You've Never Heard Of… Soda Pop Comics!

boligrafoSenior Boricua Correspondent Marco Lopez writes,

As you all know the purpose of You've Never Heard Of… is to shine a spotlight on self-published creators who release their work in print or digital and creators who work for publishers that don't rank in the top 10.

We're in a golden age of comics right now and in an age of geek none of us could have ever imagined, but with the good comes the bad. As our geek news sites become more corporate they tend to focus less on comics and in some cases less on independent creators. Which is why this series was created. As you all know Bleeding Cool is a popular site and has never shied away from giving a soap box to those starting out and trying to carve a niche for themselves.

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With that out of the way let's get on with the show. Today I'm going to be interviewing the amazing creative duo, Rosa Colon, and Carla Rodriguez. Otherwise known as the fantastic studio SODA POP COMICS!

But before we get on with that interview here is a short summary about them straight from their website.

Soda Pop Comics was created in 2007 by Carla Rodríguez (Writer) and Rosa Colón (illustrator). It is the first female-run comics studio in Puerto Rico. Their philosophy is to focus on well-crafted and colorful, interesting sequential art. They've self-published more than 60 individual publications, from series, one-shots, mini comics, art zines, and anthologies.

Now there's a bit more about them at the site but I should leave something to talk about in the interview.

On with the show.

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Marco: I don't know if you ladies have read any of my previous You've Never Heard Of articles and if you haven't that's okay. But one of the things I like to do is ask these two questions to start us off.

What made you fall in love with comic books and want to work in this industry? And tell us a bit about that journey breaking in and the beginnings of Soda Pop Comics.

Rosa: I grew up reading comic strips like Mafalda, Garfield, Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes. I was always drawing and doodling. Later, I graduated into geekdom with superhero comics. I admired comics but it didn't occur to me to make my own. When I started studying painting, I naturally flowed towards illustration and storytelling. So much so that later did my MA in Sequential Art. There I did my first comic and from then on I haven't stopped.

Carla: I started reading indie comics in college. I love all the diversity art and story wise they always offer. As soon as I started hanging out with Rosa we bonded over comics, she taught me about the superhero stuff plus Sandman and Preacher. Our relationship quickly moved from just reading comics to creating them as a team.

Marco: After I set up this article laid it out and wrote the first question I read the comic you sent me. Good Bye, For Now. And God damn it did it get to me. I was born in Puerto Rico. Santurce to be exact. So, that first page pulled at my heart strings I lived there till I was two and moved back when I was 15 and lived there till I was 18. I've also been contemplating moving back. Of course, the reality of me being able to do that might not work with me working my way into the film industry.

But the comic really resonated with me. This story of these two best friends who live in Puerto Rico and who are no different than any other group of friends large and small. The idea that one wants to leave for better opportunities and the other doesn't but not out of fear but seeing what it's done to the island. And here's the thing you do so much with so little. Because you don't get preachy and talk about this issue but work it naturally through Mari's reactions and responses about Sofia leaving and her reason.

So, these are my questions. Does this story have any basis from either of your two lives or just based on your observations of living on the island or through others you know? And how important was it for you two to discuss in this one shot the issue of Puerto Ricans leaving their home because for some it can no longer provide for them the future they want?

Because in many ways, what's happening now reflects what went on in Puerto Rico back in the 40's and 50s.

Rosa: The idea for Goodbye, For Now, is definitely based on our reality. The idea that we are missing on opportunities because we live in Puerto Rico is something we grapple with every day. I think it's been one of the hardest comics for us to conceptualize because we had to organize our feelings and opinions into something readable and relatable. I am so glad you got the "not being preachy vibe" because that is super important. We didn't want to judge anyone.

Carla: We've had to say goodbye so many times in the past few years that we really felt the need to express all those feelings with a special comic. Even though it's not an autobio comic, each character has a little bit of us in them. We have the "are we staying or leaving" conversation daily between us and with our friends.

It's our reality like Rosa said. It was very important for us not to sound preachy because who are we to judge someone who leaves or stays? We wanted to concentrate more on the idea of losing someone so fast since most of our friends left within a month of making the decision.

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Marco: Let's talk about your publishing imprint for a bit. What made you two want to create this studio and put out the type of fantastic work you do?

And what has that journey been like up to today and what's been your biggest hurdle? And your biggest triumph? And what can we look forward to from Soda Pop Comics down the line?

Rosa: We started Soda Pop Comics as an answer to the testosterone-fueled local comics scene. We decided that we would focus on female-led stories and to try and make comics that we'd both enjoy reading. We didn't encounter much of a resistance in the local scene, it's pretty welcoming for the most part.

But it's changed dramatically in the last 5 years as more artists and creators with unique points of view join in. It was jarring, that big change between the old guard and the new but I am proud that we've stayed relevant for 10 years and hopefully our comics will always improve and be entertaining and meaningful.

I am happy that we've been able to achieve so much especially with our comic and art festival, Tintero. We've organized it for 4 years now, and it's become a space for local artists to stand out. In the future, I hope to continue publishing more comics and traveling to more cons.

This year we're going to CAKE in Chicago! I'd love to do a con tour and take Soda Pop on the road.

