Q&A with Stephanie Ochona

A photo of contributor Stephanie Ochona against a light turquoise and yellow wave-pattern background. To the left are three images of the magazine’s cover in a column. Text above the photo reads “THE SUBURBAN REVIEW magazine, issue: #21, theme: SALT”. To the right of the photo is the contributor’s name. Along the bottom of the image the magazine’s website “thesuburbanreview.com” is repeated three times.

STEPHANIE OCHONA is a Filipino multidisciplinary illustrator and writer based on unceded Woi Wurrung land. Her creative work explores diaspora and belonging. She is currently completing her Masters in Design, Innovation and Technology at RMIT. 

Our Associate Editor, Maya Pilbrow, talks to Steph about her comic ‘Ripple Effect’.

Your comic is a masterclass in abstraction as efficient storytelling. This piece uses minimal language and imagery to create layers and layers of meaning. How do you start your artistic process, and how are you able to condense so much thematic richness into a work as brief as ‘Ripple Effect’?

I tend to start with a general feeling. I use emotions to anchor my work. I think pure emotions are effective in short lengths because they lack any boundaries, assumptions, and didactiveness that longer forms would naturally have. Using a feeling rather than a memory, event, or other timestamp helps me create borderless pieces where viewers are encouraged to bring their own associations to my work. In this way viewers own the story. 

Comics artists, by nature, have to be multidisciplinary. What is the interplay like between visual art and written word, in your experience?

For me, comics marry the two things I hold dear to my heart. Words are my primary creative language, but visceral imagery always appears before me when I write so inevitably I draw those out. In my artistic practice I feel I need both words and imagery — they have a symbiotic connection, one can’t exist without the other. Both are equal and I need them together to fully express what I feel. 

This comic is pointedly very monochromatic. Why the focus on blue, and to what extent, if any, do the aesthetic choices you make as an artist influence your writing?

I feel like I’m a very logical artist — if anything I often compare myself to an artistic designer. I use my knowledge of semiotics to represent the emotions in my comics. For this instance the depth of the colour blue, its melancholic yet calming effect, were a perfect metaphor for the intensity yet reservedness of the comic’s topic. And in turn the semiotics influence the way I write; the rhythm and flow.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently studying my Masters in Design, Innovation and Tech so my upcoming creative projects are more into the graphic design side than artistic. During the semester I often make more collages and infographics than illustrations and comics. But as soon as I get a break I want to get stuck into planning my very first medium to long form comic.