Web Site: http://durgaridesalion.tumblr.com/
Bio: Writer, editor, photographer and sometime cartoonist Julie Davis became addicted to comics and Japanese animation at a young age and hasn't yet grown out of them (and probably never will). Former editor in chief of Animerica, Anime & Manga Monthly, an English-language magazine about Japanese animation, she co-authored the book Anime Classics Zettai! 100 Must-See Japanese Animation Masterpieces and contributed to The Complete Anime Guide and Manga: The Complete Guide. A native of Michigan, she now lives in San Francisco and teaches classes on comics writing and history at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University and creates graphic designs for the Cartoon Art Museum.
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Even in an age when print is frequently declared dead and most media is moving toward a digital environment, print continued to thrive over Labor Day Weekend at the San Francisco Zine Fest, featuring a number of extraordinary female artists. A small-press publishing showcase of stapled-together paper, silkscreening and other DIY media, the 11th annual festival took place on September 1-2 at the San Francisco County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park. Illustrators, crafters, printmakers, cartoonists, designers of boutique fashions, and at least one musician selling cassette tapes along with zines were all gathered together to showcase their work.
“One thing I noticed [this year] was a lot of families with kids, which was great to see,” comic artist Shaenon Garrity said.
Seated behind large stacks of book-length collections of her webcomics Narbonic and Skin Horse, along with the work of her fellow artists in the Couscous Collective group, Garrity fielded questions about her work, stopping now and then to process a sale or inscribe a book for a fan. She speculated that the park’s location — as opposed to the show’s older venues in trendier areas of the city, including the CELLspace gallery in the media gulch area and the Women’s Building the Mission district — might be the reason why more families are attending the show.
My own experience attending Zine Fest on Sunday seemed to confirm this. The County Fair Building is an inviting, albeit slightly hidden space, tucked behind a stand of trees just off the entrance to the Strybing Arboretum (aka the San Francisco Botanical Gardens). The doorless entrance to the building beckoned curious passersby to see what was happening, and free admission encouraged them to stay and look around. Dealers were spread out over two buildings, so although there was plenty to look at, there was none of the frantic crowds usually harbored at a typical science fiction or comic book convention. There were no costumes either, although the more creative booth displays made up for this with free plastic spiders (given out with purchase by the horror comics) and plates of homemade cookies that lured customers to take a closer look at handmade toys and silkscreened art prints. The floor was bustling but open and airy; the atmosphere relaxed. Striking up a conversation was easy — the exhibitors at the tables were genuinely happy to discuss their work.
“Zine Fest used to have far fewer comics in general,” Garrity said. “It used to be focused on — obviously — zines. In the last few years, it’s shifted more toward comics and illustration.”
Garrity went on to list some of the cartoonists that she counted herself a fan of at the show.
“I was most excited to see a new mini-comic out from Tyler Cohen,” Garrity said. “She’s been doing comics about raising a daughter that are really great.”
Garrity also cited Zine Fest’s special guest, Sarah Oleksyk, whose work, Ivy, is considered to be an indie comics success story. A stapled-together mini-comic in its original incarnation, Ivy gained popularity through small shows just like Zine Fest. Now available as a collected graphic novel from Oni Press, the book has been nominated for the comics industry’s highest award: an Eisner.
“I’ve been a big fan of her since I saw her work at Stumptown a few years back,” Garrity said.
The festival also hosted panels and workshops, even providing a Reading Room for the curious-but-short-of-cash visitor.
“There have always been a lot of female creators at Zine Fest,” Garrity said, “because there are lots of women in the zine world. But yes, there are getting to be more female creators in comics, too. In the Bay Area and elsewhere. It’s a very different world than it was twelve years ago when I started drawing comics.”
Hungry for more? Visit San Francisco Zine Fest’s website at www.sfzinefest.org.
Photo Credit: Julie Davis (with help from rawimage’s Holgaroid Generator).
“The concept of Jamie’s character came from my own mental state in my late teens/early twenties,” explained cartoonist Chloe Dalquist, describing the inspiration for her comic Jamie the Trickster. “I was going through a phase where I wanted to be male, but didn’t identify as trans because I knew that if I actually did go through the pain and difficulty and expense of transition, I’d immediately miss being female! Then I realized that I didn’t just want to be a guy, all I wanted was the ability to magically be able to switch back and forth between sexes easily and could be one or the other whenever I felt like it, for however long I wanted.”
Art turned out to be the perfect outlet for these feelings. A constant doodler as a child, she began seriously considering art as a career in her late teens. She attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and graduated with a degree in 2D animation, even though she’d realized by then that animation wasn’t for her. Comics called to her instead. Inspired by works such as Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes—”I feel pretty confident in saying that I probably wouldn’t be a comic artist to this day if not for Calvin and Hobbes“—and Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, she began to create her own comics.
“Because, hey, in art you can make whatever you want and be whatever you want!” Dalquist said.
The first chapter of Jamie the Trickster was published on Dalquist’s blog in August of 2010.
“On the Internet at the time, a lot of artists were drawing themselves as the opposite sex for fun,” she said.
Following this trend, Dalquist had came up with a cartoony male version of herself, which led to the creation of the character of Jamie. But a problem was born with him: the need to draw the gender-switching Jamie’s female version, too, which essentially became a self-portrait.
