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ANTICUCHO: from the Andes to the Amazon, learn about Peruvian Cyberpunk with Gustaffo Vargas

COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome to the Yeti Cave, Gustaffo! I know you're generally UK-based, but given the subject of your comics, how are things going in Peru at the moment?

GUSTAFFO VARGAS: Thanks so much for having me, I’m very excited to be here!

Well, Peru is going through very challenging times. We have a very corrupt government that is leading toward far-right politics, and big part of the population is on the streets, so there are constant clashes, I’m crossing my fingers that things will improve in time.

And to be fair, this turmoil and chaos is a constant background in my Peruvian Cyberpunk stories.

CBY: First, I’d like to congratulate you on what looks like quite a successful Kickstarter campaign for this publication. I know you’ve been self-publishing through your BigCartel page for a few years now, so are you planning to keep the world you’ve been adding to with Anticucho & Other Peruvian Cyberpunk entirely independent, or have you considered working with a publisher to scale up the reach of the books going forward?

GV: Thank you! It’s very humbling each time somebody believes in a project you put up.

I’ve been self publishing since 2017, and little by little building up an audience. I’d love to reach a bigger audience. I’ve approached a couple of publishers with no luck, but I guess I have to up my game and be more consistent on this.

I know anthologies like ANTICUCHO are less likely to get published, but it would be great if my three part graphic novel ALTIPLANO (MANU, PUNO & PILCUYO) finds a home with a publisher.

CBY: Having read a number of your prior titles (L1MA, MANU, PUNO, and TRUJILLO), I was wondering, could you - without providing any spoilers - lay out the timeline/chronology of your work? Since you’ve provided an intersection with the Piraña street gang, and connected Anticucho & Other Peruvian Cyberpunk to the world of The Antiplano Saga, where does it connect, and does this collection fit into your narrative world? How is there contiguity between all of the stories; what is grouped, and do any stories stand alone?

GV: This is such a great question!

All my Peruvian Cyberpunk stories take place in the same world and their characters can cross paths. All the stories are stand alone stories, with the exception of the ALTIPLANO saga (MANU, PUNO & PILCUYO).

TRUJILLO is the oldest story, a year after comes 1QUITOS (this story has only been published in Spanish), but both have Xolo, a young gangbanger as the protagonist.

Some years after that come the two new stories from my new graphic novel: ANTICUCHO and TAYTA UKUKU, then follows L1MA. These three stories take place in Lima city and involve the Piraña street gang and underworld characters from Lima city. Events that take place in L1MA give origin to the ALTIPLANO trilogy, and we see again a couple of characters that appeared in L1MA and TRUJILLO.

The fantastic thing about world building is that after you finish a story, the place that you created is still alive and kicking, filled with its characters, and you can revisit it to explore other storylines. The basic ideas of TAYTA UKUKU and ANTICUCHO stories came up while I was drawing L1MA, back in 2018. They kept on changing and taking shape in my mind through the years. I just needed time to explore and develop them.

I have other Peruvian Cyberpunk stories that keep on growing up in my head, some are connected to stories already published and some start new threads.

CBY: You’re also involved in SKRAWL, a UK-based anthology project - can you detail a bit about your time in the UK, experience in the comics scene, and how your Peruvian Cyberpunk world came together in 2017? What did your comic industry journey look like up to that point, and how did the recent involvement with

GV: Yes sir, I’m a SkrawlLord!

In Peru I drew comics as a teenager, but stopped when I was 18, back in 1994.

I got back to drawing comics many years later, in 2011. I got tired of my old excuse, ‘I don’t have the time to draw comics.’ I published some online short stories, then co-created with Gianco Roman a sci-fi comic taking place in Peru called El Hoyo Negro. This experience gave me the confidence to explore my own stories.

Before leaving Peru, in 2014, with my fellow comic creator Gino Palomino, we self published TACU TINTA Fanzine, a black & white photocopy publication, with short stories that included my first Peruvian Cyberpunk story published: 1QUITOS, a story that follows Xolo, the main character of TRUJILLO.

After one year in Germany, my wife and I moved to the UK in 2016. I thought comics would only be a passion hobby, but I started going to festivals in the UK and the spark for making comics transformed into fire!

I showed my portfolio at festivals and received my first working opportunities from Dave West. I drew a short story for his steampunk western saga Western Noir, followed by a 80 page graphic novel: Boy Abducted by Aliens Returns.

