Artist Sophia Zarders is responsible for the FIYAH #12 cover art. We asked her a bit about her unique art style and the work she’s excited about.
1) What inspired you to originally want to be an artist?
I’ve actually been an artist since childhood! I was that class artist kid and loved drawing dogs, neopets, and terrible manga OCs for my classmates. As a teen, I took studio art and design classes during the summer at my local community colleges, and later attended the California State Summer School for the Arts which lead me to pursue illustration. I got a BFA in Illustration from CSU Long Beach and am now a freelance illustrator and comic artist. Thankfully, my family has pushed me to pursue a career in the arts and I grew up around fantastic friends and family that are also in creative fields. My mom is a mosaic artist and watching her take on public art projects was definitely influential.
2) What advice would you have for people looking to become an artist as a career?
There are so many different types of careers in the arts that people typically don’t think about when considering a creative field. The fear of being a “starving artist” is still alive and kicking today, but that’s just not the reality the art world. In fact, I currently work at an arts non profit where I organize exhibitions for artists with disabilities. I get to explore my creative craft and help make the art world a more inclusive place for a very underrepresented community. My advice is to make a giant bubble chart with as many art careers as you can possibly think of. If you keep an open mind, you might discover a field that speaks to you!
Realizing that art and creativity doesn’t have to have monetary value is also important. I truly think everyone should have a creative hobby, even if they have an art career. It’s about exploring and experimenting with materials and concepts, and refraining from immediately thinking “I should sell this!” (But if you feel inclined to sell your art, then by all means get your work out there!)
3) What are your own personal goals for your art? Where would you like it to be in five years?
Last fall, I embarked on my first art residency in Berlin, Germany. I loved the process and environment of a residency and am currently setting my sights for other programs in the future. I can see myself doing a residency for a few months, returning to the states (make some more money), and then set off for another creative adventure. In five years, I would love to have my comics published by a comics/graphic novel publisher. As someone who’s frequently commissioned for poster designs, I’d love to work with more comedians on show/tour posters. I did a comedian zine earlier this year and made a lot of connections in the comedy scene that I want to flourish. I also see myself working in the entertainment industry in the future but I’m still figuring out exactly where I would fit in. I wanna do everything!
4) Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
Regina Galindo is for sure at the top of my favorite artist list. She’s a Guatemalan performance artist who explores nationalism, sexual violence, and other social issues in her work. (A big trigger warning if you decide to look up her work!) I just saw a wonderful group show in Hollywood that included Cheyenne Julien, a fantastic Bronx based painter. Her work is so funny, striking, and thought-provoking. I also love Dynasty Handbag, who mixes stand up comedy, performance art, and a general splash of kookiness. Ivy Atoms is a wonderful comic artist whose graphic novel, Pinky & Pepper Forever, is pure delight. I’ve actually done a “feminist artist alphabet” series of cards, which includes pretty much all my favorite contemporary artists (for a more comprehensive list.) In general, I’m inspired by mannerist paintings, world mythologies, 60s/70s pop culture, and obscure movie posters. Film & television has always been my first love.
5) What thought process did you take into your FIYAH cover? It’s honestly one of our most unique covers. Is there a deeper, historical reference to it?
I actually got stuck creatively when I began working on the Fiyah cover. I kept thinking about the theme of “chains” and grappled with how to depict or allude to that in the design. At first, I had a close up of the figure riding a horse with a stoic expression. I kept thinking of “chains” in relation to slavery and bondage, which was getting me stuck in a more serious train of thought that I wasn’t digging. I had to step away from the design to access a more lighthearted, boisterous version. I remembered a sculpture I had seen in Berlin of I’m assuming a Greco-Roman hero riding a horse that totally grasped my attention when I had seen it in person. I pulled the movement from it and brought it to my drawing, which completely changed the mood of the overall piece. After this speed bump, I had so much fun drawing this cover and going with a “carefree black girl” angle. I’ve drawn many political works and poster designs in the past, so I’m trying to balance that with more lighthearted ideas in my work overall.
