Edo Brenes on Memories From Limón

Memories From Limón is the intimate and evocative graphic novel about uncovering a family secret, set against the idyllic Caribbean coastline in one of the most beautiful countries in Latin America. We spoke with author Edo Brenes to discuss how he got into comics and to find out more about the inspiration behind the story and the publishing process…

Nobrow: When did you start creating and why?

Edo: I’ve been coming up with stories and drawing ever since I can remember. I think in one way or another I’ve always been fascinated by narrative. When I was 8 or 9 I used to watch a movie and then tell it to my sisters (I have 4) and I would just go on and on describing every detail. Later, I would buy the few comic books I could get my hands on and read them for a few minutes before putting them away to try to write and draw my own story. These would normally be 1 or 2 unfinished pages until I got bored and went to read or draw something else. There’s something about visual narrative that has always poked at me.

Early comics from when I was 11 or 12.

N: How did you get into comics?

E: I actually “got into comics seriously” quite late. In Costa Rica we didn’t use to get comics that easily. There was a magazine stand that used to have some Marvel and DC comics, which I bought whenever my mom would allow me to, but it wasn’t so often. So, I used to sit reading my aunt’s or uncle’s Memín collection (Mexican comic book) from the 80’s, which were a reprint of a 60’s version. It was a very good story, but other than that I didn’t have anything else.

Memín, 80’s Mexican comic, reprint from the 60’s.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I made a trip to New York with my wife, Yoss, that I entered an indie comic book store and found Nobrow’s 17×23 collection and it changed my life. I found what I was looking for, comics that were quite modern and did not revolve around superheroes. After that, my only dream was to publish with Nobrow. Later, I found out there were hundreds of publishing houses and other European ones printing alternative graphic novels and I began to collect and read avidly. But Nobrow was my first love, and my biggest goal. 

N: What inspired the story behind Memories From Limón?

E: When I was around 21 or 22 (I’m 36 now) I began to pay more attention to the stories being told around me by my grandparents, parents and uncles & aunts about their upbringing in Limón. The stories had always been there, but it wasn’t until that time that I began focusing on paying attention and writing them down. I wanted to make an animated film back then. Later on, I had collected a lot of stories which were the inspiration for a few projects, including Memories From Limón. After 15 years of collecting stories, I still keep on digging, finding out more and more.

N: Memories From Limón was originally a shorter novel which won the annual Cape/Observer/Comica Graphic Novel Prize. Can you tell us a bit more about the journey of Memories From Limón – how did the book start, and how has it developed since winning the prize? 

E: The short graphic story that I submitted to the contest was the earlier version of Chapter 1, in which I interview family members and they talk about their bicycles from way back. This was inspired by a true story my grandparents told me, though the interview did not happen this way. I sent the story to the contest, but I was so excited about the format I had used to tell it (using old photographs as visual aid) that I immediately wrote 4 more stories and illustrated another one. A few weeks later the big surprise was that I won first prize! This led to my agent pitching the very incomplete project to Nobrow and getting a deal to make it into a complete book. Imagine how surreal it was, and how happy and excited I felt after achieving my biggest goal!

Original section of the short comic, notice how there’s no skin color and the main character, Ramiro, looked different.

N: Who or what are your biggest artistic influences? 

E: Because there were not much comic books around when I grew up or when I was at Animation School, I began to get very inspired by movies and TV shows; directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Wong Kar Wai, Wes Anderson and Chris Nolan are amongst my favorites, along with TV shows like Breaking Bad, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Seinfeld, Peaky Blinders and Downton Abbey.

As I got into comics and graphic novels I’ve begun to admire a lot of artists, including: Jon McNaught, Chris Ware, Los Bros Hernandez, Inio Asano, Neil Gaiman and many more.

N: We noticed that the character of Ramiro has a few similarities to you – is Ramiro’s story linked to yours in any way?

E: It’s very similar in the fact that I do go around talking to anyone I can about their upbringing in Limón. I also gave him a wife named Yoss, and I made him live in the UK, which is where I was when I began writing this story. But the actual family stories or secrets are mostly fiction, or adorned reality. That is where the story differs.

N: The illustrations throughout are beautiful – in particular, the colours are interesting as they change in different sections of the book. Can you tell us about your style and colour choices?

E: I was not very used to color before this project. Of course I used it but I did not feel very comfortable. Whilst living in the UK I took a workshop in color and it changed my understanding of how to use it properly. I began combining colors in a more efficient way and that’s how I came up with the palette for the “present day” sections, which are mainly made up of pastel tones of blue, purple and red. When it was time to choose the colors for the “flashbacks” I tried different standard ones like sepia or grayscale, but I thought it was too common and cliché. I kept experimenting until I sat down and thought about it before actually testing it. And I decided that even though it was the past, I wanted more saturated colors to express the tropical side of this part of the world, but I also decided to use the exact opposite colors that I had used in the other section: orange, yellow and green. Thus, using the 6 primary and secondary colors in a more conscientious way. Two palettes of 3 adyacent colors in opposition creating greater contrast.

2 sets of adyacent and opposite colors for the 2 narrative sections.

N: What was your biggest challenge in writing Memories From Limón?

E: Most of the photographs in the book are inspired by real photographs. The challenge was selecting from 1400 photographs I have (from both my mother’s and father’s families) the ones that would match the story I was telling at that moment; and making sure I was not repeating them. So, I was also forced to come up with my own photographs to help the plot, and though it was very fulfilling to keep studying all these photos, it was very challenging.

Some of the photographs used as reference.

N: Now copies of Memories From Limón are being sold in shops and are in readers hands. What has been your favourite part of the process of creating this graphic novel?

E: I have two favorite parts for almost any project I work on. The first one is the conceiving of the project, the “having-it-on-your-mind-before-it’s-written-down” part; that’s the most rewarding creative part. The second is the selling of the project to a publisher, that’s when you know that someone else also believes in it and it’s very exciting too. A close second (third?) is sending the final PDFs to print. The rest, as good as it is (drawing, inking, writing, seeing the book printed) is not as good as those other aspects to me. I guess because the rest of the process is work rather than excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this work and wouldn’t change it for anything, but it’s still work :D

N: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators and authors?

E: Yes! Don’t give up.

When I found those copies of the 17×23 Nobrow series back in 2015 I did my own and sent it out to Nobrow. The editor that got it back then said she liked it a lot, but unfortunately they weren’t doing that series anymore. Feeling cocky with this answer I pitched another project to her but she never got back to me. Then, my agent pitched them my first graphic novel but it wasn’t bought. I was very eager so I did another project and whilst at the Bologna Book Fair I managed to get Sam (editor) to look through it but it did not catch his attention. I did not give up. Finally, Memories From Limón matched the kind of book that Nobrow publishes and the deal was made. And right now, I’m working on second book for Nobrow… so… I guess there’s a lesson in all this?

Mr. Bunny, first submission to Nobrow in 2015. Self-published.

Memories From Limón

Edo Brenes

A beautiful and emotive graphic novel from award-winning author Edo Brenes, which weaves together stories from across time to piece together a narrative that will stick with you for years to come.

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