SpecArt Spotlight: Jasper Zhao

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of scifi and fantasy digital art. So, to kind of indulge myself and show off some of the really cool stuff I find out there, I’ve decided to start doing spotlights on digital artists that I find. SpecArt Spotlight will feature artists who’s creations fall under the speculative fiction genre umbrella, be it science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, horror, whatever. And, it doesn’t necessarily mean just visual artists, could be written or maybe even spoken. Who knows, just depends on what I find.

As for the structure, I’ll focus on a quick five questions, each one accompanied by a piece of their art. With the last of those questions, we get a little fun. In addition, we’ll have a bonus piece of their art that I’ll use as inspiration for a quick, flash story.

Today’s spotlight artist is Jasper Zhao, from Hangzhou, China. Jasper is a concept artist and does pre-concept design for games and movies. Before that, he studied sculpture at university, but has been painting since he was a child.

Flower in the Mud, by Jasper Zhao
Flower in the Mud, by Jasper Zhao
Question 1

SM: So, your bio says you’re an Illustrator/Concept Artist at NetEase Games. Is this your dream job?

JZ: No, actually. My dream job should be to be an astronaut. After all, the stars are the future of mankind. Just kidding. My dream is to be able to make really interesting designs for games and movies. Right now, I’m not even close. This is my full-time job.and I do some commission work sometimes when I’m not busy.

Question 2

SM:When working on a specific do you have a story in mind for the piece, or do you kind of Bob Ross it where you just start going and add happy little laser guns?

JZ: Yes. I always have a general picture in mind when I start to draw. but I don’t want to make it too prescriptive. Sometimes the best thing is a flash of inspiration.

“Something happened.……”, by Jasper Zhao
“Something happened.……”, by Jasper Zhao

Gangster, by Jasper Zhao
Gangster, by Jasper Zhao
Question 3

SM: What drives your creativity in your art? Like, for me it varies. Sometimes a song will spark a story or scene, other times it’s someone’s art like yours. What makes you get up and draw these fantastic environments?

JZ: Just like you, I find inspiration in all kinds of art.It could be a photo or a news from internet or a building and something like that. Life has given me more inspiration than I ever could have imagined.

 

Question 4

SM: What is your favorite genre under the Speculative Fiction umbrella? science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, horror? And why?

I think I prefer horror novels. But I see enough horror in the news every day. It’s a story you can’t make up in a novel

Escape from Something, by Jasper Zhao
Escape from Something, by Jasper Zhao

Witch Doctor, by Jasper Zhao
Witch Doctor, by Jasper Zhao
Question 5

SM: If you were suddenly bit by some radioactive creature, what superpower would you hope to get?

JZ: It is well known that a cat is a liquid.I choose to be CatMan. Bruce Lee said “Be Water. My Friend.”So he’s a cat person, right?

Now comes time for a little work on my end. Jasper was gracious enough of supply the art pieces above, as well as one extra for the flash story. Now, I’ve already written something for “Something Happened…..” on Question 2. That story was done under 20TweetTales and is here. However, for SpecArt Spotlight, I didn’t want to rehash that. Instead, I’ll use another of his pieces to continue that story. So here is…..

“Another Victim...”, by Jasper Zhao
“Another Victim…”, by Jasper Zhao

Another Victim

Icy water laps against the concrete shore, unseen in the darkness. This far out, the city lights are just a rainbow of sparkles against the night sky. Here, under the abandoned highway overpass, not even the moonlight reaches. Here, darkness shrouds everything. Everything except the body floating in the river.

“What did I say, Popescue?” I’d say I was angry, but I don’t get angry. I’m way too old for that. Irritation is the closest to what I’m feeling, I’d say.

Back over by the car, I hear Popescue’s feet shuffle before he speaks. “I’m tellin’ ya, Dutch. It ain’t me.”

It ain’t me.

I pan my flashlight over the body as it bobs in the soft current, held in place by some weight tied to the rope around the waist. White cloth clings tightly to the face. Delicate features. A dame. Even in the dim light, through the threads of the fabric I see what most people can’t: the bruising to her left cheek. 

My irritation flickers up a notch. “Who was she?” 

A cricket chirps in the dead grasses behind me and a copter clop-clops through the air miles off in the distance. It takes him a second to realize I was not being rhetorical.

“What? I said it wasn’t me.” His shoes crunch as he paces over to stand next to me. “ I have no idea who this chick is.”

“Damn it, we’re supposed to be the damn Feds. You know what that means?”

