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We Want the Airwaves: Breena Nuñez and Lawrence Lindell

Nia: So, first of all, you two recently got engaged. I wanna say congratulations! So I knew—I knew that
you got engaged recently, but I didn’t know that Lawrence, you proposed at East Bay Alternative Book
and Zine fest. I’m really curious why, why you chose that place for your proposal.

Lawrence: That was the first place we met.

Nia: Oh! [laughs] Which year?

Lawrence: 2015, when it was in Berkeley.

Nia: Okay. Yeah, at the community college—City College?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Nia: That’s fucking adorable!

[Nia and Breena laughter]

Nia: Breena, did you know this was coming?

Breena: No, not at all. Yeah, we were closing up and it started to clear out a little bit more in the
auditorium and he was like, “Oh, I have this zine that I just made for you,” and I’m like, “Oh, thank you!”
and I thought it was a little early Christmas gift, I dunno, early Christmas gift. And he was like, “You’re
not even reading it. You gotta read it!” and it’s a zine/comic/photo collage of all of the different zine fests
we’ve been traveling to and where we kind of had these milestones in our relationship; all the different
zines fests that kind of signified this growth over time. Yeah… and the last page was the, the actual
proposal, “This is when—EBABZ [East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest] 2018 is when I asked for
your hand in marriage.” I was crying silently [laughter] while smiling. They were happy tears for sure.

[INTRO MUSIC]

Nia: Okay, let’s go back. I wanna hear the story of how you met at EBABZ.

Breena: You should tell it.

Lawrence: Okay. So, I have a friend, Dustin—which is our mutual friend—but, he’s a friend from back
home. I’m from Southern California. He was tabling and I went with him. He was like, “Oh, you should
meet my friend, Breena,” and I was like, “Okay, cool,” and then we met. And that was it. It wasn’t a big
thing. I was like, “Oh, she’s cool. She seemed like she was high, but she was cool.” And that was it, but
then he goes all the way upstairs—

Nia: Breena says nothing.

Lawrence: He goes all the way upstairs and he’s like, “Oh, are you high? ‘Cause my friend, Lawrence,
wants to know if you’re high,” and I’m just like, “Why would you—?!”

[Laughter]
Lawrence: And so, that’s our first impression of each other.

Breena: Yeah.

Nia: And then, how did it—but you were still living in LA at the time?

Lawrence: Yeah, I—

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: I would come to Oakland from Compton, like in between every month, so…

Nia: And so, how did the relationship grow? Did it start out long distance or…?

Breena: Yeah, we… like what Lawrence was saying, we didn’t think much of each other the first
interaction at EBABZ.

Nia: Did you trade zines? Was that how it began?

Breena: We didn’t actually trade zines.

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: It was literally just, “Oh, this is my friend, Breena” “Oh, cool. I think she’s high.”
Which was cool, [laughter] it wasn’t—it was just whatever, it wasn’t…

Breena: Yeah and Dustin, at the time, was working with some youth in an after-school program
at the Y[MCA] in Berkeley?

Lawrence: Mmhmm.

Breena: Yeah and he told that me he was super excited to bring some of his youth and I assumed
that Lawrence was a part of this program.

Nia: [laughter]

Breena: Even though fool was a year older than me. [laughter] Yeah, I thought he meant that he was
bringing some of his youth to table with him at EBABZ; to share his table, but I was asking Dustin, “Oh,
is this one of your youth?” [laughter]

Nia: Did you say that in front of Lawrence?

Breena: I think I did!

[Laughter]

Nia: Okay. Yeah, so how do we get from there to here? [laughter]


Breena: Then we met again in San Francisco Zine Fest. What year was that?

Lawrence: Yeah, a year later. So, 2016?

Breena: Mhm. Yeah, I wasn’t sure if we actually started following each other before then?

Nia: On Instagram?

Breena: Yeah. Was that happening or did we follow aft—each other afterwards?

Lawrence: Mmm, I dunno.

Breena: ‘Cause I was sort of privy to the zine that tour you were about to embark on and… yeah, after
SF Zine Fest—or even during, I went up to your table and I was like, “Oh, wow, this is amazing, he’s
also kinda cute. Let’s trade zines,” So, we traded and then we sort of kicked it a little bit on the corner of
9th and Lincoln.

We were trying to depart but, it’s like that… You know when you’re really close friends with somebody,
you say goodbye and then you go off on a different tangent. Like, “Oh…” and then you go on another
tangent. So, we just kept talking and talking [laughter] and then he invited me to apply to the New
Orleans Zine Fest…Same year, right?

Lawrence: Mmhmm.

Breena: Yeah, same year and I’m like, “Oh, is this an invitation? Does he wanna hang out?” I’m sorry,
nobody sees my little—

Breena & Nia: Eyebrow wiggles. [laughter]

Breena: But, I was like, “Oh. Is he just trying to be friends or is he trying to be more than friends? I
dunno!” So, I go and apply also with my friend, Annie Yu. We both get in. We’re super excited and we’d
both never been to New Orleans and he raves about this being one of his favorite zine fests and it was a
really beautiful experience. It was a first-come-first-serve situation where you enter the library and you
get to pick your table and lucky me—

Nia: So, you don’t have to apply, you’re just supposed to show up early?

Breena: Oh, you do apply.

Nia: Okay.

Breena: And they decide who gets accepted and everything, but they don’t assign tables. So, we got in.
There was an empty table next to Lawrence. I’m like, [gasp] “Okay, here we go,” with sweaty palms,
walking over, setting up and everything. We’re chopping it up and… yeah, we’d just get into really cool
conversations about music… mostly cumbia and voguing [laughter]. Then, what else happened?

Lawrence: Yeah, we just kicked it. That’s when I knew, though. When she was like, “Oh, you like
cumbia?” and I was like, “Yeah!” And then she was like, “Oh, you like voguing?” and I was like, “Yeah!”
I was like, “Yup!”
Nia: Oh, that’s so fucking cute I can’t even take it. It’s definitely gonna have to be the Valentine’s Day
episode [laughter].

Breena: Yeah! [laughter]

Nia: Okay, let’s go back to the beginning. We talked about the beginning of your relationship,
but, I guess, I wanna start with each of your individual stories. So, Breena, you’re from San
Bruno.

Breena: Mmhmm.

Nia: I actually didn’t know where that was…

Breena: That’s okay. Not a lot of people do.

Nia: Even though it’s just south of San Francisco. What is San Bruno like? What is it as a place to grow
up?

Breena: Let’s see…It’s really quiet. I also sort of grew up in South City too…Daly City for a hot minute.
My family and I moved around a lot for various reasons: mostly trying to find cheaper housing and I had
really fond memories of South City at my grandparent’s house. We’ve lived pretty closely to the See’s
Candies factory …and it used to be the Orowheat factory, but, now, it was bought out by Bimbo, the
Mexican bread company, several years ago. I just always remember—before, when my brother and I
would walk to school from our house—it would just smell like Cocoa Puffs in the morning. It was the
mixture of the chocolate and the bread… just floating in the air.

Nia: Did it make you crave Cocoa Puffs or did it make you repulsed by them? [laughter]

Breena: I was about it. I had so much chocolate cereal every morning. [laughter] But, yeah, it was home
for me and it still is. Those two parts of the peninsula hold a lot of, I dunno… I have a lot of fondness for
those spaces because it’s…

There’s just so much community around you. So many brown folks, a lot of first gen[eration] kids, so, It
just felt so—I didn’t feel very ostracized for a long time and… let’s see… Yeah, just growing up with
the neighbor kids; playing soccer with them. Also getting scared by dogs and Chihuahuas, ‘cause they—
there are a lot of “guard dogs” and I always remember being very afraid of them and having this
irrational—

Nia: Of Chihuahuas?

Breena: Yeah. My aunt had a very terrible Chihuahua.

Nia: Okay.

