Published on August 22nd, 2012 | by Julie Davis0
Interview with Comic Artist Crystal Gonzalez
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.