“I was a bit worried that inserting my visage into the comic would make me come across as conceited or something,” Dalquist said, “but I finally just went, ‘The hell with it. I wanna do it this way! [Laughs] And Jaime was born.”
Art Animal met with Dalquist at SF Zine Fest. After the show, she took a few moments to tell us more about her comic series.
Art Animal: The character dynamics get very interesting when the main character switches genders. Was it your intent to give Jamie this power, to raise issues about how different men and women are treated or react to each other?
Chloe Dalquist: Yes, that was the plan! I wanted to do something that would show my belief that gender is largely, if not completely, a societal construct and we have the power to change the rules of that construct if we try hard enough and keep our minds open to new ways of perceiving things.
AA: Would you describe Jamie the Trickster as a fantasy story, a superhero story or magical realism? Or something else?
CD: I think I would describe it as magical realism, though it’s always been a difficult story for me to describe. Of course, I just had to go with something complicated for my first graphic novel. I’ve got ideas for other things that are so easy to sum up, such as “supernatural pirate
adventure!” or “sci-fi adventure!” but Jamie’s been difficult. I’ve mostly been describing it as “slice-of-life road trip story with a bit of magic.” But you know what? “Magical realism” is a lot easier to say. I think I’ll go with that one!
AA: Are any of the incidents in the comic based on your own personal experience?
CD: No, my life’s too boring for that. I think the only thing that comes close is the scene in chapter two where Manny, Vincent and Tye are about to enter a diner, but Tye is really hesitant about it. I have this weird phobia of just walking into a store or restaurant or some such place of business if I’ve never been there before. Usually I just have to walk past it and stare in a few times before I can feel comfortable enough to go in. I decided to give Tye that same idiosyncrasy.
AA: Are any of the characters based on you or people you know?
CD: Many of my characters have little bits of my personality or personality traits of my friends and family. For example, Ruby has a mixture of my stubbornness and my friend’s brashness; Tye has many of my neuroses; and Vincent is fairly similar to what I remember being like as a fourteen-year-old. In fact, his relationship with his father is a lot like the one I had growing up with my mother. As a result, it makes most interactions between Manny and Vincent ridiculously fun to write. Jamie, Todd and Manny’s characters just seemed to come out of thin air. Sometimes it’s more fun and challenging to write someone who’s nothing like you or anyone you know.
AA: You’re currently up to Chapter 2 of Jamie the Trickster on your blog. How long will the full story be? Have you already planned an ending?
CD: I’m planning at least ten chapters. I have a general idea for how the story ends, but even when I write things down solidly in a script, they still change quite a lot as I’m drawing and more if I want to modify the dialogue — which happens a lot.
AA: Would you say that you have particular topics or themes that you always return to in your artwork?
CD: Not that I’ve noticed, though one weird thing I always catch myself doing while drawing is not bothering to remain consistent about which eyebrow a character might raise in any given scene. That’s just another weird thing I do, though readers may no doubt find other recurring themes that haven’t crossed my mind.
AA: Can you describe your process? Do you draw your comics by hand or do you work digitally?
CD: I draw with mechanical pencil on 11×17 Canson comic paper, then I ink the lines with a brush and pens. I then scan the pages into my computer and color and letter them with Photoshop. It usually takes me about a week to do one page.
AA: Tell me about the Couscous Collective. How did you get involved with the group?
CD: I have a friend who was part of the group and through her I was introduced to the other members. We did many artsy and social things together and I collaborated on some projects with them. Pancha Diaz, one of the members, is the one who did the layout for the print version of the first chapter of Jamie the Trickster. In recent months I began sharing a table with Couscous at various conventions, so it seemed only a natural step that I asked to officially join and was eventually included.
AA: Are there any other projects you’re working on these days (shows you’ll be appearing at, publications, work you’re excited about)?
CD: Right now I’m trying to draw up as many illustrations as I can. I’ve had ideas for a long time, but hadn’t been able to do them until recently since working on Chapter 2 of Jamie the Trickster was taking up about 95 percent of my time. I’m also going to be exhibiting at APE [Alternative Press Expo] this year and should hopefully have some new things to sell along with my print versions of the chapters. I’m going to start writing out the third chapter by December at the very least, because though I’ve been happily playing around with my illustrations I can feel the need and desire to continue my comic nagging insistently at the back of my head.
AA: Are you currently a full-time artist? If not, what kind of other work do you do?
CD: Yep, I’m a full-time artist who does a lot of volunteer work. I’ve been trying to get a day job doing office/admin work, but we’ll see how that goes. One of my favorite volunteer jobs is working at the Cartoon Art Museum here in San Francisco and helping to manage the bookstore.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
CD: Don’t give up. If you’re passionate about drawing, study as much as you can about it, draw, and keep at it! There were days I’d come home from art classes in tears because everyone else was so much better than me and I felt like I would never improve, but I just kept drawing until my skills improved by leaps and bounds. I’m still improving — or trying to — now.
Another important thing I would stress is to make friends in the art world. Network and connect! That’s been one of the hardest things for me to do as I’m not a very social person, but having contacts and support and a sense of community in the art world is one of the most valuable aspects you can have. Whether you have studios offering you jobs or friends endorsing your work to their contacts, it’s one of the most fulfilling things, especially when you’re able to give help and support to other artists in kind.