Breena: Yeah, he would try to bite me a few times and I was this tiny toddler, didn’t know any better.
And I came up with an irrational fear of dogs who were just trying to plot towards my demise. [laughter]
I guess I was sort of paranoid, too, as a kid.
Nia: I mean, if a Chihuahua tries to bite you a couple times as a kid, I feel like that’s a logical reaction.

Breena: Yeah, seriously. But, during my youth, I was a part of the Special Ed program. So, it was
interesting how it was designed. I couldn’t stay in this Christian school that my family enrolled me in
when I was in kindergarten, because I was… my development skills were just not superseding in
comparison to my classmates and a lot of that had to do with my issue with language—which I still feel
still affects me to this very day. I was diagnosed with autism, because I wasn’t speaking until I was four
years old and even then it was a weird language I came up with—that was a mish-mosh between Spanish
and English and only my older brother could understand me and he was—he’s three years older than me.
So, we had a very close relationship. He was my translator. [laughter]

Yeah, he knew what I was saying during that entire phase and it was interesting looking back at that,
‘cause all of the other youth in the Special Ed program are also just first-gen kids who grew up speaking
Spanish primarily at home and…I dunno, I just never saw them as any less intelligent than kids enrolled
in regular ed. That’s the one part that I still feel really sad about is just the way we categorize intellect at
such a young age, because you’re not a native English speaker. Right away, “We’re just gonna toss you
into Special Ed, because we really don’t know what else to do.”

There wasn’t a lot of access to bilingual education in those school districts. It’s ridiculous, because there’s
large amounts of Latinx youth and youth coming from different countries like, Southeast Asian folks,
etcetera. There still was not a lot of representation in public education, but I also learned to be an artist
too when I was ten. That’s when I wanted to be a musician. We went to—on a field trip—to the Davies
Symphony Hall up here and I was blown away by all this classical shit. I was like, “This is amazing. This
group of people, they’re just creating art that just—” It was just magical to me, the whole experience.

I’ll never forget my first music instructor in Hillside Elementary. His name is Mr. Sandoval and he was
my first mentor. He taught me how to play songs that were familiar to my family. He’s Mexican, my
family is Guatemalan/Salvadoran, but there’s always some overlap with music, so… He taught me how
to play Las Mañanitas, which is the birthday song you play, and I never knew what I was playing or
learning from this guy. He was giving me, sort of, private lessons during school, because I was one of
the few brown youth to take up the flute. [Laughter] Yeah, he nurtured the, I dunno, the practice of
continuing to honor your culture and your roots through music. Yeah, he is somebody I always want to
keep thanking and giving a lot of credit, because I feel like if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am
today, you know?

Nia: Lawrence, you’re from LA?

Lawrence: Yeah, I mean, Southern California. I’m from Compton, but I’m not… I’ve literally
moved around since forever.

Nia: Oh, that’s right. I think that’s referenced in one of your comics—that you lived in London?

Lawrence: London and Canada, but, even throughout Southern California. So, I started in Compton.
Then, my family moved to Norwalk, but we’d still go back to Compton and South Central for church,
and then I went to school in a different district. After school I would wait and… that’s my life. I’m just
from Southern California. I’ve never been born-and-raised anywhere. I’ve never had that type of
experience.

Nia: So, Compton was the first place you lived, though?
Lawrence: Yeah.

Nia: How long were you there before you moved?

Lawrence: We were there six years? But that house that we lived is the house my mom grew up in, so…
and then we moved, but we’ve always had—my aunt, which was like my grandma always had that house,
so I’ve never not been in Compton… type of thing. Where it’s like I could be wherever but, I’ve always
gone back to Compton. Even to this day, when I came back from London, the first place I went was
Compton, like home, so…

Nia: I feel like this might be a difficult question, but I’m curious how you feel like the places you grew
up shaped you? I dunno. Do you feel like a Southern Californian in Northern California? Do you
feel…what am I trying to say? Breena’s nodding. [laughter]

Breena: I know what you’re trying to say and I think he knows how to answer your question.

Nia: I dunno. What feels inherently Southern Californian about you and the way you grew up, if anything?

Lawrence: Yeah, it’s kind of the good and the bad. So, growing up in Southern California it’s like Black
and brown, we don’t really mix like that. Even though my best friend is Mexican, if he comes to my
neighborhood I would have to walk him to his car to make sure like, “Oh, don’t mess with him. He’s
with us,” and the same thing with me. Coming up north, there wasn’t that issue. So, it was like—that’s
when I knew “Oh, that’s very specific to where I’m from.”

Nia: Is that the good and the bad or is—I feel like we covered the bad maybe. [laughter]

Lawrence: I mean it’s, I don’t know, it’s like a mixture. It’s constantly—I’m always in conflict with
how I grew up: the importance of certain things, but then the negative impact it can have. I feel like
everyone things Southern California is real chill or whatever, being from California and that was never
my thing. I always felt like we were pretty aggressive.

Especially, I mean, up here. I feel like everyone is laid back up here, but down south people was always
kind of trying to flex. So, I kind of grew up always watching my back or… yeah, so… I don’t know, but
I think that it’s good because it taught me survival skills that I could take and implement in other areas
that are more positive.

Nia: You’re both musicians. Breena you sort of talked about your—how your interest in music was
cultivated from a young age. I’m curious at what point you got into music.

Lawrence: I started “playing”keyboard and piano at eight months, ‘cause my dad played and, so, he used
to bring out his Casio. But, I started off as a drummer, so I started playing—

Nia: I’m a drummer too!

Lawrence: Really?

Nia: Yeah!
Lawrence: I started playing drums in the band in fourth grade and then from there it was various
rock and punk and metal bands and stuff like that.

Nia: So, you played drums in the school band?

Lawrence: Mhm!

Nia: I’m curious how—what that experience was like for you, ‘cause I did it very briefly, but it wasn’t—
they didn’t give you whole kit to play on. They gave you… I don’t know what it’s called when it’s the
three drums that you have—it’s like three toms that you carry around your neck. What were you playing?
Was it a full kit?

Lawrence: We played everything, ‘cause it was only two of us that were percussionists.

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: So, it was switching between bass tom, floor tom, bongos, snare, xylophones…

Nia: Aww, nice. You know how to play xylophone? Awesome.

So, you both started playing music at a pretty young age and then what about—So, I know you both as
cartoonists, mostly—actually, I’ve been trying to think of how we met. I think, Lawrence, I met you
through Breena, I’m pretty sure about that. But Breena, I thought I met you when you were my customer.
But I realized, I think I came up to you at an EBABZ. I don’t remember which year it was. Someone had
told me—I think maybe Sean from No Babies—told me that you played saxophone and I was really
excited to meet a saxophone player. [laughter] I think I was like, “I want you to play saxophone at my
book launch,” and you were like, “Who the hell are you?”

Breena: Oh my gosh.

Nia: Because you used to play or maybe you still play in—is it Los Sirenas?

Breena: Yeah, with Los Sirenas. I haven’t been playing that much, honestly, because of grad school. It’s
taken a lot of… yeah. Academia has taken a lot of time and energy from me…

Nia: It does that.

Breena: It really does and I think that’s why I’m a little stressed out, [laughter] ‘cause, yeah. Primarily
I was just playing it for myself. I also did play a lot when I was in undergrad at SFSU. I thought I was
gonna go in…

Nia: Maybe that’s how we met. We did a reading together at E.M. Wolfman? Is that what it’s called?

Breena: Yeah! Wow.

Nia: And you were reading with Mujeres Al Frente, I think?

Breena: Yeah! That’s right. Okay. I was trying to remember where you asked me that question about
playing for your opening.
Nia: But, that was when you were tabling, I think.

Breena: Yeah.

Nia: That was our first conversation. I still really wanna have you two play at my book launch.

Breena: I’m down! [laughter]

Nia: But, we can talk about that later.

Breena: That’d be so cool!

Nia: But it sounds like you were maybe drawing before you were even talking, is that true?

Breena: Yeah, pretty much. That was the only way I could communicate my feelings to my family too,
since I wasn’t very verbose and confident when it came to speech. Apparently, I also lacked a lot of
comprehensive skills too. So, I had a hard time just emoting a lot of my feels.

