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I first met Ron Lapitan when I interviewed the team behind the Young Writers’ Endeavour. In this post, however, we focus on Ron and his comics! Here Ron shares what inspires him, how spirituality can touch the heart through art, and how it’s important to make mistakes. But first, a comic:
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Ron from Virginia, US. I work at the Tahirih Justice Center, a Baha’i-inspired non-profit which partners with courageous immigrant women and girls who come to the US seeking freedom from gender-based violence, such as forced marriage, honour killing, human trafficking, female genital cutting, and domestic violence, by providing pro bono legal services to win their asylum and pro bono social services. Outside of work, I’m the caretaker of an institute house, an apartment we rented specifically to help us do community building in our neighbourhood. Each week, our house hosts 3 junior youth groups, a children’s class, a devotional, a Book 1, and efforts to knock on doors to invite more friends to join those things. So we do things 5 out of 7 days a week and are trying to figure out how to do more. In my free time after that, I draw Baha’i webcomics.
Can you tell us a little bit about your comics?
My comics are posted on Webtoon, which is like the YouTube for comic artists. Platforms like this are where many people our junior youths’ age and younger go now, both to read comics rather than in print, and also to post their original work. I started posting there after one of my junior youth showed it to me.
Some of the best webcomics are ones which are an actual conversation between writer and reader. The writer shows a spark for talking about something, they invite people to ask any questions about it, and then every chapter is a response to a question offered in the comments section. Writer and readers become co-authors.
My current webcomic is an experiment with doing something like that. It’s called “i’m a BAHA’I ask me a question.”
What inspires you?
I was inspired to draw comics by the work of Osamu Tezuka, the person originally responsible for creating manga and anime culture. He started publishing his manga in Japan after World War II, when Japanese people were looking for a new source of identity after the disintegration of all their old norms. Not only was the style of his medium new, combining illustrations with the visual effects of movies, such as panels with non-uniform shapes to have a sense of movement, zoom-outs to show the scale of a landscape, or quiet zoom-ins to emphasize a character’s expression to tell long-form stories; but they also talked about things that a formerly-censorship heavy Japan didn’t talk about, from the environment, to racism, to the nature of justice, to religion. And Japanese culture embraced it.
It shows that if you introduce something new and innovative at a time when people are yearning for a culture different than this one, then what you introduce will become the culture of the future. And in my perspective, what is more new, innovative, and worthy of being the culture of the future than the Baha’i Faith?
Could you please tell us a little bit about your thoughts on spirituality and creativity?
I think a lot of religious art isn’t very good. You can feel when something was made just to teach you or lecture you, but the maker didn’t actually care about making good art or love the medium they were using. They just used the medium to teach their message. I really appreciate it when a Baha’i-inspired song actually slaps, or when a Baha’i-inspired story is told so compellingly that I would probably still read it/watch it even if I wasn’t Baha’i. When the art feels like a prayer, because you can tell the maker lost themselves or fell in love while making it.
Spiritual art is like the spiritual conversations about community building we have while knocking on doors, which requires detachment. If you are attached to whether or not the person will fall in love with what you’re saying while you’re saying it, they will probably feel the weight of the pressure you put on yourself and recoil. If you speak simply because you are utterly in love with what you are talking about, that is when I think our listeners will become intoxicated with our joy and will also fall in love.
What words of encouragement might you offer other emerging creatives or cartoonists?
I often tell people something I call “Ron’s First Maxim of Drawing,” which is: There is no such thing as a bad drawing. In school, when you did something imperfectly and made mistakes, you got a bad grade on it, while you got a better grade the closer you did something to perfect. The process shames being messy and making mistakes, which is the heart of learning anything, and celebrates perfection, teaching us to do something as close to perfect as possible on our first try. And if we can’t, then we’re “not a math/science/art/fill-in-the-bank person.” I think if grades actually mirrored learning, they would celebrate you when you make more mistakes, because that means that you grew more than on the assignment where you did perfect because you were already good at it.
That’s the kind of attitude I’d encourage other artists to have in order to stay in love with making things. If you don’t like the way something you drew came out, especially when you don’t like the way it came out, give yourself an A+ on it. Because it’s tripping and being messy while creating something that shows that you grew in the process of making it.
Thank you, Ron, for taking the time to share this with us!
Find Ron’s comics on Webtoon.
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