Monday, 11 August 2014

Interview: Inés Estrada: 'The only person I try to please is myself'

Interviews aren't my strong suit. I persevere, because I want to improve and it gives me a direct opportunity to engage with some of the artists whose work I respect and admire the most, who intrigue and interest me. Which is to say: I hope the minimum you take away from this piece is to visit Inés Estrada's site, buy her work, and see for yourself what an exceptional artist she is. Estrada has been making comics and illustration since she was a teen, setting up her online store Gatosaurio, where she sells her hugely popular stickers and zines, along with the work of other Mexican artists aside her own. Gatosaurio also serves as a distro for comics and collaborative work by Canadian and North American artists. She creates comics for Vice Mexcio, in addition to writing reviews in a weekly column for the magazine.

I can't remember the first time I came across Estrada's work, but I do remember that she was the first artist whose work I loved enough to buy original art from- a practice I'd sworn off entering. Estrada's comics and illustrations manage to do several things together that make her work stand-out: blend aesthetic appeal with substantive depth, attractive and visceral (a lot of messy sex and body horror),  it's modern but timeless: it speaks to a particular 20-30 age group, but isn't limiting. Much of what makes Estrada's work so good -as evidenced by this interview- has to do with the passion and enjoyment that is imbued in it, which I think really transmutes to the reader- it's great work, but it connects too. And her colouring is out of this world- humming with life. Her abilities are wide-ranging- she is one of those artists who seem to be able to turn their hand to various mediums and practices and do well at each- and if you doubt the veracity of any of the statements in this introduction, a simple visit and browse of her website should make all clear. I'm glad and grateful for her time in answering my questions.

You can find her website here, her Tumblr here, and the fabulous Gatosaurio here.

How and when did you first get into comics? Are they something you've always read and been interested in?

Yeah, comics and cartoons have fascinated me ever since I can remember. When I was a kid I had a big collection of shitty mexican comics, Woody Woodpecker and Tom & Jerry were my favorites. The editions I read were "licensed", but they were made in Mexico. They were badly drawn and the stories were kind of weird, with a lot of the endings having them eating tacos. I loved them.
I was also obsessed with anime, the first ones I remember watching were the Knights of the Zodiac and the Moomins.

What was it about comics that drew/interested you?

I don't know! I just really like how cartoons look and also the idea of how they can represent real things but at the same time are part of this other world in which anything can happen.

When did you first start making comics? And how did that transition into making comics as a career?

I've always been drawing and writing stories, but I didn't really start putting the two together until I was in high school. I guess I kind of forced it into being a career just because I couldn't be doing anything else for a living.

You've been running Gatosaurio for almost 7 years now. What was the aim, or thinking behind it when you first launched? Has that changed and evolved over the years, and if so how?

The intention has always been to spread my work and try to make some money out of it. I started making stickers when I was in high school as a way of getting money for drinking. When my friends asked me if I wanted to go get some beers I'd be like "Ok, give me 15 minutes" and went around the school selling stickers until I gathered enough money. I had a LiveJournal blog at the time and started selling them online through it as well. 

Later on I had a boyfriend with whom I collaborated a lot, and formed this collective called Café con Leche. I made a webshop for it with the same name, were I was selling my stuff as well as the things we were doing together. In 2012 we broke up and I changed the name of the webshop to Gatosaurio. 

Throughout the years, it grew from being something to make beer money into paying my rent. But it's still mostly something I'm doing by myself at home and through the internet. I also attend different book fairs and comic festivals. It's a way for me to distribute not only my own work, but also the work from other people from Mexico who are also making zines and comics. I'm glad I'm making good money out of it right now, but it's still a project that is absolutely directed by my own taste and interests. I wouldn't compromise that even if I ever stop making money out of it.

There's been some recent discussion about balancing art and business, which when you talked about not compromising your art, I was reminded of. What are your objectives? Do you have an audience in mind, and think about salability, or does that come second -after production?

