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Joseph Lee

Joseph Lee, born in Toronto 1979, is an Author and Graphic. He grew up in the area known as “The Junction” moving frequently between cheap apartments as he followed his single mother in and around a small radius emanating from Dundas and Keele.

He spent much of his childhood biking around the neighborhood with his friends, shoplifting from a local corner store or using an unoccupied construction site as a fantastic playground. School, when he attended, remains mostly a blur as the moments outside burned a deeper image in his brain.

The later grades became more difficult for him to coast through and the old pastimes didn't quite give the same hit that they used to. Less time among friends and a loneliness from growing depression pushed him toward novels, comics, and graphic novels.


Every day was a journey toward escape. Sometimes he couldn't wait until the school day was over and would tuck himself away in a local library to read. With his mother spending most of her time at work he had a great deal of time to himself at home where he would continue following these literary journeys in an attempt at continual distraction. Even in spare moments when he wasn't reading he was making up stories and cataloguing characters in his head.

On the bus, subway, or sitting on a parke bench Joseph would take someone from his life or even a passerby and immediately begin working up their backstory. Looking for the different ways to describe their physical and mental space, he built up an incredible library of characters that he would later draw from.

Toward the end of highschool looming depression made graduation a monumental task, and after finally escaping public education he worked random jobs so he could move out. Moving was both to relieve a burdon he felt he was on his mother and an escape to a different life. After nearly 10 years of repeating the same habits of employment and habitation Joseph decided to apply to OCAD to learn illustration.

Joseph is currently working on a Graphic novel and several other writing projects. Illustrations included here are his “thinsouls” and child-like depictions of characters or scenes he remembers from his childhood.

Artist Statement

Suffering is inevitable so why not find the aching beauty the lurks in these shadows?


I had watched a film in the late 90s called SICK. It was a documentary about a performance Artist from los Angeles who suffered (and later died) from Cystic Fibrosis. When he was diagnosed at an early age he was to discover that there would be a lot of pain and discomfort, and that much of this would last the rest of his life. It's been a while since I've seen the documentary or the interviews but what struck me the most about his personality was something he said (I'm paraphrasing from memory here) - “If pain is going to be a constant it's better if I make friends with it.” and this lead to his exploration of pain, BDSM, and his own personal fought for dominion over it.


His performances were unsettling but the main thing I took was almost a stoic approach to the most difficult aspects of life. Not everyone is granted the same privileges or advantages in life but if you have the capacity for self reflection there is a good chance you're capable of mastering the domain you inhabit. Maybe you will never leave your current prison, whatever it maybe. But you can make this prison your own, and you can find freedom in making these walls your own choice and not something foisted upon you.


I hadn't started creating until much later in life. I mostly just consumed vast quantities of books, comics, and other literary escapes. It wasn't until I started having more negative thoughts, depressive episodes, feelings of just nothing for days and days that I felt that I needed to create. I couldn't create during most of those moments but when I would “come to” I felt like I had to make up for lost time and keep busy to hopefully stave off the next wave.


Creating for me became an act of rebellion against these forces but would ultimately prove fruitless. My major breakthrough was when I courted a relationship with suffering, imprisonment, and the inevitable. My work could seem dark to some as I could see a person mistaking it as expressions of resignation, but they're not. I'm not sure if I'll make it to shore again, but I won't be able to swim that distance (in my case) by fighting these waves. I simply don't have that strength. I do however have the capacity to settle in this new home of mine that's been foisted upon me. I will acclimatize in a fashion and decide where I want to go after I've gained something – I don't know, strength maybe? It's hard to say.


The idea is that for me to go anywhere it requires me to be alive. To fight against this suffering might kill me, but to let it wash over me until I'm comfortable with it could lead to me being able to use these waves to carry me ashore. Or perhaps I'll prefer to stay out at this sea? Who knows...It will be my choice however and that thought makes the entire process easier.

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