By Haley Hadge
A panel discussion with comic artists Pepita Sandwich, Quan Zhou, and Power Paola, sponsored by Arts & Ideas, the Art and Music Department, and the Council for Diversity and Inclusion, was held via Zoom Sept. 29.
Joanne Britland, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, hosted the event.
Britland said it was a “privilege” to have the panelists “unite for this conversation,” and share their perspectives as individuals from different “geographical areas and cultures in the Hispanic world.”
Sandwich, an Argentinian digital artist and graphic novelist, called in by Zoom from Brooklyn.
She has published two graphic novels, “Las Mujeres Mueven Montañas,” (“Women Move Mountains,”) and “Diario De Super Vivencia.”
Sandwich collaborates with The Washington Post and The New Yorker by creating visual essays. She said her focus for these stories is nostalgia, diversity, identity, and intersectional feminism.
Zhou, an author, illustrator, and graphic novelist, joined the meeting by Zoom from Madrid. She publishes articles in Vogue and gives presentations on identity and racism at conferences around the world.
Her most recent publication is a graphic essay titled “Gente de aquí, gente de allí”
Zhou said she knew she “wanted to tell a story,” but it took time for her to embrace the “universal language” of visual art.
She said she channeled her own origin story into her artwork – growing up in rural China watching her family “struggle to make a living.”
She added this made it challenging to choose a career fueled by passion.
She currently works at a Spanish version of Vogue. She said she enjoys the versatility that this “fashionable” multi-media company allows her storytelling to exist in – written and visual form.
Paola is a Colombian-Ecuadorian artist, illustrator, and cartoonist focusing on sexuallity, feminism, family, and personal identity.
She studied in Columbia and uses her art to reflect on her daily life.
Paola said she has always tried to work with other people and curate a “dialogue” with different artists.
According to Paola, the only “respectable” gallery in Medellín, Colombia did not accept female submissions.
She said she and six of her colleagues opened their own space to showcase the talents of marginalized groups – therefore honoring them through the creation of space they are deserving of.
Paola said many of her ideas, “were born in this space.” Therefore, directly counteracting the walls of inequity that would otherwise unjustly stunt their growth as artists.
She added she emerged into her career in comics when studying abroad in France. Eager to learn the language of the culture she was immersed in, comics became her language tutor.
She said although she didn’t realize it then, the nature of her research and work “was always about narrative,” and lent itself to the comic structure.
“With comics … I feel like [I’m] communicating with the reader,” she said.
Paola said her time in France marked the beginning of an “exploration and experimentation with text and images.”
She added once she began working with this medium, she wondered what the human mind’s response to this melding of image and text could mean.
When she worked in a kitchen in Sydney for two years, creating comics introduced a lighter tone to the darkness she said she was feeling in her life as she struggled to acclimate to the new environment.
She added this outlet of self-expression helped her re-orient herself in relation to her goals.
“I felt very depressed in that moment of my life. The comics helped me to make fun of myself,” she said.
Paola added, the solace of sisterhood she found in other female comics was integral to disrupt the male dominated field. She said she joined “Chicks on Comics,” “a dialogue device,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
Sandwich, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, said her mother and grandmother were integral influences throughout her developmental years.
She added her mom is an art historian, so she grew up in a house filled with literature pertaining to art.
She said, “My grandmother was a big inspiration in my life.”
Sandwich’s grandmother wrote children’s books and introduced her to the artististic scene. She said she would bring her to museums after school as a child and encourage her to explore. She “shaped” her future endeavours as an artist.
Growing up with four brothers, Sandwich said she found refuge within herself via drawing. She described this space of peace as her “own world.
“I need that time to reconnect with some of my internal feelings,” she added.
She said artistic expression has always helped her form a deeper connection with the world around her.
“I could never picture myself as an illustrator,” she said. “This is why representation is so important, to see people like you doing the things that you never imagined yourself doing.”
She earned a scholarship to study photography in Italy and said she never imagined illustration as a career until she got to Sweden.
“I started sneaking into the illustration classes.
“I used my sketchbook as a diary … as therapy,” as something she could immerse herself into.
She earned her master’s in Vermont and said while studying there, she would spend her free time in nature.
After going to the top of Mount Washington, she said she learned about a woman who had climbed the mountain at age 82.
Sandwich said this inspired her to create her first non-fiction comic, “Women Move Mountains.”
Sandwich concluded she is currently constructing visual essays for The Lilly News, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker.
Zhou said she is focused on “highlighting Hispanic stories in the U.S., and trying to make space for those voices that have been historically underrepresented.”
She added, “Expressing your feelings has healing power.”
She said comics are effective at approaching difficult subjects with a touch of humor. She has found that this approach allows her to be “more open to discuss and reflect,” allowing her to ignite necessary discourse.
Zhou added this allows these vital social justice causes to have a platform for discussion without those engaged in the conversation becoming too bogged down and stuck “dwelling.”
She said, “Here in the U.S., a lot of people that don’t speak English, rely on comics” to stay updated on current events.
All three panelists shared the sentiment that comic art is no longer just a “white man’s world.
“Anyone can do comics,” Zhou said. All you need is “paper and a pencil.”