By Luis Silva
In a city like Portland, I have found that the artistic community can be a place dominated by primarily White voices. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a community of White artists, but it does makes me treasure the artists who break from the mold with a unique vision that is forged and influenced by their identity as a person of color like myself.
Enter Clara Emiliana. I ran into Clara Emiliana twice in the months before we became friends. The first time was at a meetup for comics creators, and the second was at the Wizard World Comic Con here in Portland. (Fitting places for the two of us nerds.) Since then I’ve been thrilled to follow her artistic work. Though she’s just starting her professional career, her artistic talent and drive are strong enough to ensure that she’s already making headway in this city’s comics scene; her now growing resume includes working on an anthology for Power & Magic Press (a local comic publisher whose self-described mission is the “empowerment of queer creators, creators of color, and creators at the intersections”).
Clara, tell us about yourself.
I’m from the Dominican Republic; my family moved to New York when I was pretty young. We came to America to seek out a living. My dad had me help in what I consider to be the family business: we made posters for supermarkets. That’s how I learned a lot of my design sense.
Trans lesbians of color are super underrepresented in media, and ultimately I feel like my work is a combination of the idealized with the real.
Do you feel that your heritage has an influence on your artwork?
Most definitely. I feel like being Dominican is kind of interesting because there is a constant clash of three different heritages rolled up into one. For me, trying to figure out my own identity within that background does tend to influence the stories I tell. Dominicans tend to be a combination of European, African, and native Taino heritages. Everyone tends to identify differently because of it, so that kind of soul searching for identity is maybe a common thing for us? I guess I can’t speak for others. For me, I put a lot of that into comics. I like to write about characters who are either stuck between worlds or are just not sure what to do with themselves given the societies that they might find themselves in.
Can you talk about some of the LGBT influences in your work?
Yes. I am a trans woman, and I’m also a lesbian. And I’m also a massive fan of yuri, a genre of manga that focuses on closeness between women—romantic or otherwise. I feel like it has inspired me in a pretty huge way when writing queer characters. I personally would like to write romance as similar to the type of yuri that I read, but there’s also been some shojo series that have inspired me. (Shojo is like manga for young girls.) Angel Sanctuary and Revolutionary Girl Utena have been a huge influence for me. It’s probably not a coincidence that these two series were my gateway into yuri (even though they aren’t considered yuri), in the same way that it probably isn’t a coincidence that I tend to want to write stories like Angel Sanctuary minus all the straight characters.
Moreover I feel that while yuri stories tend to be pretty idealized, I like to inject some of my own reality into my stories. Trans lesbians of color are super underrepresented in media, and ultimately I feel like my work is a combination of the idealized with the real. My heritage, my queerness, and everything else about me…it’s like it’s being fused with the ideal stories I love in order to form a new thing altogether. Considering how “odd” society tends to see trans lesbians of color, I feel like it’s safe to say that my readers are in for a perspective that is rarely seen in media.
A lot of people have this mindset where they say that everyone is human and so everyone is the same, and I don’t believe that is the case.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished work on a comic that I’m submitting for Power & Magic: Immortal Souls. It’s an anthology that was put together by the editor, Joamette Gill. I made a ten page comic for that about a girl named Mari who lives in the Dominican Republic, and is having to learn how to be a witch despite her unsupportive Christian household. This story is very much about two Dominican characters expressing two seemingly contradictory ideas under the lens of the same cultural background and shared heritage.
I’m also working on a few other comics for various different projects. I’m planning on submitting to another anthology. And I want to make more short comics and zines so I can start tabling sometime in the near future. Beyond this, I have a few things in the works that have nothing to do with comics. I’d like to dabble in making games in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later!
What do you want to accomplish with your art?
I feel like the most important thing is showing off diversity. A lot of people have this mindset where they say that everyone is human and so everyone is the same, and I don’t believe that is the case. I feel that our differences should be celebrated, instead of trying to homogenize everyone by saying that we’re all completely the same and that there are absolutely no differences between us, and that that’s what makes us equal. We should instead be understanding of the fact that we all come from completely different places, completely different backgrounds, and that there’s beauty in that diversity.