Mexico’s Graphic Novel Diva on Sociopaths, Serial Killers, and Progressive Politics

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Cecilia “C.S.” Pego established a reputation in her native Mexico as “La Diva de la Novela Grafica Mexicana.” Her characteristic use of bold blacks give her comics their graphic power. But her art continues to evolve in sophistication. Sardonia y Chamuco, her 1990s editorial strip, has an hallucinogenic, Skip Williamson–like underground comix intensity. Her jagged, spiky Terrora y Taboo people evoke New Wave–era punk. And the sensuously delicate lines of Madame Mactan, her best-known character, are straight out of Beardsley. Her book Madame Mactans: Serial Killer of Serial Killers is being scheduled for U.S. release.

In the following interview we discuss Pego’s formative years. Next Friday’s installment deals in depth with Exilia: The Invisible Path, her first graphic novel in English. We also cover the advantages of e-books, comic cons, and watercolor illustration.

Nightmare of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park

Where did you get your art training?

I am a self-taught artist, although I have to mention that my parents introduced me to painting and literature as a child. My father took me to all the painting exhibitions that were held in Mexico City, teaching me my first lessons in color theory and perspective, while my mother shared with me her love for classic literature. So I think it was my fate that I was going to work by combining painting and literature.

Later on, I furthered my art and literature passions by myself. I graduated in civil engineering, which I regard as key in having developed my vision as an artist. The precise stroke in my artwork resulted from crafting topographic maps, engineering drawings, and blueprints. Actually, I realize that everything I learned about structure was subconsciously applied to my artistic method, integrating it with my art appreciation and self-instruction in color and art techniques.

How did you become a political cartoonist?

My first job as a professional artist was in 1990 at the local newspaper in Cd. Juarez, Chihuahua. I naively asked for an opening in the editorial pages by showing the editors some illustrations I did for a faculty magazine. And to my surprise, they specifically opened a space for me to publish Sardonia y Chamuco in the early 1990s.

Tell me about your skeletons and characters like the factory-head man.

Skeletons are a very popular symbol in political cartooning in Mexico. They represent extreme poverty. They first appeared in the drawings of José Guadalupe Posada. And basically, all the editorial cartoonists pay homage to Posada by using this symbol.

The man with a factory head represents the polluted ideas of politicians and businessmen who refuse to acknowledge ecological destruction. Both characters were very popular every time they appeared in Sardonia y Chamuco.

Why did you switch careers?

After a while, I decided to abandon political cartooning because it was very limiting. For political cartooning I used imagination to explore power, whereas with fiction I could explore the power of imagination. So ever since, I have worked in developing characters to explore emotions and ideas, thinking beyond political notions. One of those character-based comics, Terrora y Taboo, was published weekly for several years in La Jornada, Mexico’s national newspaper.

This comic is about a freelance sociopath and her failed attempts to cause shock in a world crazier than she is. So instead, she ends up being very chic. Her accomplice is her hybrid half-cat, half-piranha pet that eats French poodle nuggets.

Next you created Madame Mactans for El Chamuco.

El Chamuco is a Mexican progressive political cartoon magazine. It’s the only magazine that showcases works of fiction by independent comic authors. While it publishes mostly opinions and critiques about Mexican politics, I have kept Madame Mactans away from any political view.

And how did she develop?

Terrora dated serial killers and killed them afterwards. But the story needed a more feminine kind of woman so I created Mactans, a.k.a. Madame Mactans, to explore this story about extreme love, death, and fear.

Madame Mactans is a female serial killer of serial killers. She has an emotional handicap of the soul; the only emotion she can experience is fear. Because of this, she confuses love with fear and fear with love. So she always is falling in love with serial killers. While they are trying to kill her, she thinks they are trying to seduce her, and she ends up killing them accidentally.

Who have been your art mentors?

I never had an art mentor. My path has been a lonely one. Thankfully, it has worked well for me, helping me to develop a very personal vision and method of working. I think that an “art mentor” would have transformed itself into an “art tormentor” over time, because the guiding hand would inevitably be felt as a limiting one at some point in my personal artistic journey.

Our conversation concludes here