In her illustrations, Jenifer Prince recreates vintage pulp comics as sapphic love stories
São Paulo-based illustrator Jenifer Prince on the longing for queer nostalgia, and reimagining lesbian love stories in a historical genre that shuns it.
- Joey Levenson
- 23 June 2021
“I started to illustrate to express myself, my own feelings and desires,” Jenifer Prince tells It’s Nice That on growing up as a queer adolescent in Brazil. Jenifer’s portfolio is now an impressive pastiche of old pulp comics from the 1940s and 50s, taking its distinct style and morphing it into lesbian love stories of her own imagination. From this, we see funny, apt, and endearing portrayals of queer women in a style that historically occluded their desires and expression. “I’ve been naturally drawn to comics because I’m a very nostalgic person, and the vintage aesthetic always caught my attention,” she says. It’s a style that is now Jenifer’s signature – the “mid-century comic book,” as she calls it. “I always make their lips black as a detail that connects every piece to the same world,” she explains. “I always choose one colour to set the mood, and then a limited palette which then matches that mood.”
Jenifer has always been intrigued by portraying lesbian stories in this style, especially when she discovered the effects of storytelling in comic books. The form goes beyond simply having fun, and resonates with her in a more decisively profound way. “I always wished to see lesbian stories and art when I was growing up, and the lack of that was what ultimately motivated me to illustrate my own,” she explains. “So, I always recall that old desire as a source of inspiration.” Jenifer’s commitment to portraying queer women in her art is admirable, as she reworks the vintage pulp and pin-up characters almost always seen in the light of heterosexuality and oppressive misogyny. “Sometimes the idea comes from a photo set in the 1950s that I look at and think ‘what would it be like if a couple of women were living this?’ and suddenly I’m already invested in their story,” says Jenifer. Looking to pulp fiction covers and old comic books, Jenifer relishes in the process of transforming them. “My inspiration comes from anywhere that has a possibility of a story to be told.”
As someone with a commitment to storytelling, Jenifer finds collaborating with clients an easy and enjoyable process. “I’ve done a few single covers and book posters and it’s absolutely incredible to work on other people’s ideas,” she tells us. When asked about what makes her work so popular, Jenifer is quick to highlight the effect of queer nostalgia. “I believe it has a lot to do with filling a historical gap that exists about us and our lives,” she says. “When we think back to that time and what life was like for queer people, our first association is with the difficulties these people must have faced, and there are few stories from that time that we see with happy outcomes.”
In response, Jenifer has created her illustrations as a vehicle towards reclaiming joy and positivity. A queer jouissance runs through her characters, which Jenifer feels “brings a sense of comfort and belonging.” Now, Jenifer is working on an upcoming short comic and another poster project, telling us she continues to experiment with the ever-giving format of illustration.
Jenifer Prince: Meanwhile (Copyright © Jenifer Prince, 2021)