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During Women's History Month we take pride in celebrating and uplifting women in everything they do. This month SYFY and Tongal, a global community of content creators, invited female creatives to create science fiction and fantasy video shorts that beautifully showcase their experiences.
The shorts will air on SYFY Network and be featured on SYFY Instagram and Twitter pages. Below, we spoke with the three artists, Nicole Herrera, April Merl, and Sabrina Claman (in separate interviews) to get a deeper understanding of their work. These creators make art meant to evoke strong emotion and connection, and through their love for science fiction and fantasy, we felt especially connected.
Can you tell us about yourself and what sparked your interest in becoming an artist?
Herrera:My name is Nicole D. Herrera, I am a conceptual artist and 2d animator. I was born in Colombia and I'm based in Valencia, Spain. My interest in becoming an artist comes from my college days. I have a degree in Social Communication and Journalism, and my projects have always been related to the editorial world and cinema. While I was in college, I had the opportunity to participate in an editorial project called "Revista Larva." The publication was focused on comics and illustration. Besides giving space for projects related to animation, everything was focused on drawing. I found this little world fantastic and unique, as well as peculiar. Animation in particular caught my attention and from that moment I began a path of personal exploration that today makes me what I am.
Merl:I never thought of myself as an artist growing up, but I’ve always loved being transported to new places by stories, be it in books, movies/tv, even songs. Two sparks that I remember having pointed me to film and media early on: Peter Gabriel’s music videos, with their stop motion craziness and creativity, and then films like Do the Right Thing, which has both amazing craft and an incredibly important message. Today, I edit documentaries, and have more recently started animating (which 10 years ago I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be doing!), both of which I love and I’m so grateful I get to do this work and keep growing in it.
Claman:I think the biggest internal motivator for becoming an artist was feeling like I struggled to communicate well as a child and ultimately finding that drawing out my feelings and experiences helps me to process / figure out how to connect with others who might need to hear those stories.
In 2020, I graduated from the University of Iowa with a Drawing BFA and a Japanese minor. I chose to pursue that under the impression that I would go to Japan after graduation to make comics because I developed a passion for how stories are told in Japanese pop culture in high school, when I was beginning to believe more and more that art was the career path I wanted to go down. Drawing has been my favorite pastime since preschool. My mom even has a photo of three-year-old me passed out on our couch in my pjs with a marker in hand on top of a drawing I was working on. From newspaper comics, beautifully illustrated children's books, and manga, I knew I wanted to do something in storytelling. Animation wasn't necessarily something I thought I had the patience for until Steve Jennings, the founder of Grasshorse Character Animation Studio where I do animation work and did "Making My Fate" with my team of super cool and talented creators (co-director and initial concept artist for "Making My Fate" Dani Massey, and artists Jade Barnes, Leah Sloan, and Macey Webber), taught as a Visiting Artist at the college in 2019.
I was really fortunate that, even though the University of Iowa's art program is more focused on the pursuit of fine art rather than story art in the ways we perceive commercial work like comics, books, and shows as highly accessible forms of art, I had a wonderful combination of instructors like Steve who emphasised understanding the foundations and valuing developing concepts in art. I discovered a love for concept work, leading me to play different roles at Grasshorse that explore a wide variety of skills in addition to the comics and illustrative work I do outside of this studio.
What female genre character do you resonate with most and why?
Herrera:I don't have a female referent with whom I feel fully identified. I have references of actions that these characters perform and that in my opinion, contribute valuable things to my life or to humanity in general, therefore I admire many women; I believe that we have the power to bring out the best in other people and in ourselves if we set our minds to it, and that actions are not measured by a massive influential success, but that even the smallest action that a woman can have towards another in terms of love, compassion, support... are equally important, it can change our lives. I deeply honor all those women who have been a part of my life directly or indirectly, and who have made me a better woman and above all, a better person.
Merl:I’d love to say Leia or Ripley or Furiosa, but, honestly, I think it’s Hermione Granger – lots of practice and study here, and more than a few times where I’ve ended up hiding in the bathroom after Polyjuice potion-ing myself into having a cat head.
