21 July 2016

Melanie Stevens Interview: Artists against Police Brutality



Following the publication of Artists against Police Brutality, a quintessentially graphic justice project, here is a short interview between GJRA Member Bruno Conrado and Melanie Stevens, one of the creators involved in the project.
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BC: The selection approaches a more than relevant topic, an urgent one. And, of course, these are real stories, hard stories to deal with. In spite of it, the comics have a similar tone of sensibility. For you, how was the process of finding the balance between the ‘heaviness’ of the subject and the sensibility of the final work?

MS: For me, the key to approaching the task of creating a story that doesn't get overwhelmed by the tragic nature of its subject matter was to center it in the humanity of the protagonists.  In real life, terrible things have happened, but the value and the beauty of those lives is *not* defined by the horrors that may have cut them short.  These were people who laughed and reveled in the minutiae of daily life and worked to create and build futures.  They hoped, dreamed, triumphed and struggled just like the rest of us.  That is what I chose to focus on and highlight, rather than the monstr
ous details and events that stole the potential contributions of these people to society, as well as the ability to see those hopes and dreams through to fruition.  

BC: The selection alternates comics and narratives, both very touching. How do you see the comics medium in terms of accessibility of information concerning the movement of “spreading the word” on Police Brutality? What about e-comics in that same subject?

MS: I feel that there is something that is both inviting and universal about the medium of comics.  It allows the artist to curate a potentially difficult subject matter by flattening the characters (both literally via 2D and metaphorically removing superfluous gravitas) and applying a stylized version of storytelling that is visually appealing and enables the audience to jump through multiple time periods, characters and perspectives in a very short amount of time.  This can also be applied to e-comics which, along with the aforementioned abilities, can also be distributed and disseminated amongst large amounts of people and accessed and shared almost momentarily.
BC: This whole work relies on the creative freedom of it creators, as a great example of independent art initiatives. We have been living in social and technological contexts that allow us to express ourselves on the subjects we find relevant - or even urgent, such as #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality - free from old chains that still rule, like great corporate publishers, with alternatives like crowdfunding. Do you agree with this description? How do you see this scenario? Are comics nowadays joining these new creative possibilities?

MS: Yes, I completely agree.  In an age in which one can own and control their own webspace for free, an artist no longer has to wait for traditional gatekeepers to provide them with an international platform on which to tell their stories, voice their concerns, or critically analyze societal norms.  Also, with the advent of social media, artists are also given the privilege and ability to interact with other artists AND their potential audience, which allows for stronger diversity and grassroots base support.  You can see this shift reflected in the comics industry via the exponential rise of webcomics, independent publishers, and smaller comics conventions that highlight self-published artists. 
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See some of Melanie's comics work here.