Follow the adventures of Jamie the Trickster at http://www.jamiethetrickster.com/.
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Describing Grasiela Rodriguez as an artist requires more than just a few words: she’s a graphic designer, webmaster, illustrator, painter and gallery manager. She creates chalk art and maintains a blog of her work at festivals, such as the recent Pasadena Chalk Festival.
Finally, as founder of Not Your Friend Comic Books, Rodriguez is also a comic book artist and animator who recreates her comic stories — complete with sound, music and voices — for her YouTube channel.
“I am always working on multiple projects at once,” Rodriguez said.
At the time of this interview, she rattled off her current projects, saying, “I’ve got two comic books in the works, and I am also working on a paper mache art installation for this year’s Day of the Dead Festival at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.”
Influenced by Pop Art, Pop Surrealism and Lowbrow art, Rodriguez remixes the familiar images of pop culture in her paintings and comics: TV icons, comic book heroes, record album covers, cereal box mascots, mermaids and cowboys.
The heroines in her comics -— the Bride in SPADRA: Ghostly Appropriations Of A Town That Time Forgot, the wisecracking mermaids and the semi-autobiograpical heroine of Lunatic Fringe — all regard the world with a dry wit and refreshing self-awareness.
“I tend to have a dark sense of humor,” she said.
Art Animal got the chance to talk with Rodriguez about her artistic background, interests and fantastically vibrant animated life:
Art Animal: When did you first begin creating art?
Grasiela Rodriguez: I was drawing as a child but didn’t pursue it professionally until I attended Junior College. I took an Art Appreciation class to fulfill my electives and ended up changing over to an art major!
AA: When did you first encounter Lowbrow art? What was the subject?
GR: Growing up in Pomona, CA, we didn’t have the art scene that we have today so viewing art was really hard to come by. A lot of it was in Los Angeles, which is where the movement began back in the ’70s. The movement has grown and is now a part of everyday pop culture, and if you are into art, there is no getting away from it.
AA: What is it about Pop Art and Pop Surrealism that particularly calls to you?
GR: The thing that I love about Pop Surrealism is the questions that enter my head after viewing it. For example, if I were looking at a watercolor of a flower I would just think, “Oh, that is so pretty.” With Pop Surrealism, it’s different. The crazy abstracted and delusional images seem to be the most interesting to me. The questions that enter my mind with those works are more like, “What is that?” and “Why is that?” I really like when I ask myself “why.” I find myself so attracted to the mystery of what and why these things are. I am fascinated by the style of the artworks as well as the techniques used by the artists who produce them.
AA: The mermaids in Lunatic Fringe and the bride in Spadra seem to be poking fun at iconic images of femininity. Is that right, or am reading it wrong?
GR: I love mermaids, so depending on the context, I do tend to exaggerate them. As far as the bride in Spadra, she’s also a little bit exaggerated. That is the beauty of making comics. You can draw anything in any way that you want.
AA: What made you choose the name “Not Your Friend Comics”?
GR: My comic imprint “Not Your Friend Comics” is actually a tribute to my friend’s little daughter, who passed away from a brain tumor a few years ago. Her father used to record her all the time and one day she was upset and said, “Fine then, I’m not your friend.” We all thought it was funny at the time so when she was diagnosed I wanted to preserve her memory forever. That’s why I did it. Most people do not know unless they ask (and some do sometimes), so when I tell people I am also remembering her and that is a nice feeling for me.
AA: Your comic Lunatic Fringe references a lot of ’80s music. What are some other favorites from that era?
GR: I love all of the ’70s and ’80s rock! It would be too many to list.
AA: How did you arrive at the two-color format for Lunatic Fringe?
GR: When I did this story, I felt that it was emotional, therefore I tried to associate the color pink to the emotion of love. I really liked the way it looked and decided to keep the style and change up the colors depending on the context of the stories and emotions. The Bride in the Stagecoach was done with blues because she is supposed to feel “blue,” so again I tried to tie in the color palette to the emotion that I was trying to invoke.
AA: Do all of your comics also have an animated version?
GR: I am trying to animate everything I print. I am currently working on animating the main Spadra story. The bride is already animated (that can be seen on my YouTube channel).
AA: How do you go about adapting your comics into animation? Can you describe the process?
GR: Well, normally I work as a graphic designer so I am used to working in layers. When I created my comics, I surveyed other artists to get their input on how they do their comics (and if you ask people you will find that everyone has a different and their own way of doing them). So when I started I decided to do it the way I know best, and that was to draw each image individually, ink it, scan it and then color it digitally in Photoshop. Once my images were done, I laid them out and added the text digitally. So because I had all of my files in “layers” (which is what you need to apply animation), it just made sense to make that the next phase after printing.
AA: Who does the voices in your animated works?
GR: I do most of the female voices, but the male voices I have to ask others to do them. I’ve tried recording myself to sound like a boy and it just does not work!
AA: You also run a gallery: EVE Gallery in the Pomona Art Colony. Tell us a bit about it. Is it inspiring to be working closely with other artists?
