READING THE FINE PRINT WITH NOCAZ

ANTIGRAVITY-NOVEMBER-2017-NOCAZ-HEADER-Adrienne-Battistella
Published  November 2017

 


The hardest part about making comics is the tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into making them, versus the very short amount of time people take to read them. It’s truly hard to watch!

Ready your bookshelves, prepare your personal libraries! The fourth annual New Orleans Comics and Zine Festival is nigh! This free, two-day event brings together DIY publishers, writers, illustrators, and genre-defying creative minds from all over the country to share zines, comics, and other printed ephemera, all within the spacious expanse of the New Orleans Public Library, Main Branch. NOCAZ organizers, a small but dedicated bunch, seek to curate an event that foregoes the usual trappings (and expense) of industry-driven fests, applying inclusive and community-minded values to every facet of its production. “We again explicitly asked our tablers to not use Airbnb because of how it has negatively impacted affordable housing in New Orleans,” says co-organizer Ash Bayer. “I got to play housing matchmaker so no one had to resort to that destructive platform.” We reached out to several of this year’s presenters about their work and the culture of comics and zines. Between these featured artists and the dozens of other tablers that will take to the Main Branch this November, the NOCAZ organizers hope presenters and attendees alike find the same spark of inspiration they experienced themselves upon discovering the world of DIY publishing. As co-organizer (and ANTIGRAVITY contributor) Erin K. Wilson puts it, “Zine culture dragged me up out of the depths, and placed me where I am now—the sanest I’ve ever been.”


BREENA NUÑEZ

Oakland, California-based Breena Nuñez is a self-described “nerdy person of color” who’s been self-publishing since 2013. She is currently developing a series of projects that focuses on exploring and embracing her Central American identity.

How would you describe your work, and what made you start?
The work I do is pretty centered around identity and sharing my stories of how it feels like to be a weirdo Central American person. I began making zines with some homegirls and then eventually gained the confidence to dive into perzines. Women of color, punks, comic books, and queer folks inspired me to own my voice as an artist and to create comics that you might not always get to see shelved in a bookstore.

What is the hardest part of the work, and what’s the most fun?
I think the hardest part of making zines and comics is not letting your inner bully take over your confidence as an artist. I have the tendency to be pretty hard on myself when I think I’m not drawing or writing enough. Maybe those thoughts come from a place where I was raised by a single mother who pretty much did it all to make sure we survived and lived comfortably as a family. But what gives me comfort is the inking process. I get a natural high from seeing these little doodles being brought to life.

RUTH EX

Ruth Ex is an illustrator and designer living in New Orleans. Their most recent project, published by Antenna, is a comic book called The Ballad of Homosexual Entropy which will make its debut at this year’s NOCAZ.

ANTIGRAVITY-NOVEMBER-2017-NOCAZ-Ballad-of-Homosexual-Entropy-by-RUTH-EXHow would you describe your work, and what made you start?
I started making (bad) personal zines as a teenager, which eventually evolved into making my own comics. Most recently I have been more focused on doing illustrations for other people (whether it is designing t-shirts, logos, tattoos, or flyers). I really like doing this applied kind of art where I have to closely work with someone else and surrender my ego. I’m endlessly interested by the way visual information can be arranged to convey a message. Graphic design is often times almost invisible or ambient in that you tend to only notice it when it is really bad or really satisfying. I am fascinated by all the effort that goes into this imagery that most people tend to ignore. It’s the visual soundtrack to our late capitalist hellscape slowly burning to the ground.

How long have you been at it, and do you see it as a long-term project?
Drawing is very therapeutic and meditative for me so it is always going to be a part of my life in one way or another. I started self-publishing my own comics about eight years ago and I actually do not see that as being an ongoing project. I really don’t even know if I will make another comic after this one I just completed. Who knows? I will always be drawing though, because it really soothes my mind and helps me access a deep well of unconscious imagery.