So, whenever I felt really sad [laughter]—when my family and I were still living in South City with my
grandparents and it was summer time and we’re playing with the neighbor kids, I remember being super
heartbroken when my brother would tell me, “Oh no, this is for boys only. We’re just gonna have a boy
playdate,” and I would feel so left out. ‘Cause there weren’t a lot of girls that I grew up with in the
neighborhood.

The same thing goes for elementary school for some reason. Yeah, I would just make these little sad
illustrations—crayon illustrations of me running away and I would just plant it in front of the closet and
I would just hide behind the closet door and…

Nia: So you were literally hiding in the closet?

Breena: Yeah, pretending that I ran away, ‘cause I was so mad and sad. [laughter] Also making “Get
well” cards for anybody in my family that was feeling sick, too. Yeah, drawing came to me at a really
early age.

Nia: Is it something that you continued to do throughout your life or did you ever—sometimes life gets
in the way of making art [laughter].

Breena: Yeah, for real.

Nia: What did—sorry—what did you study at SFSU? Was it art?

Breena: I switched a lot. Yeah, I ended up being a graphic design major with a double minor in
Latina/Latino studies and art, because I’m indecisive [laughter] and I also just love ethnic studies. At the
same time I think that it really grounded me as far as what I want to do with my creativity. But I came in
as a music major primarily, but, I got really turned off by the culture that I was, sort of, fed into in high
school. It felt very competitive and I was also just getting tired of playing songs that were by old, white,
dead guys.
So, I thought of switching art, which I did for a couple of years. I was a photo major slash drawing major,
I think, at SFSU and I just wanted to have more autonomy over my work and my voice and—but then I
was like, “Oh, I need to make money. So, I’ll just do graphic design, I guess.” [laughter]

Nia: Did you use it ever?

Breena: The graphic design degree?

Nia: Yeah.

Breena: I feel like mostly for zines, actually and for, just print production stuff and branding myself too.
I mostly used it also for a lot of free labor that I did. [laughter] I didn’t know any better about getting
into internships and not realizing I could be getting paid to do this work too.

Nia: I feel like that’s something we could talk about forever. [laughter]

Breena: Yeah! Seriously.

Nia: I…yeah, I feel—I don’t…I wonder if—for kids a little bit younger than us—if there’s a little bit
more…have they been warned that unpaid internships are a scam? [laughter]

Breena: You know, I’m not sure if they even teach that. We didn’t get that kind of warning at all in
undergrad.

Nia: I feel like I still have a decent amount of residual anger about all the unpaid internships I did—

Breena: As you should.

Nia: And sort of this carrot being held at the end of a stick, of, “If you just work for free and keep your
nose down and don’t ask questions and don’t ask to be paid. Eventually, you’ll land a great job
somewhere that will pay your bills,” and that never happened. And it doesn’t happen for most people
because there’s way more unpaid internships than there are jobs.

Breena: Mmhmm. Yeah, it’s just really frightening and just… debilitating as a creative in the Bay,
because I feel like, I dunno, you… yeah. I feel like you also see that sometimes too in organizing spaces.
Even as a creative, I wish I can give you this free art, but I also need to pay some bills. I need to pay
supplies for myself, so I can keep creating art. I was about it for a minute, but I feel like if an organization
is providing free service to the community, then that’s fair for me to give you some free art. But, I can’t
live off of praise and gratitude.

Nia: It’s like that very old joke: The artist dies of exposure [laughter].

Breena: Mmhmm.

Nia: Lawrence is shaking his head.

Kids, if you take anything away from this interview: don’t work for free. I mean, it’s complicated, but in
general, I would say don’t work for free.
Breena: Mmhmm.

Nia: So, Lawrence, how did you first become interested in comics? And was music your first creative…
what was your first creative medium?

Lawrence: Drawing, yeah. I’ve always drawn since I was little. My mom was kind of the creative one
when it comes to design. So, she does like—well, she’s a chef, so that’s a different type of art, but she
also used to do interior design and she was always painting and that’s how I learned how to be DIY.

Nia: So both of your parents are creative types?

Lawrence: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I would say that.

Nia: Because you said your dad plays drums?

Lawrence: Well, he did drawing too, but he’s more music inclined.

Nia: Okay. That’s really cool. Did you feel like your parents were supportive of your... Did coming from
a creative family help?

Lawrence: Mmm…

Nia: It’s complicated.

Lawrence: Yes and no, because, the goal always was money.

Nia: Financial stability?

Lawrence: “Money, you need to move out, and you need to buy a house.”

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: That’s always been—in my family, since they came from Mississippi to California, it was
always: work, work, work, save money, buy a house, buy land. That was always the objective of
everything.

Nia: And which generation was it that moved? Was that your aunt’s generation?

Lawrence: Yeah, my great-aunt.

Nia: Your Great—sorry— and she’s the one you said was like your grandmother?

Lawrence: Mmhmm.

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: Yeah, so she moved everybody here to California. So, my grandpa was from Mississippi and
then, my mom’s generation is the first that were born in California. And then, everyone else after that,
we’re all from Southern California.
Nia: Got it. So it was a little bit more like, “Art’s cool, but how are you gonna pay your bills?”

Lawrence: They’d always be like—compliments like that, like, “Oh, that’s dope! You drew that? Cool,
but you need to find a way to get paid from it.” [laughter] Or it was like, “No, don’t draw that. People
not gone buy that. You need to draw something that people wanna buy.”

Nia: Oh man. [laughter] Do your parents make a living off their creativity or is interior design and
playing music sort of like a hobby for them?

Lawrence: I think my mom more so. My dad is a hustler. So, he’s been working—that’s his favorite
story—he’s been working since he was fourteen. He’d always say, “I started work when I was fourteen
and I had my own apartment and—”

Nia: He had his own apartment at fourteen?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Nia: How is that legal? [laughter]

Lawrence: Well, he lied and said he was fifteen, ‘cause he’s from Illinois and, I guess, you could work
at fifteen at the time.

Nia: Okay.

Lawrence: And then, apartment wise, you got money, they don’t care.

[Laughter]

Lawrence: It’s true. No landlord’s gonna be like, “Oh, you’re too young,” they’re like, “Oh, you can
pay me? Okay.” So, he went from business—he’s an insurance seller—well, he’s retired now, but he was
very focused on business. My mom was more creative. She used to work at Warner Brothers and stuff
like that.

Nia: Oh, word! What was she doing there?

Lawrence: Merchandising? So, I used to go to work with her and see how the shirts were made.

Nia: Mmhmm.

Lawrence: She used to let me go in the art department. Yeah, it was cool.

Nia: That’s awesome. I guess what I’m trying to understand, generally, is the creative trajectory and the
political trajectory and, sort of, at what point those two come together? But, then, since I’m interviewing
two people that both have their own creative and political trajectories. [laughter] It’s all these threads
I’m trying to weave together.
At what point did your art become political? This is for both of you. I’m just putting it out there. You can
decide who goes first. Do you feel like your art was always political?
Lawrence: Yes. For me, yeah. I grew up in one of those families where it was like—we wore the African
garbs to our church and it’s like, “Black and proud.” That time of thing and it’s like… So, my art is
always focused on Blackness, even when I didn’t know it was type of thing and growing up in punk.
Punk can be very political and so I learned a lot of that from being in punk rock, and combining the two
kind of made my art political, even when I wasn’t trying to be. It was all a different type of message.

Nia: Yeah! I would love to talk about the politics of punk for a minute. [laughter] Or maybe punk more
broadly, because there is—I feel like I became politicized through punk, and also by growing up in a
multiracial household, but, there’s also a lot of apolitical punk.

Lawrence: Yeah, too much.

Nia: [Laughter] People are drawn to punk for a lot of different reasons. I think some of it is fashion,
some of it is nihilism, and then some of it is politics, right? How did you find the, sort of like… What
was your introduction to punk?

Lawrence: Middle school? But it was more, quote unquote—

Lawrence & Nia: Pop-punk!

