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Boricua Woman Slays Webcomic World

By Charlie “Isa” Guzman

Comic books and their heroes and villains constantly prove to withstand the test of time. But the way that readers engage with comic books and culture has definitely evolved over the the years.

Webcomics emerged alongside the advent of the internet. In the early ‘80s comic artists like Erik Millikin and Joe Ekaitis became popular for their web presentation of comics--and the medium has become increasingly popular since.

Webcomics opened a new space for a more inclusive and diverse  comic culture. They’ve since become a viable platform for artists of color to disseminate their work, often times after failing to access mainstream companies like Marvel, or DC Comics.

Here at Centro we had the opportunity to chat with one such Boricua artist. Angelica Maria (AKA Charmwitch) is a 2-D artist born and raised in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. She’s currently living in California and working for a videogame company in Los Angeles, and on her latest comic. We asked her about her webcomic Solstoria and about how her culture and background play into her work.

Isa: How was your experience growing up on the island? When did you move to the states? Why? How has that experience been for you? 

Angelica: I was raised in Canóvanas, PR, but I was actually born in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. Growing up on the island... there's so much to it. It's a very unique experience.  I remember small things like stopping at the local panaderia to get sweet bread in the mornings.

When I was twelve, I lived on Ramey Air Force Base. I remember the smell of salt in the air during these years. We would visit Mayagüez pretty often. By this point in my life I was developing a hobby of playing video games and drawing. I remember saving up 70 USD (as a twelve year old!) for a copy of Lunar: The Silver Star Story and ordering it in Mayagüez.

I studied at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in the field of Psychology to make my parents proud. They weren't very keen on me following 'art' as a career. I don't really blame them, I was never entirely dedicated as I felt it was something I could never fully grasp or accomplish.

Art is hard, I thought. I also thought, well, I'm not smart enough or dedicated enough to be an artist. At the age of twenty, I finally decided to move to California to continue pursuing my education in psychology.

Isa: Why did you follow through with your passion for the arts over your interests in Psychology? What is it like to work as a freelance artist?

Angelica: I started drawing when I was twelve. It was all thanks to my love of video games! I really loved playing classic RPGs like Lunar: The Silver Star Story and Grandia. My first RPG was actually Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I thought it was just a normal Mario game and I've played those, so I rented it and... oh boy. I was so frustrated with my inability to understand the mechanics that I re-rented the game, started from the beginning, and slowly tried to understand how to play these games with battles and stories.

Stories were the key here. As a kid, I loved to read about lady knights going on adventures. If there weren't ladies involved, I wasn't interested. As you can tell with Solstoria, my love for lady knights continues until this day.

I never thought of art as a serious pursuit until I came to the United States. I was a fresh graduate from my psychology program and I entered  the master’s program immediately upon arrival. I had no idea how to do anything in the United States and, you can probably guess, I didn't fare so well. My grandmother died that semester.

I dropped out of the Masters program. It wasn't making me happy, I was on the brim of tears for days.  I loved school, but I felt so miserable. Why was I doing any of this?

I worked at a few retail places, I took a step back and just waited and hoped things would sort themselves out. I wanted to be successful, but I didn't feel ready, I didn't desire to become a psychologist. I felt too young and too inexperienced. I didn't want to help people when I couldn't help myself.

Around 2010, I realized I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to work on my art. I wanted to be a part of something I could share with others, and I think... I think working on Solstoria is what really pushed that. For the longest time, it was just an idea in my head, but when I got down to it I realized I couldn't draw anything. I had been drawing for so long, but I was not very good at it at all.

I started to take classes in 2010 and I was hired for my first art job in 2012 and then again in 2015. I'm currently freelancing because I know my art's not where I want it to be nor do I still fully understand the direction I want to go in life, but I'm working and fighting through figuring it out. Solstoria has been a gift to me and I'll continue to work on it to further improve myself and tell the stories I want to tell.

Isa: When did you start with Webcomics and  how has that experience been for you?

Angelica: I started working on Solstoria in 2010. I didn't know what it was at first, really. It was a story I wanted to show the world, something I've been working on with my entire being for the longest time. I wanted to create a world that had witches and ghosts and characters who interacted with the unique environment. I want these characters to feel relatable and enjoyable. I wanted to create content to give people hope and that's what mattered most to me.

Solstoria is my first and only webcomic. I had no idea what I was doing. I still don't! There are times I have a pretty strong script laid out and other times where I just play by ear. I draw entire pages only to destroy them because they're not very worthwhile in the storytelling. (Those days are the worst.) It's definitely a process.

I'm hoping that as I create, I can keep moving forward to being someone who can keep improving over her old self.

Isa: What aspects of your life in Puerto Rico, or the stories your mother told, help inform your work?

Angelica: My mom is really well-versed in storytelling, I think. She used to tell me a lot about how she grew up in a small school with all of her siblings and how she met my dad, but she also told me stories about how people would go missing or drive off the edge of the road and never be seen again. I don't know if my mom was trying to scare me or not, but it worked! Puerto Rico's kind of spooky sometimes at night, there isn't much public lighting and it's easy to get turned around with how few signs there are.

One of the most obvious examples I can think of is a saying my mother would tell me. "Se casa la bruja" is her version of a sunshower. When the sun is shining while it's raining she says "ah, a witch is getting married somewhere." There are other variations in Puerto Rico, one being just "the old woman is being married" and around the world it varies greatly, but hers is the first one I remember off the top of my head and it's something I've incorporated into the world of Solstoria.

Lately, I've been working on a rough script for a set of stories that take place in Puerto Rico. I really enjoy ghost stories and want to try to take a spin on them but set in Trujillo Alto, one of the key places of my childhood. I hope I can share this with you all soon.

Isa: Do you think other Puerto Rican artists could benefit from self-publishing online?

Angelica: I absolutely think other Puerto Ricans can benefit from self-publishing online and they should take full advantage of it! When it comes to comics, the Puerto Rico Comic Con is definitely one of the biggest events in the Caribbean. There are so many people out there who share the same hobbies and likes as you do, but it can be hard to feel that without the use of proper communications. The Internet has so many resources for budding artists, writers, and actors who want get noticed. I think we live in the best times to be self-published and to have our personal stories and products displayed.

Isa: How have you maintained your cultural connection being away from the island these years?

Angelica: I come back every few years to see my parents and grandparents! I'm actually quite a homesick person some days of the year as the United States gets way colder than I have ever experienced on the island. I also keep in check with El Nuevo Dia, the local newspaper in Puerto Rico. I've been very keen on keeping up with the news on the migration from Puerto Rico and the economic state of the island. Puerto Rico is very dear to me but there are also a lot of problems I'm aware of.

Beyond that, I stay in touch by talking to my mom and making sure I reply to my aunts on Facebook; otherwise I may be in trouble if I don't!