Claman:I thought about this question a lot while trying to sift through a mental list of women characters who I resonated with to any degree, and the character that kept coming to mind is Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Regardless of leading different kinds of lives, I remember feeling so much watching Clementine struggle carrying around the dragging weight of something that had been precious to where she had to make a decision to let it go. The direction of that movie along with the emotions that character emanates felt like living in happy and difficult memories. I adored the depth of emotion the characters of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were able to explore and found it to be very relatable as an empath.
What draws you into the fantasy/sci-fi/genre space?
Herrera:What attracts me to this whole world is the magic of making real an unlimited number of references with which you can identify yourself without feeling pigeonholed or socially labeled. The curiosity for the "surreal" of these serve as an escape valve to a reality that can sometimes be suffocating and crushing and in which we can feel alone and misunderstood. For me, when we discover these stories and we are children, we have an amazing curiosity to know if this can be real, these genres are like a refuge in very vulnerable moments of our lives; going out to explore them is an adventure!
Merl:Magical worlds with beings of all types banding together to fight for good against impossible odds? I’m totally in. Give me underdogs, dystopia, magic – I can’t imagine how to not be into all of this!
Claman:The different lenses genres let you see a narrative through speaks a lot to me about how we look at our own experiences. For example, a story about a guy falling in love at first sight in a bookstore could be told as a Romance or a Thriller with essentially the same plot (Looking at the show You, which I started under the impression it was the former rather than the latter. Good show, but different than expected.). It affects how you experience a character and your expectations of their "destiny" within the story, or the type of relationship you are supposed to feel like you have with that character. That's something I think is so cool about effective storytelling.
What do you want people to take away from your piece?
Herrera:I want people to take sensations and emotions with them. When I create something, I do it with the intention of connecting with the public or with the clients. I seek to generate in them something that makes them understand my creation and that they feel identified with something of it.
Merl:First, I hope they get a laugh! And I hope that people will connect with these characters, and are inspired to come up with more of them - it's time to break the superhero mold and get some new ones on our screens.
Claman:I think what Dani, myself, and the other women who worked on "Making My Fate" would agree on is that it is about realizing you have agency when it comes to the direction you are heading in life. That your choices are yours to make and you do not need to feel like you have to take the most challenging road to earn your place or "destiny".
Where do you pull most of your inspiration from? How does that shine through inyour piece?
Herrera:My continuous inspiration is my life and the emotions that I get from the reality that I live. Continuous observation in details is a fundamental part of the process. From a color tone, to an object that catches my attention, a fact or a memory. The way to reflect it in my work is by capturing in my drawings those emotions that are generated in my creative process. My intention is to connect with the moment and capture it in the strokes. I call it "creation with intent or purpose"
Merl:I pull inspiration from everywhere, music, art, but mostly from everyday life in little moments that stick with me. I get a lot of inspiration from my daughters - in the ways that they make me see the world differently, in how they are funny and clever, and from me wanting to make them proud. It was so fun to get to work with them on this piece and hear what they thought was funny or cool (or not cool!). And of course they inspired the whole thing — I hope they, and every kid, can find a hero that they connect with and feels like a reflection of them, so that they don’t ever have to feel that they need to be anyone other than themselves.
Claman:Something I feel like roadblocked my progress as an artist was not being willing to be vulnerable in my work because I was nervous that what I had to say about my experiences wasn't important enough compared to what other people go through for better or for worse. After addressing that as an unreasonable mindset I think a lot of artists relate to, I discovered that I enjoy making work that highlights uncomfortable, sad, or other tender moments because it's something that people need to connect over. Stories that feel and give someone an experience make me feel like I am making progress.
My work aims to reflect the kind of work I see myself in out in the world, and I think that's something my team shares as a group of young, rural, emerging artists. The characters in "Making My Fate," Kara and her travel companion, Pip, are just two small creatures in a big, scary, relentless world being pulled from one overwhelming experience to another and under the impression that it's the only way forward because it's the way given to them. When Kara puts her fate in her own hands to move forward towards her goal, her view of her situation changes.