GR: Running an art gallery is a whole different thing. I enjoy bringing art to our community so that people can see an alternative type of art. For the most part, we try to showcase new and up-and-coming artists who are creating art with unusual subject matter.
AA: You also have a degree in e-commerce. What are your thoughts on using the internet as a tool for artists?
GR: I really enjoy website design and coding. I am a Webmaster for a few websites because I enjoy doing it. I am also the designer and maintainer of my own websites. I feel that the internet is a great way to market yourself if you are willing to put in the time and effort.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
GR: I say, “do it.” Nothing can stop you. A lot of people prefer to “wait” until they feel their art skills are a lot better, but the truth is, we are our own worst critics. If I had waited until my works were better, I would still be waiting!
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When asked what advice she would give to aspiring comic artists and zinesters, Gabrielle Gamboa suggests, “Don’t limit yourself by studying only one technique or medium. Practice drawing from observation. Learn about art from before you were born.”
It’s advice that Gamboa practices herself: the 1933 novel Miss Lonelyhearts, by Nathanael West, was the inspiration for one of her latest works, a graphic novel adaptation of the story. The material attracted Gamboa because its mixture of serious content with humorous tone made it feel very modern.
“At its core, the story also questions why we make art,” Gamboa said, “something that every creative person considers from time to time.”
Gamboa’s own creativity began early. Growing up in the Sacramento area with parents she describes as “DIY fanatics and crafters,” she gathered the impression that “a large part of life is making.”
“My mother had this series of art books, each one a monograph of a 19th century painter such as Cezanne, Manet, etc,” Gamboa said. “Before I could read, I would look at the pictures and make up stories about them. I had entire narratives about Carmen Gaudin, the red-haired model in so many of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings.”
Her attention turned to comics and the punk rock music culture in college, and she began self-publishing her own comics and zines, and became a member of the Puppy Toss publishing collective in the 1990s. Her mini-comics career is supplemented with teaching art to children and teens, which leads to her second piece of advice for aspiring comics artists: “Give yourself room to experiment and explore artistically by supporting yourself financially in a manner that doesn’t drain you of all of your creativity and time.”
Art Animal: Tell us about the Puppy Toss collective. Do you have any fond memories of that era that you’d like to share? What was the ’90s zine scene like?
Gabrielle Gamboa: The writer Landry Walker introduced me to the other members of the newly formed Puppy Toss collective. The purpose of the group was to collectively publish and distribute our work, but I’d say we also became a support group. In general, we were an idealistic bunch. We made an anthology, which we immediately opened up to artists outside of the group. We tabled at comics shows and appeared at signings in matching Puppy Toss logo shirts. We began distributing mini-comics, and then zines, through a pre-Internet mail-order catalog. We had a curatorial policy so loose that we became overwhelmed with submissions from everywhere, and the collective collapsed in on itself.
I have very fond memories of the early ’90s zine scene. Getting your zine or mini-comic listed in the quarterly Factsheet Five publication was exciting, because it was one of the few pre-Internet ways people could discover your publication. Zinesters were very supportive of each other. The first APE (Alternative Press Expo) was exciting, and it was much more like SF Zine Fest than like the behemoth it is now.
AA: Puppy Toss was a Berekely-based group, and I understand you often met at the old Comic Relief store, which is sadly gone now. Did you know the owner, Rory Root, well? How do you feel about what happened to Comic Relief?
GG: My ties to the Comic Relief store are deep. It served as a community center for East Bay cartoonists, Puppy Toss had several members who worked there, and I eventually worked there myself. I inherited the zine buyer position at the (now defunct) Haight Street location, which meant I got to meet zinesters passing through town selling their books, and I got to correspond with artists and writers from all over the world. I loved it.
Rory Root was very supportive of small press and local artists, and his store was a real labor of love. As a boss, he was a “quirky personality,” and often frustrating, but he was a great patron and true believer of the medium. He had a broad definition of what comics could be, and the breadth of his store reflected that, making it one of the absolute best in the country. It is a shame what happened to the store when he died. Everyone knew Rory had willed it to his most long-lived employee, under whose helm I have no doubt that Comic Relief would have regained its former glory. But when the Root family sold it, it seemed inevitable. “Nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy.”
AA: Your website shows a wide range of artistic styles. Would you say your work has changed over time, or do you adapt your style to the subject of the moment?
GG: Definitely both. I enjoy working in different modes and styles, but more importantly, I try to think of the suitability of each medium or style for the concept I’m trying to convey. Not every medium or style works well for every idea. A new series often means a shift of medium, technique and theme. On the other hand, the lack of an easily identifiable brand means I am not much of a financial success, so there’s that.
AA: You have quite a few roller derby themed drawings in your online gallery. Do you — or did you — skate in a roller derby yourself?
GG: I am far too clumsy to do roller derby. As a child I took skating lessons just long enough to be able to stay upright and come to a full stop. I made the roller derby drawings as a study of movement and power, particularly female power. It was a technical challenge to capture this in drawing, but also joyful because I got to imagine myself in their place. The works are also on a fairly large scale because I thought they should be monumental — I was thinking about history paintings as I made them.
AA: You’ve done illustration work for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, among other publications, and illustrated an interview with cartoonist Alison Bechdel about her stance on political cartoons. Do you enjoy working with politically charged material?
