Yayo Makes Us Smile

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Yayo, also known as Diego Herrera, is a Colombian-born cartoonist and humor illustrator, residing in Montreal. His work is published in magazines, newspapers, and children’s books in Canada and the U.S. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of “Le Monde de Yayo,” Yayo’s cartoon spot that appears on the last page of every issue of L’actualité. On this occasion, Yayo will be having a solo exhibition at the Maison de la culture Plateau Mont-Royal, in Montreal, from October 4 to November 2, 2008. Yayo’s latest book, Homoro Sapiens, will be launched during the vernissage, on October 9 at 5:00 p.m.

I met Yayo on a crisp September evening in his home, where every square inch of wall space is covered with artwork. We sat at the dining room table, with a pot of organic goji berry green tea steaming between us.

Talleen Hacikyan: What is a cartoon?

Yayo: An image that makes us laugh or smile and that is also beautiful. There are many kinds of cartoons but the ones I prefer are the ones that make you smile and that also have some kind of beauty and power of evocation. Those are the ones I like to do. The borders between cartooning, humor illustration, and fine art are becoming more fluid.

TH: When did you realize that you wanted to become a professional cartoonist?

Y: When I was 15 or 16, toward the end of high school, I wanted to do editorial cartoons for the newspapers in Bogota, and to be published.

TH: Why?

Y: It was a way to communicate, to exist in some way, to affirm myself in a pleasant way. When I finished studying commercial art and advertising I had the confidence that I’d be able to make my living by becoming a cartoonist or humor illustrator. It felt natural. I didn’t know how but I knew I’d find a way to accomplish that goal.

TH: As a young child what were your interests?

Y: I was very drawn to images, anything with funny lines, illustration, advertising. I also liked comics: Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, cowboy comics. I was passionate about this and I liked to draw. I dreamed of having hundreds of comics to read. I only had a few because they were expensive. I had to rent them. In Bogota there weren’t libraries where you could borrow comics. There were stores where you had to pay to read comics. There was a wall with rows of clotheslines from which the comic magazines were hanging and there were long benches where kids were sitting and reading quietly, like in a church or synagogue. They also sold candy, gum and turrones. You could also exchange comics but you still had to pay a small fee. The owner had piles of comics, organized according to their condition. He or she always chose a slightly older one than the one you wanted to trade in, so after a few exchanges you ended up with a pretty ragged comic. They also had pinball machines so some of these places were considered rough and many parents didn’t like these establishments.

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When I was eight years old I broke my ankle and we went to the hospital to get a cast. I was hoping I’d get to spend a night in the hospital and that my mother would buy me tons of comics, but as it turned out I was released the same day and on top of it all we had to take the bus home.

As a child, drawing was my other passion. I drew buses and planes. We didn’t have a TV until I was 13 so my father would take me to the airport to watch the planes from the observation deck outdoors. We’d look at the company names and try to guess where the planes were headed. I guess I spent most of my time dreaming and drawing. I didn’t take a plane until I was 21 and my father was 65 when he first flew! I still like to watch planes but too bad that these days if you watch planes for too long you become a security suspect.

TH: How did you train to become a cartoonist?

Y: From a very young age I was attracted to humorous illustrations and comics. That was a type of training. In high school I drew posters for the school. This was good practice. I went on to study commercial art at college, at night. During the day I went to university to study advertising and marketing. I thought that advertising was a good place to do creative and humoristic drawings. Then I went to university to study fine arts, where I did a semester. That summer I participated in a national editorial cartoon contest, which I won. Then I started working for a newspaper and a magazine. From then on I studied on my own. Cartooning is like writing; you can study techniques but for the content you have to practice yourself by studying models, by doing research.

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TH: What kind of research did you do?

Y: At the end of that summer I saved enough money by working to take a trip around Latin America. I visited some of the great cartoonists that I admired. They weren’t necessarily editorial or political cartoonists so they opened my eyes to other types of cartoons.

TH: Who did you visit?

Y: I visited cartoonists mainly in Mexico and Argentina. It was a very important trip in terms of my art but also because I bought many books. It was also formative on a personal level. I went through most of South America, Mexico and visited New York. Everyday I feel that I am learning and studying. I am extremely allergic to the idea that we have nothing to learn. The more time passes, the greater my pleasure in learning and discovering on all levels, not just art.