Nia: Yeah! That’s how everyone gets in. No one wants to admit it, but it’s true!

Lawrence: It was pop-punk and Misfits, so it was always… All the kids in the neighborhood had Misfits
shirts, no matter what and then Blink 182 and Green Day and all that type of stuff.

Nia: Very different types of punk.

Lawrence: Yeah! My first introduction to, quote unquote, punk punk was Crass and X-Ray Spex from a
friend. He had a tape. He was like, “Oh, have you heard this?” I was like, “No, what is it?” He was like,
“It’s anarcho-punk from the U.K.” and he was like, “It’s really good stuff,” and I was like, “Alright, we’ll
see.”

Nia: Yeah. It’s really cool that X-Ray Spex was one of your gateway bands, ‘cause not that many punk
bands, especially from that era have women of color in lead roles. And I feel like that’s why X-Ray Spex
is really significant to me. Is ‘cause the singer is a black woman and she’s mixed and she’s punk and I’m
all those things. [laughter] We exist! So, it sounds like punk was almost something you picked up the
neighborhood. Everyone in your neighborhood was wearing Misfits T-shirts?

Lawrence: Yeah, the neighborhood which I went to school and things like that—It’s like all the kids
were into Misfits and The Addicts and things like that. But they were still gangsters, but they liked punk
rock too. It was that combination, so I didn’t feel too awkward listening to it, ‘cause I was used to…
yeah. I don’t like the Misfits, by the way.

Nia: [Laughter] Well, I feel like those are… I think they’re a gateway band for a lot of people and then
you grow up and you’re like these messages are terrible! [laughter]

Lawrence: Yeah, like, “What are you talking about?”

Nia: And why is this so popular [laughter]? What are they saying? Yeah, sometimes I get the Misfits
stuck in my head and then I’m like, “Am I a terrible person?” [laughter] “Or am I just a real punk?”

I feel like one of the themes that’s in both of your work has to do with sort of being an outcast or an
outsider and not being “x” or “y” enough. I feel like, in this case, “x” and “y” are Black and Afro-Latinx.
I’m trying to remember which of your comics I was reading last night that sort of talked about this idea
of not feeling Black enough. It’s the one that—it has three characters and they’re all sort of outcasts. Is
that called The Section?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Nia: Okay. Yeah, I guess I’m curious, I dunno. Is that one of the things that brought you two together?
Was it just feeling too weird or too “white” for your communities?

Breena: Just to clarify, bringing us together on a romantic sort of level or either—

Nia: Either/or.

Breena: I feel like, I dunno, it really meant a lot to me when we traded the zines. I had Colocha-Head at
the time and, yeah, damn. I feel like a really bad partner. I don’t remember the zine that you gave me
from that trade, but it just made me feel like—you know, hearing how it made you feel reading the zine,
which is revolved around anti-Blackness in the Central American community and also being raised to
not see myself as a Black person, even though there are Black people in Central America. But there’s a
lot of denial that we’ve experienced for a long time mostly through racist laws and whatnot…but I feel
like he expressed a lot of gratitude through a text message and that just made me feel like, “Oh, he knows!”
[laughter]

And we have very similar stories too when it comes to being raised in a household that was divided. I
also experienced family separation at an early age too, and it’s just kind of ridiculous how the universe
works in mysterious ways and just brought us together. It just feels like there’s this kinship that we had,
even before meeting each other. Being also just socially awkward and being really nerdy about comics.

I mostly got that sort of influence from my older brother. He and I collected Sonic the Hedgehog comics
pretty religiously and I was—I’m still forever thankful for him just kind of bringing his world or sharing
his world with me. I was always just his little shadow when it came to following certain video games. I
was super obsessed with Final Fantasy and he also didn’t care that these were things that were sort of,
“foreign” to my family.

And the dreams that we also has were very similar too. We wanted both to be creative for the rest of our
lives—he’s very much of a gamer. Not so much me, because we don’t have any console at our house. He
has a huge collection of consoles. He just nurtured that and made me feel less alone. I felt like our
nerdiness was sort of normalized when everybody else was weird. Like, “Why don’t you guys understand
that this game is so amazing?”

Sonic the Hedgehog rocks, because there are also political messages in the story line too. There are these
animal creatures in the forest trying to fight, what I consider to be gentrification [laughter] a.k.a. Dr.
Robotnik turning the woodland creatures into robot slaves and taking over all this land and expanding
his empire and it’s amazing how I think, we were sort of fed this consciousness. And the fact that this
team of superhero animal-people were also called, The Resistance. You just were fed all of these political
messages. I even forgot about Captain Planet until recently, [laughter] but we were learning about
climate change at an early age too.

Yeah, I think Zine Fest just also has this beautiful, welcoming community of other—finding other POC
who also feel very similarly to you. Not feeling like you fit in into your ethnic enclave because you’re
into these “white things,” like “white” music with screaming, loud guys, I dunno… and just nerd culture
in general. I feel like there was a time in SF Zine Fest that there wasn’t a lot of that… until the previous
years. I feel like it’s been more reflective of what the Bay Area looks like to me growing up. It’s very
diverse and it’s very welcoming.

There’s a lot of cultural exchanges I remember growing up. It’s so common for me just to, I dunno, be
in a space with other people who just don’t always look like me and that just brought a lot of comfort
and I feel like it’s getting there with the zine culture. At least in the Bay Area, but before I was always
craving other POC creators to, I dunno, just to vibe with; to help me feel less alone in that space.

Nia: Yeah. I feel like zine culture and zine fest used to be extremely white and now they’re slightly less
extremely white. [laughter]

Breena: Right!

Nia: And it’s also different in California. LA Zine fest, I feel like, it’s generally a lot of Black and brown
folks there. Maybe at least half, at least? And San Diego Zine Fest was the only one I’ve been to that’s
majority POC, majority Latinx specifically. But, yeah, doing zine fests in Chicago or Denver—I
shouldn’t be naming cities, but you know what I mean. [laughter] It used to be harder to find people of
color at zine fests, for sure.

Okay, so I asked Lawrence if his art was always political, but I didn’t get your answer to this question.

Breena: Yeah, I don’t think it was political until SFSU, for sure. I became more involved with student
organizing and ethnic studies classes really helped me develop my consciousness too and being with a
lot of Central Americans from different parts of the Bay and California—especially Southern
California—made me feel like we were all kind of gathered together, because we all had this calling to
be in community; to be with other weirdos. And just to organize and also create something that was meant
for our people; our communities.

I also have to credit this clinic I used to volunteer at. It’s a student run clinic that’s still running today in
the Mission District called Clínica Martín-Baró. It was started by SFSU students and UCSF students. So,
there’s a partnership between the two schools and they provide free healthcare for undocumented folks,
for people who are houseless too. It’s a really great space. The, the culture that we kind of were brought
up to believe is a safe space, but to also provide free health care that is culturally sensitive and I felt that
message was something that inspired me to make sure that I create content that’s going to be very…very
much for me, but also for other people that might be feeling similarly; feeling this loneliness that, I think,
Central Americanness kind of has.

Because, growing up, we didn’t really see a lot of media that’s very Central American-focused. A lot of
it is very Chicanx-focused and it’s always frustrating to be associated with this monolith that shouldn’t
even exist because latinidad is very widespread. It’s just not this one country. It’s so many other people;
so many different races within this milieu of Black and brown and Asianness that came together
throughout the Americas.
So, I feel like SFSU is where I became more politicized and mostly the people I hung out with too. Just
other brown, mixed-race, punk weirdos that also taught me about zines and zine fests too. I have to give
them mad props, ‘cause I don’t know where I would be without y’all.

[Laughter]

Nia: Shout out to black and brown punk weirdos!

Transcribed by Natashia Marshall

Nia: I think that people assume that art is inherently a self-indulgent practice, because it’s usually about
self-expression. At the same time I wonder how do you know what your community needs? I feel like,
in part, it’s being part of that community and thinking about what you need, right? [laughter] Like, when
you say you’re doing art for your community, what does that look like and how do you know that you’re
meeting a need rather than just expressing what you want and need to express?

