An Interview with Clara Mejías and Duna Haller

[Click here to read the Spanish version of this interview]

Duna Haller and Clara Mejías are a duo of amazing Spanish-speaking artists who collaborated to create a touching and striking experience for trans children in the short story, ‘Night Light’ for the upcoming anthology, 99% Chance of Magic. Today, they shared their experience on the project, what it means to them, and their hopes for the current generation of trans children.

CLARA: So… Being a young trans girl often meant not having any literature that allowed me to see myself in the kinds of situations other girls dreamt of. The positive literature I was able to find back then, when I most needed it, was universally about trans children gaining their parents’ support, going to supportive doctors, and living as a girl in a way that—even if it gave me hope—was both not realistic and extremely rare in real life. Even more if you, like me, lived in a developing nation where the resources and the level of acceptance was even lower than elsewhere.

Trans kids need to be told that they’re right about themselves, that they should dare to dream about more than just having permission to be their true gender. That even if it’s hard, they are whole people who deserve agency, respect, and will continue to exist regardless of societal approval.

DUNA: Telling our own stories lets us give encouragement to trans kids in a way that is not as dependent on cisgender society and their views about us, and to think about our child ‘selves’ when writing or illustrating. For example, once I saw ‘Night Light’ finished, it felt like a healing spell I needed when I was a child.

One of the great things about working with Clara on this project was talking a lot about how are the characters inside and what we wanted to present there. We both had in mind a story that places the liberation of the main characters and their struggle as a thing they own. I also had a lot of doubts of how to create ‘the Educators’ because they basically represent how society abuses trans girls, and that was a really hard thing to manage without being too explicit or triggering. I think that determined how I touched upon the themes in a very dreamy way, as if the true message of ‘Night Light’ can only arrive to you if you know the experience.

That’s why when Clara showed me the illustrations of the Educators, I was amazed. They were the only characters we didn’t talked about, and they looked just like I thought. The same thing happened with the Chrysalis landscapes, the Firelight, and a lot of symbolic stuff about the world I lived in—isolated—as a girl looked and how I learned to cope with that. Clara, how did you feel drawing those landscapes, and especially the figure of the Educators? Like, I’m amazed at how much the drawings make my tale live, and I think that’s cause there was an idea we both shared there from our hearts.

CLARA: I think the fact that you are a visual artist as well, in addition to being a writer, really influenced the way I tackled these illustrations. Your art is very raw, very intent on representing feelings with shape in a way that I believe just complimented my own sensibilities very well.

The environment was mostly entirely up to me to imagine. I pictured it as a place where not all things are fully formed, where things rarely represent their full shape. A place that looks equally dead and alive. I hope I’m making sense? At the same time, I wanted the main characters to be very defined, very real. Fully formed. It’s their environment that’s confusing, not them.

The Educators were the last thing I came up with. I have a background in horror illustration and, were this book not intended for children, it would have been a lot easier to come up with something that represented oppression and hypocrisy and fear of authority. I think I enjoyed coming up with different designs, all wildly different from each other. In the end what ended up as my choice was something both classic and new, uncomfortable and imposing but at the same time, something that can be defeated. I think I’m pretty proud of that.

DUNA: I love that phrase. “It’s their environment that’s confusing, not them.” Like it hits me, a lot. I already had in mind who the characters were because they are based on my alters—as this tale is basically about dissociative identity disorder (DID) being a coping mechanism for surviving abuse as a trans girl. So I had a lot to talk with you about how to visually represent them (although you surprised me a lot, in the greatest sense, like with Asher and her sand explorer characteristics. I loved that!)

But the landscapes, the foes, the many things they lived? When I wrote ‘Night Light,’ the hardest part was representing those difficulties and how they defeated them. With your art, the environment was more palpably confusing, more dreamy, and easier to read than a 100% “true story.” They’re not just illustrations to a story; all of that environment you created is part of the tale in a very deep way, and I’m forever thankful to have worked with you in this.

And to be honest, I can’t wait for the book to be out there. For “Night Light” to exist and be accessible to children is something that fills me with joy. Clara, how do you feel about our plans to put the book in as many places as possible? I feel like that’s also a huge part of why we’re both part of Heartspark Press; not only should books like this exist, but they should also be *really* available. What do you think about that?

CLARA: I think more work can always be done to get a book like this to trans kids. I really don’t think that it’s enough for 99% Chance of Magic to stop at being available in North America and select European countries. Trans kids are everywhere. Even though we’re not big enough to distribute and make accessible at the pace and extent that trans kids worldwide deserve, I am proud of the team for making the effort.

Not every kid is like me. Not every Venezuelan kid understood English before even hitting middle school. And even when I did, what I could access was not the same that a kid in an English speaking country or a developed country could access.

DUNA: Yeah, we need to get books for trans kids by trans artists to libraries, to schools, and place that are not counting on parents or tutors of trans children to support them. Making these little aids of support available to trans children on their own is a goal we hope to make happen soon. Both making it in other languages, and making it arrive to places that don’t depend on a supportive or rich environment.

Anyway, I also wanted to say I admire a lot your art and approach to it, both politically and of style, and I hope we get to collaborate more!!!. Also, like I love following your instagram (for everyone, @deny_sentience) and getting to watch your incredible work of art on itself.

CLARA: I hope we get to collaborate more in the future as well! It was a wonderful experience and I was so happy with how much I was able to add to the story. You’re an amazing creative partner, artist, and activist, and I couldn’t close this without plugging your art pages too! You can follow Duna’s art at @dunahaller on Instagram and you can find her music at dunahaller.bandcamp.com.

Clara Mejías is an artist and writer with the unique perspective that only a lifetime of experience with Black transgender womanhood in the Global South could bring. She currently resides in Venezuela and is a fan of history, paleontology and pop culture.

Duna Haller is a collagist, fanzine artist, writer and musician from Galiza, Spain. To her, art is a coping mecanism for mental illness and part of the trauma recovering (and sharing) process. She always tries to make her art and activism accesible via the Internet by creating fanzines, organizing events, being open to feedback, collaborating with other artists, and sharing her creative ideas. 

To learn more about 99% Chance of Magic, the world’s first anthology for transgender kids, click here.