Artwork for podcast How Art is Born
Mental health and representation with comic artists Jacenta L. Irlanda & Diamanto Sala
Episode 627th October 2021 • How Art is Born • MCA Denver
00:00:00 00:56:52

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Jacenta L. Irlanda, Diamanto Sala, and host R. Alan Brooks all have something in common: A love of comics from a very young age. All three found escape and joy in reading and creating comics as children and that love persists today, though with a more nuanced approach, especially due to their respective jobs and identities. In Jacenta’s case, she incorporates comics into her art therapy practice in order to help clients access their emotional trauma in a safe manner. For Diamanto, their job as a sex worker has enhanced their desire to see themes of justice in the comics they consume. For both of them, meaningful representation—not tokenization—both on the page and behind the pen, are of paramount importance. In this special two-for-one episode, the group discusses these themes, plus the pressure to conform their artistic style to others’, advice for receiving harsh feedback, and more.

This episode contains mature language and content.

Links mentioned in this episode:

La Borinqueña — Puerto Rican superhero Jacenta mentions

Steven Universe,” “She-Ra,” “The Owl House” — Cartoons with queer representation Diamanto and Alan mention

The Burning Metronome by R. Alan Brooks

Transcripts

Courtney Law (:

Hello, this is Courtney Law, the Executive Producer of How Art is Born, an MCA Denver original podcast. I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for listening. Your support means the world to us and we hope you’ve found the episodes in season 1 so far to be as illuminating and inspiring as we have. I also wanted to take a moment to tell you about another cool Denver-based podcast: City Cast Denver. Hosted by longtime Denverite, as well as journalist, activist, and friend of the museum, Bree Davies, City Cast Denver is actually the city’s first and only daily news podcast. Every weekday, Bree dives into the stories and issues that matter most to Denver, and has real conversations with the artists, politicians, activists, and leaders who make our city great. If, for example, you are closely following the dicey Casa Bonita ownership situation, then you will want to tune in to this podcast as they continue to shed light on how that is evolving. The City Cast Denver podcast will make you feel more connected to Denver, whether you’ve been here for six weeks or six generations. Find it wherever you listen to podcasts. Without further ado, please enjoy this week’s episode of How Art is Born.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Hey, I'm R. Alan Brooks, a writer and professor. This is How Art is Born an MCA Denver podcast about the origins of artists and their creative and artistic practice. Today I'm joined by licensed professional counselor and art therapist, Jacenta L. Irlanda and artist and sex worker, Diamanto Sala. Hello hello. [Crosstalk 00:00:31]. For the sake of not being confusing, I guess I could have done one at a time. So hello, Jacenta?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Hi.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Hello, Diamanto?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Hello.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Because people are listening, and they're which, who?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Wait, whose voice goes where?

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right.

Diamanto Sala (:

So many voices happening at once.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So I guess let's start with Jacenta. Can you tell us a little about who you are, and what you do?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Of course. Starting with that big existential question there with who am I, but from the foundation why I'm here is, I am a practicing mental health license counselor and art therapist. I am an artist and I'm super, super passionate about the ways that art and story can be integrated into mental health therapeutic practices, very much like comic books being a whole part of that. Comic books have been in my life since probably birth, because of my father, so I think that has a lot to do with just where I'm at today.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Nice. All right. Diamanto who are you? What do you do?

Diamanto Sala (:

Well, I'm a trans disabled Sinto sex worker, and I make art. Used to do comics more and it's hard to write the whole story, and figure all that stuff out when you're disabled and stuff. But doing my best in getting through that, and really interested in comics and just narrative and visual storytelling.

R. Alan Brooks (:

There's a cool way that-- I think it's just interesting to talk about, how each of us met. Because it's just this way that you're in the world, and you don't know the people are connected by art in the same way.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

So ,Jacenta, you and I met at Comic Con, so I guess that was obvious. But you were Black Widow maybe, no?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Domino probably.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Domino, yes. You were cosplaying as Domino.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Any female X-Men character you can name, that was probably me.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. So we were like across from each other, all right. And then you, Diamanto, we met at a Motown night that used to happen every week in Denver, and you were sketching at the bar.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. I used to go to the bar, and bring my sketchbook. It's a nice way to be around people, but if you don't feel like talking to them, you have a good excuse like, "no I'm busy," and you can draw people.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh yeah, you have models ready.

Diamanto Sala (:

You have models right there.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. Well, so I like to start with where did art first appear in your life? So why don't we start with you, Diamanto, where did you first connect with art?

