A superhero’s introduction to the world can be amazing, fun, and exciting but what comes next usually defines who they truly are. Puerto Rico’s very own super woman La Borinqueña debuted a year ago to excited readers around the world. Now with issue #2 of we find Marisol trying to balance her “normal” life with the life of being a superhero as well as facing dangerous social-political tensions. As she struggles to find a balance she discovers mysteries concerning her powers and family as well. Creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodiguez gave me the opportunity to discover some of the deeper meanings of not only the Latinx super-hero but also some very important real-world significance of this issue.
Chris Hernandez: It’s been a year since the first issue of La Borinqueña came out. How has the response been to Marisol and her adventures?
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez: I’ve been touring across the US giving talks at universities, museums, cultural centers, and the response overwhelmingly has been positive. My book is part of syllabi in various courses and numerous graduate students have presented my book as part of their graduate thesis in international conferences. In Puerto Rico, the character is being received with great pride and honor. Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is a huge fan of my work and even had an announcement of my appearance at the Puerto Rico Comic Con posted on a giant billboard.
CH: Can readers expect to learn more about Marisol and her family’s past in this issue?
EM: Family is integral to Marisol’s character, as it is in many of our lives. Oftentimes in comics protagonists are embedded in narratives that completely detach them from their family. It is also often said that a hero’s rogues gallery defines them as a character. In Marisol’s case, it’s her family that defines her. As a storyteller I want to use the relationship she has with her family and the strain on it due to her new role as La Borinqueña to further develop her and her narrative.
CH: Will La Borinqueña be discovering any new powers?
EM: I don’t intend on introducing new powers. The second issue was written to do that, and also show what the ramifications of that are.
CH: In what ways is Marisol changing other than just receiving these amazing powers?
EM: Marisol is an undergraduate science student. Her primary reason for coming to Puerto Rico was to do field research. Given the rich biodiversity in Puerto Rico and her closeness to her own family, it was a natural choice for her. While in Puerto Rico, she is engaging with young people her age that are dealing with the austerity measures affecting the inhabitants on the island imposed on them by the Puerto Rico Oversight Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) as well as a post-Hurricane Maria island. As you may recall, when La Borinqueña #1 was released upon receiving her powers she immediately found herself dealing with a massive hurricane that left the island in a blackout. That first issue was released 9 months before Hurricane Maria. These experiences of meeting new people and seeing how they are all affected by these real world humanitarian social issues are shaping the way Marisol sees Puerto Rico. It’s changing her perception of her homeland and also her narrative.
CH: Is La Borinqueña limited to only Latinx people? What does Marisol have to offer for all readers?
EM: As people of color growing up enjoying mainstream stories, we are the masters of finding the universality in every story we enjoy, be it in comics or the big screen. When we read J.R.R. Tolkien, we don’t assume that these stories were only written for Hobbits. Therefore, La Borinqueña is a character with a universality that all readers enjoy. Fundamentally it is the story of the human condition, that spirit that drives us to better ourselves and those around us.
CH: In issue #2 you introduce a new enemy for Marisol to deal with. What can you tell us about this challenge she will be facing?
EM: Marisol will be confronted with the reality and the history of Puerto Rico. For 500 years the island originally known as Borikén has been colonized by Spain and the United States. This October is the 120th anniversary of the US invasion of Puerto Rico and last year was the 100th anniversary of the Jones-Shafroth Act which gave us our American Citizenship. The sugar industry which ravaged most of the Caribbean especially took over the island, decimating most of it’s indigenous population which today only exists in the multiracial mix that we are comprised of: Taino, African, and Spanish. It is when confronted with this history and seeing it’s relationship to the current state of the island that she realizes that history and the present are still connected and there are forces at play, both in the comic book and reality, that are literally taking over the island and it’s population.