GG: I enjoy illustrating others’ politically charged material, but I don’t enjoy writing it. I am not confident that I could make my own politically charged work without it being ham-fisted or cliché. That is not a personal strength of mine.
AA: Your graphic novel Miss Lonelyhearts is an adaptation of a Nathanael West novel from the 1930s. What made you pick this material to adapt into comics?
GG: The novel is very dark look at the injustice and indignity of life, but it is also very funny. The cynicism in West’s work makes it read as if it were by a writer from my generation (Generation X), so I find it very easy to relate to.
AA: What made you decide to use parody versions of cartoon characters from the ’30s to illustrate Miss Lonelyhearts?
GG: In an interview, West said that he envisioned “the novel in the form of a comic strip,” as he wrote it. I have long loved newspaper comics from that era — one of my favorite memories is spending an afternoon reading a pile of gorgeous 1930s newspaper Sunday pages of Gasoline Alley strips at the late archivist Bill Blackbeard’s house. So when I came across this West quote, I wanted to make the writer’s thoughts resemble the comics world of that time.
AA: Your comics frequently feature music. What styles of music are most inspiring to you, and why?
GG: Coming from a working-class baby boomer family, rock and roll was the easiest music to come by, and I became obsessed with it as a kid. I also have family who worked in the country music industry. My dad loves free stuff, so that meant I grew up with an ear for the Bakersfield Sound. As a teenager, I discovered punk rock, and the whole punk DIY aesthetic that embraced music and art. Living near 924 Gilman was one of my criteria for choosing a college.
AA: What was the origin of your mini-comics about obscure Latino pop artists like Chris Montez?
GG: My father told me a story about how growing up in the 1950s, he and all of the other Mexican American kids in his neighborhood would (falsely) boast about being related to rocker Ritchie Valens. That got me interested in researching the history and obscurities of Chicano rock, and sharing what I find.
AA: Do you think zines and printed comics still have a future in the digital age? Or is print truly dying this time?
GG: I think that print zines and comics still have a future. People like tangible objects, so I think that unique and intimate publications with tiny or limited print runs will always be desired. It is affordable art that can be enjoyed and collected. The digital age has actually helped self-publishers by providing new means of distribution and advertising, and by making printing so much cheaper.
Gamboa is continuing work on Miss Lonelyhearts, and readers should look for the next issue soon. She also has a series of comics reviewing classic black-and-white horror films running at The Blog is Coming From Inside The House, and is working on a new graphic novel, a sort of a supernatural romance between two filmmakers in 1940s Los Angeles. Follow her on Tumblr or at www.gabriellegamboa.com.
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“Nothing ever goes away completely, it just changes form,” said Liz Mayorga, one of the current organizers of the small-press exposition, San Francisco Zine Fest. “Zines are important, not just because they’re an empowering outlet, but because they build communities. Though some zines will change into a digital presence, like blogs, you still need face-to-face interactions and trading zines is a good way to do that. The digital stuff has its strengths, but so does a physical book. It’s so satisfying to feel that personal connection to that little magazine in your hands.”
Now a writer and illustrator, Mayorga grew up in Southeast L.A. watching Mexican films, much of which became later inspiration for her comics.
“I spent my youth hanging out with my parents in their hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant,” she remembered. “My dad was a big film buff, so whenever we weren’t working, we’d watch classic black-and-white movies, anything from Charlie Chaplin to Pedro Infante. That was how I was first exposed to visual storytelling.”
An academically trained writer, Mayorga studied at the University of California at Berkeley for her BA in English and is currently attending the California College of the Arts for her Master’s degree.
She’s had her work published through traditional venues (her piece, “Mugwumps and Reptiles: A closer look at the Junkie Community in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch,” was published in the Berkeley MacNair Journal and pieces of her zines have been published in Atom Magazine), but most people have found her work through the zines themselves. Mayorga promotes herself and her work at live events such as Zine Fest and Latino Comics Expo, a testament to the power of print, even in today’s digital age.
Art Animal met with Mayorga at the Noche de Mujeres evening event — a celebration of Latina comic artists — at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, where she read an excerpt from her latest work, Monstrous Love Stories, and graciously answered our questions about her stories and craft.
Art Animal: What inspired you to first begin writing and creating art?
Liz Mayorga: I needed an outlet. I’m the youngest and the only girl in my family, and everyone was also a lot older than me, so I often felt like the pesky little sister who got in the way. Eventually, I learned to entertain myself -—mostly by watching TV, but I also read, and I was good at drawing, so I did that too. I kept journals, where I’d write and draw. It ended up being my way of understanding the world and having a voice.
AA: From your blog, it seems like you have a wide range of interests: comics, horror films, punk rock. How have all of these influenced your art or writing?
LM: Music has always been a big part of my life. My dad and I used to watch a lot of “Cine de Oro” [the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema] movies together, and there was always music in them. Music, dancing, comedy — you name it! Music, visual art, and storytelling worked together to make a passionate piece of art. Pedro Ifante’s voice would follow us where ever we went: at home, road trips and parties. And I always felt so happy listening to his songs because it felt like I was in a really fun play.
