Looking South for Inspiration: The Magical World of Exilia

A panel from Mexican artist C.S. Pego’s haunting masterpiece Exilia.

Latin America is in the midst of a storyteller uprising. When you combine a relatively youthful population with the world’s fastest rate of new Internet and mobile connectivity over the last decade and the world’s highest rate of entrepreneurship per capita, plus a culture rich in artistic and narrative heritage, you get a very exciting environment for new talent and fresh voices in all creative media, including comics.

Tomorrow I’m  headed to Guadalajara, Mexico to give a talk on “Comics as Transmedia Platform” at an event called CongresoRED. This will be my second trip to Mexico this year to speak on creative industry issues. Just last week I spoke on Latin American innovation and entrepreneurship here in Seattle. Of all the rising areas of the Young World, Latin America seems best positioned to take advantage of the new business models in media and publishing to reach new audiences in the north, and Mexico is at the leading edge of that movement.

This summer at San Diego Comic-Con, I met artist Cecilia “C.S.” Pego, who was in Artists Alley (at the far end of the exhibit hall) selling her beautiful self-published graphic novel Exilia. Exilia is a haunting fantasy full of mysterious atmosphere. Pego’s art is gorgeously strange, reflecting a sophisticated fine art sensibility. Each page is a mini-masterpiece of line and color.

Though the quality of Exilia is the equal of the best literary graphic novels published commercially in North America, Pego chose to go the route of digital self-publishing and print-on-demand through Amazon’s CreateSpace program. After the Con, I contacted Pego for more information about herself and her work.

ROB: Hi Cecilia, thanks for taking a few minutes to offer your perspective. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

CECILIA: I was born and raised in 1967 in Mexico City.  I have a degree in Civil Engineering and I am a self taught artist.

ROB: What is your background in art and comics?

My first job as a professional artist was in 1990 at the local newspaper in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua, publishing my political strip “Sardonia y Chamuco.”

A couple of years later I began to publish  “Terrora y Taboo” (“Terrora and Taboo”)  weekly for several years in the national newspaper “La Jornada.” The comic was about a freelance sociopath and her failed attempts of causing shock in a world crazier than she is.  So, instead, she ends up being very chic.  Her accomplice is her hybrid half cat – half piranha pet that eats French Poodle nuggets.

ROB: OK, I need to track that one down! Sounds fascinating. What else are you working on?

CECILIA: I am currently publishing “Madame Mactans” in the editorial cartoon nationwide magazine “El Chamuco.”   It is about a female serial killer of serial killers.  She has an emotional handicap of the soul in where the only emotion she can experience is fear.  Because of this, she confuses love with fear and fear with love, so she always is falling in love with serial killers.  While they are trying to kill her, she thinks they are trying to seduce her, and she ends up killing them accidentally.

ROB: You have a very wicked sense of humor and you seem to love the contrast between light and dark themes, which is clearly present in Exilia. Can you talk a little bit about the idea behind that work?

CECILIA: Exilia is a dark fantasy graphic novel, a spiritual thriller about visionaries and madness, spirituality and greed.  A visual journey into mystical worlds, discovery and and self discovery.  Exilia: The Invisible Path is the first book and is going to be a five book saga.

ROB: When did you start working on it?

CECILIA: I started working on Exilia in 2007 when I moved to Australia.  And worked in the graphic novel the four years I lived there.

ROB: Do you have an audience in Mexico and Latin America, or are you mostly aiming for North American readers?

CECILIA: I already have an audience in Mexico, and want to build an audience aiming for North-American readers, and English and Spanish readers around the world.

ROB: Why did you decide to self-publish?

CECILIA: I decided to self publish when I finished the book.  When I began to work on Exilia in 2007, my objective was to find a publisher in the US and Mexico, but to my surprise, the publishing industry change dramatically over the four years I was working on my graphic novel.

Print on demand in full color was not an option in 2007, because the quality was poor and it was extremely expensive.   The iPad and Kindle Fire didn’t exist.  The only option was to find a publisher, or invest a lot of money printing full color in offset, and finding a distributor to put the book on the market.

Suddenly, the Kindle Fire and the the iPad appeared on the market, and then, Amazon allowed independent authors to publish directly.  Later on, digital print on demand became very cost effective, and Amazon introduced CreateSpace, when you can print and sell one book at a time.  So when I finished my graphic novel, the logical  thing to do was to self publish and have absolute freedom in editorial decisions, production, distribution, and earn 70% on each book, instead of the 10% an author makes in traditional publishing.

ROB: Are there many independent, small press or self-published comics in Mexico? Is the idea becoming more popular?

CECILIA: Editorial Resistencia has a collection of 13 books specializing in the work of Mexican comic authors, is the only collection of its kind in Mexico.  I published an anthology of my work there, Visiones y Evasiones. This small publisher distributes in several bookstores in Mexico City.

Editorial Samsara  is a smaller one, and distributes directly by mail. I published Terrora y Taboo  with them.

Self publishing has become very popular with comic authors. They print small editions with digital print on demand and sell them directly in their webpages or in the comic conventions.

ROB: What are some of the business challenges you face as a self-publisher?

CECILIA: The biggest challenge is distribution for print books, although Amazon CreateSpace is the solution, allowing creators to sell books internationally, printing one book at a time.  Discoverability is also a challenge, but social networks makes it easier, not so much to make your work visible, but as way to stay connected with your readers.  Comic conventions have become the best way to promote my work.

ROB: How does digital publishing – via Web, Amazon or other platforms – fit into your plans?

CECILIA: Amazon will be my main way to sell and distribute my ebooks and print books.  I am planning also to create an Exilia app for iTunes, and any other digital platform that allows independent authors to sell and distribute their work.

ROB: Can you tell me a little bit more about the independent comics scene in Mexico right now? What other creators or publishers are doing interesting work in your opinion? Is there an online community for creators?

CECILIA: Many  Mexican comic authors publish their work as webcomics, and then they self publish the books and sell them in comic conventions and their websites. There is a lot of webcomic creators. Myy favorite authors are Edgar Clement with Los Perros Salvajes (Wild Dogs) and Ramón Espinoza with  Niebla (Mist).Here is a good list of Mexican webcomics .

Many comic authors participate in the Artist Alley at the comic conventions in Mexico City and other cities in the country.  The Artist Alley is becoming bigger and more popular each year, this are the most important:

  • TNT, a comic convention specializing in manga.
  • LA,  specializing in superhero comics.
  • FESTO is a comic convention exclusively for independent comic authors,  the first one was held  in 2011, and it was very succesfull comercially and as a cultural event.

Some blogs specializing in comic and the comic scene in  Mexico include Comikaze and  Artes9.

The way comic authors interact with each other in Mexico is basically on Facebook and Twitter.

ROB: Thanks so much for sharing this great information. If you are interested in Cecilia’s work, follow her on Twitter @cspego.

Share and Enjoy !

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