The Creators on the Come Up interview series highlights noteworthy emerging artists in the comics field.
"Know that your time and imagination are in charge of reshaping culture and the way we see the world. "
Breena Nuñez is an Afrochapinaca weirdo from the Bay Area who likes to make comics, teach comics, and read comics.
Where are your from?
I usually say I'm from the Bay Area since my family and I moved around a lot during the 90's. My family first rooted themselves in San Francisco's Mission District after migrating from Guatemala and El Salvador. But now Oakland has been my new home for a little while now.
Where did you grow up?
Mostly South San Francisco and San Bruno, which is all South from San Francisco.
How did your experiences affect your art?
My personal experiences with being a nerdy Central American kid influences my drive to tell stories through comics, because I feel like there was still an unspoken wish I had to read more stories about what it meant to be Central American. I was also a very quiet and self-conscious child when it came to speaking up for myself because I was misdiagnosed with autism and was a part of the Special Education program for so many years. It really made me feel like I wasn't intelligent enough communicate with others, and I never questioned this system or my diagnosis because these "grown-ups" knew better, right? Well, the only two things that validated myself were comics and music. Those two forms of art made me feel like there was a life I could build for myself and to fully express my feelings because I'm not a very outspoken person, but I internalize so much that I need time to find a way to put it all in a comic or in a little song.
You are also a musician. How does being multitalented & skilled affect your creativity and process?
It feels like you are engaging with different parts of your brain and your body when you switch from playing music to making comics. It's actually pretty exciting that I don't have to just express myself in one medium because I crave excitement and joy in different forms of art. I feel like music at one point heavily influenced the way I experimented with my artwork whenever I studied Sun-Ra and Pharaoh Sanders, it really brought me to realize that they were really ahead of their time in Afrofuturism. Nowadays Afrofuturism is so present in comics and I feel like we owe it to black musicians for influencing the way we write and illustrate sci-fi comics. As far as carrying these two talents I still keep them separate since they both require different types of energy, and right now comics is getting a lot more attention while I sadly put music in a corner. Haha! But I think after graduate school I hope to make more time to play and experiment with these two mediums.
Is your music also a component/ dimension of your comics?
Hhmm, I don't think it really does at this moment. But there was a bigger relationship between music and comics when I made a short series of illustrations combining my love for music and comics titled Somos El Futuro. I honestly hope to get back into something like that because it drives me to study music more and to see how I can fuse these two pieces of myself together.
You are currently a graduate student. What drove you to pursue a Masters degree?
It's definitely because I craved to be in a place of learning where the focus is comics. At one point that felt silly of me to dream of a graduate program like that because we're so close to Silicon Valley and there's this pressure to work in big tech as some kind of graphic designer. But I knew deep down that I was not going to be happy in a tech company, I also just don't have the brain capacity to invest in new trends and new ways of designing stuff because I'd rather researching cartooning styles by watching Cartoon Network and reading zines made by my friends!
At one point I thought about getting a Masters in Teaching Art since I want to be accessible to young black and brown kids who love comics. But something told me to say "no" to applying for teaching credentials or to a Masters in Teaching since I probably would not have enough time to work on myself as a cartoonist. It basically came down to me wanting to be more selfish with my time and to fully immerse myself in something that I am deeply passionate about. And I feel like I've found the right program where I'm still connected to my community while also learning some valuable lessons that I can pass onto kids who dream of being comic book artists.
What type of stories do you like to make comics about?
I like to make comics based off of stories I like to read which are autobiographical and humorous. My stories these days are about my reactions to racism I've encountered as a youth, anti-blackness in the Latino community, reclaiming blackness, and venting about anti-Central American sentiments from the Trump administration.
Whats your process? Elaborate on how you work through your projects. How do you break up your time for your projects at different stages?
