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Omar Banuchi Finds His Niche in the Puerto Rican Web (Part II)

*This is the second entry in a series about digital art by Puerto Rico's Omar Banuchi. Here you find the first in the series. 

From the start comics presented the perfect partner for a childhood spent indoors. A quiet, introverted boy that didn't leave the family apartment much could easily connect with the stories of superheros capable of supporting the weight of the world on their shoulders and achieving great super-human deeds.

“Mine was a world of comics”, was one of the first things he said to me when I met him.  “Since I was 9 years old I have been collecting them. I remember the death of Superman completely consumed me, it was a huge, high-profile event of that era and it made a huge impression on me”.

KRIPTONITA visual

In many ways it is in this world where he still immerses himself, although with time his affinity to superheroes has become increasingly idiosyncratic. As he continued playing and experimenting with his tablet, his technique became increasingly refined. His first steps were on the internet, where he assumed the role of photographer in his social circle without even realizing it.

La exhibición "Kriptonita" mezcló la cotidianidad con la obsesión de Banuchi por los superhéroes. (Image used with artist's permission)

The exhibition “Kriptonita” mixed the ‘everyday’ with Banuchi's obsession with superheroes.

“I started to do this in a moment when I had lots of spare time. I was obsessed with playing with my new little toy tablet”, he told me. Banuchi, in the same way as the superheroes that he follows, lives a double life: in the afternoons he deals with the telephone at a call centre, and at night he draws. “Basically my modus operandi was to see the profile picture of a buddy or a girl that I liked on Facebook and then draw him/her and post the pictures on my wall. Little by little the message spread and people started to pay me to draw their friends or pets in order to put it as their profile picture”.

These unexpected commissions gave him the confidence needed to launch his first exhibition. “Kriptonita” [es] was presented in 2010 in La Respuesta, a Santurce club that has been converted into an essential space for independent art and music in San Juan. The title couldn't be clearer: those illustrations printed on glossy paper took the shape of protagonists from comics such as Batman or the Justice League as a central theme. The superheroes of the pieces however, didn't match the all-powerful images of them as seen in the commercial series.

“On the walls of the main room there were a few pieces that captivated my attention immediately”, Beto Torrens told me. “They were the classic photos of people hanging out at a party- everyone has taken or appeared in a similar photo at some point-, but all of the characters were superheroes. These figures in such an everyday environment provoked, for me, a lot of curiosity”.

For Banuchi the exhibition evolved naturally. “May is the month of geekdom: superhero films start showing in the cinema, we have the Comic Con (Comic Convention) here in Puerto Rico, and I wanted to make a superhero exhibition during this month too”, Banuchi commented.  “Basically I started to look for photos of some of my friends and then I painted superhero costumes on top of them”.

The showing earned him new fans, some of them with a profile bigger than the average. “I bought two pieces from him”, Torrens recalled, who then approached him requesting that Banuchi join his gallery. “Benicio del Toro bought 5 pieces”, he added.

“Kriptonita” has become a recurring event, and it is no longer just a show for Banuchi. A year ago he did it again [es], selecting work from other artists. And this year, in order to return to commemorating the month of May geekdom he is going to do it again, but this time it will be the last edition.

“I want it to be a trilogy and that's it”, said the budding curator, “as if it were the special edition of a comic”.

DAY by “Day”

Outside of the superfriends drawings, Banuchi still wanted to make comics. That is how his most intimate project came to light. However, the autobiographical series “Días” [Days], would never have existed if it hadn't been for a fundamental connection.

Omar Banuchi Días

“'Días’ started after meeting Rosaura on the internet, nearly two years ago”, he told me of Rosaura Rodríguez, who didn't delay in becoming his closest collaborator. They both remember the way in which they met, like the type of plot that could be found in an independent Rom-Com.

“She added me on Facebook and asked me to draw her a cat”, he told me, “and then she made a drawing for me, so we became friends just like this. Until we discovered we lived next door to one another”.

Rodríguez, in her defence, has a slightly different memory, as usually happens. “He had been annoying me on Facebook. Little by little we started becoming friends, and seeing as we're neighbours we ended up making a comic between the two of us”.

Each edition of “Días” might look like a comic about nothing in particular. But there is a constant narrative that the two artists are developing. Far from the unexpected turn of events seen in Spiderman and Superman, the gaze is turned towards the artists themselves. Each panel of the comic is a mirror of their life in which they document their friendship as well as depicting their generation, and in passing they added a Puerto Rican entry from the confessional graphic novel tradition such as “Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes or “True Story, Swear to God” by Tom Belland.

For Rodríguez the project “had to be a comic. It's the only way to bring together introspection in a straight up matter. That has led us to becoming good friends. We are an artistic team and so we labour against the time limitations and deadlines that we put on ourselves. We have to produce something every month together and this has been pretty intense”.

Looking back at the comic's first volume, recently completed after a year and a half, can bring a voyeuristic pleasure, just like rummaging in the drawers of someone you barely know but yet whose personality is extremely familiar. In one edition to the next there are storylines that are repeated: ideas about the world that are evidently obsessed over by a boy and girl in their twenty-somethings navigating the romantic, creative and professional hurly burly that comes with this decade.

“There are topics that you are going to see across the whole series: work, relationships, pets”, Rodríguez commented. “We have developed a certain style and already we have people that follow us”.

“Días” has also moved closer to the current Puerto Rican comic, where the diversity of stories and styles is uniting many different artists under one community.

“It's true that this current generation is really relaxed, there isn't much rivalry”, Banuchi observed. “We're all mates. Other people are making their comics, like Pernicious Press and SodaPop Comics, who get in touch with us when they are doing some activity. Slowly we're creating a scene”.

*Images are published with the artist's permission.

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