“I don’t use the word ‘illustration to refer to what I do”, says João Sobral, “although I don’t really mind when other people do it. I think the meaning of the word is very broad nowadays and different people use it to mean different things which is fine. But, if I’m asked to label my practice, I’d say I’m a cartoonist and visual artist because I mainly make comics and drawings for personal work.”
Having studied Communication Design in Porto, the Glasgow-based practitioner originally hated drawing classes where the expected output was old-fashioned realism. These classes were “an absolute nightmare” to João as the drawing he experienced were not creative or stimulating, more “something with very specific rules that [he] was constantly doing wrong”, he tells It’s Nice That. However, with the guidance of an enthusiastic illustration tutor Rui Vitorino Santos, João was introduced to “totally different drawing practices” that opened his mind to “new and fascinating worlds” beyond the realm of realism.
The cartoonist started doodling in sketchbooks that were meant for ‘real’ drawings but João “didn’t dare to call those doodles ‘drawings’”. Eventually, however, he embraced his own style and took pleasure in the unique way the drawings were created. Resultantly, João learning to draw in his own way and developed a practice that evolved from an idea of drawing that to some people is the “wrong” way.
“I’m interested in the accidental nature of drawing — the things that happen when the hand is not trained," says João. Like the subtle expression seen through a wobbly line rather than something that is ruler-straight, João is more interested in a practice that evolves as a result of limitation. The medium of comics consequently suits the cartoonist as it contrasts the “clumsy and awkward” way of drawing with a rigid layout.
João depicts his characters as “fragile beings”. He says, “I think I have a soft spot for people who are seen as losers or weirdos because they’ve been mistreated by the system.” His characters are “people who are kind and just want to love and be love but have a hard time navigating the world they’re stuck in.” Such characters continually crop up in João’s work, firstly through the natural setting of comics which have now become “an obsession”. Through the art of comics, João can further explore the deeper narrative behind the characters. Drawing and writing come together to enhance the overall tone of the story and what the subjects are going through. By producing comics, João can delve into his writing “without worrying too much about whether it is fiction or a poem, or just describing a point of view”. In turn, this provides the viewer with emotive and often humorous storylines that are concisely delivered as well as visually stimulating.