You have just died. Everything is black but in the distance you can see a light. A colorful light. You stumble forward towards it hoping to find the afterlife somewhere ahead. You reach it and find…a piñata?
Confused you stretch out your arm to touch the multi-colored party decoration and it attacks you. You try to hit it like it was your birthday but it is stronger than it looks. Just as you think that all is lost a masked figure appears out of nowhere and clotheslines the pinata. It’s Fantasma and she has just saved your afterlife!
Fantasma is a webcomic created by Latinx artist Stephanie Barros. The story follows Dolores Margarita Socorro, a former Luchadora called Fantasma, as she finds herself in the afterlife being attacked by a Pinata monster. After being rescued she soon discovers that she has a choice to stay and protect the land of the living from monsters or go on to a better place of rest. You can imagine what her choice is.
Fantasma is an extremely fun and beautifully illustrated comic. It depicts the afterlife not as a dark dreary place of death, but a colorful land full of creatures and vibrant life. The characters, a Mexican Luchadora, a roller derby girl, and a soldadera, are as vibrant and colorful as the world they inhabit. I had the opportunity to chat with Stephanie about this awesome world and how she created it.
Chris Campbell: Tell me a little about yourself. What got you into doing a webcomic? What do you do besides webcomics?
Stephanie Barros: Hey there! I graduated from DigiPen Institute of Technology with a degree in Digital Art and Animation, and I found that I really loved 2D animation! It’s not a very common thing to do anymore and it’s really hard to do shorts by yourself (full color animation, music, voice acting, etc). I wanted something that I could have complete control over and have fun with, but also improve my art with.
One of my biggest artistic inspirations, Gigi D.G. the creator of Cucumber Quest, has tweeted many times about just diving in and making your own comic. I was scared to start it in all honesty, but her advice of just making content you personally love and want to see helped me do it. Besides webcomics and art in general, I work as a barista! I’ve learned more about coffee than I ever thought I would.
CC: What inspired you to create Fantasma and the afterlife setting? Is her character or that of anybody else in Fantasma based off of someone IRL?
SB: In my sophomore year of college, I was really overwhelmed with the amount of assignments I had to get through and all of my effort was put into those projects. I really wanted a break and decided to design a simple character based off of things I personally loved and also missed. I’m originally from El Paso, TX and the school I went to is in Redmond, WA so when I first moved away it was a big culture shock. I took El Paso for granted and didn’t think I would miss it when I left.
Fantasma was a self indulgent character based off of Mexican-American culture I grew up around. I love ghosts and death, so I wanted her to be some sort of spirit with the Dia de los Muertos aesthetic. I also LOVE pro wrestling, so all those things sort of formed up into a character I felt very personal about.
I’m very interested in the afterlife, what could be there, what isn’t there, and I also like thinking of it as not necessarily being the end of a journey. Having it in my comic, I could make my own world where ghosts and other monsters and entities exist while still mirroring the “real world”. The comic wont just take place in the afterlife either!
As for characters, Fantasma and Hell Mary are based off of multiple traits from multiple people. There are traits from myself placed into their characters, and there are a lot of traits Fantasma has that were inspired by my best friend. There are other characters that are inspired by other people in my life in good and bad ways as well.
CC: Talk to me about the creation process for Fantasma. I really enjoy the colors you use and especially the unique color palette each character has. What lead you to choose each palette?
SB: I have to thank one of my professors back at DigiPen, Rob Kmiec, for helping me start my comic. I wasn’t sure how to start, I was focusing too much on little details and worrying about everything being perfect before posting anything. He helped me focus on writing a script, making thumbnails and just taking things step by step instead of being scared by the big picture.
I LOVE colors! I think colors are an incredible way to change the mood, the setting, they’re just so fun. Before choosing a palette for a page I just really think of a basic mood the page should hold mixed with the setting. The first pages are dark and mysterious, meeting Rosa is much brighter and warm, etc.
Fantasma’s colors are primarily purple because I love purple, I have to be honest! Purple also fits with a lot of Halloween/spooky type palettes. She has the warm marigolds on her pants for contrast and because of their role in Dia de los Muertos. Her colors are very loud and warm like she is, with a hint of spooky. Hell Mary’s colors are more dulled down in a way where they differ from Fantasma, but don’t clash too much when they’re together. At least, I hope that’s what they convey!
Hell Mary has a sort of grunge look to her, but she’s still inspired by western aesthetics. They both question each other’s fashion choices.
CC: Latinx have a very different view of the afterlife than most non-Latinx in the US. Why do you think ours is so vibrant and celebratory while other views are so dark and dreary?
SB: There’s always been so many huge celebrations with my family during holidays, and even on random weekends. Birthdays when I was younger were so huge and involved, Thanksgiving and Christmas are still huge family events with specific cultural significance. Death in itself is sad, and from what I grew up around, we want to focus on their life and positive accomplishments. Throw a big party! We feel like they’re still there and have special days to focus on what our dead loved ones liked to do and eat.
I think the Book of Life does a great job at showing how important it is to live your life to the fullest, be remembered by your loved ones, and still get to be with them when you die.
CC: How do you feel about the current representation of Latinx and especially Latinx women in comic books?
SB: I feel like there’s still some negative stereotypes. I do love heroes like America Chavez, I’m hoping to see more Latinx characters like that! It’s just something we have to work at.
One of my desires for my own comic was just creating a fantasy-type story in a Mexican-American setting with characters that reminded me of my own family and of home.
CC: Will any of the current issues facing Latinx spill over into your afterlife world? Will Fantasma have to deal with immigration issues or the like in her new world?
SB: The majority of my characters are LGBT and obviously Latinx. There are a lot of “old fashioned values” that make it hard for LGBT Latinx people in the real world to come out to their own families. Racism, colorism, homophobia, and transphobia are just a few things that characters like mine would face in the world today.
In certain ways, I’ll definitely dive into different kinds of discrimination, but at the same time I wanted to have a story about LGBT Latinx characters where they can comfortably be themselves openly. There are a lot of personal conflicts for each character, but the big story conflicts are more “we have to save the world!” but the characters just happen to be gay. Immigration as an issue does spill over since a lot of characters and/or their families are from Mexico.
CC: A current movie trend and one that has always been around in comic books is to create “shared universes.” If you were to put Fantasma in a Latinx shared universe who might she fight along side?
SB: I did mention America Chavez already, I think she would LOVE fighting alongside her! Another comic that I’ve been following a lot is The Legend of La Mariposa, and Fantasma would totally attempt the trials that La Mariposa is going through or even just Tag Team battle with her!
CC: What do you hope readers come away with after reading Fantasma?
SB: My comic has a very silly premise of a ghost wrestler fighting a bunch of monsters, everything about it is self indulgent. There is going to be a lot of situations and issues the characters are going to have to deal with, and I hope their reactions and/or learning experiences are focused on. All in all, I’m happy to be doing a comic close to my heart and I hope people enjoy it as well!