Teen Racism Meets Supernatural Horror In LA Comic Book Writer's 'Border Town'
The new comic Border Town is about racism near the border, life at a new high school and Mexican folklore. It's also a supernatural horror story. And it's all inspired by Los Angeles writer Eric Esquivel's life.
His sophomore year of high school, he moved from Illinois to Arizona where he faced culture shock living along the Southwest border. His new school was racially segregated, with white and Latino kids sticking to their own racial groups.
"Because I am a biracial person — I'm Irish and Mexican — I didn't really find a place in either of those groups," Esquivel told LAist.
Now 31, he fell in with a group of outsiders, mostly people of mixed ancestry, and said it gave him fresh eyes to see what was going on. He imbued the main character of Border Town with that perspective.
"Frank Dominguez is a guy who never had to define himself by his ethnicity, where he came from — he's from Wisconsin," Esquivel said. "And when he arrives in Devil's Fork, that's immediately a thing that has to happen. He has to choose sides and that's very odd to him."
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Esquivel is celebrating the release of his book at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica on Wednesday night, with free Mexican food, Aztec arts and crafts and other Latino comics.
"We could have gone anywhere, but Hi De Ho is really supportive of the Latin/Mexican community," Esquivel said. "In our community, we don't get a whole lot of chances like this, so it's very exciting. This isn't just about me."
There aren't a lot of Latino characters in comics, so Esquivel hopes his book makes a dent in that reality. He'd love to see Border Town adapted on screen.
"I'm light-skinned. I get in the room that other Mexicans don't and I use that," Esquivel said. "If there was a TV show or a movie, there would immediately be five new Latin American DC characters. That would be really exciting. There are zero in Justice League. There are zero in Doom Patrol. There are zero in the Avengers. Zero in the X-Men. So it would be exciting to get our people out there."
LATINO DOESN'T EQUAL POLITICAL
While the book deals with realities along the Southwest border, Esquivel said it's not a political book, it's just a Latino book. Although politics, especially around immigration and the U.S. border, are in the news right now, they've been a reality for Latinos a lot longer.
"When I read Dracula, it's about a member of the 1 percent that is a parasite that is leeching off the blood of blue collar people," Esquivel said. "If you read books like Daredevil, it's about an Irish Catholic guy, and his identity is very, very important. He fights ninjas and stuff, but also his Irish Catholicism is a big part of the book. Clark Kent came from Kansas, being a farmer's son in the Midwest really informed his personality. Bruce Wayne being a sheltered young rich kid who experiences crime for the first time and loses his mind and creates a new personality called Batman. Those are very political ideas to me. I don't know why when it's about Mexican people, suddenly it's an agenda."
The book is a horror story and even the term "border town" has multiple meanings. It's about the literal border between countries but it's also about the dividing line between races, the one between childhood and adulthood and the border between dimensions, which the creatures of Mexican mythology cross with ease.
CREATING A NEW LANDSCAPE OF HORROR
Esquivel was tired of reading about zombies, vampires and werewolves.
"When I was kid, my family used to scare the living crap out of me with stories of these monsters from Mexican folklore," Esquivel said. "I didn't know if they were real or not because they weren't in comics or movies or TV shows. So I thought they might be real because adults were telling me about them. The same adults that were talking about Jesus taught me about El Cucuy."
Putting those monsters in a comic book also offered a chance to take creatures from an oral tradition and represent them in a visual medium. That task falls to his co-creator, Chicano artist Ramon Villalobos.
He first met Villalobos years ago at Comic-Con. Esquivel approached him and said they'd work together someday.
"He just deadpan stared at me, because he had no idea who I was," Esquivel said.
In the end, that partnership came to life.
"He draws real-world fashion and real-world people very well," Esquivel said. "No one is one-note. Everyone feels lived in and storied."
He's also a one-man Twitter promotional machine, making big promises:
They said "ramon you cant guarantee a religous experience." Oh yeah? Explain this miracle. Even our ads are a goddamn religious experience. BORDER TOWN IN STORES TODAY. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE GUARANTEED— Mr. Vertigo Comics 3:16 🌊🌊🌊 (@RamonVillalobos) September 5, 2018
Also go see the nun apparantly. In theaters September 7th. pic.twitter.com/iXjKR2ZNkx
You can decide whether he delivers in the comic.
The art also contains Easter eggs to other Vertigo and DC Comics, particularly in a scene set in a Mexican magic store. "Even our editor didn't catch them all," Esquivel said.
A PROJECT DECADES IN THE MAKING
Esquivel started in comics when he was 15 and pitched the story of his new comic for years before Vertigo finally picked it up. It's part of a relaunch effort for Vertigo, the DC Comics imprint that has traditionally published more adult storytelling.
"Vertigo hit me when I was a teenager, right when I got to think that I was too cool for comics," Esquivel said.
He hopes teenagers dive into Border Town in the same way and he has a big story planned, one that'll incorporate everything he cares about.
"It's American history. It's Aztec mythology. It's Mexican folklore. It's lucha libra superhero stuff," Esquivel said. "Our story takes place in the modern day but there are things that happened literally hundreds of years ago — like when the Spanish arrived in Mexico — that affect the story. So we jump all over the place and we're going to the far future in volume 2."
Border Town is in comics stores everywhere and available digitally. The debut signing event at Hi De Ho Comics hapens Wednesday, Sep. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m.
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