Diamanto Sala (:

I feel like as soon as I could hold a pen, basically, I was drawing just all the time. I drew these storyboard type of almost comics, but they didn't have dialogue. Because at a certain point I couldn't even write yet, I could draw, but I couldn't write more than a couple words. So I would draw these storyboard, comic things with panels, when I was like three, four.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Wow.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

What was appealing to you about that? Was it that you just wanted to tell a story with your art or?

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. I think I really liked cartoons and comic books, anime, all that stuff. So stories and art were always linked.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Alright and Jacenta, you said that your father, especially, was into comics. Was that the first art that you did? Was it comics art or did you find your way to it?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

No, it actually, it actually wasn't. I don't really remember what my first own creation of art was. So my father is Puerto Rican and my mother is white European Polish, but the thing that they both shared was a love of the arts. My father used to draw and he used to replicate the comic book trading cards that he would get, so he would have a little card of [indecipherable] and then draw a big version of it and I used to just sit and watch and amazed that he could do that colored pencils. And so I believe that just having the privilege of being in a household where my parents really fostered creativity, I just naturally was like, okay. My mom would tell me, I would sit on top of the kitchen table with all my colors, and just markers and things, just all over the place and would just draw. But I feel I didn't really develop my own personal relationship with art until I was in high school.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

A big transition and grief happened in my life, and I knew intuitively that I needed an outlet. Because I'm not a feeler, I'm a thinker through and through, but I knew that innately, I just needed something more to take care of myself, and that's when art just started flourishing. I started with a lot of character design, but it was sad stories and it was sad characters. I remember killing off an angel in a story, and then I drew it and my mom was like, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "It's my art." And so I think that's when I started using art form for storytelling, and emotional expression. It just started developing into character design and figuring out stories for characters, but not doing comic books. It was more written prose for a while, and I didn't try to start doing my first comic until probably grad school, actually.

R. Alan Brooks (:

And so it sounds you started using art as a catharsis to work through the grief that you mentioned, and then it grew into wanting to tell other stories?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Yeah. It came out of a very emotionally turmoil place, and I realized just how healing the art can take you, especially in story form. It's not always a safe feeling to just talk about an emotional trauma or a grief, but if I can use the metaphor of a comic book story, like a superhero origin story to write and process my feelings, that felt so much more not only safe, but healing for me to do. And that obviously prompted more exploration with comic books and how to use comic books to also help others in their healing without having to draw.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well, so that's interesting. So you guys were talking about just being young, three or four, and doing comics. I remember when I was maybe four, I was trying to draw superheroes and I thought that if I added more humps to a muscle, like more biceps, so I would draw characters with super long arms and a whole bunch of bicep humps. I'd be like, "They're really powerful, nobody can beat Arm Man or whatever."

Diamanto Sala (:

This guy's got so many biceps. Look at him, no one could beat him.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well, so for myself, I think reading comic books was a way of connecting, because I was pretty good in school. Which meant that I wasn't very popular in elementary school, and I wasn't into sports or anything that. So being able to read these stories that touch creativity, intelligence, and drawing -- all things that were like brewing in me -- I found a place of connection. So, Diamanto, for you. Were you using art early on to process feelings or was it just like hey, this is cool and beautiful and I want to do something cool and beautiful?

Diamanto Sala (:

I think it probably took a while to have that presence of mind to really understand that you process feelings to begin with, and much you like Jacenta I was in middle school, high school. It was a pretty turbulent time, and I feel there's a lot of complex emotions going on, and had an event that caused a lot of grief for me personally as well. I think that's when art started being more of an outlet in that way, more than just like, I'm just bored this is what I do when I'm bored, always.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I guess it was interesting too, I drew a lot. But then when I hit high school, I got involved in hip hop, and girls responded a lot more to hip hop than they did comic books, so I got waylaid, like I kept reading them, but I wasn't drawing much anymore, I was doing rap battles and stuff like that. I didn't get back to trying to create comics until 2016, like a few years ago. So it's interesting to hear what the journeys were like. Okay, so Jacenta for you, you said that journey culminated in college, was it to just get to comic books and start trying to create those?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Trying to create my own, yes. I had a relationship with comics my whole life, and watched all the nineties, because I'm a nineties baby. So all the nineties X-Men and Justice League, and all those shows that came out. You were talking about reading the comics I was very much drawn to X-Men in particular, for that reason. I got to see empowered, amazing women who were fully clothed, and I didn't realize how much that meant something to me at the time. Because when you're kids, you are drawn to something and you know that you are, but you're not quite sure why. And so I think as I got older noticing more and more how much was missing in the comics that I really wanted to be there, that's when in grad school, when I realized that I could start to formulate how to use comics for healing. That really made me look at more and more of what was lacking in comic books.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