For my shorter comics I sketch them out in four panels. I doodle an image first and then script out what I want to say in it before moving onto the next panel. I still struggle with pushing these little comics at a faster rate because I'm such a pensive person that I sometimes take a long time to write down something that I feel satisfied with. But when the mini comic is done I ink and letter everything by hand, I'll scan it and then add a color swatch through Photoshop. These would take me about a couple of hours or so.
But for my thesis (which I want to turn into a graphic novel) has required a lot more writing and editing at the beginning. I took about one semester to finish editing the first chapter before moving onto my thumbnails. It was outside of my comfort zone but I appreciate scripting everything out because it gives me a better idea how the visuals are going to look like in my thumbs. Thumbnailing different scenes takes me about two weeks to feel good about them before moving onto the next scene. I'm also like juggling other commissions and tabling gigs so sometimes I have to prioritize other deadlines than my personal stuff, so my process is always in flux depending how busy life gets.
What do you recommend to aspiring artists that you wish you had known much earlier?
You, yourself as an artist and writer are valuable assets to society. We still live in a world that undervalues us as creative people of color, but that should not stop you from following your passion.
Learn to be gentle with yourself when you make a mistake, it is all a part of the process too.
Make friends with other artists and writers, they will advocate for you even when you feel alone.
Know that your time and imagination are in charge of reshaping culture and the way we see the world.
What do you love best about making comics?
I love that comics are an accessible form of art and literature. You don't need to throw down so much money to access culture through an expensive museum when you can get comics that is relatively affordable through your local shop or a zine fest. Owning a comic actually feels like holding a museum in your hand wherever you go.
What do you wish was different about the comics industry?
I wish more publishing houses were more open to publishing stories that are by folks of color and didn't have to question whether or not their story is "going to make sense" to their fanbase. Language can be an issue people run into because sometimes folks fear that they are not going to understand the story. Well, as folks of color we're always in a place of not being understood because of who we are. But we need comics that have Spanglish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, etc. because that's another part of the history of the U.S. we don't always get to read about.
Which books do you recommend artists should have in their reference library? Favorite instructional material?
Hhhmmm, some artists that I've been studying for inspiration on cartooning style are Ben Passmore, Jeremy Sorese, Lamar Abrams, Liz Suburbia, and Clément Oubrerie. Scott McCloud's How To Make Comics have some really good tips on paneling and layout.
Top 5 Favorite Artists?
Jaime Hernandez, Liz Suburbia, Adrian Tomine, Jillian Tamaki, and Stephanie Gutierrez.
Top Favorite Comic characters?
Damn, these questions are getting harder, hahaha!! Hhmmm... definitely Maggie and Hopey from Love & Rockets, Henry from Catboy, then Aya and her hairstylist friend who dresses like Michael Jackson from Aya.
Top 5 Favorite comics, graphic novels? 5+
I just started this biography of Josephine Baker, Aya: Love in Yop City, Uncomfortably Happily, Love & Rockets, The Interview, Bottomless Belly Button, and Killing and Dying.
What type of work are you interested in doing? Now? In the future?
What I'm interested in doing now is creating and experimenting with my comics while I'm still in grad school. My thesis is going to be a memoir comic that speaks about my experience of trying to understand what Central Americanism is and what reclaiming Afrolatinidad means to me. I currently am open to visiting classes to facilitate zine/comic book workshops to black and brown youth since I remember that educators of color have always made an impact in the way I value myself as an artist.
In the near future I'm going to also push myself to make some comic strips about being an awkward Central American who doesn't always feel like they "fit in" to things that are expected of me like being mad fluent in Spanish, knowing how to eat pupusas properly, etc. Another comic I'm hoping to get back into is going to be a series called Dear Sentida and it's pretty much going to also poke fun at awkwardness while using cute animal character to talk about queerness and gender nonconforming identity.
How can others find/ purchase your work? Website, social media link, etc
Yeah, folks can definitely purchase my work through my Etsy store:
But in case people don't have an Etsy account they can always email me at email@example.com to purchase and inquire about commissions. I'm also pretty active on Instagram and it's my favorite platform to meet and be inspired by other artists @breenache.