Lawrence: From my personal experience, people will tell you. I can’t speak for everyone, but, for me,
if someone can’t approach me or be like, “Oh, I didn’t like that,” or, “I do like that,” that’s when I know
it’s not about the community, it’s just about me. Saying that, everything I do is about me. That’s how art
is. I come from a place or truth and my truth is what I know, so I write about what I know. It just so
happens that I’m a part of this community, so we face the same issues and things like that. I’m not a voice
for the Black people or the queer Blackness—it’s not… I just write truth and people gravitate toward
truth, because sometimes it’s something that they can’t say or wanna say, but they don’t know how to
say and that’s community to me.

Listening to what people wanna express and then being like, “Oh, I know a way to do that. Let me put it
out there, so you don’t have to do it, because you’re dealing with, ‘Oh, I need to pay this bill and blah,
blah. blah’” For me, that’s my gift. I know how to take things and form them in a way that people can
kind of dissect and digest.

Lawrence: I feel there’s always a standard of how you’re supposed to do stuff that people are trying to
follow.

Nia: Like, in terms of art or in terms of—

Lawrence: Yeah. Everything. So, if it’s like, “My art’s for the community,” there’s a checklist and if you
don’t meet that checklist, then it’s like, “You’re not about the community,” where it’s like, “Nah, just be
authentic.” Part of being in a community is there’s gonna be conflict. It’s not this perfect thing like, “I
made this for Black people,” and it’s like, whoa. Some Black people aren’t gonna like that, because it’s
not their—you know what I mean?

Nia: [Laughter] Because we don’t all think the same and agree on everything?

Lawrence: Yeah, so it’s not about—that’s not community, that’s what you envision community.
Community is taking those perspectives of, “I know this person and this one and how do I mesh the two
so that we have a good representation of how we…” That’s what I try to do: bring all the Blackness out.
At all levels: conservative, liberal, apolitical—you know, there’s so many different…yeah. That’s
community to me. That’s the basis of how a good community should work. It’s like working together,
meeting each other at our levels, and… that’s how I try to make art.

Nia: Breena, you also identify as a punk, is that true?

Breena:

Nia: Punk’s been a big part of—Los Sirenas is a punk band, is that—?

Breena: It’s a mish-mosh. Like, it’s punk, neo-soul, and jazz.

Nia: Those are—yeah, three genres—I mean, neo-soul and jazz could kinda go together, but punk and
neo-soul, I would never have thought to put together. [laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve never heard your band.
So, now I’m trying to imagine what that would sound like.

Breena: We’ve also been on a hiatus, mostly because we’re going in different directions since I’m back
in school, and our lead Ruby’s doing a lot of solo work, too. Yeah, she’s on fire, just doing her thing.

Nia: Nice. What drew you to punk, and when did that happen for you?

Breena: My gateway band, Green Day. I went to high school in Millbrae, and I lived there also for a few
years, after living in South City—

Nia: Do people in the Bay have local pride about Green Day?

Breena: Yeah.

Nia: I feel like Green Day is really controversial in the Bay, because people are, like, “They sold out!”

Breena: Yeah. I think they did later on, like maybe after… the musical. [laughs]

[Everyone laughs.]

Breena: But, I don’t know—when I lived in Millbrae, and I think a lot of people, a lot of youth were
really about it, rockin the Bay Area pride. There were so many Green Day shirts, and I just felt so left
out. I was like, “Damn, I’m so not cool.”

Nia: Awww. There’s a lot of—like, the East Bay, I feel like, in particular, has a really great punk history.

Breena: It really does.

Nia: Green Day was definitely one of my gateway bands, and then Operation Ivy was huge.

Breena: I don’t really regret this, this other band, I mostly liked them for, like, the industrial part—
Linkin Park. [laughs]

Nia: Okay, we all listened to Linkin Park.

Breena: [laughs] We did!


Nia: Anyone that had a radio in those years heard Linkin Park. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Breena: Oh my God. But, I totally thought that Green Day was like, true, true punk for a long time. Until
I went into college and listened to a lot of other stuff that friends introduced me to. Especially Los Crudos.
Queer, Latinx band. I feel like their music really resonated with me. I also feel like I can’t really claim
punk too much, since I didn’t go to a lot of shows in my youth. Cause I was also very—I was a very good
Christian kid, too. I still secretly listened to everything that I wasn’t supposed to. Like, I would listen to
all these punk songs on the—what is it? Like, they wouldn’t have the explicit lyrics, so everything would
just kinda be bleeped out. I’m like, “I can’t do this. God’s watching me, I’m still very devouted to the
church.”

But then I started going to more shows in college. I’m trying to think of some venues. Mostly house
shows in Oakland. I would drive all the way from San Bruno after graduating from State, and follow
where they went, cause a lot of them still lived in the city, but then there was this migration that happened,
I want to say, back in 2011-ish, or 2012, where a lot of my friends were just moving out to the East Bay,
since it was still pretty affordable. [laughs]

Nia: RIP [the affordable Bay Area].

Breena: Yeah, RIP. But I mostly listened to a lot of other stuff, too. I feel like, after college, I got to fall
in love with music again, and just give myself a lot of space to play sax, and to really fall in love with
music on my own terms. When I say that, I mean being influenced by Nina Simone, Sun Ra, Pharoah
Sanders.

Nia: Were you into punk bands with horns? Like, were you into ska?

Breena: Yeah. Yeah! [laughs] I think there was an argument—La Plebe, they’re also a Latinx band, from
the Mission. I remember seeing their stickers, even back in Millbrae. Which is like, a pretty—there’s not
a lot of Black and brown people. There are brown people, but I remember there being like, I wanna say,
like 1% Black students going to public schools over there, and I wanna say like 1.5% of Latinx students
in public schools in Millbrae. But, people argue that La Plebe is not a ska band. I don’t know why. There
are a lot of horns. [laughs] There were a lot of horns in that band!

Nia: Yeah, like I don’t want to go too far down this road, because I feel like it’s never productive to argue
about whether something is punk or not punk, but I like ska, I like ska punk, I like punk, I like punk with
horns. Punk with horns is definitely a thing! [laughs]

Breena: It makes me happy.

Nia: Yeah!

Breena: Yeah. [laughs]

Nia: Horns feel good to listen to.

Breena: [laughs] And as somebody that also heard banda growing up, too, whenever I would see my
Salvi family in East Palo Alto, it’s just sort of a fusion for me to have these two worlds come together.
This is where we can feel safe, too, with the horns, and the dancing, and the jumping around, [laughs]
and the electric guitars, and the screaming. [laughs] It’s all meant for us, you know?

Nia: Totally. You already talked about some of your gateway comics, with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Breena: [laughs]

Nia: I’m curious about yours, Lawrence.

Lawrence: I grew up going to comic shops, and I was into superhero comics, but not the main ones,
because I couldn’t afford it. So, they had, like, a box of 25-cent comic books, and it would all be stuff
from Image that no one reads. And they’d put them in a box. Image puts out tons of comics throughout
the year. So, I would get these Image comics that no one was reading. They would be, like, Superman
knockoffs. One’s called Supreme, and he’s like Superman, but on steroids. [laughs]

Nia: [laughs] Isn’t Superman already on steroids?

Lawrence: [laughs] That’s what I mean! He was also, like, a god, but he murders—it’s just really terrible,
but—

Nia: Oh, I remember you showing me that. [laughs]

Lawrence: Or, like, Bloodstrike and things like that. So, I grew up reading a lot of those comics, and
then I could afford Spiderman, and X-Men later. And I wouldn’t get into quote-unquote graphic novels—
comics is comics to me. I’ll just say that, everyone likes to be like “Oh, graphic novels,” it’s just comics.
I don’t care. Strips, whatever. It’s all comics. I got into graphic novels when I was in college and people
would ask me, “Oh, have you read this, Persepolis?” and I was like, no.