And so that's when I started making my own and learning about other characters like La Borinqueña, who's a Puerto Rican superhero that nobody knows about and she has three comics. You know, comics like that. And so that's when my relationship fully started just developing into how I use comic books now, and that relationship has transformed.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Nice. Okay. Well, and Diamanto I heard really strong yeah, when Jacenta was talking about what is missing in comics. So what things were you thinking about? What things was it that you wanted to see?

Diamanto Sala (:

Well, my dad also read comic books, and so I had access to a lot of his comic books from the seventies or like 60s to 70s, and so mostly Marvel and all that. And then I read a little bit of stuff after that, but not super consistently. I guess I was doing comics like not great obviously, but in middle school and high school and writing stuff, but a lot of it was just gory, horrible stuff like vent art.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's a definite term.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, absolutely. But when I got more interested in reading comics again, I felt like it was a little inaccessible to me. Because of a lot of the lack of social awareness or just that a lot of the people creating comics were just cis, het, white dudes, so it was just the stories from their perspective. Even when characters were not cis, het, white dudes, it was like there's still a cis, het, white dude voice in here, I'm having a hard time connecting to some of this. So, yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Okay. So we talked about how you first connected with it, and what appealed to you about the form. I guess I want to know like, so okay, Jacenta for example, you talked about working with prose stories, and obviously comics were always a part of your life. But when it came time to tell other stories or work in healing, why that medium? Why did you choose comics to do it in?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I think it actually came from my very first practice client, when I was in grad school. Because I already know that I like to start with strengths-based things first, with people I'm not that person that's like, so tell me about your trauma when you were this age. This is not helpful. I try to remember that everybody actually has their own wisdom for healing, and with this person in particular, extensive history of trauma. He was also an offender, and he didn't want to talk to me. He didn't want to talk to me, and I was okay with that. So I think I remembered something he said in another group, and I asked him if he liked comic books. And he started talking to me about Charles Xavier, and how much Charles Xavier meant to him.

R. Alan Brooks (:

The leader of the X-Men for people who are not in the...

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Yes, Charles Xavier from X-Men, how much he meant to him. And then that led me to want to ask more about why are you drawn to this character? Do you relate to him? Do you see yourself in him? I realized that he was more willing to talk to me through his trauma, and just tell me about him through this metaphor. So I got to know who he was, and we finally got to a place where he admitted when he was a child he used to wish Superman would come in and rescue him, and just take him away. I was like, "Oh my gosh." And so this paved the way for me to do research on superhero psychology and therapy, which there's a lot of psychology fan-based type of stuff. But not a lot of therapy on superhero therapy, and wanting to figure out how to formulate that for me. So that's where it really flourished, and I always try to ... if I'm going to have to write a 50 page paper on something, it better be something that I'm passionate about, that I want to learn more and this was it.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I wanted to know how to do this more, and yeah, he drew what his super person's self looked. He drew what his shadow or villain self looked like. I asked him to just tell me verbally his origin story while I typed it for him, and we just had him draw the stuff that he was comfortable with drawing or making out of clay. And that's when I noticed, I was like, he's telling me his whole trauma story in this format, and it was working. He was taking his own steps naturally to tell me what his inner child was like, and I didn't have to do any of that. So I found that stories are just such an innate way of guiding you on your own path, and I was just there to help guide this whole process. And so that really opened my eyes to being able to use comic books in this way, and prompted me to do more research, more application, and more presenting on how to even incorporate comic books in mental health practices.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. So when you're using comic books in mental health practices, is it specifically superhero archetypes or I don't know, do non-superhero comics come up in that work?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

It depends, sometimes it's more we just use comic books as a guide for them to create their own, or we'll bring in a comic or I might even offer a comic. So somebody may be talking to me and I say, do you mind if I share this with you, it seems it relates to you. And I might bring in a comic book that I'm aware of, and talk to them about it, ask them to read it and tell me their thoughts. Normally, they're right in line with their experience, so I think for me, that's why it's important for me to know, not as many comics as I can, because that's impossible, but try to find as many diverse supers in the comic book universe. So I can be able to not offer, like you said earlier about not just offering a person of color or trans person, all these cis, hetero, white superheroes. I want to find something more aligned, so it just really depends on who I'm with in the room, what kind of comics or how they're being used.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. Yeah. Well, so I ask that question because well, first of all, I think people listening, a lot of people think that superheroes are the only kind of comics. That was a vigorous shaking of the head, no, by Jacenta for people listening.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. Definitely, a lot of people. Yeah. My mm-hmm (affirmative) was lots of people definitely think that.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Diamanto Sala (:

