There is a far-off beautiful land inhabited by amazing creatures and people. This land is Puerto Rico and one of it’s residents, Eliana Falcón is the creator of the award-winning webcomic Cosmic Fish. Cosmic Fish is an allegorical story that Falcón publishes twice a week and has already been published in print collecting the first 212 pages.
Cosmic Fish is compelling storytelling paired with colorful and imaginative art and an important message about “identity and experience.” In Falcón’s own words: “It a story that acknowledges our small and pointless existence in the universe but cannot bring itself to deny the impacts of those in our level: our family, friends, and our surroundings. It recognizes the negative parts of ourselves but hopes to tell us we can always be better. All neatly packed together in a story of monster kids exploring the world, finding teleporting rabbit, and befriending a demigod.”
Falcon took the time to discuss with me in detail the symbolism weaved into her story as well as her families struggles during Hurricane Maria and it’s aftermath.
Chris Hernandez: Tell us about your relationship with art over your life till now? What got you started in art (creating) and what has been instrumental in developing your skills?
Eliana Falcon: Before I could write, I would bring my mother some drawings and tell her a story about them, so I suppose it’s always been an innate thing with me. I also went through all of K-12 sketching amateur comics and practicing what kind of story I wanted to tell. But the work was always unpolished, since I never thought I’d have a future as an artist, I rarely ever actually practiced the craft. It wasn’t until I was around 21 where I was hating my computer science degree so much that I took an art class on the side and realized that’s what made me happy; that I could practice and just see where things would go. I ended up starting my degree from scratch and graduated from Public Communication in hopes of mixing both fields to enter into animation—yet when Cosmic Fish took off (after winning two Tintero ‘best mini comic’ (2016) and ‘best comic’ (2017) Awards), comics ended up becoming my career instead. Funny how that works! For developing my skills, I think it’s helped a lot to study reality and also draw from the subconscious or instincts. It’s finding that balance that I think has really helped me out in defining my style and approach.
CH: How did hurricane Maria affect you when it hit? What has been the long term effect on you and your creations?
EF: After Maria hit in September, I had no idea how I was going to continue my comic. Irma had already struck us two weeks prior, so I was already working on my comic using a gas generator to power the house. At first I thought it’d be alright, but my family and I live in a very rural area and problems constantly got more and more difficult: a tree fell on our water supply tank and we had to collect and purify rain water up until early January; it took about 10 days after the hurricane when everyone outside my immediate circle would know I was alive because of no signal; my abuela’s health was deteriorating rapidly during the aftermath (she passed away late January) and my other grandmother was going senile. To get to the city where I worked or to visit my grandmothers, we had to drive over a thin cement slab that barely went over the river. There was so much happening at once. I had to constantly think on my feet and help everyone as best as I could. I was on autopilot.
As it was, doodling more ideas for the comic and thumbnails for future chapters kept me distracted, but it was hard to find the strength to work when I was constantly on high alert. I had to place my comic on hiatus for a bit until I could update my story only once per week to at least force myself some form of normality. I also participated in a lot of fundraisers for the island (Puerto Rico Strong and Ricanstruction) as a way to give back and try to help out. However, during the development, it felt like I wasn’t given time to grieve on internalize what had happened. There was an immediate rush to talk about the ordeal to remain relevant in the news, that it made me feel guilty in a way. I hated feeling like my only focus WAS being a survivor; but I had survived, and that was my only worth. To counter that, around early February, I decided to polish all 212 pages for Cosmic Fish and release the 1st volume around April to almost prove to myself I could do it. I didn’t want the hurricane to just define where my life was. After all the pain and frustration, I could still create and heal.
Electricity finally came back on Good Friday in April, and I’ve been slowly trying to get back into the habit of constantly updating bi-weekly again. It took a while, but things are getting back to normal, and I’ve allowed myself to heal and mourn. Having kept myself busy and participating in the aforementioned projects also opened a lot of doors for me and helped me remind myself this is what I wanted, which I’m really grateful for.
CH: Why did you start your webcomic Cosmic Fish? How did you come up with the idea for this world and it’s cosmology?
EF: Cosmic Fish has been a story I’ve been working on since around 2011; maybe earlier, seeing how I used a lot of ideas of old stories I experimented on during jr and high school. I always enjoyed the concept of following the story of characters who, although wouldn’t normally be deemed as the heroes, were given a moment to show their experience and their perspective, so I feel as this kind of story would’ve happened one way or another.
A lot of the ghost designs came from dream journals of weird creatures I’d meet in my dreams or odd shapes I’d think about when distracted in class. I enjoyed that concept of spontaneity and that idea itself began to expand on how these ghosts existed. I continued to elaborate on what that meant, and the mythos and rules expanded to the point that, when it came to create the story, I realized it was something I REALLY wanted to explore. A story of consequence through the eyes of perceived monsters and higher beings who are just as confused and reactionary as the rest of us—and that’s ok! They, and in extension us, have the choice to always be better than before.