I was working full time as graphic designer in a tiny print shop, and also drawing more stories for Time Bomb Comics and Future Quake. I would start before and continue after coming back from work and the entire weekends. Constantly drawing comics made me realise that I also wanted to publish more of my own stories. I self-published TRUJILLO for the first time in 2017.

I have an immense debt with the UK comics community, they received me with open arms and are a constant inspiration.

CBY: Regarding the visceral combination of biology and technology you’ve delivered, you’ve also provided unique infusion of Peruvian culture, motifs, and characterization in your stories. Can you share some visual or narrative elements you’ve included that those from outside Peru wouldn’t pick up on by themselves? What are you putting on the page that may have specific personal or cultural significance beneath the layer required to understand the overarching narrative of the stories?

GV: I’m very happy to hear it translates to the stories I create. My Peruvian Cyberpunk stories are like traveling in Peru. When you lose yourself in a place you understand it and appreciate it. I want people to experience the sounds, smells, colors and vibrancy of Peruvian culture, the positive and the negative, the full package.

In my research I explore the culture, politics, economics, traditions, wild life, anything I can put my hands on. I take special attention to our Pre-Columbian past.

Peru has three very different regions: the warm sandy coast, the high and cold Andes mountains, and the Amazonian jungle. Our cuisine is the result of a wide variety of fresh ingredients from all regions, and Asian, European, and African influences. Our food is a big mix, varied, colorful and intense -- in ANTICUCHO, I’m exploring the variety of Peruvian food.

As an ex-colonized country, Peru suffers from political and economic centralism, and aggressive vertical racism, with white Europeans being at the top of the social scale pyramid and brown skin natives at the bottom. Our religious syncretism (how Judeo-Christian religion was imposed in Colonial times) has produced fascinating results with rich folk traditions. I explore these themes in my stories.

In a nutshell, my Peruvian Cyberpunk stories are a representation and exploration of Peru through my eyes.

CBY: On the topic of the art, I’m reminded of a range of work from the grand colors and solid line work of Moebius, detailed urban landscapes of Geoff Darrow, and violent gang ensembles evocative of Outlaw Comics. Can you share some of the visual influences lending toward your current style?

GV: As a kid, I was lucky to understand comics as a varied medium. I had a book about comics that became my bible, with samples from all kinds of comics, from the USA, French Belgian school, South American, and all kinds of genres. It was a full celebration of the medium.

Growing up, it was never easy finding comics. I’d go to second-hand street vendors that would sell magazines, I’d dive into piles of magazines to find a few comics. Argentinian masters were my first school: Enrique Breccia, Domingo Mandrafina, Juan Gimenez. My dad was a creative director and would borrow comics (or photocopy some pages) from colleagues that brought comics from their travels. I went over and over my black and white photocopies of Frank Miller’s Ronin and The Killing Joke.

Later I discovered Spanish magazines, especially Zona 84, with authors like Fernando Fernandez, Fernando de Felipe, Jose Muñoz, Horacio Altuna, Richard Corben, and Alex Toth. Years later, when I got back into drawing comics, I was influenced by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Paul Pope, Jeff Smith, Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, David Rubín, Frederik Peeters, Lucas Varela, and the list continues!

CBY: Speaking of you lending your style towards other existing titles, how did the recent involvement with Al Ewing on “The Man with No Shame” for Marvel's Voices: X-Men come about? Are there other existing titles you’re exploring or interested in working upon going forward?

GV: It was such a wonderful experience! I was contacted by Marvel editor, Lauren Amaro, asking me if I wanted to draw a story for Marvel Voices, my answer was a sound "Yes!" The project process was quick, Lauren kept everybody involved, and she and Al were pleased with my work.

I have fun drawing all kinds of stories to be honest. A personal one I’d love to draw is any story from Mike Mignola’s universe.

CBY: I noticed in your Kickstarter campaign you’ve included amongst supporter perks some of your original art, mentioning a bit about your medium; “blue lines printed over cardboard and inked with dip pens, black markers, and brushes, some correction fluid. A3 size.” Do you customarily do all of your penciling and inking on paper, and is your coloring/lettering process digital? Can you walk our readers through your technique regarding how you put your comics together?

GV: Sure, I love talking about process, that’s where the magic truly happens. I draw my thumbnails on copy paper, that’s where all the decisions about panel layout, rhythm and narrative are made. I draw as many versions as needed, they are the heart of the comic narrative.

I scan the small thumbnails, blow them up and print them as blue lines into an A3 copy paper. I draw with pencil and mechanical pencil over the blue lines, using them as reference, it helps me keep the thumbnails’ energy. I’m heavy handed, so I scratch, erase and make a mess with the pencils.

