Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (or CXC) is a four day festival in Columbus, Ohio celebrating the work of cartoonists and providing chances to learn more about the medium. It’s mission is “to provide an international showcase for the best of cartoon art in all its forms, including comics, animation, editorial cartoons, newspaper strips, and beyond, in a city that is a growing center of importance to comics and cartooning. We also focus on helping the next generation of young cartooning talent develop thriving careers that invigorate the industry for years to come.” In the spirit of this mission, the Comics Beat has conducted a series of interviews with some of the phenomenal cartoonists in attendance at this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. We hope that these interviews will improve our understanding of these creators voices, techniques, interests and influences as well as provide a platform for comics enthusiasts to discover new artists and challenge their conceptions of comics.
This year, Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is collaborating with SÕL-CON, The Brown and Black Comics Expo. SÕL-CON focuses on creators with a Latino or African-American background. It’s a different entity and convention than CXC, but they are collaborating this year to make a more wholesome experience for attendees. Some creators are attending this joint collaborative event and this includes Breena Nuñez. Breena is a cartoonist and musician based in the Bay area. She’s currently working on a crowdfunded project called They call me Mix, an autobiographical comic about how the author (Lourdes) came to identify as non-binary. We’ve talked about autobiography and the recurring themes of identity in her work.
Philippe Leblanc: For those readers who may not be familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Breena Nuñez: Sure thing! I’m a cartoonist and musician from the Bay Area of California who was mostly raised in San Bruno by my migrant family from Central America. After high school I attended San Francisco State and studied graphic design while also participating in a few student organizations such as USEU, MEChA, and Clinica Martin-Baro (a student run clinic based in San Francisco). But I feel like I’m not so much of a traditional designer since I use most of my time to create zines, mini-comics while also being an after school art teacher within the San Francisco School District.
PL: You will be illustrating a comic book called They Call me Mix, an autobiographical comic about how came to identify as non-binary that was successfully crowdfunded last month. The creator of the project, Lourdes mentions on the crowdfunding page that the project came about after talking with kindergarten classes about their experience over the past few years. This comic is an attempt to widen the audience for this discussion beyond those that can be physically reached. I’m curious to know how you got involved in this project and how this project interested you?
BN: They Call Me Mix is going to be published moreso as a bilingual children’s book and I’m very honored to have been asked by Lourdes to essentially illustrate some very intimate life moments. Lourdes knew of my illustration work through my Instagram profile and we coincidentally shared the same dance floor at an Oakland dance party/fundraiser hosted by Queer Qumbia. I was approached by Lourdes to see if I was interested in collaborating with them and I immediately said yes! I think the universe just kept guiding me to wonderful folks like Lourdes who are making a difference for children and young queer folks of color here in the Bay Area. I owe a lot to our community for embracing me, talking me through my own queerness, and for constantly sharing their love for my work.
PL: When you launch a crowdfunding campaign, you put yourself at the mercy of your audience, fans and the internet. They may not have been as responsive as you hoped, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. What do you think made this project so successful?
BN: Well, I believe it is the value that people see in Lourdes and in their story. It is a beautiful time to be a child because there are even more bilingual and multicultural books that are accessible to children. But I think Lourdes is beginning to make children’s books more queer for that little brown kid who is questioning their identity, and who’d like to see someone who went through the same experience they are going through.
PL: You’ve just released a new comic at the San Francisco Zine Fest called Dear Sentida. Could you tell us a little bit more about this comic?
BN: Hehehe, so this mini-comic was actually an assignment I completed for a studio class at California College of the Arts. It was more of a test for me to see how much fun I was having creating these characters that are based off of myself, my partner, and my overall awkward interactions I have on the daily. The little crocodile character is based off of my nahual (Mayan spirit) and will most likely reflect inner monologues that I have with myself when encountering socially awkward situations or moments of deep-deep thought when dealing with unraveling my ethnic identity. Dear Sentida will most likely be a small piece a part of a larger project which will be my masters thesis for the MFA in Comics program at CCA.
PL: You’ve been working on a strip called Sentimental Sequential, can you tell us a bit more about this?
BN: Doh!… this is pretty much is Dear Sentida. I apologize for the confusion but I changed the name of this smaller project from Sentimental Sequential to Dear Sentida because I always want to make sure that I’m also speaking to other awkward latinx folks who consider themselves to be emotional, shy, and self-conscious.
PL: You made a zine called Center of my Heart, which focuses on portraits of women that inspired you. How did you decided what and who to include in this zine?
BN: This zine is a love letter dedicated to the different Central American women who I feel empower me and the work I do. Many of the illustrations are inspired by other Central Americans who I have come across in my life within community organizing, zine fests, social media, and even when I traveled back to my mother’s home country of Guatemala.
PL: Do you have any new comics or material you’re bringing to CXC? If so, can you tell us a little bit more about them/it?
BN: I will be selling a mini-comic I released earlier this year called Crocodile Girl and it talks about the relationship I have with my nahual and how I use identity to real from acts of racism.
PL: Identity is a recurring theme in your work, whether it’s your involvement on They Call me Mix, or with your short comic Colocha-Head. Why is that?
BN: Well, I think as people of color in the United States we carry multiple identities. Sometimes we are asked to embrace them and other times we are discouraged to reveal certain parts of our identity. I sometimes ask myself if I’m Central American enough or if I’m even afrolatinx enough because our younger self were not always seeing black and brown characters celebrating their roots. Comics, children’s books, and zines are already building confidence in this new generation who get excited and prideful when they see characters that reflect their culture.
Breena will be at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus and Sol-Con this weekend with her latest comics. She’s looking forward to meeting you
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.