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Building The World Of “Peruvian Cyberpunk” And “PUNO”: In Conversation With Gustavo Vargas Tataje

Throughout his Peruvian Cyberpunk stories so far, Gustavo Vargas Tataje has created a sci-fi world with the cohesion and vibrance of a new subgenre. We spoke about his latest comic PUNO, the second of his current trilogy. In this interview, we discuss his process of building the Peruvian Cyberpunk aesthetic.

A Place To Hang Your Cape: Where does the story in PUNO kick off?

Gustavo Vargas Tataje: PUNO starts exactly where MANU finished. We will follow what happens with Lila, our main character. We will have a better understanding of what is happening around her, and the real reason why these events set-up in MANU are taking place. It will give many answers and prepare the road to PILCUYO, the last part of the story.

AP2HYC: What sort of direction does Lila’s story take in this second instalment?

GVT: Not an easy one for sure. Things get more emotional and more complicated the further we follow her. But I prefer not to say too much so I don’t spoil the story!

AP2HYC: How will fans of MANU and the other instalments in your Peruvian Cyberpunk series find PUNO? Are there any surprises, and what else is new?

GVT: I think they will enjoy it. There are more themes to be explored this time around. We will see more depth in the pre-existing characters, and there are always new and weird characters to meet. Many surprises will happen, but again, I don’t want to spoil the fun for the readers.

AP2HYC: With this series, what have you tried to capture about the cyberpunk genre? Have you had any specific influences from other comics or cyberpunk stories?

GVT: To be honest, I wasn’t trying to make a cyberpunk book to start with. In the beginning, I wanted to do a crime story. I chose the location of the story to be in the coast of Peru, in the city of Trujillo. Quickly, I decided that I wanted to do a science fiction story, not so far from the present.

I’ve always loved science fiction – it gave me a good excuse to explore what kind of sci-fi stories I could come up with. The more research and exploration I did of the city, the more it made a rich and substantial world full of characters coming to life, and a society with a heavy influence from their pre-Columbian local ancestors. That is when I decided to involve the local animals as something more organic to this world. This decision of using cyborg animals catalyzed the final click. With that, Peruvian Cyberpunk was born.

All the Peruvian Cyberpunk comics are heavily influenced by where they take place; all the titles come from real places. TRUJILLO is a city in the coast; LIMA is the main capital; MANU is a national reserve park in the rainforest; PUNO is a city in the Peruvian Highlands. The direct influences that I can think of are Hayao Miyasaki films; things like how he portrays Japanese culture and explores it further, while still keeping the influence clear. His movies really stimulate my mind, and gave me ideas on how to explore the rich pre-Columbian culture we have in Peru, and apply its aesthetic and influence to my stories.

My core cyberpunk influence comes from William Gibson, especially his Neuromancer and Burning Chrome books. Getting to know his stories made me understand and feel how cyberpunk works. The places and characters in his stories inform and define each other. Everything is connected in very stressed and smart ways.

AP2HYC: On the other hand, is there anything about the generic cyberpunk aesthetic that
you have tried to reimagine, or do away with entirely?

GVT: Before trying to reimagine the aesthetic, I start by understanding how things work in a place. What does this place or this other place sound and look like? The more I understand the place and its people, the easier it is for me to adapt and interpret elements, characters, and devices. It’s like visiting a city you don’t know; you explore every corner of it and get lost in it. It is then that you know how the city feels and smells. From that point, I can start exploring how things are going to work and look. Prior to the design, I do a lot of research, but I also stop so I don’t overdo it. I work hard on making my designs have a particular voice. That includes not settling for the first idea – if they look too generic, they won’t fit the world I am building.

AP2HYC: As imaginative as the setting in Peruvian Cyberpunk is, so is the way we’re brought into that world. The layouts and colours in each volume are consistently so vibrant and dynamic! How separated is the process of designing the world and then designing the pages; do the two influence each other, and are there still chances to be spontaneous?

GVT: Thank you! First, I explore, build the city, and fill it with people, smells, colours, and sounds. The more I explore the real place I’ve chosen, the more it also resonates with the story that I’m writing. Those two go together. And then, I jump to character and background designs. That is still an exploration process; I tend to end with more characters and designs than I use.

I do the thumbnail layouts, which is the heart and the rhythm of the story. That part is all about the storytelling; doing and redoing scenes, making the sequences work. This is about playing with time and focus, squeezing and letting go. I then pencil and ink the pages, and scan them. Colours are done on the computer. Colour decisions come at this moment, not before. I work the rough colours of all the pages in one big sheet so that there is harmony around the whole comic. This also makes it easier to decide what colours to use to help the narration, whether it’s to get a better impact or a subtler one.

There are a lot of ‘why’ questions throughout all this process; why that colour, that angle, those characters, 3 panels, a 3-page sequence, a splash page, and etc. There is still a place for spontaneity, to add and take things. More than once, I’ve scratched finished sequences, put an extra page, or deleted panels because I found a better way of making the story work. It’s all about making the story work!

AP2HYC: Finally, do you have a favourite moment coming up in PUNO?

GVT: Several! But again, I don’t want to spoil the story! Most are related to what is happening with Lila. But people will have to wait and read and hopefully, enjoy.

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About the author

Matthew Smith