Flavita Banana: "I exploded and realized I didn't want to be known".
BarcelonaFlavita Banana (Oviedo, 1987) has just reissued a new version of the book that made her known, Las cosas del querer (Matters of Love), but there is no need for excuses to talk to one of the best voices in graphic humour today. Fast, caustic and funny, she reflects on her work with the same sharpness that her jokes point out our contradictions and defects. And yes, she is critical and combative, but also implacable with herself.
You are publishing an expanded and corrected version of Las Cosas del querer (Matters of Love) your first book in 2016. What have you corrected?
— I've taken out a couple of vignettes because.... Meh. I don't know what they were doing there. And I've added twenty new, slightly more penetrating jokes. That book was very soft. Over time I've become more feisty and acidic and when I was watching The Things of Wanting I thought, "Ugh, how soft it was back then". I didn't like it very much, but the book didn't stop selling, it was already in its seventh edition. Las Cosas del querer changed publishers and they contacted me to review it and to make me feel more comfortable with it. And I thought: "Why not?" Besides, the current edition is more dignified, with a hard cover and a white background, and the tone is a bit more combative.
Does it often happen to you, that you look back and you don't feel identified with one of your vignettes?
— Yes, sometimes I go back through my Instagram and delete things. The oldest thing I have now is from three years ago. I don't see Instagram as the story of my life, but as a sample of what I do. And if I see something that I don't do anymore, then it's gone. There are old drawings that I look at and I think: "Oh, my gosh, what faith you had in some things!" Or what fear, perhaps, because the language was very soft and the drawing very clean. How I tried so hard to have the famous and deplorable feminine line, so delicate and clean! And luckily it's already disappearing, because it's an invention of the publishing houses to attract female readers. Since they were already selling superheroes to men, they thought that something neater would appeal to women.
Curiously, your line is less neat and clean if you compare it with other female cartoonists
— Yes, but there were no mistakes. The line was relatively uniform, but now it's not. In fact, in the last book it's getting dirtier and dirtier. And I like those cartoons the most.
Moderna de Pueblo explained that her feminist evolution led her to question her style in pastel colours but after some reflection she decided to reclaim it.
— What we have to do is put away the idea of a feminine line as opposed to a masculine line, why can't there be men who draw digitally and with flat colours? Moderna de Pueblo was one of the first female authors to reach the general public with graphic humour, and it is from her work and some of Paula Bonet's early stuff that publishers shaped their idea of the feminine line. But we have to stop talking about female line and simply talk about line.
The world of comics and humour has traditionally been very masculine.
— And let's not talk about the world of newspaper cartoons! But I've felt good. When I won the Gat Perich award, the night before they had a dinner with all the Catalan and Spanish cartoonists, and they were all men. But they had a very protective attitude towards me, paternalistic in a good way. If I'd been a 30-year-old boy, maybe they wouldn't have protected me so much, but I liked the advice and the fact that they congratulated me without infantilising me. It was like, "Oh, good, finally there are young people here". In reality, more than the world of the cartoon, it's the world of journalism that's scarier: directors, editors, publishers, writers? Luckily, shortly after arriving at El País Soledad [Gallego-Díaz] came in as director and I felt more at home. It happens to me that the more women there are, the more at ease I feel.
In your last book there is a vignette in which someone asks you if it took you a minute to make a joke and you say "It took me 32 years! What is your process? How much time do you spend thinking about each vignette and drawing it?
— I've just finished a cartoon for The Portbou Suitcase that took me two weeks to do. The director sent me the text, I read it and since then I've always had the idea in the background, whether I go to the market or talk to people. I have the sketches in my head, I don't try a thousand things on paper. I keep thinking until... bam! In this case, the text was about vegetarianism and how we treat animals. And it occurred to me to draw a mermaid sitting at a table looking at a plate of fish and hesitating whether to eat it or not. But the method can vary, of course. When I do a daily cartoon I don't work the same way.
Have you been plagiarized a lot?
— Yes, a lot. Sometimes I see myself tagged in things and I have to write: "Hey, that's not me". There are two types: copies of ideas or copies of line and style. There are more and more of the latter, especially feminist girls who start out and use the same brush as me and draw women with hair that's like a uniform mass? They nail it. If the ultimate intention is to help feminism, look, being copied is collateral damage. What's bad is that they often choose your style because they see that it works and they want to have a lot of followers quickly. I imagine they'll get over it. Anyone who copies a style can't stand it.
How did you find your style?