Nia: I feel like graphic novels kind of—I mean, we’re all around the same age, I think—I think we all
sort of remember the rise of the graphic novel, and the times before the graphic novel was considered art,
or even like, a thing.

Lawrence: Right.

Nia: I’m trying to remember—I mean, definitely Persepolis being one of the early ones. Blankets.

Lawrence: Fun Home.

Breena: Maus, would that be a graphic novel?

Nia: Yeah, and Maus, I think, pre-dates the others by a considerable amount.

Breena: They were teaching that in English classes in my high school. I never got to be in those classes,
though. [laughs]

Nia: But yeah, there was this weird shift where comics were considered low art, and then when graphic
novels came along, they were seen to sort of like elevate the form. And probably a lot of us were like
[whispers] “You know it’s all the same shit, right?” [laughs]
Breena: It really is.

Lawrence: It’s just comics.

Nia: Well, maybe as we’re talking about this, sort of—I don’t really believe in differentiating between
high art and low art. I feel like comics historically have been considered low art, and now it’s sort of
changing, but, I don’t know, you’re in art school, you tell me. [laughs] I mean, there didn’t used to be
master’s programs for comics, I feel like that’s a fairly recent development.

Nia: What made you decide to pursue a master’s in comics?

Breena: Let’s see, it just made sense. When I was in undergrad, I would still go to the bookstore between
classes just to binge on all these comics and graphic novels. A lot of it just sort of pertained to what I was
studying in ethnic studies. I felt like it was a more accessible form of ethnic studies, depending on who
the author is.

Nia: For sure.

Breena: And I was so nerdy about it, like, I wanted to just write about comics and POC artists in these
academic papers.

Nia: Like, cultural studies, kind of. Representation?

Breena: Yeah. Going way back, I was so hungry for, I guess, me being in an academic space and writing
about comics. In middle school, I remember that we were supposed to do a book report on any book we
wanted to do, and another huge influential artist and character is Garfield the cat, Jim Davis. I have—
like, he could tell you. My mom still has all these books I collected, from childhood. All these comic
strips of Garfield the cat. [laughs]

I wanted to do a book report, so I was so happy to bring this treasury to show off to my classmates and
to the teacher. Cause we were supposed to bring in the book that we wanted to write about in class, and
it was my turn to share what book I was gonna do the report on, and I was like, “Oh, Garfield the cat.”
And the teacher, she was a really nice English teacher, a really nice white lady. But then she said, “No,
it’s not a real book, Breena. You can’t write a book report about a comic strip.”

And I was so crushed. [laughs] There was this awkward silence in the entire classroom. I was just like,
“Fuck, I’m such a huge dork.” [laughter]

Breena: So, I think I was always hungry to learn about comics, and to just have conversations about
them, and just to write about them. And a lot of my other friends were getting their master’s degrees.
Because I also hung around with a lot of students from the clinic, who also wanted to pursue degrees in
the medical field, a lot of them were doing that, there was a point where I felt really weird not pursuing
higher education. I was sort of like “I should do something, with my life...”

But I was also really fine just kind of not being in academia for a very long time, and just exploring and
self-educating myself by going to the comic shop, going to the library, picking up stuff on my own free
time. Just learning a lot, too. I think, even though I am in art school now, you don’t really need to go to
art school. Because just reading graphic novels, comics, whatever, it’s still an educational pursuit you
can do on your own time. It’s so much more gratifying if you don’t have to adhere to academic deadlines
and stuff.

I wanted to be in this program so I can enter more spaces, because I have also been an educator, too, for
a little while, in the city. Mostly, before I even started making my own comics, I was making comics
curriculum for youth, for elementary school youth mostly. Now I’m really interested in doing something
for higher education, especially for students of color. Cause I feel like there’s still a high demand for that,
and again, I’ve always been hungry for that knowledge and just want to share it, and create a safe space
in academia. Because it still doesn’t always feel that way in the comic industry itself.

Nia: Oh my God. Yes. We could talk about that forever. [laughs] Okay. So, you want to teach at the
college level, and that’s why you decided to get an MFA. I don’t know how you feel about talking about
this on the record, but I dropped out of art school cause I found it to be super racist. And I’m curious
what—[to Lawrence] Did you go to school for art or comics as well?

Lawrence: Mmhmm.

Nia: Oh, okay, cool. Did you go to the same school?

Lawrence: Undergrad I went to Otis, which is back in LA. I went for, originally, animation. So, I studied
cartooning and animation.

Nia: I feel like that explains why your characters are so expressive, the way you draw them. Cool, so you
both studied art in school. Like, let’s just be real, being Black or brown in art school’s kind of the worst,
right? [laughs]

Lawrence: Yeah, art school is trash. Yeah.

Nia: Let’s talk about it. [laughs] What was trash about your art school experience? And also, if there are
things that were not trash, feel free to share those as well.

Lawrence: There’s a lot of good things about college in general, but just higher education in general, to
me, is trash the way it’s set up. The infrastructure of how it works. Art school, to me, was the worst,
because a lot of them are private, so they cost so much, and then they kind of prey on kids who start
taking out loans, and they teach you things that don’t necessarily get you a job in the art world. Our
department was kind of outdated. Like, the way of doing things was like, “This is how we do it in the
industry, this is the way I learned, this is the way you’ll learn, and if you don’t do it that way, you’ll never
work.”

Nia: I wonder if part of that is LA, too.

Lawrence: Could be. Yeah.

Nia: Cause I feel like being so close to the—

Lawrence: All the studios, and—

Nia: —the entertainment industry, yeah. It’s like, “This is how things are done.”
Lawrence: So, kind of being forced to be in that box. Which, by the way, everything—myself, my friend
Dustin went to the same school—that we’d get recognized for is everything they told us not to do. And
they told us we would never make money off of it.

Nia: What did they tell you not to do?

Lawrence: Um… Yeah, it is very LA, I guess.

Nia: That doesn’t mean it’s not valid. [laughs]

Lawrence: Like, you go to the functions to network. It’s not about community, it’s not about making
friends, it’s like, “you always need to have your sketchbook and a business card, cause you never know
when a blah blah blah could be there, and you could get a job at the studio.”

Nia: I feel like… I wish that there wasn’t that kind of pressure. I’ve felt that at nonprofit internships and
stuff, too, where it’s like, you always gotta be putting yourself out there, you always gotta be ready. And
it’s like, I feel like no one ever tells you that networking doesn’t have to be this high-pressure, like “you
have until the elevator reaches the 5th floor to impress this person with your pitch!” type of thing.

Lawrence: [laughs]

Nia: Cause espcially as an introvert and an anxious person, that shit is just not helpful. Yeah. What do
you wish you had learned?

Lawrence: Honestly, art-wise, I learned everything I wanted to, but it made me upset because we had to
do it outside of the school. So, it was like, why are we even here?

Nia: Do you feel like—Breena kind of touched on this already, a lot of the reason people pursue further
education is with the hopes that it will lend you some kind of legitimacy, right?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Nia: Do you feel like it did that? Like, it opened doors in any way?

Lawrence: Yes, but not through the experiences it was supposed to. So, I was an RA all of my years at
school. That gave me more access to anything than—everything I went to school for, that I paid for, I
didn’t get, but I got through experiences that wasn’t like… being an RA wasn’t a part of the brochure of
me going to college. That just happened. And through that, I met certain people and then we built certain
things.

Like, Dustin and I were both RAs, and we were both fed up with the way our department was run, so we
started a comics thing. And we tried to bring people to the school, and our chair kind of vetoed it, and
was like “Nah, we don’t wanna do that.”

Nia: Sorry, what were you trying to do?

Lawrence: We were trying to bring certain animators in, like Black and brown animators.

Nia: Just to speak and give lectures on stuff?


Lawrence: Yeah, cause we’re Black, we’re brown, we want to see people that look like us. And they’re
like, “Nah, we don’t want to do that.” But, through Student Affairs, you can do outside events, so we
went to Student Affairs.

Nia: So, you had to go around the school to do anything actually useful.