TH: You have had a cartoon spot in L’actualité magazine for twenty years. What does this space mean to you?

Y: It is a space I appreciate very much because it is the only one for this kind of humor in a Canadian magazine with such a large distribution. In this space I can explore absurdity, and there is place for my imagination. I try to do something that respects the intelligence of the readers, by raising the bar a bit.

TH: Have you had any unusual reactions to your cartoons?

Y: More than unusual, some people absolutely want to get the message or understand the joke. The message is whatever the reader gets from the image. I don’t think that humor is only laughing. Humor is a way to perceive the world. Laughing is not the only way to experience humor; you can also smile, or have a sensation.

TH: How do people react when they first meet Yayo, the artist behind the cartoons?

Y: When I was in my twenties, when people first met me they’d say, “Oh, I thought you were older!” They thought I would be an old man doing editorial cartoons. I was flattered. Now days when people meet me they say, “Oh, I thought you were younger!” This also flatters me.

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TH: You also write. How do you experience writing in comparison with cartooning?

Y: To draw a single drawing or an illustration is like writing a poem or a verse. When you write a children’s picture book or a comic, it’s another way to narrate. It’s like going on a long trip. I used to draw thoughts and feelings, now I’m also writing them. You have to use other tools to express feelings and thoughts in words. The sources of inspiration and the use of creativity remain the same. The more I write the more I respect writers’ work.

TH: How do you balance both creative activities?

Y: When I write, very often I draw. I like images so much that I have to draw. I write my first drafts by hand. I also draw between paragraphs. When I am writing I write images. There is no conflict.

TH: If you could do something else for a year besides drawing and writing what would you do?

Y: Be a nomad.

TH: You have a young son. How do you think he experiences the fact that his father is a well-known cartoonist and illustrator?

Y: I guess that for him it’s something natural. This is what he knows. A couple of times I went to his school to give a presentation of my work and then he realized that there is something a bit different between my profession and that of other parents. I feel he has some pride in what I do.

TH: What are your future projects?

Y: I’m going to do more cartoons, and children’s books, and comics. I’m going to express them in other mediums. I never want to retire. I’m happy to discover more and more interesting things in life and work. I’m not tired. I don’t detest my work. On the contrary I enjoy it more and more.

TH: Do you have anything else to add?

Y: You never asked me the definition of humor.

TH: What is the definition of humor?

Y: Humor is a mixture of many things and also for me it is a bit of a mystery, as many other things, such as death. Like life, humor is full of contradictions and paradoxes. It’s not a way to avoid reality. It’s a way to confront it.

Interview conducted on September 19, 2008 by Talleen Hacikyan

Illustrations by Yayo

L’actualité‘s slide show of Yayo’s work

Yayo’s exhibition
October 4 – November 2, 2008
Vernissage: Thursday October 9, 5:00 p.m.

Maison de la culture du Plateau Mont-Royal
465 avenue du Mont-Royal Est
Montréal
(514) 872-2266
Metro Mont Royal (just across)

5 Réponses à “Yayo Makes Us Smile”


  • ehi! 20 years ago yayo was walkingin my town, Udine, Italy.
    do you remember me, yayo? ;-)

  • Felicitaciones, tus ilustraciones siempre son geniales.

  • Hola querido Yayo!! te escribo dede Colombia tu pais, me alegro de tus exitos dentro del mundo del humor grafico. Que bueno volver a saber de ti y quiero comentarte que yo sigo en el mundo de las historias y el humor grafico. Quiero que me envies tu e-mail para enviarte muestras de mi actual trabajo. Voy a estar en Vancouver desde el 8 de diciembre duro 4dias y quisiera saludarte por telefono mandame tu numero. Saludos a Talleen y Maria Fernanda les manda un gran abrazo cariñoso. Los recuerdo siempre. JORGE PEÑA

  • Hola Diego, en mi estudio en Bogotá, están las divertidas caricaturas de inicios de los 80´s. Mándame tu correo. Un abrazo a la familia. Juan

  • Hola Yayo que alegria saber de su trabajo como siempre muy interesante. Me siento muy orgullosa de conocerlo. Lo conoci en Medellin cuando trabajaba con Juventud Canada Mundo. Ahora vivo en Toronto.
    Saludes

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