When artist Karen Hallion saw The Little Mermaid at age 16, she began to look at art in a new way. Seeing how Disney brought its underwater cinematic adventures and illustrations into our world piqued a new artistic interest for her.
“I walked out of the theater and thought ‘I want to do that,’” Hallion says. ”I had always loved Disney movies and had dabbled in drawing, but for some reason, [The Little Mermaid] really just jumped out at me. I wanted to try to capture the movement, flow, and beauty that I had just seen. I went home and started drawing, and 20-plus years later, I am still going.”
While Hallion started drawing geishas, mermaids, and steampunk characters, her work soon evolved to incorporate what she loved as a fan, including her personal interest in characters from different books, movies, TV, fantasy, and science fiction. To create such fierce, impactful illustrations, Hallion pulls from the artists, pop culture, and experiences that inspire her.
Her intricate and fiercely feminist artwork takes fantastic worlds and mashes them up with other characters to create something new, unique, and empowering.
“Creating new work is like breathing to me; I am inspired by something and I just have to get it out into the world, even if it’s never seen by anyone,” Hallion says.
The Doctor Meets Disney
Many of Hallion’s works star characters and elements from Doctor Who, including the TARDIS plopped into different, fantastic Disney realms.
“When I started watching Doctor Who, what struck me was that his companions are not necessarily just love interests, but also cohorts in his adventures,” Hallion says. “I started imagining who else might make good companions for him and thought of Cinderella; what an interesting twist to her story it would be if he appeared right at that moment. It wasn’t even going to be a series, I just wanted to draw that one scene, but then it took off from there.”
By twisting these stories, Hallion puts her own powerful spin on many of these iconic characters and princesses.
“The Disney heroines yearn for excitement and adventure, so I tried to place the Doctor at the point in their story where it seems they are ready for things to change but before the love interest shows up,” Hallion says. “By doing so, I aim to create a new story with my vision for these characters as empowered women who choose adventure not solely based on romantic love. I wanted to make a commentary on alternative possibilities for them as women and illustrate a change in their storylines that would alter their outcomes in a strong and meaningful way.”
Strong Women Unite
In addition to creating fictional character illustrations, Hallion is also known for her popular works spotlighting kick-butt women, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton: An American Musical, and a “nasty woman” version of the Statue of Liberty. She considers these portraits her way of paving the way for geek girls of the future.
“When I started freelancing 10 years ago, I got a lot of rejections that were, ‘this is too girly, too feminine, no one will buy this, geek girl doesn’t sell,’” Hallion says. ”They were wrong, and I am pretty sure that’s been proven now. Geek girls have been starving for more representation and it seems like it’s getting better every day, in TV and movies and also in merchandise, to help us fly our geek flags proudly. I love that I can contribute in a small way to providing more representation than I had growing up.”
Hallion’s feminist pieces served as a way to channel her anger into something productive and positive following the presidential debates during the 2016 election. And so, her RBG and “Nasty Liberty” images were born, further catapulting this artist outside the range of being just a fan artist. Overall, Hallion likes drawing strong women, whether they are fictional or real.
Hallion even keeps a spreadsheet of new inspiring women to add to her “She Series,” including Dottie Henson from A League of Their Own, Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter, and Eowyn from Lord of the Rings.
For Girls Everywhere
As an artist with a keen interest in portraying strong women, Hallion created her original “Celara” series to inspire the next generation of geek girls to embrace their fandom proudly.
The name “Celara” — based on Hallion’s interest in The Belgariad and Polgara the Sorceress books by David Eddings — combines the character names of Polgara and Ce’Nedra into a new title, and the name of her own online alter ego. With comics and calendars illustrating the red-headed girl in a variety of historic and empowering scenes, Celara is unapologetically geeky and independent in every scene she tackles, whether she’s running through a forest or attending a fan convention.
“I created Celara because I want every little girl who has been bullied for wearing a geeky shirt or told they couldn’t like something because it’s ‘for boys’ to know that they’re not alone,” Hallion says. “I want to celebrate what being a geek really means — to explore why we create fan art, participate in cosplay, and engage in dialogue discussing the minute details of the characters and stories we love. Celara is my homage to how we all connect with each other through these things.”
Share Your Fierceness
While some people may think Hallion’s empowering “She Series” pieces are too political — a series she fully stands behind — for the most part, fans are warm to her meaningful work as they bond over the mutual things they love.
“It’s a lot of fun to see others connect to what I am passionate about, too, and share that with them,” Hallion says. “I have had people show up with sculptures of my art that they have made for me, and this one woman made an amazing quilt with all of my shirts. It’s always touching to see how my work inspires others to get creative.”
While balancing a variety of upcoming projects, Hallion is here to slay and inspire the next generation of fans to proudly let their geek flags fly.
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2020 Issue No. 6, click here to read more!
Photos: Karen Hallion