I make art because I need to, it's something I do for fun and also for release. If people like it, that's very rewarding,  but in the end the only person I try to please with it is myself. I love the idea of making money out of what I do (and I'm lucky to be able to) but I don't plan my comics considering my audience as customers. I feel like, for me, it's mostly worked out not because I think "I should do shit that sells" but more like "How do I sell this shit I just did?!"

As well as being an artist, you're also a critic. Do you feel that the two inform each other, and if so, in what ways? I guess another question is why you critique/review- what impulse or purpose it serves?

Both my critique and my own work come mostly from impulsive thoughts, which I try to organize and analyze to a certain extent, but as their intention is mostly of release, I try not to dwell too much on them and just let them serve their purpose. I consider myself more of an artist, though, so I don't really take myself too seriously as a critic.

You've been reviewing for a while- how do you approach that? One of the things I've found is that I used to read a lot wider than I do now; I find myself retreating to my comfort areas. or books I know I'm likely to enjoy, simply because I don't have the time to read for pleasure and for reviewing separately. How do you do it?

I didn't really approach writing by choice, but now it has become something that I really enjoy doing. I've been working sporadically for Vice since 2006, but it wasn't until 2010 that they opened their branch in Mexico and they offered me to do a weekly column about comics. They wanted me to publish comics, but they also asked me to write about them. At first I didn't want to do that, so I didn't for the most part, but I gradually started doing it more and more, and I started liking it.

I don't know if specifically writing about comics has changed my reading. I never read anything specifically with reviewing in mind, but if I feel like I have something to say about it, I'll review it.

You do so much- make your own comics and art, collaborate with other artists, manage a lot of projects, run Gatosaurio, write reviews- how do you manage your time effectively, in order to fit everything in? 

This is a question I ask myself all the time. I feel like I have a bad perception of time so I try to be organized and mark deadlines in my calendar. I can be working maniacally for 3 days without getting out of my house, but I can also spend the same amount of days just hanging out with my friends. I also often am both working and hanging out, and will be cutting stickers while I'm watching a movie with them. I try to have a work schedule, but I don't really, so I'm usually end up into those states of either working for days or not doing anything for a week. But I guess my perception might be a bit askew, since my friends always tell me that if I manage to do everything is because I am organized. 

What is that you as an artist get out of collaboration and publishing other people's work? I know it's your business and believe some of it supports you financially, but it's clear from the things you put out and the people you work and have worked with, that you're pretty passionate about it. What do you get out of it?

Yeah, there is a potential financial gain to it, but it's never something immediate so I don't really do any publication project with that in mind. The motivation for me is mostly to spread the work of artists that might be not so well known, or that aren't as good at distributing their own work as they are at making it. I also like the idea of books as desirable objects of possession. When I find a book that interests me, it is usually not only because of its content, but also because of how it is made. So for me, it is a pleasure working on the design aspect as well.

One of the things I'm always impressed by your work is what you managed to achieve with colour- making it so integral to the art, giving it a life and vibrancy. Is it stupid to ask how the hell you do that?! Even with watercolours! What's the process- is it intuitive or more deliberately considered?

Thank you! First off, I always consider how whatever I'm working on is going to be printed. If it's going to be photocopies, duotone risograph, full colour offset, or whatever else, that's the first thing I need to know. Once I've figured out how to approach the technicalities of colour, my process is very intuitive (or as I said before, impulsive). Colouring comes easier to me than drawing. It's a less conscious effort and requires less concentration from me.

Who are some artists in comics and beyond whose work you like and find inspiring?

I feel like my inspiration comes more from experiences rather than other artists, although I have a handful of cartoonists that I look up to. I am very interested in natural phenomena of all sorts, and spend an embarrassing amount of my free time looking up shit about animals, plants and all sorts of nature things on the internet like a nerd. I also like experiencing stupid adventures, be it by traveling through the world or in my mind. I am a very lucid dreamer, so I feel like my dreams are as much part of my life as whatever I do when I'm awake. I also take in a lot from hearing other people's stories and anecdotes. My inspiration for writing come from all of those sources.