— It was a process of distilling, of extracting details. But I found it when I tried my brush, the Pentel Brush, which is like a pen with a pointed brush. The ink is inside and the stroke is very rounded and very dirty. And I like it to be a bit messy, because I'm not delicate at all. When I started I used a nib with India ink and, apart from the laziness of getting the ink wet and that it would soon run out, the line was too thin. With digital, the eye doesn't pick up a screen very well that has more white than line. There has to be a larger proportion of black.
You've always worked in a very refined format of vignettes or double vignettes, aren't you attracted to the idea of doing a more narrative story?
— I've thought about it but I'm very inconsistent and I get tired of everything very quickly. Keeping a character for months would frustrate me and then I'd get sad because I'm not able to finish anything. That's why I use the vignette format, because every day is new.
You play a lot with ambiguity, have you ever been misunderstood?
— Yes, many times. Recently with a cartoon published in Lardín of a couple having sex in bed on all fours and two dogs looking at them and saying: "This is called cultural appropriation". I wanted to say that today this expression is used very lightly and that we should have more respect for it. Today there are three or four subjects that you can't touch if you're not a member of the affected collective, even if it's to defend it. But I think the function of humour is to put an issue on the table. In the end, what I'm doing isn't making fun, it's a commentary on an opinion. And I have the defect of relying too much on the public. But there's nothing that makes me angrier than some accounts that make such simple vignettes with such chewy humour that you don't have to think about anything, they just show what's going on in the world as it is.
And which cartoon has brought you the most problems? What would be your equivalent to the cover of the kings fucking by Manel Fontdevila?
— The one of the large family, which is in Cosmic Files. You see a family with six children and a right-wing look. And the father says: "These are our children: Tradition, Patriarchy, Past, Church, Sexism and the little Monogamy? Of course, when they grow up they can be whatever they want". The Asociación de Familias Numerosas de España made a petition on Change.org that got 5,000 signatures to have the cartoon removed, because it did not correctly represent large families. But to no avail. Change.org doesn't work, you know that! At El País they doubted whether it should be published in the letters section and I should respond later. In the end they responded in the editorial of the following Sunday, without expressly alluding to me but defending that the newspaper's opinionators can say theirs, because that's what they're hired to do. That same week El Roto was also in the spotlight for a cartoon against the Catalan independence bid and I thought it was nice that the newspaper came out in defence of the two of us, who in reality had almost opposite positions.
With social networks you immediately know which cartoons work better and which ones you like less. How does this feedback affect you?
— Well, the cartoons I like the most are the ones that talk about love and couples, and I've decided to stop doing them. I don't like them anymore. And this is what sold the best in my online shop, I was making a lot of money. But anyway, I have stopped selling all of them except one because the partner who runs the shop told me: "Please, don't take this one away, we have to eat". Maybe I sabotage myself commercially, but I'd rather be coherent than rich.
You publish in a small comic imprint, Caramba, which belongs to an independent publishing house, Astiberri. But I'm sure you get a lot of offers from big publishers.
— Yes, but the books will sell the same. And if the books sell the same, I want to be with the one who treats me best. And at Astiberri, because they're smaller, they treat you very well. And if you have a time when you don't feel like doing talks or signings, they understand and defend you. It's not a factory that prints money. In other publishing houses, everything goes well until you don't sell. But at Astiberri, if you take two years to deliver the book, nothing happens, they love you just the same. My agent tells me that if I ever want to publish with another publisher, go ahead. But why? I feel fine. I don't like the commercial pressure, that they consider me a laying hen.
How do you handle the pressure of having become a well-known person?
— I try not to be too much in the media. In fact, I don't do any television. At first it's exciting to be known, but about four years ago I had a breakdown. I was terrible: I had anxiety, I couldn't go anywhere or give talks and I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know how to manage success. And I realized that I didn't want to be known. I like my work to be known, but not me. I want to walk down the street quietly and be able to party drunk and on the floor without people saying: "Oh, look, it's her". I want to continue being a normal person, with normal colleagues. And I'm very clear about this.
We are about to finish an interview with Flavita Banana without having talked about feminism.
— Oh, yes, please.
No, you don't get to escape. In your books there are a thousand different topics, but many still see you as "the feminist humorist". Has it ended up being a burden, the label?
— Yes, because it's reductionist. There are many people who are feminists and that doesn't mean they are "the feminist fruit vendor" or "the feminist butcher". I don't always talk about feminism, I talk about everything. Why am I pigeonholed like that? It closes doors for me. The ones that open to me, I love, and I will never deny feminism, I love to lend a hand, to be a reference for someone and help them to have a better life as a woman. But there are more things. To reduce me to the feminist humorist is a clickbait of the press and publishers, a technique to sell. And I don't mean that I'm not a feminist humorist, but I am many other things.