Joan Cornellà Says He's Not the Grotesque Characters He Draws
Barcelonan cartoonist and illustrator Joan Cornellà is known for his brightly colored comic strips, which hide an unsettlingly dark humor. His Hong Kong exhibition started on June 17.
How do you come up with all these crazy illustrations? The source of inspiration is comics, underground ones. I grew up reading stories by [American cartoonist] Daniel Clowes and these comic book artists that are well-known in the comic world, but not in the mainstream world. People see my work as mainstream now, but I think it has its own roots and they are not mainstream.
There’s a distance between what I’m doing and what I think I really am.
How did you start drawing? I like comics. When I was a kid, I drew sketches every day. When I started studying in fine art, I was more involved in conceptual art. When I stopped studying fine art, that’s when I began to become a professional artist. I started in comics eight years ago, when I was 28. It was just a four-page comic, it was a real mess—but I liked it. [Then] I did a 60-page comic in Spanish. It was a lot of work and I didn’t have the time: That’s why I started doing single pages after that. I started posting and sharing them on Facebook. This way of spreading my own work is easier than in print.
Are you what you draw? I hope not. I just prefer my artwork to speak for itself, and I’m not the kind of artist who likes to be in the middle of his own artwork. I hope I’m not that kind of psycho I’m always depicting in my pages!
So you’re not a psychopath? I’m not sure, I can’t tell you. That’s a question a lot of people have asked me. I think there’s a distance between what I’m doing and what I think I really am. But maybe somebody can think that I’m really a psychopath. Maybe, I don’t know.
Do you have a favorite comic? There’s one, I call it “Gangsta Grandma.” I prefer not to name my work, but I just call it that. It was one my first, and I like it.
All you works are very dark deep, but you present them in all these bright colors. Why the contrast? Because when you present it that way, it’s easier to have a bigger audience. You can treat themes like that as a funny thing, that’s all.
A lot of them are very sexual as well. Oh, I thought you said homosexual—There are some homosexual and transexual [themes] as well. A lot of people call me transphobic, but I don’t think I am. I think the biggest themes are death and sex: or you could say love, but it’s related so at the end, for me it’s sex. If you talk about love in comics, it doesn’t have a punch. You can do it in music, but not in comics.
And they are very kinky! Is that what turns you on? I’m just a normal guy, I’m so boring. I’m not that kind of perverted guy.
Are you comics supposed to be funny? I think the main thing about my comics is just to tell a joke and make people enjoy my work. You can find a deeper meaning if you want.
People call your work disturbing: do you think it is? I like that it could be disturbing but at the same time, it can be just a fun thing. There is this line between these two things. I prefer to see my work as between the two. Yes they can be very disturbing, but then you have laughter. People think that they are annoying, disturbing, or haunting, but I don’t care. When people see [my work and find it disturbing], maybe it's because they don’t have a sense of humor. But it’s not my intention to not make people laugh.
Do you know you have a huge fan base here in Hong Kong? I can see on my Facebook that I have a lot of followers from Hong Kong, in fact I think they are the biggest group of followers I have.
What can we expect for your exhibition here? It’s not site-specific, it’s my work, if you have seen my work before, now you can see it in more details, it’s a different experience. When you see them in a gallery or a museum, it’s like a social laughter. It’s like being in a church, but with psychos.