The 2023 NCYC theme is Fully Alive. NFCYM staff member Natalie Ibarra sat down with Fr. Manu and asked him about his process, thoughts, and hopes he has around the artwork he created for NCYC general sessions.
In this interview, you will get to see small unfinished elements of the artwork. The artwork will be fully revealed and come to life at 2023 NCYC.
Getting to know Fr. Manu
My name is Father Manu. My full name is Emmanuel Franco Gomez. I am originally from Jalisco, Mexico, and I am a Carmelite priest. The Carmelites brought me to the States, and I now serve as the Director of Youth Ministry of the Diocese of Tucson. I also work part-time at one of our parishes, and I teach theology at a Catholic University as one of the instructional guides, yeah!
What were your initial thoughts when being approached with the 2023 NCYC image design?
I like to do illustrations, I like to do art, but when somebody asks me, or there is a commission, I get a little bit anxious because you never know what you’re gonna come up with or what the expectations of the ones asking you are.
So I was anxious at the beginning, I was excited, but I was nervous.
So I had to tell myself that if they ask me it’s because there is something I already do that may work for them. But it’s very exciting too, the whole idea of having these illustrations up in screens is really exciting. You know, animation is something that when you do illustrations, animation is like a dream that you always have on the side. You know, you like to see your work moving around on the screen.
What does the theme, “Fully Alive” mean to you?
I think as a Catholic priest, for me, the obvious answer is a life in Christ.
A life that is just meaningful, it’s just powerful, and impactful. And I think that the more we can imitate Christ as individuals and as a community, life becomes really meaningful. I think it is about becoming active in the project of the Kingdom of God. I think that’s just life-giving, like nothing else.
What was your favorite asset/element to create?
I think making connections from one illustration to another, thinking that in creating shapes and colors that can carry a meaning from one to another, I think that’s the part that it was very difficult, but it was really, I really enjoyed that piece.
I showed it to a couple of friends, my work, and they said to me, there are a couple of illustrations there that are the best you’ve done so far. And I’m like, okay. I think that continuity between shapes and colors, and it’s, yeah, it’s the biggest piece.
Did you have any challenges producing the artwork?
The difficult part of doing illustration is the initial step. You get concepts, you get words, you get ideas. You kind of need to put it together as a story. So there has to be an illustration you communicate. And if you communicate the story, it’s illustration at its best. The initial steps of, okay, how can I use the visual language to tell a story, that is very difficult.
And those who do illustration or create art know that it’s almost painful because you have these shapes and these images and these colors going up and down in your head, day and night.
So, the first part is the creation story. I looked through, I was looking at illustrations or illuminations of paintings that have been done in the past. And I wanted to do something different to shape them differently, but at the same time, you don’t want to break continuity with the tradition.
And that is something that I do in my work. How can I create a visual language that is in communion with the history of art in the church. That can communicate those meanings and those symbols, but at the same time, to be fresh, new, and compelling. So I think that’s, and it’s a lot of thinking. It’s hard.
How do you hope that your artwork inspires attendees of the conference?
I like when a piece of art makes you think.
It’s very easy to give the image, to give it away. “This is what we’re telling you.” But if there is a piece of art that is, it’s taking you to think beyond and to play with the symbols and to think in order to get the most out of it, I think that is very rewarding. I can tell you that there are no various explicit figures in it, so it’s more symbolic. So, I hope that those who look at these images and listen to the words that are gonna be accompanying these images can take a symbolic language that can continue moving inside of them, kind of thinking deeply into what it’s portraying those images. I don’t like even digested images. I like, to walk around, to think about it, to play with it.
Are there any last comments you would like to share with the viewers and NCYC attendees?
Take everything out of this event! Live it! Let those who are living this event to carry you through the experience, but also I would like to invite everyone to continue exploring the beauty of images and storytelling and symbols of That’s just such a great gift and treasure that we have. Just continue exploring the visual language of the church symbols and art.
I would love to see a new generation of artists, you know, in the church. Young people doing art. That’s a dream of mine, you know. And there are certainly young people doing a lot of music and stuff like that, but we need to just do more!
How can people learn more about you?
I keep everything in my Instagram, you can see my work there, and then it’s going to take you to my website and whatever else I have.