Life Through Graphics: Power Paola's Graphic Novels
Those who have read Paola Gaviria, known by her pen name Power Paola, probably already know her life story. The new reader who is browsing curiously for the first time through the black and white comics about her family, love, trips, and cities, would need to use a little insight to understand her life. The Colombian-Ecuadorian author and artist used her life as raw material for her debut, the graphic novel entitled Virus Tropical [Tropical virus] (2011). This autobiography was the beginning of Paola’s career in the world of graphic narrative and relates the following story. Paola Andrea Gaviria Silguero was born on June 20, 1977 in Quito, Ecuador. Her parents—a priest and a mystic, both Colombians—had emigrated to the South American city along with their first two daughters shortly before they were surprised by their third pregnancy and the arrival of Paola in their lives. Then, while Paola is growing up and her older sisters experience adolescence, their father leaves the clergy aside, divorces their mother, and returns to his country. Their mother, meanwhile, who has to deal with all of these changes, remains in Ecuador, looking for a job to supplement the family's income and raise her daughters with the help of a maid until they are old enough to become more or less independent. Virus Tropical doesn’t tell the story as to how Paola Gaviria (the girl) became Power Paola (the artist), but by studying her subjects and techniques, the new reader will learn how the features of her life have ignited an entire career dedicated to comic art.
Virus Tropical is a graphic novel that is constructed by panels organized in chapters. Each of these chapters is in turn a comic story that briefly details a part of the birth or the youth of the artist. These comics, however, do not account for the protagonist's experience alone, but also aim to include parts of the experience of her parents, sisters, and their maid, the lives that surround and influence Paola's formation process. This focus on various perspectives that contribute to the personal experience is one of the most characteristic qualities of this debut. We can see this in her art as well, through the lines of the drawings and the way she frames the action, the bubbles of dialogue and narration cartridges, the qualities that make the comic a unique and original means of expression. The artistic style that Power Paola uses in Virus Tropical highlights the way in which her comics communicate the personal experiences that form the core of her theme, always in relation to the spaces in which these experiences unfold.
On the other hand, the small amount of shadows mentioned above can also flatten the reality represented in her art. This is one of the ways in which the design of Power Paola's characters favors caricature over quasi-photorealism. Another way we can appreciate this feature is in the way she draws bodies. The anatomy of the characters suggests the qualities of a cartoon, where faces are formed by minimal stripes and bodies behave in unreal but expressive ways. When they cry, their eyes are flooded with thick drops; when they shout, their tongues lengthen until they look like the tongue of a serpent. Caricaturizing facial expressions, however, serves to emphasize the emotions and experiences of the characters. In other words, the design of the character’s faces sacrifices the naturalistic simulacrum to take advantage of a sense of intimacy and immediacy to the maximum, attracting readers to the caricature and allowing them to identify with what is supposed to be the experience of a stranger. In this way, Power Paola's drawings play with the human body, instill the scenes with emotion, and create a bond of emotional nostalgia that communicates the perspective of childhood and domestic surroundings. This perspective allows the reader of Virus Tropical to experience the growth of a girl, as well as the lives that surround her, her family, and her cities. Power Paola’s art therefore transmits the importance of this network of symbiotic interrelationships so that the focus on the personal can resonate with the entirety of the work. This graphic novel expands the genre's thematic limits, transforming what could be a simple bildungsroman into a reflection on the everyday life of the immigrating Latin American family and the social discourses that establish it.
Firstly, all these texts, including Virus Tropical, have a strong diaristic intention. A large part of the individual comics that fill their respective pages carry the date of the event that is represented (or the date when they were put on paper), the name of the city where it occurred, and/or a subtitle. However, we witness the moments of Paola's life in and out of order, like the episodes of a TV series which we only watch sporadically. The chronology of these graphic novels is one that changes but is always present. In addition, although these episodes are always guided by the impetus of recording the small interactions that form the day to day, they are rarely geared toward the creation of singular, imposing plots. Like Virus, the rest of the works function as accumulations of formative incidents gathered around a few recurring topics.
Virus has been published in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Spain, among other countries, has been translated into English and French and now has an adaptation to an animated film that began screening at international festivals in October 2017. Power Paola spends her time publishing more comics, giving workshops on the subject and helping to spread the work of others. If we look at the last five years of her career, she doesn’t show any signs of pausing the continual record of her stay in this world, through her recognizable diary-comics.
Iván Pérez Zayas
Iván Pérez Zayas has a BA in film and an MA in English literature, both from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus. He has worked as a journalist, a college professor, and in 2015, he co-edited Un nuevo pulmón: Antología del porvenir, a collection of short stories, non-fiction, and poetry by young Puerto Rican writers published by Secta de los perros. He is currently a graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Northwestern University, and is writing a dissertation on Latin American graphic novels. His first book of poetry, titled Para restarse, will be published by Editorial Disonante this summer.
LALT No. 6 goes from the gripping true stories of literary journalism to the strange worlds of fantastic short stories and graphic literature. We highlight chronicles by Colombian journalist Alberto Salcedo Ramos, speculative fiction in a dossier curated by Mexican writer Alberto Chimal, and Yucatec Maya poetry and prose in our ongoing Indigenous Literature series.