Carla: Yeah, we basically wanted to bring something different to the table when we started. We have the same struggles as any indie artist, we need more time to create since we both have full-time jobs. I think our biggest triumph is celebrating our 10th anniversary and still wanting to keep creating new stuff haha.

Marco: Let's give the readers a little insight into the type of comics you two as fans are enjoying today. What are your favorite comics creators and publishers today? And what comic gets you excited the most on new comic book Wednesday?

Rosa: Well, even though I started out as a big superhero comic fan, the whole event leading to the next event and reboots have pushed me away from the big two. I'm reading more indie stuff from BOOM, Nobrow, and Image. I don't buy floppies anymore, or try to anyway. The last three I read were Ghosts by Raina Tegelmeir, Los Zurcos del Azar by Paco Roca and Beauty by Kerascoet and Hubert. I'm trying to read more comics from Europe and Latin America.

Carla: Same. Since we don't buy floppies anymore I basically only read the indie comics we buy at cons and graphic novels. I'm a little behind with ongoing series.

My favorite comic creator is Jaime Hernandez and I'm really into Power Paola right now, who is Colombian-Ecuadorian.

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Marco: I want to talk about Tintero now. As you've stated Rosa it's a comics and art festival that you and Carla have been organizing for four years now with this year being the fourth year if I'm not mistaken. What was the reason behind you guys getting out there and creating this kind of event? Was it something you both felt needed to happen? Or was it something you just wanted and hoped, in the end, it would be something that everyone felt was long due?

Also from each of your perspective what has been the highlights and struggles in getting Tintero going and to keep it going year after year and what's been the most surprising thing for you ladies that has come out of it?

Rosa: Tintero happened because we wanted to have the same experience we'd had at TCAF, MoCCA, and MICE, at home. We wanted to have a place to highlight local comics and illustration without competing with other pop culture stuff like toys or mainstream comics. We also wanted to motivate everyone to publish more comics and zines.

It came together easily in a way. We found a great community/cultural house in Río Piedras (San Juan) Casa de Cultura Ruth Hernández Torres. The woman who managed it, she was super cool and understood the concept of what we were trying to do. She has her own glam pop band, Macha Colón y Los Okapi! So, we have a cool space in a district with a lot of history.

We also work with Puerto Rico Indie, a music blog focusing on local bands, we have musical interludes during the day. So, the music and art worlds combine a bit. The next part was curating Tintero. We want artists who are motivated to keep working on their stuff throughout the year. Who are always trying new things. We choose the best ones every year. And we pay it forward, we have small grants we give out so new voices can take that first step towards being self-published. The first year we awarded one grant, this year we did four! Not just comics but zines and art zines as well. We give out prizes for Best Comic, Mini Comic, and Zine and try to get judges who are not in the comics scene but who are knowledgeable about art and literature. It sounds like a lot and it is, but even through the stress I really like what we've achieved.

What has surprised me most is how the public has responded to Tintero. Not everyone is aware that we have a thriving comic scene. To have a weekend where people come in buy stuff and feel proud of the local artists is amazing. People look forward to it and have a great time and everyone leaves with a grin on their face.

Carla: Since we started Soda Pop Comics we've always tried to go to at least one indie comic fest in the US. Every time we go we come back home so inspired and in awe of how great the experience was. We always tried to explain the magic of it all to other artists but they really couldn't grasp it all since we never really had anything close to resembling that.

In 2014 we decided it's time to bring this type of festival to the island. At first, it was a little difficult to explain how a curated festival works but everyone went with the flow and the event turned out super successful, the artists and the public went home happy. Every year is a different experience but the most rewarding part for me is reading all the different new publications the artists create for Tintero and getting more applications every year with new talent.

Marco: Okay, so we're going to wrap things up and I just want to say thank you so much for letting me interview you two. What you've done continue you to do and will do down the line has gotten me excited. There's a part of me that's always wanted to go back to Puerto Rico and establish and grow something there in film, television, or comics and what you two are doing is very inspirational.

Now before you go I want you both to PIMP YOUR COMICS! This is your chance to tell the Bleeding Cool audience why they should check out your work and what you have coming out down the line. So, have at it!

Rosa: Ok! I invite everyone to check out our comics. They're fun, heartfelt, and relatable. I think they're great! Ha ha! We're going to concentrate on mini-comics while "Goodbye, For Now" does the rounds. But I really want to work on a graphic novel! We'll see how that goes. This year we're going to CAKE, Chicago Alternative Comic Expo on June 10 and 11 so if you're over there come say hi!

Carla: What Rosa said hahaha

And that's all she wrote everyone. I want to thank Carla and Rosa for their time and I hope you all enjoyed reading this interview and in turn became fans of their work.

If interested then please check out their website Soda Pop Comics and you can purchase their work via their Gumroad and Envy stores. Also don't forget to check them out on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

Marco Lopez is the co-owner of the website Atomic Rex Entertainment. Where you can find the ongoing weekly webcomic Massively Effective, that Marco describes as Bill and Ted in tights. Also, hosted on the site is Marco's web strip series Orion's Belt that follows an Afro-Latino family of adventurers in space. Marco has also written for Zenescope Entertainment and Lion Forge Comics.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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