His silence is his reply. 

I shake my head. “It means we have to be careful.”

Behind me, the car’s headlights blaze against the concrete support beam for the overpass. The gray surface was long-since confiscated as part of the graffiti bulletin board of the undesirables that frequent this area. 

I point at the painted support. “You see those tags?”

His head snaps over and looks where I’m pointing, then back to me. His movements are jerky. He’s nervous. He should be. 

“What, that trash from the local delinquents?”

I chuckle, but I feel the muscles tighten in my hand. He has no idea. “Those delinquents are the ones who told me about this young woman. More than a dozen of them have seen her.”

He scoffs. “So? Who’s going to believe a few punks. Besides, I said it wasn’t me. I ain’t had none outside The Plan.

The Plan. My plan. My plan for staying alive, for keeping him alive.

After my second attempt to domesticate someone else like me, I came up with The Plan, a path, a regimen to stick to in the hopes of getting them under control. Twice before that plan failed. I’d really thought I’d gotten it right this time. Guess not.

Popescue’s words touch on something in the back of my mind. A feeling. Mentally, I smoothe that feeling back down.

He still doesn’t get it. I keep my gaze on the girl in the water. “Alice Sanchez.”

“What?”

“Marie Karjala. Sue Eze.”

He takes a step back. “You… You knew, Dutch?”

Always underestimating me. “Of course I knew.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

I let out a deep sigh as that feeling creeps back into me. I know if I let it out, I’ll regret it later. It always makes me feel… less. “I don’t know. Maybe I was soft. Maybe I thought you’d come out of it and stick to The Plan.”

“This… This isn’t like that. This wasn’t me. I swear.” Popescue backs up and bumps into the car, making the shocks squeak ever so softly. 

When I open my mouth to speak again, there’s venom in my voice. “You swear? Like you swore to Alice that you were a good guy when you picked her up at that college bar? Like you swore to Marie that she was safe when you fended off those muggers?”

His heart is pounding in his chest, it’s rhythmic thump-thump, thump-thump, like prey that knows it’s caught, like a drug to that feeling I’m trying so damn hard to keep under control. 

“Dutch, c’mon. I swear.”

“Bring her here.” I growl.

“What? Why? I mean, she’s dead.”

“So we can clean up your mess.”

“I said she’s not mine!” he screams.

I let the light tilt to the ground and straighten my stance. He knows better than this. It takes him a few seconds, but he does it. He peels off his shoes and jacket and slides into the water. He dives down and comes back up with a cement block with a rope tied around it.

It takes him a good five minutes to move the block over to the shore and get it up onto the concrete where I’m standing. He reels the body in with the rope and plops it down between us. Finally, he’s standing there, dripping. His chest is heaving from the effort. “Damn that block is heavy.”

I should have known better. I’ve caught him in too many lies, I should have known better. After all these years, you’d think I’d stop trying to teach them. But these young bloods just never understand what it takes to survive. But as that feeling boils, struggling to be let out, I do understand.

So I let it out.

For most people, as they get older, they grow a little weaker, a little slower. I’m not like that. I’m not slow.

Between the space of two heartbeats, my hand is around his throat. His eyes go wide with horror a split second before I snarl and twist. His neck snaps. 

Too bad, kid.

His arms and legs go limp and I toss him into the river. He’ll float downstream a few miles before he’s found. Cops’ll ask questions, then the director will ask more questions. I’ll have to have my story straight… That Popescue had asked me to meet him here, something about a tip from an anonymous informant. But when I got here, he never showed. Must have already been killed.  Yeah, that’ll work.

Crouching down next to the dead dame, I pull down the sheet. Her skin is a pale blue and her eyes are closed. And just as I thought, there’s a massive bruise on the side of her face. As I look at her, I can see something’s off though. Her face isn’t quite even. Under the bruise, her cheek is sunken in a little. Whatever hit her, crushed her cheek bone.

I check her neck. Soft and cold, but unmarred. I glance back at Popescue’s corpse. His dead eyes stare at me.

“Shit.”

She wasn’t his.

Okay, there we go. That was the first of my SpecArt Spotlight. I’m going to try to do one of these each month. There are so many great digital artists out there, already I have a year’s worth that I’m looking at asking. If you want to check out more of Jasper’s work, which I highly encourage you to, you can find him on ArtStation.

Otherwise…

Keep flyin’. It’s a big, wide ‘verse out there, and we don’t want to miss a jot of it.

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