The Creators on the Come Up interview series highlights noteworthy emerging artists in the comics field.
"I wish there was someone when I was younger to tell me that there isn’t one path to being a comic artist."
Kelly Fernandez is a cartoonist from Queens, New York. She was the recipient of the CAKE’s annual Cupcake Award in 2017 and a winner of Scholastic’s “Get Published by Graphix” competition. Her work has appeared in various comic anthologies such as Mine! and Dates: Volume 2 , as well as the teen literature and comics magazine CICADA. Her work often stars Latino women, and usually has something to do with folklore, monsters, or video games. When she’s not at her desk, you might find her looking for new places to eat or singing karaoke with friends.
Where are you from?
I was born in Queens, New York. My family is from the Dominican Republic.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Flushing, but I also spent a lot of time in Jackson Heights.
How did your experiences affect your art?
I think I was just exposed to a lot of things that come with being in a city as diverse as Queens. Flushing has a large Asian population, while the area of Jackson Heights that I grew up in has a large Latino population. As I’m getting older I’m realizing how being a part of both communities has affected me as a person and an artist. I went to school with kids who came from families who were Irish, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Colombian, and those are just the kids I can remember off the top of my head. We all brought different things to the table but we still all had things in common. I think it’s influenced what I like to draw, my artistic style, and the stories I tell.
You received a publishing opportunity through Scholastic. How has that experience been?
It’s been great, and also kind of surreal. I love working with my editor, and my new agent has been a tremendous help in giving me feedback on my story. I’m realizing it’s a lot different than working on a mini comic, since there’s so many steps and other people involved. But it’s been like a dream.
You are currently a graduate student. What drove you to pursue a Masters degree?
It was just a personal choice. I got my bachelors in graphic design, and I tried working in that field for a little bit after graduating. I didn’t like it at all, and freelancing has been difficult for me. Right now I’m studying to be a librarian so I can still be involved in the comics, since the public library was the place where I went for comics as a kid.
What type of stories do you like to make comics about?
I mostly like writing light-hearted stories, but I’d like to dip more into horror and suspense in the future. For me, making comics is like an escape from the real life, so I like to make cute, fun stories as a stress relief. I’m also trying to write stories that star latinas, regardless of the genre.
What’s your process? Elaborate on how you work through your projects. How do you break up your time for your projects at different stages?
I spend a lot of time writing and sketching in my notebook first. Usually my projects start with a drawing of a character and if I like them enough I ask myself: “what is this person’s story?” Then I write out the story with words (and drawings on the margins), and I might write a script if it’s a longer comic. If the comic is short (2-12 pages), I’ll go straight to thumbnails. After that I pencil and ink after thumbnails, and finally add color or graytones at the end. I try to give myself more time than I need whenever I start a project, just in case!
What do you recommend to aspiring artists that you wish you had known much earlier?
I would recommend artists to just take care of themselves, mentally and physically. I wish there was someone when I was younger to tell me that there isn’t 1 path to being a comic artist: For a long time I had a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t go to an art college and I felt like I would never be good enough. There are times where I go into slumps because there are artists who are better than me, doing better than me, or had better opportunities than me. I think every artist has their hang ups, but you can’t let those things keep you from doing what you want to do!
What do you love best about making comics?
I really like writing and drawing quick thumbnails, it’s my favorite part of making comics. It’s the most creative part, I think, and nothing is set in stone yet. Everything is still fast and loose in that stage.
What do you wish was different about the comics industry?
I’ve always wished that the comics industry was more diverse, but I think we’re slowly but surely getting there.
Which books do you recommend artists should have in their reference library? Favorite
I would recommend “Drawing Words and Writing Pictures” and “Mastering Comics” by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. My professor used those books in college to teach us comics and they were incredibly helpful. I would also just recommend collecting books and mini comics from your favorite artists and peers. I think you learn the most from example, and seeing what other people are doing can be inspiring.
Top 5 Favorite Artists?
Osamu Tezuka, Tove Jansson, Junji Ito, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Kyohiko Azuma
Top Favorite Comic characters?
I love all the Moomin characters, and my favorite Tezuka characters are Black Jack and Astro Boy.
Top 5 Favorite comics, graphic novels?
Here are some series that I’ve read over and over again:
Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka,
Uzumaki by Junji Ito,
School Zone by Kanako Inuki,
The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu, and Yotsuba&! By Kyohiko Azuma.
What type of work are you interested in doing? Now? In the future?
I’d like to keep making comics, but I’d also like to try writing chapter books and picture books. I’ve
always wanted to work on a video game or try storyboarding, too.
How can others find/ purchase your work?
You can find my work on my website! it’shttp://kelly-fernandez.com/