What is the hardest part of the work?
I think the hardest part about making comics is the tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into making them, versus the very short amount of time people take to read them. It’s truly hard to watch! It’s also very time-consuming and expensive keeping books in print. I’m very grateful that Antenna published my most recent work. It was a project that would have remained unfinished indefinitely had they not given me the opportunity to fully realize it.

Are there other zines that particularly inspire you?
Some contemporary comics that really inspire me are Heather Benjamin’s Sad Sex series. I actually felt a strong physical revulsion the first time I saw it, which I have come to understand meant she was tapping into something really honest and scary. Coma Deep by Brigid Deacon is totally brilliant. I really like my friend Jocine’s writing and collages in her zine Bad Skin at The Club Subaltern. Honestly, my biggest inspiration are the illustrations (whether in comics or advertisements) that are spread throughout the pages of old gay porn magazines. Truly some amazing, unsung artists were working for these publications.

M GONZALES

M Gonzales is based in San Antonio, Texas, where he goes by the tag Mothboy1996 and is an active participant in the fast-growing San Antonio zine scene. He draws inspiration from the work of cartoonists Phoebe Gloeckner and Aline Kominsky, and most recently put out a comics compilation called Crossed Wires. His favorite color is yellow ochre.

ANTIGRAVITY-NOVEMBER-2017-NOCAZ-1-M-GONZALEZHow would you describe your work, and what made you start?
In ancient Egypt, it was widely believed that many common ailments could be treated by using a technique called bloodletting, in which a doctor would use a sharp implement to open up a vein in the arm or neck of their patient and allow the patient to bleed into a bowl. While my artistic process is much less gruesome, I find the practice to be very similar. Using a pen, I am able to open up the most vulnerable parts of myself in the form of illustration, which allows me to “bleed” my trauma onto a page and contain it for good within the panels of a comic book. Comics are largely something that I do for my own healing, but I find that they can actually help other people struggling with similar experiences. There exists very little to no representation that I feel suits me—let alone the deeply personal and painful experiences that I seek to express through my work. So, in a way, this lack of representation has forced me to create my own space to exist in and also has pushed me to share my work with other people, so that a space is made available for us to heal together.

Is there a larger conversation you set out to change or add to?
I am excited to see younger and younger people growing up thinking about the world through an identity-focused lens—something I never did until I was older. I’m happy to see so many zines shedding a spotlight on various specific marginalized groups such as trans artists, Black artists, gay Hispanic artists, gender variant poc, trans lesbian artists, so on and so forth. While it is all very exciting to see everyone being acknowledged and represented, I personally seek to create something that caters to no specific group while also maintaining a sensitivity and innate understanding of marginalized experiences. In simpler terms: I do not want to pigeonhole myself or my audience into any particular identity label. I want people to be able to see that not only is identity endlessly complex and unique to each individual, but also that all individual experiences are little threads in the fabric of the human experience.

ANTIGRAVITY-NOVEMBER-2017-NOCAZ-2-M-GONZALEZHow long have you been at it, and do you see it as a long-term project?
My mom says that as a toddler, my drawings never looked like your typical “sun in the corner of the page with the stick family holding hands in the foreground.” She says that my pages were always full of a million tiny drawings—similar to what a page of comics might look like. I personally remember drawing my very first comic series in the fourth grade, which was a collection of short strips on notebook paper that featured a flower character who loved to eat oily foods and died from heart failure at the end of each strip. I was an extremely shy kid, so I never shared them with my classmates. But these comics served their purpose as something I could be proud of myself for. I suppose the common theme throughout my lifetime of work is that I have always drawn comics for myself first, and sharing with others has always been secondary.

ZORA AND SHANA GRIFFIN

Zora and Shana griffin are the mother-daughter dynamic duo from New Orleans responsible for the enterprise Zora and Me, which encompasses projects as diverse as a feminist robot zine and designing merchandise—everything from t-shirts to board games—to empower young women. While they love getting to work on this ever-expanding endeavor, they face the unusual challenge of having to fit it around seven-year-old Zora’s busy schedule of school, violin, ballet, and gymnastics classes.