Lawrence: Yeah. It was just like, a lot of that type of thing, and then later they ended up having the
people we wanted to come, come anyways, but they wanted to be the ones to invite them.

Nia: And get the credit for “Look how diverse!” [laughs]

Lawrence: I learned a lot of what I don’t want in a school, what I don’t want as an educator, what I don’t
want my folks to have to experience, so it’s a different type of learning, but I wish I didn’t have to pay
for that. [laughs] That’s awful.

Nia: And Breena, you’re still in the program, so I don’t know if you can really talk freely about how it
is.

Breena: I guess not quite yet. But, yeah, there’s just—well, in graphic design, I guess I learned more
about myself as an illustrator and how that would set me apart from the rest of the “competition”. Cause
I also was, like, this closeted cartoonist in this graphic design program. And, I wanted to draw. I wanted
to be very expressive and own my “brand” and everything, but it wasn’t really supported.

I felt like I had to do everything—echoing what you’re saying, you kind of have to follow these rules of
the industry because your professors did that, and they managed to get these jobs and all these really cool
gigs, because they did everything by the book.

Nia: That’s what they want you to think. [laughs]

Breena: Yeah, right? But I found myself, more of my voice as a visual artist, by just continuing to draw
on my own time, and if it wasn’t for the support of the ROMC, the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center
at [SF] State, I felt like I also wouldn’t have gotten the visibility, back when Instagram was sort of starting
to become a platform for visual artists, and I had my first solo show over there, and that was really cool.

It was also just with other friends, too, that were always affiliated with the American Indian Studies
department, or usually, again, Ethnic Studies folks know how to support you in the long run. I feel like
I’ve gotten the most gigs through those friends, and through the connections that they managed to make
within their own fields and in local organizing spaces.

But yeah, I won’t lie. I remember always missing that sort of Ethnic Studies vibe, and feeling community
in higher education, too. I remember seeing another friend’s post on Facebook. She pretty much voiced
a similar thing that I was voicing to myself. I forget what sort of degree this friend was pursuing, but
she’s in a master’s program, and she said, “I really miss being in Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State,
if only I could just go there for a couple of weeks, just go back to my campus, just to feel grounded, and
feel like I’m not crazy or anything, and alone.”
It’s really interesting, because this is my first time being in an art school, like a private art school. It’s
very different, and there are definitely moments where I just wish we could have that sense of community.
I think there was a Diversity Studies at CCA, if I’m not mistaken.

Nia: Yeah, I think it was recently disbanded.

Breena: Yeah, I think it’s absorbed by Humanities, I think. I don’t think it’s required now for students
to take diversity classes in order to graduate.

Nia: Those were the coolest teachers. [laughs]

Breena: Which is really disappointing, because everyone needs that. [laughs]

Nia: So, for listeners that don’t know, I used to work at the print shop right across from the school, so I
had a lot of the professors as customers, and I feel like the diversity professors were the only ones whose
classes I wanted to take. [laughs] There were some really cool people in that department.

Breena: I really wish I could connect with them, but life is getting in the way. Yeah, that’s the one piece
that I wish had kind of just stayed with me in higher education, in a master’s program in general. Because
it’s also a low-residency program, we don’t always get to see each other, since we’re spread out
throughout the country.

But it’s also nice, in a way, because I’m still connected to my community, and they still ground me
whenever I’m going through my own anxiety about not meeting my own standards, or even the standards
of—well, I don’t know if there are any standards of comics. There sort of are, but there really isn’t.
[laughs]

Nia: Well, it’s that thing of like… I feel like old comics bros will tell you, like, “Oh, if you haven’t read
R. Crumb, then who are you, even?”

Breena: Yeah. [old comics bro voice] “You’re not a true comic artist. Get out of here. Get out of my
Caucasian house.” [laughter]

Nia: But I feel like those kinds of attitudes are decreasingly valid as comics become more diverse and
more interesting, and also just a broader field.

Breena: Mmhmm. Absolutely.

Nia: At least I hope so. [laughs] Do either of you feel like you were discouraged from dealing with
political content in your work at art school?

Lawrence: I don’t know. I don’t think discouraged… like, it wasn’t even kind of an option. I was doing
animation, so everything was very specifically tailored to “Disney does this, so if you want to work at
Disney, learn how to do that.”

Nia: That’s definitely LA. [laughs]

Lawrence: “Nickelodeon does this, so if you want to work—” Politics wasn’t even—
Nia: Part of the conversation?

Lawrence: Yeah. The only time where we were challenged was in our liberal arts classes, where we got
into debates with the teacher about Egypt being in Africa.

Nia: [laughs] What’s the debate?! It’s clearly in Africa.

Breena: What?

Lawrence: We were talking about something, and she just kept talking about Egypt, and we got into it,
me and the only other Black student in the class were like “Yeah, but Egypt’s in Africa, though,” and she
was like “Yeah, but the Black Africans can’t take anything away from the Egyptians,” and I was like,
“Well, this is not the place I should be.”

[laughter]

Lawrence: And then my friend, she wasn’t used to it because she came from Chicago, so, you know, it’s
like, super Black in Chicago, so she came to LA and was like, “What the hell is happening? I don’t know
what this is. Who is this lady?” So it was like, a lot of things like that. Or, like, when we got to the
“primitive art”… Yeah, it was a lot of things like that. So, we just learned to kind of stop talking in class,
because it was a pointless battle, and we just started Under the Baobab Tree, which is an organization for
Black students at Otis.

Nia: Nice. [to Breena] How about you?

Breena: I think it was always embraced, especially in undergrad. We had this one professor, Steve Jones,
he’s like this Jamaican graphic designer who was really, really challenging. There were a lot of sleepless
nights during the course of the semester. But, I really appreciated that he always had these political figures
for us to base our design projects on.

So, already we were being challenged to think about what is our, in the long run, what are your design
products going to do for the community, how are they being communicated to certain folks, being
conscious of your audiences, are you creating design for corporate brands, or are you creating design
that’s going to make a social impact?

So, I think that was always the sort of messages we were getting, and I really appreciate the type of
assignments we were getting, because I think a lot of people were being challenged, who were coming
from places of privilege. And, granted, not everybody would be taking an ethnic studies class in industrial
design, but I always couldn’t help overlapping ethnic studies projects with graphic design.

One of the few people that I found a lot of peace and solace and support was another Salvi friend of mine.
We were always just grounding each other, reminding each other that we’re doing something that we
believe in. Because sometimes, you’re still being fed the idea that you have to work for Facebook, or
Uber to be this legitimate designer. I really don’t care about that any more. [laughs] I don’t think I’ve
cared about it for a very long time. [laughs]

I always felt really awkward when we would get together, and people would be raving about certain
design trends that are happening in the world of UX/UI—
Nia: I don’t know what that means.

Breena: User interface, I think. I don’t know what the X in UX stands for. And it’s a thing that will
always evolve, and I’m just not in love with it anymore, as much as I was. When it came to just print
stuff, typography, poster design. I just always enjoyed the idea of me wanting to work with my hands. I
mean, I work with the computer, mostly cleaning up stuff, but yeah. I just feel like I’m a dinosaur, born
in the wrong era. [laughs]

Nia: I’m also a cartoonist, and I never made the switch from paper to digital, which is kind of part of
why I don’t really draw that much anymore. I tried to learn how to use a tablet, and just gave up.

Breena: That’s totally fine, you don’t really need it. [laughs]

Nia: I kind of feel like—you don’t need to draw on a tablet, but you have to, I feel like in the industry,
you can’t not be computer literate. You have to at least know how to convert your files and clean them
up.

Breena: Yeah, at least that part. [laughs]

Nia: Like, no one—I don’t want to say no one does comics on paper anymore, but, if you do comics on
paper, usually someone else is scanning and formatting them for you, if you’re not doing it for yourself.
So, you two are both educators, is that correct? And is that—like, something you always knew you
wanted to do? You both work with youth, specifically.

Lawrence: For me, it’s kinder through young adult.