And mine was disapproval.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right. And so I think obviously the superhero archetypes work in your work, and then Diamanto in your work, I want to talk a little bit about how your work influences what you do artistically? So you've been an artist your whole life, you've been a sex worker for how long?

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. It's kind of fuzzy, because is sleeping with someone so you have somewhere to stay that's not your own house, it varies the definition. So it's 15 plus years, in that case, but as far as an actual profession for money, I guess almost 10 years.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. Yeah. Well, so then with that experience how does that come into the art that you create? Because so much of creating art seems to be about filtering our experiences with people, and the world and that kinda stuff. So yeah, how does it come into what you're creating?

Diamanto Sala (:

Well, I think in a lot of ways, a lot of stories, like the stories that I enjoy the most I feel like talk about justice and injustice, and marginalization, and things that. Being a sex worker, even now it's trendy or whatever, and people are like, "Yeah, sex work is work." But does that mean that those same people treat me any better really when I'm in a room with them? Not necessarily. That was gaining this identity through having a job, which is so weird, because I was never like, oh my job is me. I'm not my job, but if you're a sex worker, you kind of are your job, whether you like it or not. Because you're just constantly being shown images of yourself as sub-human, because of what you do. And disposable, especially in narratives and in media where it's like, sex workers just get killed off to let you know how bad a bad guy is or something that.

Diamanto Sala (:

Lots of reasons, but yeah, I think gaining that identity and figuring out that I was queer and trans and stuff like that. And getting more disabled as the years go on, it all adds to that feeling of needing stories, and narratives that I can relate to.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Are you finding those kind of stories in comics or other places?

Diamanto Sala (:

I don't look super hard for comics right now, but definitely in cartoons.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh really?

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, a lot of cartoons have spinoff comics now, so it's like this feeds into itself so kind of industry.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well now I'm curious, are you thinking like "Steven Universe" or ...

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, "Steven Universe" is the obvious.

R. Alan Brooks (:

"She-Ra."

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, "She-Ra" is a good one too. Now, "The Owl House" is good, has a queer Latina kid, so that's pretty great.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah, that's pretty cool. It's such an interesting thing to have gone for a time without being able to see ourselves in media, and then when we get a chance to how profound that is. I often tell the story of going to comic book conventions when I was 10 years old, and back then conventions were like 300 people. The first one I went to, like I said, I was 10. So comics were not popular enough in Atlanta to get at their own convention, so it was comic book slash Star Trek convention. And they didn't make Black Vulcan ears, I wanted to be a Vulcan. Not only was I the only Black person, but I was the only kid. It was only White dudes in their twenties and thirties, not even women or anything. It's so amazing to me to see how much that whole world is pro proliferated, that Comic Con can be 150,000 people, that's crazy to me.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That people who never read a comic book, know the name of Wakanda. It feels like me and one of my friends made up a secret language when we were kids, and that was all that comic book stuff. Now suddenly everybody knows the secret language [crosstalk 00:25:01] it's such an adjustment, man.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I was the only, only cisgender female and growing up who liked comics enough to where all the White boys would be, oh, and they'd try to challenge me on my comic book knowledge. So yeah, it's incredible to see how large the community really is for comics. And being able to actually get to bond in that joy, I think is even more beautiful. But yeah, there's still just some things that are lacking in terms of representation.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. So we were talking about how both professions show up in art or how you would observe art or whatever, and I want to know more like Jacenta said, you talked about how you use comics in your practice. But I know that you also create art, like you create comics and write stories, and you have pin ups, I guess. I don't know what I'm trying to say, you do posters. I remember you selling your art, that's what I meant. Yes.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

No, I've never done pin ups, because those are sexualized.

