I first saw Kat Fajardo's artwork via The First Rule of Punk, one of the entries in my 2017 Holiday Gift Guide of Hardcore, Punk + Metal Books list. Her eye-grabbing visuals were the perfect compliment to Celia C. Pérez's story of a young girl who chooses to live her life on her own terms. It's no wonder that Kat was chosen for the book, since her own DIY comics (Gringa!, Superstitions) are made out of the same kind of rebel spirit.
Get to know Kat in the latest installment of No Echo's Art Spotlight series.
Where were you born and raised, and were your parents into the arts?
I'm a native New Yorker and I grew up in Loisaida, a small latino community in the Lower East Side. Although I lived in a household that lacked an appreciation for the arts, I'm very lucky to have supportive parents, even if they don't understand what I do. But I think I got my artistic side from my father's family in Colombia, I have a bunch of tíos who are architects, painters, and musicians so it might be in the blood.
Where did your early interest in illustration come from? Did you watch a lot of cartoons/read comic books?
My interest in illustration started back in middle school when I spent an unhealthy amount of time reading Clamp manga and watching way too much anime like Dragonball Z and Digimon. Ripping off my favorite shows, I would draw my own characters and create dumb stories.
Who were some of your early influences?
In 5th grade, I had a huge obsession with Frida Kahlo, all thanks to my wonderful art teacher, who had posters of her work in our art room. Frida's morbid and beautiful paintings really called out to my goth tween self. Once I started getting into comic series like Neil Gaiman's Sandman and the Hernandez's brothers' Love & Rockets series, that's when I decided I wanted to make comics for real.
At what point did you begin to truly begin to find your stylistic voice?
For years I felt like I was struggling with my work. Most of the zines I made didn't feel authentic or interesting enough for me. Until one day I decided to experiment new ideas and made a comic based on pages from my diary sketchbook. As a result, I self-published Gringa, which was an auto-bio comic based on my experiences and conflicts with my own identity as a Latina- American. And ever since then, every work I make has a part of my voice in it!
What is the story behind La Raza Anthology?
La Raza Anthology was an idea that came right about after Gringa. Interested in finding more comics with a Latinx narrative, I noticed that I had a difficult time finding similar work in my comics community. So instead of complaining and waiting around for something to happen, I took the initiative of posting a call for submissions online for a collection of works by Latinx creators. And in a matter of days, I received over 100 responses from creators all over the world. Eventually a Kickstarter was launched to fund the book printing, which was successfully funded and now there's a beautiful book to show everyone! Hopefully, I get the chance to make more anthologies, but La Raza was a very demanding job on top of my own work. So, in the meantime, I plan on focusing on my own work getting published.
What is your typical tool setup?
I've been using traditional media for years and I'm very comfortable using nibs, brush and markers for inking. Since it takes a lot of practice and dedication to perfect techniques with this media, you can imagine my struggle of trying to replicate it on screen. I've stayed away from digital work for a long time aside from coloring my comics. However, after recently taking continuing education animation courses at SVA, I fell in love with Cintiqs. I finally caved in and bought one, I've been using it everyday since then.
What usually comes first, the copy or the illustration? Walk me through that.
Strangely enough, both! I usually jot down my ideas like an illustrated diary entry. If I can't find the right words to describe a thought/feeling, drawing it out really helps convey my point. But when I work with clients, it's easier to work with a provided script and work with their own ideas.
What are the toughest aspects of what you do from a business standpoint? Are you constantly networking and reaching out to editors for gigs?
I think finding the energy to make art after working my day job is the toughest part of being a freelancer. Today, social media is insanely important for artists, but you would need time and consistently create work in order to make your online presence known. Thankfully, I work at a cafe in the mornings, so after work I chug down a red eye and work the rest of the night at my studio. The weeks before convention season are the hardest. Printing and assembling zines while working long hours is incredibly energy-draining! But it's worth it once you get yourself to the convention.
I love selling comics behind a table, you get to meet your readers, other cool artists and editors in person. I can't stress enough the importance of attending comic and zine festivals as an artist, I've made great business connections that way. However, most of my recent networking with publishers have been made all thanks to my literary agent, Linda Camacho. Because of her hard work, I was able to work on cool projects like creating the cover for The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez, as well as a few more exciting projects coming up!
Tell me about some of the newer artists we should all check out.
There are so many talented artists to mention but lately I've been loving Kelly Fernandez's work, she's currently working on a graphic novel called Manu with Scholastic, which I'm very excited to read. I also recommend checking out work by Breena Nunez Peralta (Dear Sentida), Aatmaja Pandya (Travelogue), Vreni Stollberger (Raven Eyes), Steph Rodriguez (Lil' Shorties), and Iasmin Omar Ata (Mis(h)adra), they're all big inspirations to me! And as a form of shameless advertisement, all of La Raza Anthology's contributors are incredible, so definitely check them out, too!
If you had to pick one of your pieces that best encapsulates why you love doing what you do, which one would it by and why?
My on-going zine series, Bandida, really captures the theme in most of my work. It's a collection of short fun stories on my experiences with my Latinx culture. Because it's self-published, I have enough room to experiment with different ideas, formats, and stories with intentions of expanding those stories in later works. While I hope readers find the stories entertaining, I also hope they find it informative and learn a few things about Latinx culture.