Florencia Fabiana Pruzzo (AKA Fabiola) is the young “artist” (you’ll get the quotation marks if you read the interview) behind the online comic Tales of una Merlence, a project that started out as a way to document inside jokes among friends in high school, and eventually grew into a Facebook page with a following over 23,000 strong. A Merlence, in case you didn’t know, is a person from Merlo, a town 20 miles west of downtown Buenos Aires, and Fabi’s hometown.
One of her passions, after drawing (which may or may not actually be a passion), is explaining the concept of responsabilidad afectiva to the rest of the world. Emotional responsibility, I suppose, would be the translation in English, but I chose to leave it in its original Spanish in this interview. It’s not really a “thing” in English, at least not where I’m from. If you’ve ever heard the term, and wondered “what the heck is that?” you’re not alone. It’s a foreign concept to many. But fortunately, Fabi and her Tales (and her impressive ability to monologue) are here to clear things up for us.
So, you’re Tales of una Merlence. Where’d the name come from?
I always drew, like, my whole life. But it was never something that was a big deal for me, you know? In high school I would do a lot of drawings of my friends saying funny things, mostly just to get on their nerves. Anytime anything funny happened I would draw it, and it became a thing. I started making these agendas that we would write in every day. Everyone participated. It was like an diary, but that belonged to all of us with lots of inside jokes from high school. And I still have those agendas, we did them all through the last three years of high school. After finishing high school I would do it directly through Facebook because I couldn’t see those friends as much as before, and the people I had on Facebook started to like them. I was going to underground music shows, you know, all that, and I met a ton of people through that. So, I also had those people following me on Facebook…and they could see the drawings and they liked them. Everyone would tell that I had to make a fan page. And well, during that time I was a big fan of an animation that was called “Tales of Mere Existence.”
And I liked it so much that I thought about making a sort of homage to it, and tell stories about Merlo. I sent it to the person who made Tales of Mere Existence and he liked the page, he was one of the first people to like my page, he thought it was neat, that the idea was good. And at that time I wasn’t drawing deer, I was drawing my friends. But later I started drawing deer.
Yeah, that’s one of my ex-boyfriends’ fault. He told me once that when I get angry I look like a deer. Because it’s true. [Makes and angry face.] I’m like an angry little deer.
No! It’s true! [Laughs.] Oh my god.
What happened was I had a feminist phase, where I would get in fights over everything…and like, for example during that time I would never let anyone allow me to pass ahead of them when getting on the bus. You know? That’s like a way to show respect and good manners, “ladies first.” Anyway, what would always happen was I would start arguing with the dude because he would tell me, “go ahead,” and I would say, “no, you go ahead!” and he would say, “no, you go ahead!” So I would argue with him over why he was letting me pass ahead of him, to get him to question his super aggressive, according to me at the time, machismo. And I made a drawing of that, I drew myself as a deer, and with a bunch of caballos [horses], because they were the caballeros [knights; men who practice chivalry]. And the bus line at that time was called Ecotrans, and the Ecotrans is like very iconic on the West Side because it takes you from Buenos Aires city out to the West Side suburbs, directly. And we would all take it. Back then it was called Ecotrans, now it’s another company, but everyone would call it Ecotranza [a portmanteau of Ecotrans and tranza, a slang term for drug dealer].
So I made like, a drawing of the Ecotranza getting on the bus and saying “No, no, why would I go first? Please ma’am, go ahead.” And I started drawing deer.
What are the subjects that you try to show in the drawings?
Responsabilidad afectiva is one. Depression is another. Self love is another. Relationships, the ways we relate to each other, between friends or other relations. Those are the four main subjects.
What is responsabilidad afectiva?
Responsabilidad afectiva is being conscious, or taking responsibility, for the fact that everything you say or do within a relationship, whether you want to be in it or not, has an effect on the other person. And you have to take responsibility for that. For everything you cause, whatever it is you do, in a relationship.
And what is depression?
I think, it’s an illness. It’s like the not happy, not positive, not optimistic side of things, I guess, in general terms. But I’m not, like, a psychologist. [Laughs.] I’m not a scientist.
What is self love?
Self love would be…loving ones self for who they are and accepting everything that comes with that.
In terms of responsibilidad afectiva, how far do you take that? I mean, what “take responsibility” means exactly, is debatable, no? In your opinion, what does one have to do, how do they have to act, in order for it to be considered “taking responsibility?”