R. Alan Brooks (:

[inaudible 00:26:17] That was the wrong word. You were not in a photo, you were creating posters that could be pinned up on the wall?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Yes.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Of your art, but I guess, okay. So what's important to you when you're creating art? Is it just passion, are you trying to put a message across? What things are you thinking of?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I think it's both, there's a message there, and I think that it also still stems from what I am navigating in my art. So the comic book that I created had a lot to do with me navigating my own identity and being biracial, it took me a long time to even be able to say that. And so when I created my super person self, she actually has skin pigmentation, so you can actually see the two skin colors, and that was something that was really important for me, and a lot of people didn't like that I did that.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well, how did that show up? Will people just I don't like that or?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Pretty much they were I don't that or why would you put color on somebody who looks white for example, and I've always been in that place of not being recognized as a person of color enough or a White person enough. But that came out in my artwork on navigating my identity, but it also grew to be a message about how do we preserve culture. Or how do we honor differences. It's more of a mythology, because it's about Oracles, so it's more of a mythology than a traditional comic book. But I think that's what a lot of my artwork does, it's very illustrative, it's markers and pen and it always sets a scene or a tone. And so I think I'm always trying to navigate my own internal worlds, but they do get processed to a greater message. One of the pieces that I think you're referring to that often got sold a lot at conventions was never my fan art, it was the two children that were just colorless, because I wanted to be able to just fill in their own image of what that child was.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Amidst this huge, dangerous lava fantasy landscape. That had to do with me navigating a lot of my inner child. Not trauma, I don't identify as having trauma, but just a lot of my own inner child development and some of the obstacles that I came up against.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

It comes out to this message where people are noticing their own reactions, seeing child-like figures in a dangerous environment, that's also still a fantastical realm. So I think it gets confusing, because they're like I'm drawn of this, it's beautiful. There's something about this that's magical, and this is terrifying. I would not want to be my five year old self in the face of a lava figure, and so I think that's what a lot of my art is, is how do I transform some of the inner world and externalize it into, even if it's just a one image story.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well, so Diamanto, a lot of your work is bright colors, like these really surreal and beautiful and engaging colors. I guess, what does that mean to you? How are you choosing your colors? Are they expressing emotion or is it just what you like?

Diamanto Sala (:

I guess it can be both, I feel pretty drawn to color in general. I'm pretty like pretty obsessive about bright colors, and I feel like I have ... now I can't think of the word ... synesthesia. Yeah. Synesthesia. So colors have a feeling and they can have all these other senses, and then beyond that emotions attached to them. And so it's partially that, and using that as symbolism. And then also just, I really like certain color combinations, and looking at them makes my eyes happy.

R. Alan Brooks (:

A lot of times when I'm talking to other creative people, especially people who are like, "I'm an aspiring fill in a blank, I'm an aspiring singer, aspiring comic book, artist," whatever it is. the big thing is that they're trying to figure out how to create their thing without having any failures. And so, right, obviously that's a doomed mission from the beginning. So I find it's important when I'm talking with artists on this podcast, to talk about times that we have had an idea or tried for something and it didn't work out, so who wants to share want one of those?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I can share. So one of the things that I did learn was art will do what it needs to do. I can't force my art to go one way or the other, it's just going to be what it needs to be. The more that I try to force it, the more I'm going to be frustrated and probably run into those feelings of failure walls. I think in the past, for me, if I feel like that may happen, I just wouldn't do art, period. Because I knew that that would not be something that I wanted to face, and I know that the art is going to just be what it wants to be. It's kind of like paint or watercolor, you only have so much control of those mediums, and that's it, and you kind of have to work with how the art presents itself. Sometimes, especially if you're doing it for healing, unexpected things can come up in the artwork, so I just wouldn't do it. I just wouldn't do it, or I would switch mediums.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

So there was a time that I didn't paint for six plus years, I didn't paint at all, and I just switched to doing markers. I found that that actually helped a lot with my feelings of failure or fear in the art realm was just like changing it up. So then you can kind of go back to the exploration and experimentation playful stage, and it kind of reawakened my artist soul, like a soul revival. So I couldn't be that hard on myself trying something new, and that helped me eventually pave the way back to the original art that I stopped doing. So I don't know if that fully answers your question, but that's what I did when I had that fear was I actually would just stop. And then eventually I was like, you're an artist, you can't not create art, it doesn't work for you. So that's when I learned to just change a medium for a while.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's that's an interesting strategy switching mediums, like when the fear gets too big in one arena. Did you have one that you wanted to share?

