist explains

By Kristina Manente

Chances are that you've seen Alice X. Zhang's work. Her loose-brushstroke digital style using vibrant and evocative palettes has touched many a fandom and been licensed by more than one major property. All with good reason — it's sometimes whimsical, sometimes emotionally charged, occasionally hilarious, and always beautiful. Many agree, which is why it's so hard to actually get to her table in Artist's Alley at this year's New York Comic Con. As her booth is swarmed by fans, prints and postcards are admired, bought, and signed. From Doctor Who to Black Panther and Game of Thrones, there is something for everyone.

"I was the kid in school who was good at art," Zhang says, laughing. "It was the only thing I was good at."

She tells SYFY WIRE that her parents cautiously supported and encouraged her as she entered art school. Unfortunately, even though she loved art, she disliked art school. It wasn't the right fit. It wasn't the type of art she wanted to do; it was all theory and no passion. Besides, she wanted to draw things she actually cared about. So she went another route: Whereas before she would only draw fan art for herself, she began sharing her artwork online.

The fan art changed everything.


"I got popular after I started posting fan art on Tumblr, back in the day when everyone was on Tumblr," Zhang explains. So popular, in fact, that someone, at the expense of their own space in line, made sure she was able to show her Sherlock art to Benedict Cumberbatch. He not only loved it but waved producer Sue Vertue over to look at it. Long story short, Zhang's portraits of the Sherlock cast wound up in Hartswood Studios and were officially licensed.

Just like that, she was now a professional fan artist. While it's a title that she happily wears, she claims she still doesn't quite know how it all happened as she signs a stack of prints for a very excited fan. The crowd has only grown larger. From official Sherlock art came official Doctor Who art, including cover variants for Titan Comics. All of this would eventually lead to even more people and companies and studios seeing her art, including Marvel.


One thing to know about Alice Zhang is that she is incredibly modest given her talent and accolades. When asked how Marvel had gotten in touch for the project, she seems genuinely flummoxed.

"I still don't know how they found me," she says. "I missed the email originally." She laughs, saying how she gets lots of offers but can be picky about the ones she'll pick up. Someone from Marvel had gone through her website, so she hadn't seen it immediately.

In short, Marvel had a selection of artists it was looking at to illustrate its book Powers of a Girl. Zhang was one of those picked, and she submitted a paid test piece of Captain Marvel. It's a piece she's still quite fond of, especially as Marvel clearly loved it. She had been selected, and for the rest of the year all she did was create over 100 illustrations of the women of the Marvel universe. The book released earlier this year.


It's been a busy couple of years for Zhang who did licensed prints of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Star Wars through Bottleneck Gallery. Most recently it was revealed she was working on some art for The Last of Us: Part II Special Edition, the high-anticipated sequel to one of the few console games she enjoys. Fanart is clearly something she is very attached to, and her expression of it has garnered her a lot of followers and fans. But what about those who wish they could follow in her footsteps?

"Just draw what you love," she explains when asked how fan artists looking to gain an audience and perhaps do licensed work can achieve their goal. "Don't do art of something just because it's trendy. You can tell. Do art of what you care about and people will appreciate it."

When she's not drawing characters from her favorite television shows and films, she has an affinity for fashion. Her illustrations of looks from the MET galas and various photo shoots have been shared by many of the stars she draws, such as Zendaya and Rihanna.

As for what's next? A rest. With so many deadlines and major projects the past two years, she is looking forward to a break after NYCC. However, more art will be appearing, never fear.

You can see more of (and buy) Zhang's work on her website, and also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.