How do you feel about the representation of women in the fantasy/sci-fi/genrespace?
Herrera:Like everything, there are still labels and prejudices about the role of women in the history of these genres. However, and in my personal case, when I was younger I had the opportunity to connect with female roles that were important and powerful for me. Perhaps it was easier to recreate an empowered woman in fantasy, science fiction than in reality itself. In those spaces, women could have leading and decisive roles, therefore these served me at the time to dream of being a woman of those characteristics. I remember my excitement at having the abilities of Xena: Warrior Princess, or being Lara Croft. Having the powers of Galadriel, or Videl from Dragon Ball... and so I could keep listing each one of them. I believe that your experience may vary, depending on the point of view with which you approach it.
Merl:There are so many cool and diverse women popping up in both main roles and supporting roles in the fantasy/sci-fi/genre space, and also, slowly but surely, in more roles behind the camera, so I think we’re in a really exciting time for representation. Mainly, I think we need more — especially more women as main characters instead of as a support for a male main character. And I think to get there we’ll need more women from all different backgrounds creating those stories too.
Claman:Women are amazing and talented beings. Increasingly more in recent years, I think shows have been reflecting that there is so much more to a woman than whether she is beautiful, sexual or sexualized, and actually giving them realistic strengths and weaknesses to create three-dimensial characters to appreciate; not ogle or ignore.
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
Herrera:We are at a time in history where I consider it important to celebrate Women's Month. It is a month to give visibility to voices that for years have been relegated, silenced and ignored, and I consider this recognition of equal importance to move forward. The feminist process that we are experiencing is necessary to dream of gender equality that is so necessary for our society. I really long for the very word "gender" to be diluted and to have the ability to recognize each other as human beings, without further ado.
Merl:Women's History Month is important as a way for us to remember where we came from as we journey forward, and to celebrate those who fought to get us here. It’s also a good reminder of how we have to keep fighting all year long for equality in every aspect of life for everyone who identifies as a woman.
Claman:Women's History Month feels like a period of time dedicated to celebrating our successes and ambitions without feeling like we are obnoxious. At least for a month, it's great to connect with other women who also face daily struggles and frustrations in their fields and backgrounds. It feels like an opportunity to bond. I love highlighting the work amazing women in my life do. Women's History Month is a reminder that we can do that for each other any time of the year. It's nice to feel seen and celebrated in a safe space for being me and doing what I love.
What is a piece of advice you'd give to female creatives?
Herrera:My advice is that in the convulsive moments of your lives, have the discernment to silence the external voices and listen to yourself, trusting fully in what you are. As women, we often have more social and emotional responsibilities in charge and that can confuse and condition us; In moments of chaos, silence external noise and listen to yourself; Afterwards, the most important challenge is that you have the courage to follow that voice... It won't be easy, but...Something wonderful awaits you after all this! You're going to get it, never doubt your abilities.
Merl:Don’t stop – we need your voice and there is space here for everyone! And make sure you share your goals with other people — I think sometimes it can make us feel vulnerable to do it, but you never know who knows a person who can open a door, and some doors might not be as far away as you think.
Claman:I think that as a person, it is easy to be overwhelmed about your qualifications and whether they are enough. Something I remind myself is that if you weren't good enough, they wouldn't have hired you. And by working in a space, you belong there and should feel comfortable expressing yourself when need be. People are not psychic and will not know if they've stepped on your toes if they didn't know to watch where they are stepping, so something really important I have learned while working in a creative environment on teams is to not be afraid of clear communication. It is more than likely that others feel the same as you and the other men and women would want to know if they've done something to affect you. You are worthy, wonderful, and will feel all the more safe to be fully expressive in your ideas if you can communicate well with your team.
Watch these creators' short above and find more of her work on Instagram and Twitter. Check out the other creators' shorts on the SYFY network and our YouTube and continue the celebration of Women's History Month all year 'round.