Punk has a lot of those same qualities: theater, music and visual art. And it was a better fit for me because even though I loved the more traditional aspects of Mexican popular culture, they felt limited. Not only did the characters in films feel like caricatures or hyperboles of male and female archetypes, but even musicians seemed to fit some of the Mexican stereotypes I disliked, like the macho who drinks his sorrows away, or the “good” self-sacrificing woman who gives up everything for her parents, husband and children. I wanted to challenge those ideas and punk allowed me to do so.
I always felt like a freak, like someone who never fit in anywhere, and I related to different subcultures as well as the monsters in novels, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I got into horror that way.
It also didn’t help that my grandma had the best scary stories! I used to love hearing about all of the haunted houses she lived in, or about distant relatives who ran into the devil after coming home from a heavy night of drinking and gambling. I loved being scared, nothing felt more intense or emotional than a good scary story. When I was in middle school and high school I was obsessed with The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. I blame my grandma’s ghost stories for these obsessions.
Since I’d never have the money to produce my own films, and since I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my creative projects, I took on to comics. All I need is ink and paper to make art that ties of all these interests together.
AA: How would you describe your style as a writer or artist?
LM: I’m dark and playful. I like to talk about conflict — things that make me feel uncomfortable — but I also like poking fun at those situations. Most of my work has a “becoming of age” element to it. They’re about overcoming hard situations. Humor is a necessary tool for survival. My work also comes from a feminist perspective. I like writing about people who don’t fit into labels.
AA: You’re currently attending the California College of the Arts. Can you describe your experience there? What made you choose this particular school?
LM: I love CCA, and I couldn’t have found a better school for me. At CCA I get to work with teachers who understand my strengths as a visual artist and a writer. I often feel like a weird hybrid because I draw and write and sometimes I get confused: Do I sketch this scene first, or do I write prose? I can see the story playing like a movie in my head, but in the initial stages, I struggle in bringing it to life.
AA: Can you tell us about your current project, the Monstrous Love Stories?
LM: [Laughs] Yes. I’ve never been boy crazy. My comfort zone is being “one of the guys” or the “little sister,” so love affairs are strange and foreign realms for me. But I still push myself to date. While on dates I realized I experienced the same emotions I feel while watching horror movies: nervousness, sweaty hands, anxiety, and I dread the small talk. Every now and then, I really like a guy, and then I experience fear -— fear of rejection and fear of being vulnerable. In order to cope with this, I started writing stories about monsters on dates. It ended up adding enough light and humor to these situations to help me through them.
That’s how I came up with my Monstrous Love Stories comic. The first story was personal, the rest turned out to be fiction, but this whole project turned out to be a lot darker than I first expected. Ultimately, it still makes sense to me. If you survive that first horrible heartbreak, it feels like you can live through anything. Heartbreak is one hell of a monster.
AA: Your story “Bitter Wine” compares your main character Isabel’s thoughts on love and humanity to hunger. What was the origin of this idea?
LM: We all want to love and be loved. There is a huge hunger for that. But I think that before we can settle into a good romance, we need to learn to love ourselves. I’ve seen a lot of people grow bitter because of a few rejections, and it’s a sad thing to witness. It’s like they’re looking for someone to value them in order to value themselves, and no one can do that for you.
AA: Do you start with words or images when creating your comic stories?
LM: I begin with a story. In my head the story plays through images, but I try to describe those images with words first. I edit the story as much as I can, and then I start to draw thumbnails or sketches. Sometimes drawing informs the story even more, or helps me understand it in a better way, and I have to go back to change a few things to my prose. In the end, words are easier to edit than pages and pages of illustrated scenes.
AA: Do you collaborate with others when creating your works, or do you typically do everything yourself?
LM: Up until now I have worked alone. I like having full control of everything — images, words, creative vision. But that’s not to say that I won’t collaborate with others in the future. Right now, I’m focusing on telling my stories, only because I haven’t had a chance to invest this much time into them until now.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
LM: It’s so easy to become complacent and give up on your dreams, but you just keep going (for the sake of your happiness). Surround yourself by good, positive people who will support your love for art, but who will also challenge you to grow. No one is born a genius, except for a handful of people, and we can all name way more artists than that, so just have fun doing what you love.
Follow Liz Mayorga’s latest publication news at www.spunkycatcomix.com.
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A skull-headed woman in a high-necked gown cries through the cracked eye socket where she just shot herself. A bright pink bunny slumps like a despondent teenager, surrounded by depressing swirls of gray. Winged hearts crack open, spilling objects like blood: timepieces, coins, cakes, architecture and sculpture — images that suggest both pleasure and pain.
Veronica Schaible’s artwork reflect both pain and whimsy. They’re personal works: raw and vivid and filled with emotion and color. Her latest, a series of sculpted masks, evoke some of her earliest memories of art in her family home — a welcome return to her roots after a difficult few years trying to rediscover her identity as an artist.
The youngest of four children, Schaible grew up in Southern California, drawing on notebook paper until the family’s stock was all gone.
“At a very young age, when someone asked me what I wanted to be, it was either a) an artist or b) a paleontologist,” Schaible laughed.
She ended up choosing art, drawn from evocative material such as the Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” celebrations and other motifs from Mexican culture as well as Native American work, from jewelry to war paint.
