It’s hard to say where Dexter Morrill is from because he has lived all over. The son of a United States Marine Corps veteran, he’s made a home in Virginia, Bolivia and even Norway before coming back to North Carolina; he was born in Jacksonville. Now, Morrill is here in Fayetteville.
Morrill’s artwork is currently on display inside our campus’ Art Gallery in General Classroom Building Room 221 through Nov. 30. His exhibit, “Press Start to Continue,” is a collection of his illustrations and cartoons rooted in his love for comics, video games and of course, cartoons. Gallery hours are Monday and Wednesday, 1 to 4 pm; Tuesday and Thursday 9 am to noon; and Friday 9 am to noon and 2 to 4 pm and by appointment. The Artist Reception, where Morrill will discuss his exhibit, is this Thursday from 4 pm to 6 pm in the gallery.
Morrill’s work gracing the campus’ gallery has been in the making for him since a young age. His interest carried over to North Carolina State University. He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a Master’s degree in art and design with a focus on animation and interactive media from his alma mater.
“I would try to copy characters from cereal boxes, or from the cover art of comic books, VHS tapes, video games, anything that I could get my hands on,” he wrote in an email. “I would say that my biggest influences were (and still are) the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ the film ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ and my childhood video game collection, especially ‘The Legend of Zelda.’”
He also had the chance to meet one of the biggest names in the comic book industry in 2010. Stan Lee, the writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics. His creativity has lasted for decades and spawned successful comics, toys, television shows and a movie franchise, Marvel Cinematic Universe, that has dominated screens for more than a decade. Lee passed away Nov. 12, leaving a void in the world he created and the fans who cherished some of his heroes such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and Black Panther. He was 95.
“I had the opportunity to meet [him] at the 2010 Phoenix Comic Con in Arizona,” Morrill said. “It was a brief moment and he signed one of his books, but the chance to meet a legendary influence on the entire comics industry was incredible.”
Morrill spoke more about how he’s a “big kid at heart,” his work and what he wants to teach students in his classes with a Q&A below:
Where else do you draw inspiration from when it comes to your work? You previously mentioned TMNT, Zelda and the late Stan Lee.
I still love and look back to all of the pop culture that I grew up with, but I currently enjoy the works of Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Samurai Jack) and comic artists, Scott McCloud, Humberto Ramos, Ed McGuiness, Dan Schoening, and too many more to name!
What led to your artwork being shown in our Art Gallery?
Fellow FTCC Professor and Gallery Director, Kari Hooten, reached out to me. She has been familiar with my work for a few years and asked if I would be able to show my work.
What is your favorite piece, if you have one, that will be shown in the gallery this month? Why is it your favorite?
I think my favorite piece right now is ‘Save State of Owari’. It may just be because it is one of my most recent pieces, but I feel like [many] of the themes that I am striving towards are within this one piece. Both the subject of the piece and the way it is presented, floating on a black void, expresses the fragility of video game history preservation and how the pathway to the future is unknown. The characters in the piece seem to look out toward the viewer for help.
What do you want viewers of your work to feel and/or take away when they see your work – if anything at all?
I want my viewers to feel a sense of nostalgia, adventure and humor as they look through my work. I also hope to introduce the idea of retro video game preservation to my viewers. All other forms of art have developed methods of preservation for future generations to appreciate and enjoy them, but due to their inherent ties to technology, preserving video games is much more complex. If we don’t begin the discussion of preservation now, the technology needed to enjoy these games will become obsolete, degrade and become lost to time.
Where can we see your work go next in the coming years?
Keep an eye and ear out for local comic and video game conventions! I enjoy attending conventions as a visiting artist and panel presenter. It is also a great opportunity for everyone to meet other amazing artists and content creators as well as find some great artwork.
I am continuing to work on my own comic called, ‘The Fate of Owari’. You can keep up with it and all of my other artwork on my website.
What are some of the lessons and values you try to teach your students when you teach?
My goal is to help my students find and hone their own personal design process. Knowing and understanding your process allows you to locate your strengths and weaknesses as an artist/designer and therefore creates opportunities to grow, improve, and express yourself to your full potential.
As an artist, why do you feel it’s needed to have Art Galleries, no matter where they are, and to support the arts at all levels?
Art Galleries are extremely important. They act as a megaphone for a lot of artists. It is also a great way to let an artist’s work do the talking for them.
What keeps you working as a cartoonist and illustrator?
The same things keep me working as a cartoonist/illustrator that got me started in the first place. I love to share the characters and stories that bring me joy with others.
To everyone – No matter what your goals are in life, always keep an open mind and you can achieve anything.