Nonfiction books are finding their place in comics. Titles like the civil rights themed, March, and the refugee experience, The Best We Could Do, are not only critically acclaimed in the industry but in literature as a whole. Currently in a Kickstarter campaign, La Voz De M.A.Y.O. Tata Rambo is another historical true story.
It chronicles the Mexican American Yaqui and Others (MAYO) organization with their leader, Ramon Jaurigue, as they struggle to gain recognition for the Pascua Yaqui tribe from the city of Tucson and the national government. All battles have casualties, and Jaurigue’s relationship with his own family becomes strained as he presses on for equal rights. Writer, Henry Barajas, artist, J Gonzo, and editor, Claire Napier, took some time out to speak with Comicon.com to discuss their new project.
Gary Catig: You guys are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for your comic, La Voz De M.A.Y.O Tata Rambo #1. Our readers can learn about it from the webpage, but in your own words, can you describe what La Voz is about?
Henry Barajas: La Voz de MAYO is the newsletter my Tata Rambo started to document his efforts and inform the community—and it translates to The Voice of Mexicans, Americans, Yaqui, and Others. Ramon and the members of MAYO were hell-bent on giving a voice to a tribe that was on the verge of being displaced to build the Interstate 10. With that voice, they were able to convince the local government to install sidewalks, electricity, telephone lines, plumbing, and sewage. This comic is not only a retelling but an extension of their work. We are going to donate $500 from the first issue profits to Immigration Advocates Network to help keep migrants from being ripped from their families.
Claire Napier: It’s also about love. I don’t want to embarrass Henry (I guess I don’t mind a lot if I do, though, because it’s true) but this is a comic made out of and motivated by love. “Tata Rambo” isn’t just a cute gimmick name, it’s an affectionate mode of address from a great-grandson to an old man. Loving old people and recognising their achievements is a pretty necessary part of life and as we get older we can better appreciate how to actively, instead of passively, do this. This comic is a way that Henry found.
J Gonzo: To me it’s about an indomitable fighting spirit and an assertion of dignity – not just as it pertains to Ramon as the main character, but to all the volunteers, organizers, indigenous and marginalized peoples that he worked in concert with.
GC: What drew all of you to this project? I know that there is a sentimental and personal link for you, Henry. I’m especially interested in what Claire has to say as someone who may have less ties to the Latinx experience (I’m assuming this and I’m sorry if I’m wrong).
CN: No, you’re quite right, I have no personal ties to the Latinx experience. I’m white & English with very little variation up the family tree. But Henry asked me to edit his script, because we knew each other from his PR and my criticism, and his script was (I say this in a positive way) better than I expected. Not that I thought “oh Henry sucks, he will write a bad comic” but you don’t expect someone you don’t already know as a talented scripter to produce a script you really want to read more of; it’s just not reasonable to assume that any given person’s work will actually be good instead of fine. But it’s immediately clear that he’s telling a story that matters, telling it well, and that it matters to him both as a great-grandson and as a man with a wider identity— it’s a story that matters because right is right and wrong is wrong. You don’t have to be related to people to know that they deserve exactly the same as you do, which is agency and respect, and the right to live well without being constantly bothered.
HB: I want to make a good comic. It was important for me to work with someone that doesn’t hold back because we have known each other. I knew Claire wouldn’t put her name on it if it wasn’t good. If she doesn’t like something, she will tell you. Ask her Twitter followers.
GC: Henry, what about J. Gonzo’s style made you think he would be a good fit for the story you’re telling? Do you think him having Arizona ties helped him bring more authenticity to the art? I do like how the coloring evokes a desert vibe.
HB: Gonzo lives in Arizona, so I don’t have to explain what a Tucson sunset looks like, or what the vibe Old Pascua neighborhood has. He can go there and feel it, and he’s masterfully putting it on the page. We want to show powerful Latinx characters without all of the typical stereotypes. Gonzo has proven he is the best man for the job.
GC: Henry, during your research into your story you went through newspaper clippings, conducted interviews, and read some of your great grandfather’s authored articles. What was the most surprising thing you uncovered?
HB: The amount of work Ramon and the group did that never made the history books. These people went out of their comfort zones, organized, dug their heels in the mud and gave a hell of a fight. I spoke with Mayo co-founder Rosie Jimenez and she said she never been downtown Tucson before and it was an eye-opening experience. I had no idea my Tata Rambo was the director of the adult education division at Richie Elementary, and he refused to have the park next to the school named after him. I kept getting answers that ultimately lead to more questions and discoveries—so at a certain point—I had to stop and tell the story I could prove.
GC: I understand the need for this title on a historic level. We need to document these kinds of things so people know and appreciate what those before us experienced in order to make progress. Why do each of you think this story will resonate with the general audience? Is it meant for the everyone, or is this made for a target audience and if others enjoy it, that’s just an added bonus?
HB: It’s a poignant tale not only for Latinx people but for everyone. Don’t ignore your history. Dig if you can and share it with the world. Every story has been told, but, I want to know yours.
CN: In the first press release I sent round, I compared the book to Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap was a really popular show, and for good reason, so unless you’re incredibly stringent about comparison (there is no sci-fi element in this book, but every other thematic facet is there) it’s pretty much an “everyone” kind of read!
JG: I think the exemplifying how individuals can make a real difference when the machinations of a civic body are trying to prevent one from doing so is an important story to tell – especially when the specifics aren’t typical – we can show the general public that justice is universal, but harder fought for certain peoples.
GC: The Kickstarter is for issue #1. Will this only be a single issue or will it be a mini-series and collected into a graphic novel down the line?
HB: Kickstarter is a barometer. Is the market ready for a story about empowered Latinx and Natives? I hope so. We want to tell a four-issue mini-series or go straight to trade.
CN: The proceeds from this Kickstarter will let us print and distribute this first issue, but they’ll also help us to continue work on the rest of the story. It’s a “work… get paid/work… get paid” kind of project. But the structural process is pretty much locked in; it’s the more practical aspects of further issues that are as yet undone, not the direction or the events (obviously!). We’re very keen to find our way forward on this thing.
JG: I’m hoping it continues. There’s more story to tell and I can’t imagine letting go of the project without it coming to some kind of conclusion.
GC: Finally, you’ve raised over 60% of your goal so far. What’s some good advice that either you received or discovered during this process that you would give people who want to start a Kickstarter campaign?
HB: Hire a good team. Claire is the editor but she has helped with press. Gonzo created a magnetizing impact image and cover. Lastly, get some rest. Seriously. I’ve had a hard time putting down my phone and constantly checking the numbers.
CN: Network ahead of time, and refuse all notions of shame.
JG: Do work/projects that you are passionate about. The intangibles of care that go into WILL be sensed by those who observe it. Don’t underestimate the power of authenticity.
We’d like to express our gratitude to Henry, Claire and Gonzo for discussing their new series. If you would like to back or to learn more about La Voz De M.A.Y.O. Tata Rambo, check out the Kickstarter here. There are a lot of cool incentives at the different levels. You have until October 3, at 9:00 PDT. Let’s get this great story funded.