Minh Anh Nguyen Hoang, 30, is the lead artist at the three-year-old Kart Studio, which is based in Vietnam. Hoang, who creates art using the name Ben Moran, learned to draw properly in 2019, after finishing a degree in economics.
“Drawing was just my hobby when I was a child,” Moran said in conversation conducted via email because they felt less confident in their spoken English. “I started getting serious about painting when I realized I could be good at it. The artists that mainly inspire me are Ruan Jia, Huang Guangjian, and Piotr Jabłoński” — all contemporary fantasy illustrators.
Moran is now at the center of a Reddit controversy, thanks to a piece they were commissioned to produce for $500 for the cover of one of fantasy fiction author Selkie Myth’s books. (Myth plans to use it for his forthcoming eleventh title, which he said is likely to be called Mandate of Heaven.) “I’ve ordered a lot of artwork with [Moran], because they are very, very good at what they do,” said Myth, who is 31 and lives in Nebraska. “They are an absolute steal for that quality and commercial use.”
In late July, Myth contacted Moran via email asking them to produce the work that would prove so contentious. The final piece, chosen from four options, was produced by Sept. 7 and modified by Moran to Myth’s specifications; the cover design was done by mid-October. “It takes me a month to fix and complete it,” said Moran.
In late December, Moran, an infrequent Reddit user, decided they wanted to do some self-promotion. So they posted the close-to-final design of the piece, titled A muse in Warzone, to r/Art, a subreddit with 22 million members. They were quickly banned by the subreddit moderators on suspicion of using AI-generated art, which is against r/Art’s rules.
When Moran contacted the moderators to explain that they had not used AI, sending them a link to their portfolio, they were blown off. “I don’t believe you,” a mod wrote in a message Moran posted to Twitter. They went on to say that even if Moran had painted it, it’s “so obviously an AI-prompted design that it doesn’t matter.” The moderator signed off the message with, “Sorry, it’s the way of the world.” They then muted Moran, preventing them from making their case further.