So finally, when it came to design the world, I realized I wanted to see a fantasy version of where I grew up. I wanted to see my culture take centre stage and subtle architecture, mannerisms, folklore, or cultural nods like you’d see in manga or in US comics thrown around. I wanted something other people on or off the island that still held roots to Puerto Rico would point and go ‘Oh, I know this!’. In short, I wanted to make a comic that had everything my younger self would’ve needed or wanted at the time in hopes someone in the present would feel that too.
I started the comic as a test in late 2014 before I became overwhelmed and quit before picking it up again in summer of 2015 where I’ve been constantly updating since then. I can’t really explain why I started, I just felt that, if I didn’t start it back then, then I would never do it. So, I guess the easiest answer to that is just “why not?”
CH: What is the premise of Cosmic Fish? And what is it really about (i.e. what is the designing principle)?
EF: The main pitch for Cosmic Fish is a story of monsters vs guardians—in the perspective of the budding monsters finding their place in a world they are forced to call home. They first appear as ghosts and they begin to obtain a body as a defense mechanism. If their body is completely physical before a guardian can find a way to send them back to…wherever they come from, they can no longer return and will continue to grow into larger monsters if negative thoughts and reactions overwhelm them; causing them to lose control and wreck havoc.
What sparks these negative reactions from each ghost depends on the character’s own view of the world, and that’s where the main theme and meaning comes from. Being a ghost doesn’t have a specific symbolism, it’s personal: Acantha (our protagonist) is caught up in the past trying to help Ramus and being dismissive about a crime she committed, and, although she doesn’t act like it, she’s highly affected by the expectations of others—that’s where her change comes from and she counters it by acting indifferent or brash (her definition of being a ghost, is the past and personal identity). Gallo is the only ghost raised by humans, because of this, he can’t identify with being a ghost—but knows very well he isn’t human, so then what is he? This one is definitely very personal and I use my feelings of the Puerto Rican experience to write about his own mind set of what it means to not fully be one (Ghost/Latinx) or the other (Human/“American”) (His definition of being a ghost is social identity). Ramus is very studious and rational, but we see through flashbacks how terrified he was of what it meant to truly exist; the concept of infinity terrified him (his definition of ghost is universal existentialism). Hessa forces optimism into their lives and is constantly trying to keep everyone together, yet, they also show this need to have others be dependent in them in some way (their definition of ghost is self-worth). We don’t know much about Bavel or Schnell enough to truly find out what their own definitions are yet and I, sadly, can’t say yet. Bells on the other hand, shows a being that, although she too has her own trauma and what it means to be a guardian (something perceivably good), she begins to understand and learn about these experiences the ghosts have and we as the readers consider human.
CH: Why did you choose to name it Cosmic Fish?
EF: I think a few things can be considered the Cosmic Fish. Lheur having a fish tail and being able to jump through space comes to mind; Acantha’s relation to space also gives hints of a greater meaning. (Space itself is used in the comic as the idea of endless possibilities and choices—despite the ghosts being told there’s only one kind of end game for them. Space is also used as the internal fear the characters feel when it comes to infinity or greater concepts they have no understanding of.) Back when I was working on concepts, I took the name from H. L. Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols, where the Cosmic Fish was described as “a symbol of progress of the world across the sea of unformed realities”. The infinite is terrifying…but it can also BE anything! And that’s us!
I will admit there’s another meaning, but I can’t explain yet. Who knows, maybe there is an actual Cosmic Fish somewhere in the comic!
CH: What do you hope that readers take away from Cosmic Fish and/or your creative work in general?
EF: The main drive for Cosmic Fish is the idea of second chances and how we never stop changing—and maybe that’s a good thing, it just depends what we allow to influence us. In a general sense, I realize I have two motifs I have in almost every work I create: I like to study flawed characters trying to become better people: whether they succeed or not, and, although they are still responsible for their actions, is it a reaction from an unjust event, society, or upbringing?
Will that ever stop defining them? A darker motif I also have is talking about our own mortality in some way. Why we fear death and playing with that concept since it defines who we are or what we do. It’s just fun to place these ideas in different settings and watch them unfold. Not to offer answers but offer experiences and internalization.
CH: What has been the response to your release of Volume 1 in print?
EF: It’s been fantastic! Despite being limited in selling the book in Puerto Rico only (for now), it’s garnered a lot of positive response and support. It’s been a little terrifying appearing in interviews and book tours, quite honestly, but seeing people’s faces light up when they hear the pitch or even see unique references to our culture makes it worthwhile. The comic is definitely very different than other works in the local scene, and I think that’s what makes people be naturally drawn to it—although I’ve gotten messages of newcomers being surprised by “how sad” such a “happy-looking” comic has made them, hahaha!
CH: What are your thoughts on the state of Latinx representation in Comic books?
EF: I’m glad there’s definitely more characters and stories now than even 10 years ago! I greatly enjoy the work a lot of self-published creators have been doing when it comes to deconstructing their own culture/experiences. Although I wish there was more variety in character designs from superhero and mainstream media such as DC and Marvel. I like that the intent is there, but not every Latinx has the same body build, skin color, or hair style, you know? And how the Latinx identity continues to be generalized as one. We’re all Latinx, we should continue to support each other, but we also need to embrace each of our unique heritage and culture, that’s something I’d love to see more of.
Discover Eliana Falcón’s world of Cosmic Fish here!