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Artist Spotlight: Alexandra Beguez

Illustrations by Alexandra Bequez.
Illustrations by Alexandra Bequez. Alexandra Bequez

Art and design are all around us. Everything in society contains some aspect of visual appeal but, unfortunately, creative individuals who have a gift for artistic craftsmanship are not always appreciated as much as they should be. At present there is a woeful lack of outlets for up-and-coming, underground, or outside artists to showcase their work. Despite the fact that many of these undiscovered artists have talents that rival the most successful of creators, many of them are little appreciated despite their awe-inspiring abilities. Hence, I decided to start an “Artist Spotlight” series where I will interview various artists in order to gain a deeper insight into what inspires their creativity and what they plan to do with their careers.

The artwork of Alexandra Beguez is often linked to storytelling and mythology.
The artwork of Alexandra Beguez is often linked to storytelling and mythology. Alexandra Beguez

Cartoonist and illustrator Alexandra Beguez is an artist who agreed to be interviewed for this series. Based in New Jersey, Alexandra is associated with both the Society of Illustrators (SoI) and Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA). Alexandra’s artwork tends to be extremely bright and colorful and her mediums of choice are primarily ink, gouache, silkscreen and digital. For her efforts, Alexandra has had numerous showings in galleries, has been featured in several comic and illustration focused publications, and was the recipient of a 2014 MoCCA Arts Festival Award of Excellence.

Along with a few friends, Alexandra co-founded a comic’s collective that self-publishes a yearly anthology called Three-Armed Squid which is themed around the magical number 4. Currently she is enrolled in the MFA Visual Narrative program at the School of Visual Arts.

Recently, I interviewed Alexandra about her experiences in the field of illustration:

Q: What influenced you to become a cartoonist?

For as long as I can remember, I wove stories into being using pencil and paper. Any and all legal pads in my home were subject to becoming a picture book starring at least one of my imaginary companions, whichever cartoon show I obsessed over at the time or the newest fashions for the season. While I aspired to be a storyteller, my visual method of delivery did not become apparent to me for a long while.

My fascination with all things Disney and Pixar galvanized me to produce my own animated films. This led me to the School of Visual Arts, where I majored in computer animation. While I enjoyed my time there, I quickly found that I was spending more time learning the demanding, technical aspects of the trade versus learning how to be a better storyteller. During my junior year, I enrolled in a comics storytelling class helmed by the ever-great Nick Bertozzi, who opened my eyes to the world of comics (the extent of my knowledge confined to Marvel and DC) and picture making in general. Around this time, I also began attending comics festivals, most notably MoCCA, consuming as many mini-comics and books as I could afford for inspiration and appreciation.

Post-graduation, work in animation was few and far between; my inability to find work sent me into a deep funk. At the time, I was super bummed at my inability to get a job but this idle period gave me time to sort out my feelings and reflect upon my circumstances: Did I really enjoy being an animator? Or was creating narratives and the characters that live in those worlds the thing I really loved doing? It was time to go back to the drawing board.

I began taking continuing education classes, attended illustration conferences and a few painful portfolio reviews which encouraged me to keep at it and not give up. In the process, I met many of the cartoonists and illustrators I admired, including Matt Madden, Lauren Weinstein, Tom Hart, Chris Butzer, Paul Hoppe, Dean Haspiel and Nathan Fox (to name a few). Currently I’m enrolled in the MFA Visual Narrative program, developed by Nathan Fox, which the hopes of taking my storytelling skills to the next level. Interestingly enough, the interdisciplinary approach to this program has revived my interest in animation.

Q: In terms of subject matter, what are your cartoons about and what inspired the ideas for them?

The themes that appear again and again in my comics are usually along the lines of obstacles getting in the way of or the inability to get what you want/need, loneliness, the fantastical and unrequited sentiments. For example, the main character in my comic, Alien Raver, just wants to eat and sleep but his plans are always thwarted by these little chimeric critters called turliphants who just want some attention. Or his food. I’m heavily influenced/inspired by mythology and folklore, which comes through often in my work. I like crafting stories of how and why things have come to be, as well as giving my eclectic crew of characters a common, whimsical universe to inhabit.

While I consider myself to be a generally content and optimistic person, I tend to connect more closely with stories that have ambiguous or “unhappy” endings. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sucker for a happy endings and sometimes I need for there to be one, but for the most part I don’t find them true to what I have experienced in my brief life or fully satisfying for that matter, which I think is true for most people. Although I do throw in a happy ending once in a while for good measure (because sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is just very, very, very dim).

Q: As far as working in comics and illustration, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?

It’s really rewarding to see people react positively to my work. The comics I make are very personal to me, so when someone approaches my table at a festival or emails me and tells me how much they love my work and can’t wait to see more, it’s a really amazing feeling.

Q: How has MoCCA helped your career?

Exhibiting at MoCCA these past four years has been life-changing. Many of my friends from SVA regularly exhibit at MoCCA, so it’s a great time to catch up and check out what everyone has been working on. It’s flattering when people come up to me and tell me how much they love my work. When the Society of Illustrators took over MoCCA two years ago, they brought in a bigger crowd (at least that’s how my friends and I saw it) which boosted our sales and exposed our work to a new audience.

This year, I submitted my silkscreen book “Narwhal” for consideration in the MoCCA Arts Festival Award of Excellence (which my friends Kim Ku and Andrea Tsurumi won in 2013) with the goal of putting my work out there, not to win. I was completely caught off guard when they came around on Sunday morning and handed me that coveted spinning buffalo coin. I’m so thankful to the judges and the SoI for the honor. Having my work up on the SoI walls alongside the greats of illustration was so surreal. It’s been a reinvigorating and encouraging experience.

Q: Are there any up and coming projects that you like to mention?

I’m STOKED to have a comic featured in Locust Moon Comics’ tribute anthology “Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.” I’m so honored to have been asked to contribute and be in the same book as some of my favorite cartoonists and illustrators. It doesn’t feel real. There will be so much melting and fangirl screaming when I finally hold that book in my hands.

There are a number of silk-screening projects in the works, including mini-books about cassowary agility trials, emu dressage and exploring the depths of the ocean. I’m also getting ready to put together the fourth issue of my zine, “Three-Armed Squid,” with co-editors Alden Viguilla and Estrella Vega. We’ve been self-publishing this zine since 2011, when we first tabled at MoCCA. We explore a different theme of fours in every issue; the upcoming issue will be centered around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Q: What do you hope to have achieved, career wise, 10 years from now?

I’d like to have a few graphic novels under my belt, hopefully published by the likes of Fantagraphics or Nobrow: they constantly put out work I admire and respect and would be honored to be part of the family. While I love to self-publish (and will probably keep making limited edition silkscreen books until my hands fall off from wear-and-tear), I relish the idea of attracting a larger audience for my comics. I’d also like to start my own business: a small illustration studio or a small press and give up-and-coming cartoonists and illustrators a shot. Honestly, as long as I'm drawing, I’ll be happy.

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For more information about Alexandra’s work visit her official website:
http://www.alexandrabeguez.com/

Additionally, some of her comics and hand-made books are available at fine comic retailers in New York, such as Desert Island Comics, Grumpy Bert. Her work can also be found at The Beguiling in Toronto, Canada.