Her mother doesn’t want another child from her husband, a former Catholic priest, and has had herself spayed. And so her doctor in Quito, Ecuador, initially diagnosed a “tropical virus” when she nevertheless became pregnant again, precisely with Paola, who today goes by the artist name Powerpaola.
Born in 1977 and now based in Argentina, the comic artist and illustrator is a master of autobiographical comics in Latin America. But hasn’t this genre been exhausted for a long time? So many have already had their say and have told their stories in a variety of ways.
no way! Because the voyage of discovery into the self continues, so to speak, as a trip around the world. Draftswomen like Julie Doucet were a revelation for Powerpaola when she discovered their work during a stay in Paris. They opened up the male-dominated medium of comics to explicitly female perspectives.
In her stirring, at times self-exposing, coming-of-age story, Paola tells of the difficulties of finding her place in the family as the youngest of three daughters and how, after moving to Colombia, she is kidded because of her Ecuadorian Spanish as a country bumpkin .
Lea Hübner congenially translated the various terms and ways of speaking used in Ecuador and Colombia into German without resorting to local dialects.
Paola still finds friends, while her mother makes ends meet as a fortune teller for rich Colombian women after her father left the family. Not only does she have to deal with her daughters, but also with her housekeeper.
In addition to Doucet and Marjane Satrapi, Powerpaola also cites the expressive works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Otto Dix and George Grosz as role models; her style seems thrown on like a sketch. But the dynamics of the black-and-white sequence of images and the lively dialogue pulls the reader into the story of the girl and the young woman.
An animated film was also created on the basis of the comic, which ran at the Berlinale in 2018 and will now be shown on several dates in the Berlin cinema Acud, on July 10 in the presence of the artist, who will be working as a fellow at the Literary Colloquium Berlin.
The Tagesspiegel asked Powerpaola about her work via Skype in Buenos Aires:
Her comics are autobiographical and often very revealing and revealing. Does this form have a strong tradition in Latin America – or did you get your inspiration elsewhere? I was in France in 2003 and discovered artists like Julie Doucet, Marjane Satrapi and Aline Kominsky. Women talking about themselves – I had never seen anything like it before and I said to myself, “I want to be one of them”. At the time, most comics in Latin America were drawn by men, with lots of perfect bodies. I looked for comics that were more expressive, both in terms of the drawings and the stories, and started collecting comics by women.
In fact, none of the artists you named are French. At the time, France was also lagging behind when it came to autobiographical comics by women, wasn’t it? Yes, and maybe I was attracted to these artists because, like me, they were foreigners. But most of all it was her style. During my visual arts training, I was interested in the works of Basquiat, Dix and Grosz, among others, very expressive art that reveals a different kind of reality. In my own work I want to show the process of how art is made.
Revealing, frankly autobiographical works always raise the question of whether the artist gets in trouble with friends and family for revealing intimate details and personal stories – has that happened to you too? My first book – Virus Tropical from 2011 – I developed and drew very quickly. I exposed myself and wanted to start a difficult conversation within and with my family. Difficult but important to really know yourself. And, no, I haven’t lost any friends because of my comics. I’m very careful with my characters! In fact, while some have asked for their names to be changed, many have complained that they don’t appear – saying, “You don’t seem to like me enough”.
“Virus Tropical” and also your second book “Todo va a estar bien” (“Everything will be fine”) are very dialogue-driven, there are hardly any descriptions – is that your preferred style overall? When I started to draw comics in Colombia , we were all amateurs, in a context without a long comic tradition. That gave us incredible freedom. I wanted to focus on the different dialects spoken in the different Latin American countries – and I was very happy that this was retained in the animated film that was based on “Virus Tropical” and ran at the 2018 Berlinale.
Are your new projects also autobiographical and dialogue-driven? My new book – roughly translated it means “All the bikes I’ve ever had in my life” – is again autobiographical, but has less dialogue. And it will be in color, more like paintings.
That sounds expensive. Does that mean that there is an institutional infrastructure for comics in Latin America today? Publishers, grants and the like? All my previous publishers across Latin America have teamed up for this project! Unfortunately, there aren’t many grants or other support and so artists have to have other jobs to make ends meet. I work as an illustrator and artist and I draw comics because I love it. But there is definitely a growing scene – especially in Argentina, where there are both the big comic shops with superhero comics, manga and French comics, and the specialty shops with fanzines and Latin American comics. In Colombia there are fewer readers and it’s a bigger risk for publishers to publish comics – but the scene is growing there too. The Internet has helped to create a network and enabled exchange beyond the festivals. In any case, I’ve found my clan.
And you found a German publisher – Parallelallee. You will also present your book personally in Germany… I was very happy when Lea Hübner suggested a German version to me. And I am very much looking forward to being Artist in Residence at the Literary Colloquium Berlin for two months starting in June.