How would you describe your work, and what made you start?
Shana: We started as a result of Zora’s curiosity about my research and activism, which is rooted in Black feminist theory, praxes, organizing traditions, and geographic thought. Zora is named after writer, folklorist, anthropologist, ethnographer, and feminist Zora Neale Hurston—so this project is very special to us, as we see ourselves as part of Hurston’s feminist methodological tradition of inquiry and commitment to documenting Black life.

How long have you been at it, and do you see it as a long-term project?
Shana: We started a summer project about three years ago, with me teaching Zora the names and contributions of Black feminist writers, theorists, artists, singers, scientists, and activists. The project evolved and led to the formation of Zora and Zora. After attending the New Orleans Comics and Zine Festival with her father, DJ Brice Nice, last year, Zora was inspired to create a feminist robot zine for this year’s Festival.

What is the hardest part of the work, and what’s the most fun?
Shana: We would say the hardest part is completing our projects, as they never feel complete. I would say the most fun part is creating art and learning opportunities with my seven-year-old daughter!
Zora: The hardest part is to trying to do a lot at once, but the most fun part is creating my new zine!

What are you most looking forward to about NOCAZ this year?
Shana: We are looking forward to debuting our posters, postcards, buttons, and Zora’s new zine; and connecting with other zine makers… as well as adding some new zines to our collection!
Zora: I’m looking forward to checking out other zines and comparing them to what I made and how the authors use their imaginations.

ANJLE LATIHA C.

This New Orleans-based writer and artist is a graduate of Loyola’s College of Music and Fine Arts, and will be presenting her comic Apple Poe and zine series Ecdysis. Making comics and zines for over a decade, Anjle has gravitated towards work which promotes health and healing.

How would you describe your work, and what made you start?
No matter what I’m working on, it always ends up reflecting what I’m processing at the time— whatever I’m learning, however I’m growing. So my work usually ends up really personal, focusing on relationships, things I find beautiful or inspiring, or just important, really.

As a writer and illustrator, is it easy to balance those two sides of your creative personality?
This is a funny question for reasons I’m not totally comfortable explaining in full. Basically, I used to section myself off mentally—my writer brain wouldn’t talk to my draw-er brain; and neither would talk to my interacts-with-strangers brain. So not a lot was cohesive (in personal life and in my work). I’ve worked specifically on this for a few years, and therapy as well as insight from other artists has helped me be OK with wearing many hats. Having different interests and creative endeavors makes me happy. It’s not necessarily the “proper way” of doing things, but that idea is BS anyway.

Is there a larger conversation you set out to change or add to?
I’m really passionate about biology and health, so: sex education, entomology, relationship health, communication, mental health, education about abuse and trauma, etc. I’m very much a product of my environment in that way. I’m also obsessed with fairy tales because a lot of them are allegories for overcoming and escaping abuse.

How long have you been at it, and do you see it as a long-term project?
I’ve been making stories and comics and zines for over a decade, but didn’t know that’s what I was doing, per se. I’ve been making them intentionally for a little over a year, and I learn more with every new project. This is definitely a long term endeavor because it feeds my soul.

What is the hardest part of the work, and what’s the most fun?
The hardest thing is being neutral about my development as a writer and artist. To be able to overcome the cognitive dissonance of being proud of your work and wanting to go further and become better. The most fun thing is hearing from people once I’ve shared something I’ve worked on. If something made you cry, if something helped you through a rough day, I want to know about it. That’s a big part of why I make stuff. Because the work of other people gets me by. I want to contribute to that.

What makes a zine a zine?
Where it’s coming from, that it needed to be said or shared in some way. That it’s indie and individual and independent of corporate agendas. (That sounded really stuffy.) Small print runs, big impact. I don’t know. Authenticity and kindness are important to me in zines.

The New Orleans Comics and Zine Festival takes place on Saturday, November 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, November 19 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library (219 Loyola Ave.). The afterparty will be at Siberia on Saturday, November 18 featuring Softie, Vile Bodies, Woof, and more. For more info or to volunteer, visit nocazfest.com


Feature image Adrienne Battistella

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