I thought a lot about what my take would be on the genre of Afrofuturism, sci-fi, and fantasy. A lot of my work references mythologies and Catholic motifs, so it was definitely a challenge to mix all of these different ideas into a fun, campy cover. I also loved going back through the Fiyah archive and looking through all the past covers. I thought about the type of figure I would want to portray, how they could stand out, and generally the mood that I wanted to bring. I tend to draw manic, bold, unapologetic characters and that’s exactly who I ended up with. I like to think she’s a half human half god character who jealously turned her mortal lover into a pony. Then the townspeople chained her up, but she escaped with her lover and caused the apocalypse, hahaha. I’ve always loved chaotic figures in mythos, pop culture, etc.
6) If you could instantly work on any established property, what would it be and why?
It would be an absolute dream to work with certain filmmakers whose movies have deeply affected my art. I’m always drawn toward directors and studios that encourage visual artists from outside of entertainment to help build a world; it shows that they are conscious about the art/illustration world and these choices bring authenticity to their work. I love Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Tamara Jenkins, Edgar Wright, Chloe Zhao, Wes Anderson (call me basic!), Terrence Nance, Spike Lee, Mike Mills, etc. I saw Ari Aster’s Midsommar recently and was completely enthralled with the amount of illustration in that film. I kept thinking, “oh my god, what lucky bastard (Ragnar Persson) got to do the art for this movie?!” Terrence Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness on HBO is another dream project. That is probably the most experimental TV show I’ve ever seen, and it’s all about the nuances of race, gender, sexuality, etc in relation to Blackness. He brought on so many different creative minds and it feels like an exploration of pure talent, including a cameo from Solange. One more collaboration I’ll mention is Spike Lee and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Though She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix has definite narrative issues, it’s really incredible to see Tatyana, an outspoken activist artist, be given this huge platform to show her work. Daniel Clowes, Wayne White, and Lisa Hanawalt are just a few artists who are “living the dream” in my eyes, as they flutter between the illustrative world and entertainment in interesting ways. I guess my answer also works into the “favorite artists” question above.
Even though I don’t read (or even really like) superhero comics, I’d like to try my hand at a big superhero comic property. There was a period when I would doodle my own versions of lady villains as rollerskating punks with spiked clubs and scantily clad outfits. Although, “reimaginings” are very in right now and American pop culture is in a deep need for original stories. That being said, I want everything and anything to do with the Cats reboot, which looks like literal hell on earth.
7) What projects do you have coming down the pipeline? Anything you particularly excited about?
Right now I’m focused on a series of self portraits using watercolors, colored pencils, and metallic paint. The idea for this collection stemmed from my solo show, Tinsel Angels, which exhibited during my Berlin residency. For about 4-5 months, I’ve been researching specific white women throughout US history who fought for white supremacy, antifeminism, the pro-life movement, homophobia, etc. Some women I’ve been reading up on/watching interviews of are Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schlafly, Martha Washington, and Tomi Lahren. I’m obsessed with the idea of these figures performing whiteness and in particular white femininity to preserve their own power and status; I’m exploring the idea of them putting on “whiteface” and “shucking and jiving” for the white man, the white church, and the white government. The second layer of this is portraying myself as these horrible women and putting on their identities as costumes, definitely not as a loving tribute but as a way to mock them and mythologize them. I love the idea of having a halloween costume of Anita Bryant with pie on her face next to Dracula. Hopefully, I’m successful in getting my concept realized through these drawings, but we’ll see when I’m all done with them, hahaha.
I’ve been working on a graphic novel for 7 years now called, Jesus Freak, which is a horror comedy about ghosts, nightmares, and friendship. I had just graduated from high school when I wrote JF as a film script and have been reworking it and illustrating it ever since. It’s really amazing to see how it has transformed and the different meanings it holds now. I’m aiming to reprint parts 1 & 2 by this winter in their original 8.5 x 11” format (previous printed versions were smaller zine sizes). I’m currently on a short break from working on JF, which has proven to be positive for my storytelling over the course of creating it. I always return to it though, as a cathartic thing to nibble on every couple of months.
I have a monthly comic for Razorcake! called Our Lady of Cacophony. It’s a slice of life comic strip about 3 students at a Catholic all girls high school, which is very influenced by my own high school experience. It’s definitely one of the sweeter projects I have going on and it replenishes my soul when I get to work on it.
8) Tell us where we can find you. Social media, website etc.?
My website is www.sophiazarders.com, but my Insta @sophiazarders is more fun. I also have a Twitter with the same handle.
Thanks, Sophia, for being a part of FIYAH.