CH: More important than her new enemy Marisol seems to be facing an inner struggle. Why do you feel it is important to portray a hero with inner turmoil as opposed to one that “has it all together.“
EM: The concept of a regular person with a life being endowed with superhuman abilities has always fascinated me. These characters are literally two different people and oftentimes the hero’s alter ego takes a back seat. In the case of Marisol, she is a college senior trying to complete her requirements to graduate and hopefully continue her studies as a graduate student. However, she is seeing that the island needs so much help now that she is devoting more time to being a hero than being a student. It is this internal conflict that I found necessary to develop in this narrative. This is the only way she will grow as a hero and a person.
CH: Do you think we are at the cusp of a new generation of Latinx super-heroes arriving for readers to enjoy or do you think we still have a ways to go?
EM: Not at all. We have about 80 years of comic book canon that has primarily been driven by a white male narrative. This has shaped our popular culture for generations. The work I’m doing with La Borinqueña is obviously long overdue, but it does say something significantly when it has to be produced completely independent of major publishers. It also says something that mainstream media outlets are recognizing the value of this series as well as her fans.
CH: Why did you decide to publish the issues as graphic novels instead of single monthly issues?
EM: As an independent publisher I do not have the resources nor the time to publish a monthly series. I’ve also been carefully studying the comic book industry for some time. I have realized that if you are not the big 2, there truly isn’t a guaranteed path to success as ongoing series. Saga is successful, but the publish an arc once a year then take a hiatus. I also see that it gives me the time to promote my book and do my advocacy work while on the road lecturing. I’ve forged an unprecedent path for myself as an independent publisher. By publishing my books annually, it gives me the time to craft a great story and develop a stronger following.
CH: The release date for La Borinqueña #2 is June which is a Sunday and not a typical release day for a comic book. What is symbolic and ironic even about releasing the comic on this day?
EM: 70 years ago in 1948 Puerto Rico passed La Ley de la Mordaza (The Gag Law of Puerto Rico). Under this law the Puerto Rican flag, which was created in New York City in 1895, was illegal to display and own. You would face arrest and a fine of $10,000. This law was in effect for 8 years until the original light blue area of the flag was changed to navy blue when it became the official flag of the US Territory. Superman (1938), Batman (1939), Wonder Woman (1941), all were initially released around the time of this law. My family didn’t leave Puerto Rico until the 1950s to live in New York City. Had my grandfather created La Borinqueña around the same time these other heroes would have been created, he would have been arrested. Anyone publicly reading or owning a copy of this comic book would have been arrested. Therefore, I chose this day to recognize history but also show how state of our current administration can easily introduce an executive order that can perpetuate the same level of unjust laws.
CH: This year saw Marisol appearing alongside of DC’s heroes to help raise support for Puerto Rico after the devastating Hurricane Maria strike and it’s continued after effects. How did this team up come about and how is it helping the island?
EM: Two weeks after Hurricane Maria I was at the New York Comic Con. The response to La Borinqueña was overwhelming, with a line of over 50 people waiting for me every day. One such day, Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Comics was on line for about 20 minutes with his fiancé Leilani Ramos Lugo. He came to my table, looked at my books and commented about how impressed he was with my work and it’s production value. I then asked him what were we going to do to help Puerto Rico? From this conversation he asked me to submit a proposal and within a week we reached an agreement and signed contracts to get Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico off the ground and running. My character, La Borinqueña, was the only character currently in comics that was directly connected to what was already happening in Puerto Rico. This crossover would then be historic because not only would a brand new character get the opportunity to team -up with these iconic heroes, but it would be the first time in 80 years of DC canon that these heroes would ever come to Puerto Rico. Under my studio, Somos Arte, we published the anthology consisting of close to 150 contributors, and it’s been a #1 bestseller on Amazon for more that 2 months. We’ve created a grants program to distribute funds directly to organizations in Puerto Rico doing amazing work to help the island recover and rebuild. I’ll be returning in October to personally distribute these grants and promote the organizations and their work.
Look for the further adventures of La Borinqueña, available now!