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. I definitely relate to the switching mediums, because especially if you've been doing the same thing for a while, you'll kind of get into this routine with it in some ways, I guess, and then switching routines or switching mediums can shake that up. I guess like something that was difficult for me with wanting to do storytelling art of some kind and comics or animation, whatever, what have you. Seeing that a lot of that artwork has those ... I guess I'm mostly just thinking of superhero comics and stuff like that, but you'll have like the bold black outlines, and all that stuff. And I'm like, that's what I have to do. I was like, I have to do this, this is what comic books are. Or like for a time it's like, I was really into Japanese comics, I was really into manga. So I was like, oh, it's gotta be black and white, that's what I have to do.

Diamanto Sala (:

And then I realized that neither of those things are what I wanted to do or what I do, like what happens for me naturally. Just trying to force it, like you said before Jacenta, like trying to force it. Like okay, but I have to do it this way, and it's like, no, it's not going to happen.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Given what a big part color plays in your art, if you were doing black and white comics, that would be tragic I think.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. I mean, when I was in like middle and high school, I was like, oh, this is what I have to do, because I'm going do manga, like that's what I'm going to do. It's like, shut up you're not Japanese. Get out of here.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I totally feel you. I think that's one of the failures I hit was, people telling me that my art would be so much better digital, rather than fine art. And if I wanted to be doing comics or any kind of illustrated work that I needed to go digital, and I detest doing art on the computer. I'm already on the computer enough, I don't like being on there. For a long time as a younger artist that really got to me for the longest time, and I did the same thing. I thought I had to force myself to learn Photoshop and color characters on Photoshop, and I even watched a couple courses. I even had a college professor trying to push me to do digital creations.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. It's so funny, because I was actually going to ask, do you either both of you work like digital traditional, so now I know the answer for you Jacenta.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. I definitely like mostly traditional still. Sometimes I'll do some things digitally, but it's just, I don't know what it is, even I have like a tablet like that you are drawing right on the screen and everything, still there's this disconnect. Maybe it's just because as good as they can get it, there's just a little, like the smallest bit of lag, like the fraction of a second. And I'm like, "Oh, what the hell is going on?" So yeah, I don't know, it doesn't feel as like tactile and satisfying, I don't get the same feedback that I get as when I'm doing traditional artwork.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Okay. Well, so so I put out Burning Metronome in 2017, and I was going actively to conventions. I was going to Phoenix Con, New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, obviously Denver, so all these editors sort of got to know me. There was this one woman who worked at, I guess, a publisher I shouldn't say, but she knew me. And so she was like, "Oh yeah, you should send me some stuff." And so I sent her the Burning Metronome, and she wrote me the meanest emails I've ever received about my stuff ever.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Oh God.

R. Alan Brooks (:

And that is saying a lot, because people are mean on the internet. So for example, The Burning Metronome on appeared on Goodreads, I didn't put it there. And so I read the reviews and they were all actually pretty good. Except for one person that I know that doesn't know that I know that they gave me a low rating, because it was like 4.3 stars that this one person gave me like two stars. And I was like, "Just because I know you, you ought to've gave me three." Anyway, but the email that I got from this woman who was an editor said that my dialogue was unreadable, and that the art was unprofessional. And I didn't draw it, I hired artists who were very professional and that she couldn't make it past a few pages. Yeah. And I was like, huh. So I felt bad for a day, and I've made a policy for myself to not respond to an email that makes me feel bad.

R. Alan Brooks (:

To give myself 24 hours before I do, because I've had some ill-considered responses in the past. But then when I read it again, I was like, oh, she was just being mean, she wasn't even trying to be professional.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. It wasn't constructive at all.

R. Alan Brooks (:

No. The cool thing is the very next day, the person that's my literary agent now called me and he had just happened to read it, somebody had given it to him and he's in New York. So I had gotten this terrible feedback from an editor, then the very next day I get a call from a literary agent who's interested in representing me, so it balanced it out. But one of the ways that I try to deal with fear and rejection is to do a whole bunch of shit. So if I have like six projects going forward at once, then if somebody wants to act up on the one, it doesn't bother me much. Like I said, it'll be a day, I'll be like, oh, that's sad. Okay. Well, I got to go work on this other thing, and it seems to have been working so far.

Diamanto Sala (:

Sure.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Okay. So Diamanto you're talking about the themes of justice?

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

How that's important to you in storytelling. At different times when we've talked, you've talked about kind of ideas of things that you want to work on. So your vision for art going forward, what kind of stories are you thinking of? What do you want to put out in the world artistically?

