03 Sep Stories of Starting Episode 7: Tania Mignacca, Illustrator, Ponto Comic Artist
Today I speak with Tania Mignacca, illustrator, graphic designer and comic book artist. Tania is the creator of Ponto, the iconic orange construction cone that lives in Montréal. Tania’s weekly webcomic follows Ponto’s urban adventures in our beautiful city that always seems to be undergoing eternal construction!
Watch the interview on YouTube:
Heather: Today we’re here with my friend Tania Mignacca. She has a special guest with us. This is Ponto. Tania can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Tania: My name is Tania and I’m a Montreal comic artist. Actually Ponto is the main character of my webcomic. It’s the story of a little traffic cone who comes to work in Montreal.
Heather: I wanted to have Tania on the show now because she has a special thing happening in a week which is her book launch. Tania could you tell us a little bit about your book and the launch.
Tania: Yes, it’s been a long time that people were asking me, oh you should make a book, so it’s finally here. This is Ponto’s first book. It has about half of the webcomics, 150 pages and an extra bonus story of 20 pages. Next week we’re going do the book launch at MR-63 project in Griffintown. It’s going be on Monday the 9th.
Heather: That’s amazing. It’s a really cool venue. I remember we had talked about where you were going to hold the the launch and you decided to have it there. Is it actually in a Montreal metro car?
Tania: Yes, they actually have two Montreal Metro cars. One of them is a bar slash Café Metro. The other one is another metro car where they host a lot of events like concerts, workshops and a lot of artistic and cultural events.
Heather: That is so cool it’s interesting because we were in Ottawa a little while ago. We saw sculpture where the artist had done this installation of Metro doors. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it but you could actually walk through a series of a dozen of these Metro doors. It was sensitive to movement. As you would walk a step forward the Metro car door would open and close. It was really cool. So they’re doing a lot of interesting things with the old Metro. And of course the Montreal Metro has a special place in your heart because Ponto is all about urban adventures in Montreal.
Tania: Yes, he also takes the Metro.
Heather: I think I have a few pictures, selfies in different places with you in Ponto which is super cool. I’m just going to backtrack a little bit to tell people about how we met. Originally we met at a Creator HQ event a little while back. I actually don’t even remember which event.
Tania, Yes, me too.
Heather: Yes, it’s been a while and we’ve seen each other in a lot of events. I just thought it was fascinating what you were doing and how you created this this character and just went full-on in with it. The whole branding of it, everything about it is so interesting and fun.
Tania: Thank you.
Heather: I just love it. I remember at one point I made you some little earrings with the little Pontos.
Tania: They are so cute.
Heather: With the little orange and white beads.
Tania: And the little faces.
Heather: Yes, that was tricky because I wanted to do the little faces but it was really hard to capture the expression, Ponto’s beautiful expression. I ended up photographing it, shrinking it down and photo transferring it on to the tiny little beads. It was this teeny little face.
Tania: It was so cute, thank you.
Heather: My pleasure and I’m so excited to see the book. You must feel so good about having this project finished.
Tania: Yes finally. It took a bit more time than expected because I did a crowdfunding campaign in October. At the same time I want to thank everyone who supported the project. It was a lot more than I expected so I’m super happy and everyone is so excited to get the book finally. But yes, like a lot of things in life it took a bit more time than expected. Some things were a bit more complicated or didn’t work. But in the end now I have the book so it all worked out. I’m so happy.
Heather: That’s amazing. That is such a great idea with the crowdfunding. It was a big success and it really gets people on board. I remember I was really happy to be a part of it. It’s like you’re a part of this communal project which is interesting.
Tania: Yes, because I think it’s hard as an artist sometimes. Especially for a book the printing cost is quite expensive. It’s hard to do it by yourself. You need the help from your fans and your readers to be able to do it. Most people when they love your work they’re going to want to support it. I think crowdfunding is a really amazing thing.
Heather: That’s fantastic. And have you actually done collaborations with the city of Montreal?
Tania: Yes, I actually did a few. One I did a few years ago was with the South West borough. They were renovating a part of Notre Dame Street. We did a campaign called “La Dame se refait une Beauté”. I created like a character based on the street which was a little cute old lady Oh getting a makeover. Then you had stories with Ponto explaining what was going on during the construction. People really loved it. They still talk to me about it today. It was really nice to work with the city. At first I was expecting they were going to be stricter with certain things. But no, they had really great ideas and they gave me a lot of freedom. It was a fun experience.
