Published on September 5th, 2012 | by Julie Davis0
Interview with Zine Writer Liz Mayorga
“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.