Diamanto Sala (:

I mean, definitely stories that have sex workers, and trans people and queer people that aren't just a one-off or a joke. Or even like, oh, we're doing this because this is popular now, but also we're not really behind it, like here's just lots of I guess queer baiting. So they'll be like, "oh yeah, these characters are in a relationship maybe?" Like in some media. And you're like, and so like all the gay people are like, "yes, yes!" And then like, and then like all the baited straiaght people are like, "are they gay? Are these homosexuals?" The creators are like, "we don't want to label it, however you want to interpret something that's up to you." And it's like, shut up, you cowards. And so I don't want that, because I don't think that's, I don't think that's fair. You don't get to have your cake and eat it too in that way.

Diamanto Sala (:

So yeah, I don't know, and queer gay relationships that are canonical explicitly that's important to me. Outside of that, I'm in a lot of science fictiony fantasy, what have you, settings.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. What appeals to you about the sci-fi slash fantasy kind of settings?

Diamanto Sala (:

Well, I guess aesthetically they're fun, it's fun to draw. But then also I feel like those settings are just enough far removed from reality that it makes you let your guard down. And then you can find yourself relating to the characters on a personal level, when all these like things that happen to people happen to them. Sometimes if something's just more slice of life or like every day, whatever, I feel like people will be like, oh, that's boring or whatever. But really some of that is shying away from emotions, which is totally fair, because I do that too. But I don't know, I feel like having something fantastical or unreal kind of helps with that.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well, that was a big thing for Rod Serling in Twilight Zone.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. Absolutely.

R. Alan Brooks (:

He has a quote that I'm going to paraphrase, where he basically said, "When I wrote about Democrats and Republicans, I got censored, but I when wrote about Martians I didn't." So he could use that to tell whatever story he wanted to tell about society is, if he can case it in fantasy and sci-fi.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah. It works really well for having those allegories, I guess.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah.

Diamanto Sala (:

So yeah, it works. It works really well when you're like, "do you like cool aliens?" And people are like, "oh hell yeah." And then you're like, "psych it's feelings and political commentary. Have fun with that."

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. I think you just broke down my whole formula.

Diamanto Sala (:

I mean, it's a good formula, and I think a lot of people use it and it's great.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right. Well, so Jacenta what about you? Next steps, what kind of things are you wanting to express in art?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Oh my goodness.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Big questions, I know.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

They are big questions, well, and there's actually a lot of new things that are coming up for me currently. It's opening up my own private practice to be able to use art therapy, not only in the way that I would guide it, but I also want to be able to offer art as therapy workshops. Where for example, if you are struggling with a grief and you want to do something to honor that grief, but you don't want to do it alone or you need support, I can offer a space where people are just creating art together. They don't even have to process, they don't even have to talk about it, they can just bear witness to what's being created. And so that is formulating, I will launch in September, but only telehealth at first, just because of COVID and everything. But I'm going to be moving into a physical space to be able to do that.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Congratulations.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Thank you.

Diamanto Sala (:

That's amazing.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

At my current job, they want to move me into the Clinical Director position, which I work with adults who committed a sexual offense, and so that's where I'm also going to start creating a lot of change in how therapy is done in that regard. But art therapy was one of the things that was not accepted in that population, and I actually ...

Diamanto Sala (:

What? [sarcasm]

New Speaker (:

Yes, and I actually had to "prove" myself and how art therapy worked, and I was able to do that. And so now that they want to put me as clinical director, that's another space where the art is going to really be there. Personally, like I said, I started painting again, and I'm tackling bigger issues with my painting that I was afraid to do before. So I just created this one painting, which I might do a series of but that fear is coming up. So it is basically a very, very beautiful sunflower, but then I took red paint on my hands and I just smeared across the whole thing, and I call it "Blood in the Soil."

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

It has a lot to do with just the impact on the world that people don't want to look at, they look at things that are aesthetically pleasing or they're beautiful, or they just feel good. And it's like, well, yes, and the sunflower grew out of blood, and so that's what ended up formulating for me. So I'm willing to see where this series is going to go for me, it's a little different than the usual illustrative work I've done or the comic book work that I've done. But I'm really intrigued to see where that it's going to go, and I am still working on my comic book. I'm that person that likes to, I'm writing, drawing, inking and coloring it, so it's just taking a really long time. You've seen my artwork, it takes me like 20 hours to ink an 11 by 17 page. So it's just very slow moving, but I'm still working on it. I'm very proud of it.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I guess I should say this for people who are listening in, and not aware of the process of making comic books. So traditionally, it's an assembly line, so there're different jobs. There's the writer. There's the penciler who does sort of the roughs and figures out the camera angles. There's the inker who does more of the refined detail and emotions, et cetera. There's the colorist, and then there's somebody who does the lettering, and any combination of those jobs can be done by one or more people. When you're dealing with Marvel or DC, different people who do all of those jobs. But when you are doing one on your own, you're doing all of those jobs, and there's a lot of labor in those pages. I think the only reason to make comics is because you love them, because you can make a single, I almost said pin up again, a single image. You can make a single image, and sell it for 25 to 150, or whatever your range is.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

