Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Strange Kind of Courage: an Interview with Peggy Adam


Without a doubt, the absolute highlight of our time running Avoid the Future has been getting the opportunity to translate Peggy Adam's graphic novel Luchadoras for Blank Slate Books. Originally published in French by Swiss publisher Atrabile in 2006, it's a powerful story set against the backdrop of the Cuidad Juarez female-victim homicidesUsing fiction to expose real-life atrocities, Adam places the reader directly in the middle of the oppressive setting of Juarez, examining the atmosphere of misogyny, exploitation, and corruption that gave birth to these horrific crimes.

As the book packs its bags and prepares to go off to print this week, we thought it was the perfect time to officially invite Peggy for a chat about the Luchadoras and her work in general. Passionate, and eager to show her support to those affected by these issues, she tells us about what inspired her to create the book, how it relates to her other work, and the symbolism present within the story.

First released by Atrabile in 2006, Luchadoras has now been published in several countries and languages. Did you imagine that it would be greeted so enthusiastically by publishers outside of the French comic sphere?

When I was writing the story, I was hoping it would be published in Mexico. That still isn’t the case, but with the book having been published in Spanish, I haven’t given up hope of seeing it there one day... at least so the women of Juarez know that somebody is talking about their situation outside of Mexico, and that we’re supporting their fight. 

What do you think has attracted international publishers to the book? 

What makes a book sell in different countries? I don’t know. It’s more about a publisher having a crush on a book, I think. 

How did you first become aware of the femicides of Cuidad Juarez? What specifically inspired you to create a story set amongst the backdrop of these tragedies?

In November 2005, I came across an investigative article by Manon Schick in Amnistie, the Swiss edition of Amnesty International’s magazine. She reported figures of more than 430 women murdered in 12 years in Ciudad Juarez. There were testimonies by some victims’ mothers, some of which have been threatened or attacked for asking justice for their child. I couldn’t believe it.  

After doing some research, the reality was actually a lot worse than what I thought. I was extremely upset, and when something upsets me, I need to talk about it. It happened through comics because that’s the medium in which I can best express myself.

One of the most compelling things about the book is how you take a slightly indirect look at these awful events by producing a character-based narrative. Do you recall the process by which your ideas for the characters and their relationships took shape?

Alma and Jean already existed in a slightly different form, in one of the books from my series Plus ou moins... [More or Less... published in France by Atrabile]. They came naturally to me. Alma might not be representative of all the women in Juarez. I wanted a violent woman who wasn’t a victim. She responds the way only she can to the violence that surrounds her—that’s her way to defend herself.

The story comes little by little as the characters are created. The further I am into the story, the stronger the characters’ personalities become. Sometimes I add a character to create a setting for a situation, or to give more weight to the story. For Luchadoras, I mixed real people with fictional people.

Throughout the book, Juarez almost feels like a supporting character—a corruptive force that brings out the worst in humanity. How would you describe your presentation of the city?

To me, a city is made by the people who live within it. So, I focused on the people and not so much on the setting – just enough so you can recognize you're in Mexico. I could have used a fictional town and the story wouldn’t have lost any of its interest. But the fact that I rooted it in a real setting, in a situation that is still happening today, allowed me not have to explain as much in the book. We know what’s happening in Juarez.

Some of the readers who don’t know about what’s going on there may think that, yes, what happens in the book is terrible but ultimately it’s just a story. However, reality in Juarez is a lot worse, and once you’ve realised that, you see the world we live in in a different light.

There’s a moral ambiguity to the book, in that even “good” people seem inevitably forced to do “bad” things in order to survive. Do you believe the book to have a moral message, or does it stand as a reflection of a corrupt world?

My world isn’t black and white, and so I don’t have “good” or “bad” characters. We all have a shadowy part, whether it is cowardice, resentment, jealousy, or sometimes a strange kind of courage... My characters are just the reflection of what I observe in the people around me, so this book absolutely doesn’t have a moralistic purpose—how awful would that be?

Yes, the Mexican government has corruption within it, but it’s not very visible in the story—except for the character of the cop involved in drug trafficking, who actually exists. I didn’t want to give any special explanation to these women’s genocide, as there are so many causes: drug cartel madness, government and police corruption, poverty, and above all, sexism and misogyny—the latter two being so deeply, habitually rooted that they destroy relationships between men and women.

Although the main narrative is quite direct in the way you present it, there also seems to be a layer of symbolism at work. Images of birds and cats reoccur during the course of the book, and the wrestling match that Alma and Jean attend seems to carry special significance...

It is true about one of the birds: the howl that you see when Alma’s sister gets into the van is a symbol of death. The vultures that Jean observes with his telephoto lens can also be interpreted as death symbols, but also as symbols of life as they eat organic waste and thus are essential to the planet’s ecosystem.

Cats are always present in my stories, simply because I’ve always had cats with me. And also, they have nine lives, so if they die in one story, they can come back in another one...

About the wrestling match: I refer to it in Plus ou moins... It can seem a little cliché as a reference, but to me Mexico comes with El Santo and Blue Demon!

The word “Luchadoras” is an interesting title choice, being familiar to professional wrestling fans as the Lucha Libre term for female wrestlers. What attracted you to it?

At the first the book was simply called “Lucha Libre” but a collective released a book with the same title a few months before mine was published, so I decided to call it “Luchadoras” instead. In the end it is more relevant to the story, as it is about women who are struggling, both figuratively and literally, to defend their right to a better life.

In an interview with BDentente, you talk about the connection between the book and Plus ou moins..., and covertly wanting to offer a more uplifting resolution to Luchadoras. Do you consider Luchadoras to be a stand-alone work, or do you feel that your work presents different moments of the same, interconnected creative universe (such as Love and Rockets)?

It’s true. Without really controlling it, I realise that my stories are all linked to each other. Sometimes it will be just a character that goes from one book to another, sometimes a place. I like the idea of being able to make a character appear in one book or another without it seeming weird. What I build throughout my comics is an extension of my world, and I don’t find it odd that my characters sometimes meet or just pass each other by—after all they live on the same planet!

Rather than Love and Rockets—which I discovered quite late—I think I’ve been influenced by movies such as Short Cuts by Robert Altman (adapted from Raymond Carver’s short stories), Happiness by Solondz, or Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson. I like individual stories that coexist, sometimes conflict, and finally merge together.

Just to torment all of us English-speaking readers, can you talk a little about can you talk a little about your current projects? Will the final Plus ou moins... be seen soon? 

I’d like to be able to answer this question! I always have projects on the go, but I just need to find time to make them happen...

Usually we only have to thank people for giving up their time to speak to us, but we owe Peggy an incomprehensible amount of gratitude for trusting us with her book, as well as giving us the opportunity to share it with the English-speaking comics market. Luchadoras will be available from Blank Slate books very soon: be sure to follow our Twitter feed or our Facebook page for updates as they happen.


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