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[Interview] with Leslie Gonzalez

[KELP JOURNAL] Leslie! Did you know that you are our first graphic artist to be featured on The Wave? I am so excited and as always, I have a lot of questions. So, let’s dig right in and talk all about these gorgeous comics. Tell me, how did drawing come about in your life? What is your origin story, so to speak?


[LESLIE GONZALEZ] Wow! I honestly had no idea. Well, I’m sorry to say that my origin story isn’t something Marvel like being bitten by a radioactive spider or falling in a vat of radio-active waste, where my inner artist blossomed into this superpower (damn, wouldn’t that be cool, though?). 


My need for art started when I could pick up a crayon and scribbled my favorite cartoon characters on printer paper. My family always assumed I was drawing some version of myself, only for me to be extremely offended and tell them that it was actually some random creation with an elaborate story and background that either has them nodding nervously like “oh, ok…” or “Nice job.” I laugh about it when I think back on it. 


Drawing, painting  art; they were my way of telling stories through images before I knew how to read above a Pre-K reading level. Since then, it’s still my way of telling stories when words aren’t enough to illustrate what I see. 


[KJ] I know that you are also a writer, and one question that I always like to ask multi-faceted artists is how they choose the format for each project. Does a project speak to you and you know this is a comic and that is a story, or do you do some noodling around to find that out?


[LG] That’s a good question. It’s mostly my need to see who my characters are and where my settings come from. Even if I’m writing a story, I like to draw out the people I imagine. Some people use Pinterest or celebrities…or their moms, but there’s something special about putting a face to the descriptions. Then as you delve deeper to know who they are, I start sketching out their quirks and vices, and even word-bubble things they might say. It makes my characters and my stories come alive and helps to invest into their story. It’s my way to keep myself motivated.  


But to answer your question directly, I kind of get a sense whether my projects are meant for 2D or prose. They usually come out in a written format, and depending on how invested I get with writing I’ll stick to that form of storytelling. But if the words are absent and all I’m seeing is certain facial expressions and dynamic movement that feels more like a film -- with some kind of physicality -- I lean toward a more artistic approach.


[KJ] I always feel like the different forms support similar but different parts of myself. Is that the same for you? For instance, do you draw when you are feeling spunky and write when you are feeling reflective?


[LG] Absolutely! The most over-dramatic way I can describe it is pretending you’re like Beethoven or Chuck Norris (but no one can be Chuck Norris, not even Chuck Norris) when it comes to writing. The words will just flow or sucker-punch the pages depending on the song or the sudden violent urge to stab the keyboard with your fingers. 


It also depends on my mood. I have pretty bad ADHD and anxiety. On some days it’s really easy to write and hyper-fixate on the world I’m building, other times I get sick looking at a blinking cursor; but my brain wants stimulation, nonetheless. Art picks up where I leave my writing. I’m still writing the story, but through a different medium. I guess you could say that is my superpower.  


[KJ] Let’s talk about process now. Tell us about these images. Are they standalone pieces or part of a larger book/project?


[LG] So, when I’m in a bind and don’t have the drive to write, I try to coax it out through illustration or comic creation. For instance, the blue and gray comic panel of a girl walking through the city checking on her phone was my first attempt to tell a story through a comic when I couldn’t stomach writing. The comic was meant to be a bigger project, until I later learned that the story didn’t stick, and it ended on a shorter note with her phone telling her “Ya broke, sucker!” Short, but with a character motive I can save for something greater. It was the first time I ever made a comic, and the experience has taught me a lot about the process and how to visually prepare storytelling. 


The illustration with the girl and the floating key was an example of getting my creative juices flowing. I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what. I took out my tablet and started sketching this idea of a girl who finds a magical inn in the middle of a forest in the Pacific Northwest and becomes the next “innkeeper”. I treated her as a draft similar to a short story. She’s in my arsenal just in case I want to build on that idea further, but right now she is my product of getting a story out. 


As for the last two that have more of a traditional comic book feel, this is an ongoing project. My best friend and I love to participate in TTRPG (tabletop role-playing games), and we often bring that role-play aspect through writing. We’ve been doing this since high school where we’d message each other a fictional or fantastical scenario and create characters, lore and conflict. It’s like setting up a puppet show for the mind where we act out the characters we make and how their story begins and ends. 


So, this comic is an illustration of one of those stories we made, about a vampire and witch. It’s a romance that is set in a fantasy world that is whimsical and cozy, but also conflicting and dark, exploring the facets of identity, war, loss and healing. This story was intended to be fun, but, as we both like to admit, we love the drama (insert Telenovela mentality here). 


[KJ] One thing that has always struck me as amazing with graphic novels and comics is their ability to convey such a depth of emotion with an image. Color, shading, and negative space are just a few of the tools that are utilized. I wonder if you have any others that you think are particularly effective? And I was also wondering if when you are creating this is something you are actively considering?


[LG] I am new in the comic and graphic art community, and although I’m trained as a traditional artist where techniques come into play, the world of art is similar and drastically different in digital art. And it also depends on the artist. 


Like writing, once you know and understand the rules, you can bend or break them as you please, but you have to know how. That’s how I see my approach to my comics and graphic art. I’m still learning the techniques and the tricks when it comes to drawing comics through a graphic medium. I sort of get an idea of how I want it to look and sketch it out and put it all together. If and when I notice that the lighting needs to be more relaxed, or if there’s way too much negative space in a particular corner, I can adjust and rethink. 


But what this all boils down to: is evoking what I see and feel until I think it conveys that moment and time if the story. It’s hard to get away from the nitty-gritty and get stuck in the details, but for me, at the end of the day, I told myself that the art I do is for me, and for me alone. It’s so freeing when I approach it that way. 


Like, “Hey, that picture sucks!” and I’ll just sit there and say (to no one in particular) “So? Who’s gonna see it, your mom? My aunt?” It’s all for fun and to teach me not to be afraid of myself, not to be so self-critical, and to expose myself to such a big and fun-loving community that is so relatable. Like a tribe. And that’s what I’m doing: having fun, not getting caught up in a moment, telling stories the way I want to, and letting my weird self fill in the rest. If it takes off, great! If not, that’s cool too.


Leslie Gonzalez is a freelance writer and certified copyeditor from San Diego, California.

Her work is published in KPBS, LOCALE and OK Whatever magazine, and her works in literary and fantasy fiction “Shadow of Truth” and “False Moon Rising” are published in Mythos and Indie IT Press. Leslie earned her BA in Creative Writing from California State University, Northridge and her MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from UC Riverside’s Palm Desert low-residency program. Leslie also has a profound love for art and illustration, and she enjoys creating comics in her spare time.


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