Heather: That’s amazing. Collaborations are so great. The whole idea of bringing humour to the whole Montreal construction situation. All you hear is people complaining but when we introduce a character like this and bring a sense of humour it’s just a wonderful thing. I noticed on your fan page that people actually take photos of themselves all around the world with Ponto. Tell us a little bit about that.
Tania: This is something a bit unexpected. When I started doing Ponto I made social media accounts for my character. I was mostly posting drawings and generic orange cone stuff about Montreal. One time my friend made a plushie like this for me to use as a display. People were like ‘oh, I want to have a plushie too’ so I started making them. People who were buying them, it was to travel with the plushie. So they would bring Ponto on their vacation and then send me photos of Ponto around the world making friends. It’s just so magical. (See fan photos in the Facebook Ponto Fanclub group)
Heather: I love that that. It’s so wonderful. There’s a real thing on Instagram where people take plushies or Lego toys or my daughter does dolls. The idea of bringing this inanimate object into a different environment. It really brings the character to life. It is so cool. I love how you bring a Ponto everywhere and get shots.
Tania: Yes, now I have no choice. He comes everywhere.
Heather: Exactly. That’s fantastic. Can you tell us a little bit about the your origin story. How in the world did this begin?
Tania: I’ll try to make short because it’s long story. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I was always really interested in the Japanese culture and anime and manga. This is one of my biggest influences. Also I was born in Montreal and I went to school in Montreal. To me Montreal was just a big city. It wasn’t interesting. it was downtown, Chinatown and where my school was. I didn’t see the beauty of Montreal. But when I moved back, I moved to St. Henri during university, I felt the neighbourhood was so nice with the old industrial buildings. I was like wow, Montreal is so amazing. At the same time at Concordia I was taking I took a class Montreal Urbanism and Architecture. Every class we would go and explore a neighbourhood in Montreal. So I was like oh my god I love Montreal now. I learned so much about it. So I started incorporating that in my illustration work. As time went by I worked as a graphic designer and then I decided I wanted to do freelance illustration. I quit my job and then started doing little exhibitions. I remember I had like mostly big paintings and big pieces to sell so I wanted to make something that was very small so that people could support me. I made these little buttons and I drew a cute character. I was like, what character could represent Montreal? I did a really cute traffic cone. Actually I made the sketch a long time ago.
Heather: How cool!
Tania: I reused it and instantly people were just like, ‘it’s so cute, it’s so Montreal’. Since I always wanted to do comics I was like, oh I should build a story around the character. Then slowly I started building the Ponto story. I started posting it online and gradually people became more interested. Now he’s like Montreal’s unofficial mascot.
Heather: That’s incredible. I didn’t actually know that story. I think that’s so amazing. It’s interesting because when I first came to Montreal the first thing I did when I arrived here was I got a permit to sell jewelry on the street, but it wasn’t even jewelry. I was actually selling badges (buttons), but not with that type of illustration. It was just like very abstract painted badges. I find it so interesting how the people I meet have parallels and things in common. Certainly I have a huge heart for Montreal. When I moved here I never looked back.
Heather: At one point did you tell me you actually lived in Japan?
Tania: No, I travelled there a few times.
Heather: Because you really like anime.
Tania: Yes, I like everything about the culture. It’s always been since I was really little I was like, I have to go to Japan one day. I came up with my own style with time, but Ponto is inspired by something in Japan. They have a lot of mascots which are called Yuru-chara. Each city has their own cute little mascot for the city. Every year they have this competition where all the mascots compete together and the favourite one wins. It’s good for the tourism for the region. People are attached to their home region. To me it was like, okay what if Montreal had a cute little mascot. That’s why he has the little kawaii face.
Heather: Yes, it’s really a unique expression. It’s so cute and you can definitely feel that kind of anime vibe in the character. I just love it. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about current projects or what do you see for the future. You’ve done your book now.
Tania: Yes, the weekly webcomic still continues. There’s the book lunch next Monday. I’m going to have a few events as well. I’m going be at Papier Marché next weekend. I think it’s a new event. It’s an event for small press and also everyone who does printed stuff. I’m also going to be at Mini Comiccon. The events keep going and I’m planning to develop new merchandise for Ponto like new products.
Heather: I’m sure there’s a lot of people who want a little mini Ponto. This size is nice, but also a mini mini one.
Tania: Yes. I have to think of a way to make them not too expensive, that was the issue.
Heather: Exactly, that’s the thing. So for now where can we find you online?
Heather: Awesome. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much Tania for coming on the podcast. We’ll look forward to more Ponto adventures in Montreal and beyond.
Outro: Thanks so much for tuning in to Stories of Starting until next time always remember your story matters.