General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 1 Mar 2021/6 Grass
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The graphic artist Daniel Parada at work

Zotz - a Mesoamerican comic

In 2019 we began a wonderful ongoing collaboration with highly talented artist Daniel Parada, who produced for us a set of splendid illustrated resources for teachers on Aztec and Maya clothing styles and hair styles (for adults and children). You can download the resources from our Resources section. His success is built on his first comic, Zotz, and meticulous research...

The first covers of Zotz comic by Daniel Parada
The first covers of Zotz comic by Daniel Parada (Click on image to enlarge)

My name is Daniel Parada. I was born and raised in San Francisco, (USA), but my family is originally from El Salvador. After graduating from School of the Arts High School in 2008, I studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I later returned to San Francisco and by the end of 2011 I published my first comic, Zotz.
Zotz is an alternate history comic set in the late sixteenth century Mesoamerica, in a world where the Spanish conquest fails and two new indigenous empires emerge and wage war on each other; a successor to the Aztec Triple Alliance on one side and a new K’iche Maya empire on the other. This alternative world also adds supernatural elements, a lot of which revolve around the bat figure Zotz - hence the title of the series.

‘Getting more familiar with aspects of Mesoamerican culture...’
‘Getting more familiar with aspects of Mesoamerican culture...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

For a while I had wanted to make a comic of my own. Growing up I was strongly influenced by manga, especially historical and fantasy series like Historie and Berserk. However during my research and getting more familiar with aspects of Mesoamerican culture (some of which I didn’t realize were things that were already part of the culture I practiced) I wanted to make different kind of comics, that drew more from American rather than only western and eastern influences I grew up with. During my early research looking at the Maya vases in fact, I found striking similarities to our modern-day comics with speech bubbles and text and sequential scenes.

‘Getting the details right...’
‘Getting the details right...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

To make this comic I had to do a lot of independent research. I used mostly books; at the time there were only a few sites I trusted for information online. Funny enough, one of the first resources I found was Mexicolore’s website! I always had an interest in history and for a time I even considered studying archaeology instead of illustration. Nevertheless, my knowledge on Mesoamerica was still very limited compared to what I knew about ancient Rome or Greece for instance. Although my comic was an alternative history and I knew I could take liberties, I wanted to have a strong foundation from which to build upon this new world I was making. This meant getting the details right before deciding to make any changes so it would feel like a logical progression according to the respective culture. What’s more, because comics are a visual medium it was just as important for them to look right.

‘At first [my figures] were not very accurate...’ - battle scenes
‘At first [my figures] were not very accurate...’ - battle scenes (Click on image to enlarge)

Before designing my characters, my research led me to what they wore and how they chose to style themselves. Due to the epic scope of the story I had characters from all regions of Mesoamerica, from the P’urepecha to the Mexica, K’iche, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Matlazincas etc. So I began documenting the clothing in the late postclassic period in Mesoamerica, looking through books and articles that covered this; ethnographic accounts, or questionnaires like the Relaciones Geograficas; letters, documents like the Florentine Codex; precolumbian codices, murals, vase paintings, figurines, lintels etc. At first these were not very accurate as I often chose to change their designs for the ‘alternative history’ aspect of the comic, but over time I began to prefer the precolumbian designs.

‘I began making more accurate fashion sets...’
‘I began making more accurate fashion sets...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

As I became more rigorous with my clothing reconstructions, over time I began making more accurate fashion sets to use as a personal reference. I started making these because I saw so many historical fashion drawings from Europe and Asia, but those from the Americas were either very vague, or were hardly ever given proper representation. I think people took a great liking to these when I shared some publicly. For some, it was curiosity; others observed them for reference material of their own, and many wanted to know more or to reconnect with their indigenous roots. Whatever the reason was, I realised the importance of this work and continued creating these as a side project over the years. One of the other reasons I enjoyed doing this is because I feel people can re-imagine more easily what the people actually looked like, and in a way it humanises them. My art in general attempts to bring the past to life for modern audiences to enjoy without sacrificing the accuracy. I think sometimes people can get caught up in negative stereotypes or in romanticizing the past (especially in Mesoamerica), and I attempt to cut through these things with my art.

‘This study is a reconstruction of Aztec clothing...’
‘This study is a reconstruction of Aztec clothing...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

This study in particular is a reconstruction of Aztec clothing and hairstyles. Clothing was made either with maguey, palm leaf fibre, or cotton, and was woven by women on backstrap looms. Textiles could be made by family, given/received as gifts or tribute, or purchased at the market. Some clothing was dyed or painted with rich colours, or came with the addition of various designs. Some clothing was decorated with feathers. According to Durán, strict sumptuary laws during Moctezuma II’s reign regulated who could wear clothing of certain fibres, and even dictated the length of some of their garments according to social class.

‘Hairstyles show the rank and social classes very clearly in Aztec culture’
‘Hairstyles show the rank and social classes very clearly in Aztec culture’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The hairstyles show the rank and social classes very clearly in Aztec culture. The men for instance are allowed to wear different hairstyles depending on the number of captives they have taken in battle. In this way everyone would know the valor they showed in battle. Others like the priests, had distinctive hairstyles. The standard hair for men seem to be hair above the shoulders with bangs. As children both boys and girls had similar hair around the age of 10. While the boys began growing tufts in the back of their hair, girls began growing it out. By the time they were married, they had the typical women’s hair which was bounded up. Other varieties existed depending on the social rank and among women in the palace according to Sahagun. Some hair colours may have varied a bit as well as hair dyes were sometimes used. For this hairstyles study I represent the grey colour here as a neutral tone representing their normal skin and unpainted features to better focus on the hair.

Village scene by Daniel Parada
Village scene by Daniel Parada (Click on image to enlarge)

Download PDFs of Daniel’s Aztec Clothing and Aztec Hairstyles charts (above) from our Resources section - links below...

See more of Daniel’s work by following the external links below...

Write to Daniel:

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Sep 13th 2019

‘Aztec Clothing Illustrated’, downloadable from our Resources section

‘Aztec Hairstyles Illustrated’, downloadable from our Resources section

See Daniel’s art online (tumblr)
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See Daniel’s art online (deviantart)
Buy Daniel’s comics here
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