I scan the A3 pencils and print them as blue lines over cardboard. I ink with dip pens and brushes, and markers. I make corrections with white Posca pens and white gouache. Years ago in the past, I worked digitally and felt a bit trapped by the ‘undo’ button, and that’s why I really enjoy paper. It doesn’t forgive your mistakes, and you learn to fix them. I like that organic process.

I scan the inks and color in Photoshop. I put all the pages together in one big canvas and paint rough colors. Looking at all the pages together helps me decide what rhythm and narrative I want to use with color. After this color decisions are made, I color each single page.

The last part is the lettering and design of the book done in Illustrator.

CBY: Since completing TAYTA UKUKU and ANTICUCHO to deliver on the campaign by February 2024 will be keeping you busy for the next few months, have you thought ahead to your next story? Is there a finite scope to the narrative world you’ve been building with an overarching resolution in mind, or are you keeping things open ended with the ensemble of characters you’ve built to continue indefinitely?

GV: The Peruvian Cyberpunk is a constant world building exploration. I have two more short stories and a long one of graphic novel-length dwelling in my mind at the moment.

I also want to explore Peru through folk horror stories, I have a couple of plots set in the past that hopefully I’ll draw in the future.

CBY: I would be very keen to see your rendition of traditional Peruvian horror stories! One of my favorite aspects of your comics are the uncanny wildlife specimens you create. How do you decide whether you should slip them in the background, or make them a more central element of the plot? Do you have a favorite animal to draw, and are there any species you’ve created that you haven’t yet had a chance to place in a story?

GV: Thank you! I wasn’t planning to draw wildlife creatures in the beginning.

I was in the middle of the Pre-Columbian research for TRUJILLO and found that the Peruvian Viringo (hairless dog) was present in several ceramics, and it’s a common dog breed that you find in the Peruvian North Coast. What originally was supposed to be a pack of motorcyclists turned into a pack of cyborg hairless dogs, and this decision expanded a lot the Peruvian Cyberpunk universe.

All the creatures drawn in my stories are local animals, sometimes I tweak elements for story purposes, but it’s all there, in our Peruvian wildlife.

I enjoy drawing all my creatures, but Bigote (the emperor Tamarin monkey) and Rodolfo (the cheeky jaguar) are two favorite ones. There are many more creatures I haven’t used, especially the ones from the Peruvian jungle. I guess there will be more opportunities to include them in my stories.

CBY: Given your unique style, I’m sure our readers will be keen to learn what other material you’re enjoying when you have the time. Can you tell us what comics, films, art, literature, and music you’ve been enjoying lately? What shouldn’t we let slip past us?

GV: Perfect! I’ll mix newer material with my personal classics.:)

Two of my favorite science fiction authors are William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick, reading Gibson was an amazing introduction to Cyberpunk. Phillip K. Dick is a science fiction master in bringing the weirdness and paranoia of the modern world. I always come back to Jorge Luis Borges's short stories, and the magic realism from the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

My latest comic reads have been Tonta and Maggie The Mechanic by Xaime Hernandez, fascinating to see Xaime’s early and late narratives, and how he’s become a master of his craft. I keep coming back to Aama and Lupus by Frederik Peeters, very special science fiction stories. My latest re-reads are Habitat by Simon Roy, Cannibals in Space!, Alex Automatic Vol 1 by Fraser Campbell and James Corcoran, a weird mystery spy thriller, and The Junction by Norm Konyu, a mystery drama filled with heart and atmosphere.

In films, I always go back to Roma and Y tu mamá también by Alfonso Cuarón, and Arrival by Dennis Villeneuve. Recently watched The Wailing, a Korean horror film that left me open mouthed the whole time, and a recent Peruvian film I loved is Wiñaypacha (Eternity), which takes place in the Peruvian Andes and is fully spoken in Aymara language - highly recommended.

My daily music listen varies a lot, includes Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, M83, Pearl Jam, The Radio Dept, Café Tacuba, Soda Stereo, Beastie Boys and Broken Social Scene. A couple new discoveries are Bomba Stereo, Fantastic Negrito and Khruangbin.

CBY: Fantastic - you've certainly given our readers plenty to explore! Gustaffo, thanks for joining us today. Please include below any social media and publication links so our readers can check out Anticucho and the rest of your work!

Thank you for this! I had so much fun answering the questions, I hope they’re not too long! :P

My Kickstarter ANTICUCHO graphic novel campaign:


Instagram @gustaffovargas/

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