Nia: Okay. So, one of the things that’s sort of come up is this tension between making art and making
rent, right? And so I’m curious, cause I feel like maybe the answer has to do with teaching, but how—do
either of you make a living off your creative labor? I feel like you do all the zine fests, but it’s really hard
to break even doing those, unless you sell your zines for like, $50. [laughs] Especially if you’re travelling
out of state. So, how does this work out for you economically?

Lawrence: My sole income is usually through my art, specifically From Black Boy With Love, it’s the
book that kind of pays for everything. To this day. That will always be a book that’s in rotation, I guess
I could say, that people constantly want.

Nia: I’m curious why you think… I don’t know. I read a bunch of your work. I thought a lot of it was
really cool. I’m kind of curious why that’s the book that people are super gung-ho about. Not that it’s
not good, but I don’t know if it’s that much better than everything else you’ve done. [laughs]

Lawrence: I always joke, cause I’m like, sick of that book. But I’m not, cause it’s like—

Nia: Cause it pays your bills! [laughs]

Lawrence: But also how needed it is. Some of those emails I get from people kind of break me down.
Something so simple as saying, “Black girl, you’re beautiful.” Or, “Black girl, your skin is not ugly.” is
very simple, right? But it means so much to so many people. And it’s like a double-edged sword, because
it shouldn’t mean that—like, it’s not supposed to be that way. So, it’s like, I don’t know. That’s why,
because it’s things that people don’t hear on a daily basis.
I even get parents, like, “Ah, the book sold out, when are you gonna reprint it?” And I’m just thinking,
like, “I’m happy that you’re helping me survive because giving me money, but you could be sitting down
with your kids and making your own Black boy books, Black girl books, Black people books.” You know,
I don’t know.

Nia: Have you ever thought about that? Like, a coloring book?

Lawrence: Yeah, I would just—for money-wise, yes. But then, like, on a personal level, I wish the folks
writing me who are like “Oh, I needed to hear this,” and “My daughter needs to hear this.” Like, then tell
your daughter.

Nia: [laughs]

Lawrence: I’m not trying to be rude, but like—

Nia: “Why did it have to be me?”

Lawrence: You know, I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like, when is it—I think we like things
to be in a package, and to be accessible and easy, but the easiest thing would be to sit down with your
kids and start writing, like, “Hey, Black girl, you’re beautiful.” Or, “Hey, [my name], I am...” That’s all
the book is. It’s not this big thing. It’s special, but it’s not supposed to be special. But, I mean, as long as
y’all keep buying it, I don’t know. [laughs]

Nia: That’s really interesting, though, that’s it’s one book that’s paying your—

Lawrence: Well, it’s a mix. So, like, that book brings in the most income, but then Couldn’t Afford
Therapy is a close runner-up behind, cause everyone has mental health issues. Especially in Black and
brown communities, it’s not talked about. Any queer thing I put out is a big seller, because it comes from
the perspective of someone that was closeted, but also taught not to embrace being bisexual because I’m
Black. People like truth. If it’s true, and it’s easy to digest, they’ll buy it. And we print from home.

Nia: So that saves money.

Lawrence: Yeah, we got a little system. It works out. I’ve never paid my rent off of teaching by the way,
which is a damn shame, but it’s true.

Nia: I would think paying rent off of art would be much harder. I mean, clearly I don’t know what I’m
talking about, but making a living off of your art is really difficult, and I feel like off zines in particular.
Like, I feel like zines are not a break-even business. So, how did you get to the point where that was
possible?

Lawrence: I found a rhythm. I’ve been touring consistently since 2016, so that’s how I pay. Shows bring
in the most money. I’ve been making comics and zines since 2009, and finding what sells, versus what I
want to print is like business, like hustling. Like, if Black Boy costs $10. I want to make $1,000 at the
show, I need to print 100 copies of that, cause those are guaranteed sellers.
Nia: You can sell 100—I’ve never sold 100 of anything. [laughs] Okay. And then, are you doing more
zine fests than comic conventions? Because I found that comic conventions are much more expensive
for table fees.

Lawrence: I’m with zine fests, that’s my community. I would never go comics, because of the
pretentiousness that comes with it, and then also like a standard of like “Oh, that’s not a comic.” But, I
mean, the last ones I’ve been to, they invited me out and paid for it. It’s like, if you’re gonna pay for it,
I’ll come.

[laughter]

Lawrence: I’ll give you some diversity.

[laughter]

Nia: Yeah, I think in my experience, which is limited, I think comic spaces are also much whiter.

Lawrence: Mmhmm.

Nia: Like, I thought zine fests were bad, and then I went to a comic convention, and I was like, “what
the hell?”

[laughter]

Nia: Anyway. How about you, Breena? What’s the—do you make a living off your art, and if not, how
do your survive in this city?

Breena: I do… and I don’t sometimes. [laughs] I feel like it depends on which zine fests are more
profitable than others, geographically. Since my content is for Central American folks and Afrolatinx
folks, the shows in California happen to be the most profitable, because we’re everywhere in California,
especially Southern California. I always feel so at home and supported.

Because of social media and the invention of the Internet, it’s also interesting. Within the past year I’ve
gotten to see us in other spaces that I didn’t even think that we existed in, like as far as the east coast.
Somebody from SPX [Small Press Expo] came, they were like, “Oh, we didn’t even know this comic
convention existed, but we came because you were here.”

Nia: Oh, at SPX?

Breena: I was like, “Whaaaat? For real?” Even if it’s just a couple of interactions, in certain parts of the
country, it’s so worth it to me at the end of the day. Because I feel like my generation, and maybe
generations before us, we never really saw a lot of Central American content. And, it’s always just like a
huge blessing in the sky whenever anybody that represents these colors or your flags. Within the diaspora,
you have to go and support them. And it’s always been the Central American community that has
supported me. Mostly illustration gigs, too, because I do a lot of freelance.

Nia: Oh, commissions and things?


Breena: Yeah, mostly commissions. It’s also been a really tremendous dream come true, where I just put
it out in the universe when I just started working for myself after getting laid off from my last job. Before
I got back into teaching, I was like, I hope I do paid work with other QTPOC, because spiritually I want
that to be fulfilling. And financially, that would be great.

And, the first gig after working for a company was with somebody in the same neighborhood as me. I
got to do some really fun medical illustration for a doula manual, for folks of color who want to get into
the practice. And, after that, it was just like other folks from the community that been hitting me up to
make these illustrations and commissions.

The biggest thing that really helped me was the children’s book that recently got published, They Call
Me Mix. That really helped me, and just seeing how, again, there’s a huge need for a lot of nonbinary
content, but specifically for Latinx folks, because our language is binary. Super binary. But, it’s changing.
Yeah, that was bread and butter for a long time, and more opportunities are on the horizon for kid lit stuff.

Nia: Awesome.

Breena: Yeah, it’s been amazing. That, and echoing again what Lawrence is saying, teaching hasn’t
really been that profitable. So, that’s another reason why we’re doing the master’s program is, hopefully
higher education will get us there, but it won’t always help us, depending on which institution you’re
gonna like apply for. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of places that take advantage of adjunct professors,
and I don’t know if I can avoid that. We’ll see what happens, but that’s my hope.

Transcribed by Amirah Mizrahi

Episode description (ROUGH DRAFT)

In this episode, Breena Nuñez and Lawrence Lindell, queer Black comics artists, tell the story of how
they met (and how Lawrence proposed at a zine fest!), how the places they grew up shaped them, the
“homework” of belonging to a subculture, and the comics that inspired and set them on their artistic path.
They also talk about getting what you need out of art school by going around the system, the grounding
sense of community in Ethnic Studies, making a living off of art but pursuing higher education to make
a living as teachers, their punk histories, and of course, lots of laughter and cuteness.

To see some of Breena’s comics about their Afrolatinx experience, and learn more about their work:
https://www.breenache.com

To see Lawrence’s affirming comics about queerness and Blackness:


https://lawrencelindellstudios.bigcartel.com

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