Latin American Ilustracion: Alexandra Beguez

By David Schonauer   Wednesday January 27, 2016

Alexandra Beguez  grew up watching Disney movies.

Like many other kids, those films inspired her to draw. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve woven stories into being using pencil and paper,” she says. “I’d take all the paper I could get my hands on and draw picture books and fashion designs. While I knew deep down inside I liked telling stories, my visual method of delivery did not become apparent to me for a long while.”

Beguez eventually enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York, though her field of study was computer animation. It wasn’t until her junior year that she took a course with cartoonist Nick Bertozzi. “It forever changed my perspective on comics and what the medium was capable of,” she says. “It took a couple of years after graduating for me to realize that illustrating and making comics was what I really wanted to do.”

Beguez is currently in her last year of an MFA program at SVA, working on her thesis project, a sci-fi webcomic which will debut in July. In the meantime, she managed to create a nonfiction comic book based on stories she heard as a child from her mother, aunt, uncle and their friends about living in pre-revolution and post-revolution Cuba. The project, titled Los Conejos De Carmen, is a winner of the Latin American Ilustracion 4  competition.

“It’s been a back-burner idea to tell the story of my family leaving Cuba and settling in the United States for some time,” says Beguez. The idea of faithfully portraying the characters and events in the family saga intimidated her, however.

“Recently, I’ve become more interested in nonfiction comics, such as Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey and Sara Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less and her reportage comic work for Cartoon Movement,” Beguez says. “Luckily she is a very generous blogger, and I’ve been able to read about her process for making these comics, which fascinates me as it is both very foreign to what I’ve done in the past and at once similar.”

Beguez created her Cuba comic book for an MFA Visual Narrative Digital Short Story class in 2015. “I instantly recalled my mother telling me how they raised a large nest of rabbits to supplement their diet and how one of the rabbits ended up becoming their pet,” she says. Here, Beguez describes creating the comic book:

The comic was created over a period of five months, starting with interviewing my mom and transcribing all our sessions (which took longer than I anticipated). One of my biggest challenges was adapting the material into a short story. There were several elements of the longer story I had to drop or rearrange, and I merged several characters for the sake of clarity (I basically crammed 24 pages into 12). Since completing this project, I’ve developed an even greater respect for nonfiction writers and cartoonists. It was also difficult to recreate my mother’s house in Guanabacoa, a suburb of La Habana. There were no photographs of the house that made it out of Cuba, so I had to rely on my mother’s descriptions (which I made her repeat many, many times).

Beguez says she has a “long tedious process” for drawing comics. “It starts with me sketching loose thumbnails for every page,” she notes. “Once I decide that the layouts are working, I scan and blow up the thumbnails to scale and trace everything onto bristol vellum. After I refine all the pencil drawings, which is the step that takes me the longest, I whip out my Winsor & Newton or Raphael sable brushes and ink the whole thing with Sumi ink. Sometimes I’ll add color digitally using Photoshop (as I did for the cover)."


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Dispatches from Latin America