Okay, look…I think there’s like another paragraph I have to say. Or two, or three. One is, being conscious of the fact that you decide what happens to you. Nothing happens because you’ve got your head in the clouds, because if you’ve got your head in the clouds, that’s also your decision. I mean, if you’re just there, and you’re not conscientious or you don’t make decisions, that too is making a decision. Do you get it?
Right. [Sings Rush:] And if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!
[Laughs.] Right, you got it. And well, it’s like…the coolest, or like the most responsible, the healthiest thing, for all the people you are having a relationship with, is that at least, if you’re causing harm, that it be intentional, and not because you don’t know what you’re doing. Or because you didn’t make any decision. And everything that happens is a consequence of you not deciding. Because that’s your fault too, not having decided. I mean, with being responsible, first there’s the idea of making good decisions, and being aware that you are making decisions with everything you do. When you talk to someone, when you greet someone, when you talk about something. Because everything you say is going to affect the other person, there’s going to be some consequence. Always. Whether you like it or not.
And you have to be really careful with that, because this, responsabilidad afectiva, comes out of the idea that there are people who are full of anxiety, for whom everything is a trigger. And you have to think before you talk to someone, because, you don’t know them, you don’t know what’s happened to them. You don’t know what you can set off in the other person. Right? It’s the same thing if you get in an argument with someone and you yell at them. Well, that person could have a panic attack because they feel worked up over the fact that they’re being yelled at. We have to think about what we say, and what we’re about to say to someone, how it’s going to affect them. And also what we do, because a lot of the times we think, well, sometimes not saying something, or lying, is a lack of responsabilidad afectiva. But there are a lot of things that we don’t do, or that we do knowing that it’s going to hurt the other person.
Responsabilidad afectiva is a lot of things, it’s not just in romantic relationships. It’s in your relationships with your friends, because you know them, and you understand the situation. You know if what you’re doing isn’t cool. But you choose to do it anyway. That’s the limit of responsabilidad afectiva, the first one. The second limit, when you don’t know these things, when you don’t understand so much, and you’re not so aware of everything you do like I am, cause I’m a psychotic person who really does think about everything they do before doing it. But I understand that there are people who don’t. It’s like, I do think about everything I do, I think about it a lot. Because, well, there’s a consequence that comes after. But I know that not everyone in the world does that; there are people who are really impulsive.
But there’s always an opportunity to be responsable afectivamente, because you can ask things like “hey, is it cool if I do this or not?” And then, if you hurt someone, what you have to do is ask how to fix it. There’s a lot of people who say “ooh, um, sorry, forgive me,” but they never say “I won’t do it again.”
When I worked at a preschool, that was the process that we would teach to the kids. If they did something that hurt someone else, they would have to first ask “Are you okay?” and then ask, “What can I do?”
Yeah, but, in a lot of situations things don’t happen like that. In many situations it’s just, “Oh, darn, I’m a bad person…” and, “I don’t really know why these things happen to me.” And they start to make themselves into the victim, and then the other person ends up apologizing to them. “Oh, you poor thing!” And that’s not responsabilidad afectiva either because they never take responsibility for their actions. Because that’s what it boils down to. You have to take responsibility for what you do. And if you mess it up you have to fix it. Take responsibility. That’s responsabilidad afectiva in different situations.
I like that explanation.
Again, it’s not just in romantic relationships, everyone ought to be responsible for everything they do. That’s why sometimes people feel bad when they aren’t there for their friend or they know that they’re doing something that that friend won’t like, or something that could make them angry and they’re like “ahh, I don’t know if I should.” Anyway, that’s responsabilidad afectiva: thinking about how the other person will be affected. Because it matters to you. Their emotional stability matters to you.
You just dropped a lot of wisdom.
I try not to put so much information in the cartoons because sometimes I write a ton, but, what I want to say, is everything that I just said to you. In different situations. But sometimes I write a ton in the drawing and it doesn’t fit. And I don’t know where to put the dialogue, and I feel like a conversation doesn’t always fully explain things.
Yeah. So that’s why you should make a film, I guess.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s why I want to make animations.
You’re studying film, aren’t you?
Yeah but, I’m not studying film because I want to make films…it’s just like, a thing that I do, the whole university, going-to-school thing. I’ve gone to at least seven since I finished high school. And I dropped out of all of them.
