Each year the Haverford College Department of Fine Arts presents the work of its graduating seniors in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. For the occasion, I interviewed Vanessa Hernandez, a senior Fine Arts and Spanish double major, who wrote a comic using zinc-etching plates. If you are curious to see what this looks like, check out all of the senior Fine Arts theses this weekend (Friday to Sunday) at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery. If you want to attend the opening reception, stop by the Cantor Fitz this Friday May 10th from 5:50-7:30.
Emma: So to start off, how did you first get into graphic novels?
Vanessa: My interest in graphic novels started when a friend recommended me Alan Moore’s Watchmen. But I truly fell in love with graphic novels after I began reading Neil Gaiman`s Sandman series; after being immersed in that world of fantasy and beautiful artwork, I realized at that point that I wanted to be an illustrator.
E: When did you first start thinking about making a graphic novel for your senior thesis? And what were some of the factors that finalized the decision? Can you tell me about the process?
V: I didn’t exactly plan on doing a graphic novel per se; the format just lent itself to what I wanted to do. When I was figuring out the size I wanted my pages to be, I had to figure that out according to the plate size I had available. The zinc etching plates are 22×30 so I decided I could either have 6 very small plates (meaning one image per page) or 3 very long pages. I decided to go for the longer-page format because of the interesting shape. Since I wanted to have a story composed solely of illustrations, I had to decide how I could format multiple images on one page. That was when I knew that the graphic novels I was so in love with would help give me inspiration and ideas for formatting my illustrations on my page to better tell my story.
E: Can you tell me a little bit about what your graphic novel is about?
V: I do want to clarify that I don’t consider my story entirely a graphic novel; I am hesitant to call it that because my story doesn’t have any words nor is it nearly long enough to be a novel. (Although, there seems to be no other noun that can describe what my story is.) The story is about a tree-like creature that is born from the roots of a tree and comes out to discover the world above. She (I call her Nova, like “new” in Latin) walks along and encounters four other characters, each with which she interacts. First there’s a bird, which helps her build a nest for the berries she collects from a bush. Then she meets a small gnome whose home Nova steps on but they work together to fix it up again. Once Nova says goodbye to the gnome it starts to rain and a fox offers Nova to stay in his foxhole. She stays there until dawn and when she goes out to see, she meets a small girl and they watch the sun rise together. It’s a rather simple story and there’s no climax nor any big reveal at the end, but I still hope to attract the readers with the images and evoke the beauty of encounters with other living beings.
E: Why do you think this medium is particularly effective for your project?
V: Etching has always been my favorite of the printmaking techniques because it allows for the most detail. Also, I really like the fact that I can reproduce a page many times; that characteristic was especially useful for storytelling I believe because that gives me the opportunity to share my story with others.
E: Can you tell me about the physical construction?
V: With the help of Bruce Bumbarger, I was able to make a clamshell box; we measured and glued fabric to board and then put everything together. It is a much more complex process than it sounds and took maybe more than 10 hours to complete. I decided to make this box instead of a bound book because I thought it better displayed the etching prints; since each has intricate detail, looking at each print one by one allows you to look more closely and pay more attention to each image.
E: What were some of the difficulties you encountered?
V: Yes, many more than I had anticipated. First, coming up with a storyline was difficult (as simple as mine seems, it took a lot of planning). I made a storyboard so I could visualize the story more easily. This storyboard actually also helped me out figuring out how to frame each smaller individual image on each page. I had to make sure I wasn’t becoming too repetitive with the page design. Also, the actual etching process is one that takes a very long time. I was experimenting with new techniques for printing this semester, so that has been something I feel I haven’t quite mastered yet. Another thing that I have come to notice as I near the end of this process is that it was difficult to find a balance between the commercial and fine arts; by this I mean, I needed to make sure that I wasn’t making a story that could be read and then put aside, but I also had to make the actual images interesting so they could stand on their own as a piece of artwork. I’m not quite sure if I achieved that balance but I have definitely learned a lot from this project.
E: What limits and liberties do you find characteristic of making a graphic novel?
V: One limit I can think of is that towards the end I felt a bit constrained by the frames. I also, I started to want to do crazier creatures but wasn’t sure how to incorporate them into the story. I guess that will have to wait for my next project. Even though I did feel constrained by the neat format, I did enjoy experimenting with the different sort of feelings one can create from the way one frames an image. For example, on my tenth page, there is a raining scene, and instead of just including rain in each frame, I made an large encompassing frame on the edge of the page that establishes that it is raining.
E: How do you think your Spanish major contributed to your project?
V: Yes. I think just the Spanish language has contributed to my project in general. I’m actually fluent because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household so I feel that both languages are a huge part of me. Other than the fact that I don’t feel that I am really a writer, I wanted to create a story that could be read by anyone, no matter what language they speak. This way, I can show it to my family and they can enjoy it as much as any English-speaking person might. Also, my Spanish major allowed me to research more in depth the artwork of an artist I really admire, Xul Solar, and it has inspired me to continue studying art that isn’t really included in the center of discourse in art history.
E: Do you think you’ll ever make a graphic novel again?
V: Maybe in the future, but I think for now I want to experiment with larger images that I have had brewing in my mind.
E: And finally, what do you think of Haverford’s collection on the 1st tier of Magill?
V: I actually never really explored it very much other than looking at some titles. I definitely regret not taking advantage of that resource.
To talk to other students about their artwork come to the opening reception May 10th from 5:30-7:30!