So undervalued.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. Whereas with comics, you can sell them for like $5 maybe. So occasionally, just as a writer, I have artists come to me who don't do comics, they're like, "We should make comic together." I'm like, you don't want this [inaudible 00:49:52].

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Do you realize the commitments level? Especially if you're doing other things, like I'm an art therapist. And so sometimes doing my own art and those projects do get pushed back a little bit. Doing my own podcast for a while, that got put on a little bit of the back burner because, I'm like, oh my gosh, trying to navigate private practice or trying to navigate these other things. But I still have a relationship with my comic, it's still alive, and that's really the thing that matters most to me is, sometimes I just pull it out and I'm like, just ink for five minutes. Because don't always have the time that I want to dedicate after a long day, but it's something that's very special to me and I'm very proud of doing every step. But before I started making my comic books, I had an idea of what the process was like, but not how long the process was, and so it's very extensive.

R. Alan Brooks (:

It takes a lot of time and effort and I mean, comic book artists can be expensive, but they're worth, because it's a lot of work. All right, so this can sometimes be a weird question, but at this point in your artistry and careers, what would you say to a younger version of yourself? What kind of advice would you give? What kind of comfort or encouragement or would you say "no, don't do it, stay away from comics."

Diamanto Sala (:

Oh God, so much. Start drawing from life sooner, because I feel like that's the first thing I think of. Because for a long time, I was just like, well I don't want to draw real people, I want to draw cartoons or anime or comic books or whatever. And it's like yeah, you need those foundations though, and I was like, no, it's fine, I don't need it. I drew for so many years of my life and I was good for a kid, but I wasn't advancing and developing my craft, and being dedicated enough to it. Because I was just like, well this is fun for me, which is totally fine. If you want to do it for fun, there's nothing wrong with that. You also don't have to monetizes everything you do in your life, but because art was so important to me, I just kick myself sometimes that it took so long for me to even draw still life or draw a model.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Well that's good advice.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right. What about you Jacenta?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Well, first I love and live for weird questions.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yes, way better than normal questions.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

I think what I would tell my younger self is to trust that creative intuition, and don't put pressure on yourself for your art to look a specific way. Your art is already a beautiful thing, because you created something that was never in existence before, and now it gets to have a space to exist. It doesn't matter if your art looks like the next person's or looks like Picasso, or whoever that you're comparing yourself to, there's no need for that pressure for your art to fit the niche or style or skill levels of another artist just to let your art exist and be yours.

R. Alan Brooks (:

I love it. All right. So for people who want to support either of your art where did they go to find it? Do they send out smoke signals? Carrier pigeons?

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Type in a referral on my website for therapy, no.

R. Alan Brooks (:

That's a good thing.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

So I have a social media, so Facebook and Instagram called Centalynn Artworks. It's C-E-N-T-A-L-Y-N-N Artworks, and that's where you can pretty much find me anywhere.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Right on.

Diamanto Sala (:

Mine is slimybugbitch, that's that's Twitter, Instagram. I don't use TikTok very much, but I think that's TikTok as well. I post as much as I'm able.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Oh yeah, and we didn't even get it to this, because you're super into bugs.

Diamanto Sala (:

Oh yeah, I'm also an entomologist or amateur entomologist.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Yeah. That'll be part two.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, part two.

R. Alan Brooks (:

All right. Well, thank you both for talking to me, I really appreciate it. It's a great conversation.

Diamanto Sala (:

Yeah, that's wonderful.

Jacenta L. Irlanda (:

Yeah. Thank you.

R. Alan Brooks (:

Thank you to today's guests, Diamanto Sala and Jacenta L. Irlanda. Visit mcadenver.org/podcast to check out their work. Be sure to subscribe for more and leave a review, it really helps us out. How Art is Born is hosted by me R. Alan Brooks, Cheyenne Michaels is our producer and editor, Courtney Law is our executive producer. How Art is Born as a project of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

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