I’ve taken quite a few courses, and I never understood school, I never knew what was my thing, you know? There’s people who have a vocation, who know that they want to be…a veterinarian…but not me. I never figured it out. So I took courses like, to be able to have money and get out of my house and stuff like that. But I would end up not being into them, and I wouldn’t finish. It wasn’t appealing to me, I couldn’t sit still, I would fall asleep, that kind of thing. I ended up realizing that what I wanted to do – after doing the drawings and getting validation from a lot of people…I realized that it was good, what I was doing. There was a time when I used to think that everyone could draw, that it was something common. Like, any old person. And at some point I realized that no, that, I was actually doing something that nobody else was doing, and I said, okay, I guess I ought to study that, or something related. Advertising and that kind of stuff never interested me…but then, I thought of animation. But…studying animation here was really expensive at that time.
Then…and this happened just a little while ago; they opened up an animation major at UNA. Free. I went right in and signed up, and that’s what I’m doing now. And while I was on the path to getting into ENERC to do animation, I saw that there were other classes. I always thought I ought to study philosophy, for example. Because I’m good at reflection, and it’s like, my discourse, it compliments the drawings. That’s what it is; reflection. it’s something I’m good at, at least. I can think. All day. About something. I can do that.
But honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know really if I do the drawings because I really want to. I do them because I like the getting the validation of my friends. Because I draw my friends, and if I didn’t have friends I wouldn’t draw. And it’s not something I do because it’s happened to me; I don’t live off art. I don’t live for art. And I don’t want people to say I’m an artist.
Because being an artist implies a whole bunch of things which I’m not involved in. Because being an artist is like…I don’t know, it can imply that you have to…stay out till five in the morning in order to…live an experience, that then inspires you. Have sex with people who, maybe you don’t know who they are…be in situations that, that demand you to be an artist because that’s what being an artist is, no? Living in that world. Doing artist things. The artist has a life, and has a self-esteem, and a social context. A necessity that demands that they be an artist, and at some point express themselves in some way. So, an artist, usually, is in all of those places where they can express themselves, where they’re free. And within that freedom, do things like have sex with people…do drugs…do all these things that, just aren’t my thing. My thing is sharing with my friends. If my friends are there, I’m there for that, but not because I’m into that idea of like, constant questioning, you know? And…growth, and all that stuff. I don’t want to be better at what I do. I do what connects me to other people. But I don’t want to be better at that, do you understand? There are people who tell me “why don’t you write correctly?” because I’m a terrible writer, I make a lot of spelling and grammar mistakes, you know?
I was going to ask you about that.
And people tell me, why don’t you make an effort to do something so that your work can be successful? Things have to be well done, this whole discourse based in meritocracy. “Success.” “Effort.” “Grow.” “Win.” “Be better.” …than who? Than myself? I have to be better? Than myself? I mean, you’re comparing me with someone, no? I mean all these things…you have to get training, get a degree…
I believe in that. Like, that idea of someone getting better to be better than…themselves. Like, not with the goal of satisfying society, but feeling more self-actualized, within one’s own self.
Yeah, okay. Well I have something to say about that. You know that like, in art, for example, in visual art, there isn’t anything “better.” It’s not like the first drawing that Picasso did, and the last one was better, because both express different things. You can’t improve something like that, because there is no “worse” drawing.
But yeah, in all of that about being better, I don’t feel comfortable, you know? Because the artist has to have these qualities, right? The ones I talked about. And I don’t feel like I fit the role of artist, because I don’t do those things. Nor do I live off my art. Or live for my art.
Why does an artist have to be that?
Well, because those are the things that define an artist, because they communicate something, they express themselves, they live off that, for that, they live through that. It’s what fills them with passion and drives them to stay alive and not kill themselves [laughs]. Because they are always tragic, the lives of artists. For me the only thing that drives me is my relationships, and that’s what makes me do certain things, like play music, like draw, like study. For example, one time I was asked a question that I thought was good. If you had to choose between being successful for your drawings, and having stable relationships your whole life, what would you choose.
I mean, come on. Duh!
I’m not ever drawing again! Because I want that! If I could have stable relationships for my whole life, and everything would be okay, I would never draw again! I don’t live off my art, nor for art in general. I remember another question that someone asked me that I thought was interesting. They said, “How did your commitment to art come about?” And I was like nah, I don’t have any commitment to art. I have a commitment to reflecting on conversations that I have with my friends, which is the most valuable thing I possess.