We had the good fortune of connecting with Arantza Pena Popo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Arantza, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I was born in Colombia, South America and raised in Stone Mountain, GA for about 15 years. I grew up in an immigrant household, so I think there has always been an aspirational quality of doing better than my parents. In a more personal sense, however, I was always kind of a shy and passive kid who grew up in a social and cultural environment, where emotions and mental illness were stigmatized or never really truly discussed. This silent childhood, along with the burdens of stigma, pushed me to pursue comics, since they helped me tackle more complex or taboo issues in a succinct and simple manner.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I draw comics that chronicle my revelatory personal experiences as an angsty Afro-Latina navigating a busy and disheartening world. I think what sets my work apart is that it is on a much more personal scope. I try not to tackle huge broad topics and instead I use my personal stories as microcosms of much bigger problems. In terms of my professional journey, I had always dreamed of making comics when I was in high school, but I always pushed it off because I honestly didn’t believe I was technically skilled enough to draw them. It was after attending an indie comics fair, (Comic Arts LA), that I realized my scope of the comic medium was pretty narrow. There were so many kinds of comics that were not the most technically complex, but were still very beautiful and communicated strong messages. It was a little after that, in quarantine, that I got tired of waiting and started to take comics seriously. It was by putting my art out in public view, and getting positive responses, that I realized that I cannot be the only one to make judgement of my art. I have to hand that responsibility of judging and analyzing to my audience. I want people to know that my comics work as a reflective device for me and it’s a form of visual communication that I do not take lightly.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I honestly feel I know other cities more than I know my own. However, if I had to take my friend around the area, I would probably start with the High Art Museum. It’s a little cliche, but it;s a place that’s very true to my heart and helped me develop a sense of artistic community. Since I’m a bit of a nature freak, I would probably take them out of Atlanta and to Providence Canyon, which is this beautiful state park in south Georgia. Afterwards, I would take them to Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, which is this cozy park by folk artist Howard Finster, built of makeshift art installations and beautiful handcrafted buildings (oh, and a huge fat cat!) To eat I would take them to Mandra’s Mantra, this cool vegetarian Indian spot in Clarkston that has some amazing paneer masala. And then to end the weekend off I would take my friend to chill in Piedmont Park or Millenium Gate Park and people watch.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a lot of people who deserve credit in my shoutout. My friends and family who have been supportive of me, my teachers and school staff members and many other admirers of my work who have shared and been inspired by my work. And especially other artists like Maria Balderas, who awesomely recommended me. I think the principal person who deserves my shoutout, however, is my mother. She has always really supportive of me, even though she kind of has no idea what I’m doing, profession-wise. She helped me move across the country and has always pushed me to share my work and be more proactive in my artistic career, even in my most stubborn times. I truly owe her the world.