“My mom is quarter Cherokee, and there was always Native American artwork around the house,” she said. “Not like a bunch of dream catchers or feathers everywhere, but looking back, I definitely remember the prints and my uncle’s sculptures being Native/Mesoamerican.”
An aunt, who taught ceramics classes out of her studio in Topanga Canyon, exposed her to sculpture.
“I think [my aunt’s] ability to teach a broad range of ages how to keep their creativity while still creating solid pieces was a gigantic blessing because most art teachers I’ve encountered sacrifice one for the other,” Schaible said.
She started to pursue art seriously after a stint at Fullerton Community College, where she met artist Justin Sweet, who was an Artist in Residence at the time.
“I was watching him paint in oil this book cover that was already past the deadline and I just felt, I don’t know, a click, or like something was switched on,” Schaible said. “I thought, ‘God, I really want to be able to do that.’ It was definitely a religious experience.”
Unfortunately, Schaible’s own formal art training was less fulfilling. A 2009 graduate of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, she found herself disillusioned by a changing art market and a skill set that already felt out of date.
“I can draw and paint in various mediums but where the industry was going and where my portfolio was at the time were worlds apart,” she said.
After graduation, she didn’t draw or paint for nearly a year, and it wasn’t until she started sharing studio space with a former instructor who lived in her neighborhood that she became excited to create again.
“The charge was back,” she said. “I could be silly in my paintings or concepts and there was no critique. I finally stopped worrying about the critique from everyone else and let all the education I had acquired take over without any real thought. I can critique my pieces now and not feel a sense of doom because I own my pieces, I do something and there is a purpose behind it. People may not agree with or like it, but that’s why it’s mine.”
Quoting actor Gary Oldman, who she calls “a consummate artist,” she offered what could well be a motto for her current approach to her work: “What others think of me is none of my business.”
Art Animal: What draws you to sculpture? What’s the appeal of working in three dimensions as opposed to painting?
Veronica Schaible: It’s very tactile. I like creating space and form in that way. Also, and I’m not speaking of Industrial design, but sculpture is the only visual art that doesn’t have a digital replacement. You can digitally paint what a sculpture looks like but it’s still just a painting.
AA: Can you tell us your current interest in masks?
VS: It stems from my love of Iroquois masks, totem poles, masquerade masks, face paint. Really, a way to hide the face people know with one they don’t. Masks have power, they are freeing, empowering. I think of Mayan culture and the sacrificial masks, war paint, Iroquois masks or to be more current, Halloween masks. The power and freedom comes from the mask so you can be completely frightening, intimidating, angelic, mischievous. You become someone or something else, and harness all the things you want and are to afraid to with your naked face.
AA: Would you say that you have particular topics or themes that you always return to in your artworks?
VS: I seem to always put a skull or something skeletal in my pieces. Some have said I have an obsession with death, which I guess is partially true, but how can you forget, really, that this is all extremely temporary?
I return a lot to change, impermanence, pain. I had a pretty rough start to life, so I think I’m always in some form or fashion returning to my concept of pain and change. It’s important, and people as a whole run from experiencing it, like it’s el cucuy (the boogeyman). Pain is the main agent of radical change. I find it absurd, this dance society does around pain, ignoring those mired in it, pretending that if you experience anything other than contentedness, happiness, being pleasant, then you’re a weirdo or a whiner.
AA: What are you working on these days? What are you excited about?
VS: I’m excited to finish up “Prolapse Murmur,” a large painting that has become one of my favorites. There’s also a new mask piece that I actually want to be able to wear, unlike “Transition,” which is too heavy and uncomfortable to wear. I’m mostly excited about how I feel. This is the first time in too many years I feel hopeful for an actual future in art.
AA: You’ve also worked in an art gallery. What did you learn from that experience?
VS: Galleries take risks with artists and artists take risks with galleries. They may not sell any of an artist’s work and it’s not the price point or the craftsmanship. It can be as simple as location and finding a niche market. Also, it’s a large financial risk, especially if you don’t have a buyer list or a location with heavy traffic.
AA: What do you think about illustration as a career? Has the digital age made life easier or harder for illustrators?
VS: The digital age, overall, in my opinion, has made it easier for bad design to overwhelm the market and lacks feeling. You can tell when most pieces are digital — speaking specifically when someone is painting in Painter or Photoshop for painting purposes. It’s sad because there is something lost in translation. I don’t know. For all the advantages of digital, the largest drawback for me is when files or layers disappear, systems crash or the computer dies. The work is just gone. Gone! It is so heartbreaking when you put so many hours and something you love and care for and it’s disappeared in some sort of evil magic. I think unless you have a special understanding of digital painting and own what you do, you should just stick to the physical realm.
AA: How are you developing your skills and building a career post-graduation?
VS: My career as it is has taken a huge back seat to my financial circumstances, which have been extremely depressing for me for the past three years; but things are turning around. I feel the sun peeking through all the thick clouds.
I’m finishing up a body of work that focuses on and deconstructs what the heart means. It’s become a very one-dimensional symbol but it’s so much more and means so much more to me. Plus, I’ve gotten back into sculpting, so I’m hoping to market a show with both paintings and sculptures to galleries soon.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as an artist?
VS: Do your research on art schools. Explore whatever you want, how you want and don’t think too hard about it. You know more than you think you do.