I mostly follow the work of cartoonists I've met through the internet, some of my current favorites are Aisha Franz, Lala Albert, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Jesse Moynihan, Ginette Lapalme and Simon Hanselmann. For more "established" cartoonists, most of my favorite are japanese, like Taiyo Matsumoto, Kazuo Umezu, Katsuhiro Otomo, Seiichi Hayashi and Junji Ito, but I also like some western cartoonists like Moebius, Charles Burns and CF.

One of the themes in your work is the manifestation of the psychological in a physical manner, often in body horror, bodily functions- the viscerality of the subject juxtaposed with the attractive-ness of your art. I'm one of those people who find it really difficult to look at things like that- even in something relatively mild like CS where the little lady enters the man's body via spot/wound -it makes me queasy. What is about that you like to explore? Is there a facet of forcing people to confront a subject more with that approach?

We live artificial lives were the brutal reality of nature is forced to be hidden and sanitized, so I like to expose that and poke fun at it. For example, our own bodies are a part of nature, they have needs and reactions we sometimes don't understand and for the most part can't control. Instead of accepting that, society works hard on making us feel embarrassed for it and forces us to hide it. This goes for anyone, but if you're a woman it's even worse. Why is the animal part of humanity so threatening? It is in this animalistic state that we are able to experience life's biggest pleasures and also to commit the worst atrocities. I am fascinated between this connection of the spiritual and the visceral. I like exploring and exposing these things I feel throughout my work, as raw as they are, and hopefully have other people resonate with them, whatever their reaction is. 

Are there common aspects you recognise in your work thematically, or particular areas you're interested in discussing/ making stories about?

I am very interested in experiencing and expressing the intimate, the subconscious, the magical, and all that crap. Not in a fantasy context, but more like how these things construct and disrupt our cotidianity, like dreams or random coincidences that we can perceive with a different meaning. Finding the magical in the mundane. 
I'm also interested in intimate relationships: friendship, love, sex. Interactions where you can feel very powerful and very vulnerable at the same time.

Are there any projects or stories you've always wanted to do, or are working on?

The Lapsos book is coming out in September from C'est Bon Kultur, which I'm really excited about. It compiles the first 3 issues plus like 40 pages of new content. Currently, I am working on a comic to be published this November by Breakdown Press about different people living in a building and how their intimate spaces are intertwined with this communal space that they all share. It is mostly inspired by my experiences from being in this building I live in right now, which was built in Mexico City in the 50's, and has around 40 different one room apartments, many of which are shared by families.

Next year I'm going to be working on this story set in a future with an imminent apocalyptic demise, in which a woman who lives with her partner decides to have a baby with an alien, in a whim of selfish desire and also with hopes that it will survive the human race. 

I feel like I am too obsessed with comics to concentrate on doing anything else, but I would also really like to make a videogame someday. 

I'm always interested to know how artists use the internet and social media. You're active on Tumblr, and have quite a following- what do you see yourself using it for? How does it benefit/aid/hinder you?

When I first started posting my work on the internet, back in 2004 (ten years ago... yikes!) I did it because I wanted feedback so I could draw better, and also because I wanted to make friends with other aspiring artists. Nowadays, I see the internet as part of my job, and the point of posting my work is to promote it. I pretty much would not have a career if it wasn't for the internet, so in that sense, it has been a fundamental medium for me. 

What do you like about comics specifically- what you appreciate as a reader, and what you like as an artist? What do you not like?

As a reader, I am interested in comics that attract me with their good art, but only if their storytelling is just as good. As an artist, I love everything about doing what I do, but somedays I also hate it just as much, and prefer to be biking around, chasing wandering cats.

Currently watching: Woody Woodpecker from Walt Lantz (funny coincidence!)
Sound: The fridge in the background....
One food: The potatoes I'm going to bake later tonight!
Could not live without: My partner
Raising an eyebrow at: My neighbors who play the most awful music and also sing to it really loudly
Something beginning with 'g': Gouda cheese... which I never buy because it's expensive but it would go really good with my potatoes...