Illustrator Pedro Gomes depicts awkwardness and mundanity though deadpan humour
The Lisbon-raised, London-based artist takes us through his self-published graphic novel Day Off, a strange and funny tale of a rich man on an adventure outside his lavish daily life.
- Jenny Brewer
- 25 March 2021
There’s something about Pedro Gomes’ characters that are just funny; the large, round faces with tiny line-drawn features squashed into the centre, and vacant, beady eyes. Add to that his wry observations on mundane, awkward daily life, and the illustrator makes a great comic book artist. Having only recently graduated his master’s in illustration, Pedro has self-published Day Off, a graphic novel about a wealthy man who grows intrigued by life outside his luxurious bubble. Kind of like Ferris Bueller for city CEOs. What ensues is unexpected, and packed with comedic vignettes that talks about the rich/poor divide in our major cities in a tongue-in-cheek way. Such as when the protagonist realises he’s never seen his chauffeur standing up, or when he steps off the subway into an unknown part of town and comments: “All the buildings are tiny and I can actually see the sky”.
“It deals with the insulation of the very rich in big cities and their paradoxical relationship with these places,” explains Pedro, “living in the heart of vibrant metropolitan areas yet shielded from everything that makes these exciting places to live in.” Along the way, the main character goes from acutely familiar uncomfortable encounters on the subway to a psychedelic trip, allowing the illustrator to explore new facets of his practice as well as subjects with which he’s long been fascinated. Diverging from his usual process, Pedro wrote the story before storyboarding, forcing himself to adapt his illustrations to a fixed narrative and at times “depict elements I tend to avoid”. He says it also helped him to “fight the hurdle of perfectionism, which led to a more unrestrained creative practice,” – a self-imposed challenge that has paid dividends.
Pedro grew up in Lisbon and found his path to illustration “pretty straightforward”; he was encouraged to pursue his passion for drawing from a young age. He studied design at degree level, and went on to work for a few Portuguese design and advertising agencies while developing his illustration portfolio on the side. In 2016, he moved to New York and “felt immediately at home,” he says. His interest in books and their production process led him to an “enriching” internship at Printed Matter, “an exciting period marked by the discovery of the work of many artists and independent publishing houses”. Off the back of that, in 2018 Pedro collaborated with friend Harry Quinlan on a Risograph zine titled The Movie Pass App Is Not Working, the illustrator’s first dabble in self-publishing.
Then, in 2019, he moved to London to do his master’s. Although graduating in the middle of the pandemic, he says he still learned a lot from “peer feedback, research and experimentation” on the course. Just before graduation, he became a fellow and editorial illustrator at Guernica Magazine, an online publication dedicated to global arts and politics. This has also been an education in “the exercise of condensing the essence of a story into an image that captures reader’s attention in an unexpected way,” he says, which confirms his interest in pursuing more editorial work.
With his illustrations, Pedro says he aims to “celebrate the mundane and explore the humdrum of everyday life,” with a particular focus on how people behave around each other, and how we handle setbacks, conflict and uncomfortable situations. “A core message I aim to convey when depicting these slice-of-life scenes is that there is always a chance of breaking free and landing on your feet.” He looks to legends such as Robert Crumb’s underground comics for inspiration in his drawing practice, as well as Raymond Pettibon’s scenes of urban violence – “Having lived and worked in big cities all my life, I am interested in the soul-crushing aspects of living in crowded and fast-paced places.” He also references Saul Steinberg’s “economical use of the black line” and the graphic work of Push Pin Studios.
As for his characters, they are often born in his sketchbook where ideas float around topics until one sparks enough interest to develop it further. “I am always looking for happy accidents,” he says, such as a recent charcoal sketch about the quiet desperation of life under lockdown, which left a smudge on the adjoining page and produced an effect he’s tried to replicate in a four-panel comic series.
At the core of his work, though, is the people. And that comes through in his nuanced, funny and sometimes dark characters. “I am endlessly stimulated by life in a big city and find great inspiration in interactions with other people,” Pedro sums up. Living in Lisbon, New York and London, “was very stimulating and made me pay closer attention to what was happening around me. These experiences translated into compositions where people are always at the forefront, because that is my favourite subject, and in depictions of moments heavy with melancholy. I counterbalance this by magnifying the expressions of my characters to a grotesque degree and looking at them and their struggles through a humorous lens.”