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A wild-eyed character taking an ax to his coffee machine is the opening image of Crystal Gonzalez’s comic book In the Dark. It’s actually one of the calmer moments in the story, which features the demon embodiments of Sin, Gluttony and Death. Toothy monsters burst through floors, worms invade a Starbucks and Sin makes an unpleasant roommate for a cursed human named Fibble.
The comic is the result of a unique combination—Gonzalez’s love of cartoons and her studies in philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“These classes were a big inspiration to my comics and even my paintings,” she explained. “I realized that most ideas that are considered ‘universal,’ like the concept of love, are debated and we can’t seem to find a common definition, because every culture has its own expression that is not valued or judged the same.”
But at the same time, she recognized that nearly every world religion had its own concept of sin, and she developed her ambitious story for In the Dark based on a theory she’d formed while working on a thesis paper on the subject.
“The main story for In The Dark has a lot to do with this idea, and how Sin and Fibble will encounter Hell and its citizens and have various effects on its structure,” Gonzalez said. “On the other hand, the work also has demons drink coffee, watch TV, question the validity of fortune cookies and reject using GPS systems for the old-school method of drinking blood that a bird throws up on the floor. So it’s not all as serious as the underlying layers behind it all!”
A lifelong artist who drew her first comic strips at ten and made her first animation at twelve – drawing with a mouse on a DOS bit-matrix program for a 75 MHz computer – Gonzalez has taken the next step with her story and begun adapting In the Dark into animated shorts created in Adobe Flash, with voice actors Mike Joseph as Fibble and Richard Garner as Sin.
“It’s a slow process but such a joy to see my characters come to life every time I press play and watch them talking and moving for real. Not to mention it allows me the freedom to do smaller stories about Fibble and Sin that wouldn’t fit into the context of the larger story arc of the comics.”
Art Animal had the chance to talk with Gonzalez about her comics and her wonderfully dark sense of humor.
Crystal Gonzalez: My first influences were definitely from cartoons. When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, my parents had a black-and-white TV with no cable, and I would watch a stack of one-dollar VHS tapes which had nothing but old black-and-white cartoons from the 1920s and ’30s featuring characters like Felix the Cat, Popeye, Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Betty Boop. I’d watch them on repeat over and over, drawing and creating my own set of characters and worlds that stemmed from these old cartoons, and these cartoons were uncensored. The cartoons of those times were not meant for kids, as they would play in theaters for adult audiences in between the daily newsreels of the time. So I drew a bunch of characters being shot, stabbed, hit with mallets, and laughed at the perverse jokes of Betty Boop being fondled and risqué symbolisms that peppered these classic cartoons, and I drew lots of monsters and creatures that didn’t exist.
Needless to say, they were stark contrasts to my peers who were drawing Care Bears and My Little Pony at the time. Of course I was reprimanded in school for drawing dead cows and violent monsters on my schoolwork, but it didn’t stop me. [Laughs.]
AA: The imagery of your comics and paintings is often very dark and horrific, but there’s a comic sensibility to it too. How would you describe your sense of humor?
CG: I think my sense of humor can be a little warped at times but then again I have an affinity for the offbeat and macabre. So what I find “funny” and what others find “horrifying” varies from person to person. [Laughs.] However, one thing I do take some care with when making my artwork is trying to balance that level of humor and dark without offending people, since that’s never my intention. For example, there is only as much violence and scary imagery as I need to put in to convey the story and build the settings or underlying meanings as it calls for it.
It’s interesting to note that scientists have a theory that laughter was once a method of releasing anxiety in scary situations, like when our ancestors met a predator. In my art, you probably do a lot of that kind of laughing with a mixture of slapstick and cartoonish elements combined as well. [Laughs.]
CG: When doing a comic there is the opportunity to tell a larger story over the course of many drawings, and there is dialogue, timing, narrative that needs to be addressed into a whole book of artwork. It also it requires a one-on-one with the author and the reader and the reader must be actively engaged to find out what’s the story about. Paintings don’t necessarily need to be completely understood and don’t need to all make as much sense. You can play within the field, but you are also restricted to having one big picture in which to say what you want or lay down your ideas and the viewer himself can be more passive with the work if she or he chooses not to look deeper into the underlying meanings you are presenting in the paint.
AA: What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps as a cartoonist or animator?
CG: Keep your imagination fresh and your passion strong. Learn and allow critique and grow from your art and take in your interests and use them to make something that’s uniquely you. Don’t be discouraged if it seems like no one has interest in your work. If you keep at it, then you can find your audience and there always is one (even if it might be small). Save money and plan how to use it properly to get your animations out there or comics out there. If you want start small, make little zines or test the water online and post comics and shorts to see how people take it. Don’t be afraid to take the first steps toward what you want to be because no one is waiting for you do to it.
Crystal Gonzalez’s paintings can be viewed at crystalgonzalez.cleanfolio.com and her continuing blog for In the Dark can be found at inthedarkcomic.blogspot.com. In the Dark is currently available for purchase at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, The Galería de la Raza’s Latino arts gallery or online at inthedark.bigcartel.com, along with mini-comics, stickers and T-shirts. The animation for In the Dark can be viewed at www.newgrounds.com.
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