“Because it’s real.” This answer to one of my questions is the best way to introduce the new comic book Mashbone & Grifty. Creators Oscar Garza and Rolando Esquivel have brought to life a pair of characters that are very real. Their hilarious antics may feel like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon but there is so much about this book that will ring true to life. If you’ve grown up in Texas, especially, the language and the characters will be very familiar to you. Garza and Esquivel discussed with me their inspirations, their stylistic decisions, and the current state of Latinx Comics.
Chris C. Hernandez: Tell us about yourselves.
Oscar Garza: I’m Oscar Garza, writer and artist for Mashbone & Grifty and one half of 5 Meats Comics. I’m a storyteller posing as a wrestler trying to make comics to feed my crippling coffee addiction.
Rolando Esquivel: I’m Rolando Esquivel, writer and editor for Mashbone and Grifty and co-conspirator of 5 Meats Comics. Like Oscar I’m from the South Texas border town of Brownsville raised on comics, cartoons, wrestling, and La Virgencita.
CH: What has been your relationship with comics? How did you get into creating comics?
RE: I’ve wanted to write comics since I was a kid. Like other kids I liked anything Batman, Superman and Ninja Turtles, but I didn’t start reading comics wholeheartedly until Jim Lee’s X-Men run. For a couple of years there was a comic book shop right around the corner from me so I’d head down there on Saturdays and grab some toys, Marvel trading cards and the latest Wizard Magazine available so I could find out what was going on in comics without having to buy them all. Reading Wizard opened my eyes to the different themes tackled in comics and it taught me that the medium could be used for more than just dudes in tights flying around. My love for creative writing turned into screenwriting which came back to realizing the childhood dream of comic book writing.
OG: I was a huge mark for the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, and my insatiable appetite led me to the Archie published comic. Since I couldn’t afford more than one series regularly (my allowance went to toys, drawing pads and pencils), I got my comic fix from trading cards and cartoons. Late 90’s MTV show the Maxx cemented my respect for comics as well as my ambition to become an animator, which after 14 years I’ve segued into comics.
CH: How did you come up with these characters and story? Are they modeled on anybody in particular?
OG: Mashbone is a character I’ve been drawing in some form or another ever since high school, back in 1998. I was big into cryptozoology and it was just fun to draw sasquatches. The main reason I created Grifty was because as cool as Mashbone looks, I didn’t have it in me to make a superhero story. It just felt right to make them a comedy-duo instead. Who they are modeled after, character-wise, is us. As we write, we put ourselves into both, but I lean more towards Mashbone’s passion and goofiness while Grifty is a bit like Rolando in an “ass on the grindstone” kinda way (Is that how that phrase goes? I’m not gonna Google it).
RE: They story centers around two guys finding their place in the world while trying to grow and make something out of themselves. It was really borne out of how we felt in college and many can relate to: confused in figuring out how the adult thing works while still trying to be a couple of responsibly irresponsible, fun-loving party people. We also wanted to throw as much calamity as possible at these two unqualified, self-proclaimed detectives to make ourselves laugh. Like Oscar mentioned, they’re kind of like our avatars. All passionately goofy and ass-grindy.
CH: The way that you have some of the characters vocalize Spanish is often times used as an insult to native Spanish speakers yet you embrace it and use it to work for your story. What made you decide to go this route?
OG: Because it’s real. Jerks can use it in an insulting way and yes that does suck, but the reality is when I go to my hometown and spend time with Tio or Grandma, or when I take a long lunch break and make friends with Gualterio who busses tables at the bar near my job, that’s how they sound. So why leave it for the jerks to use? We take the stereotypes that we’ve encountered, own them, embrace them, and use them to tell the jokes, not AS the jokes. Plus as you mentioned in your question, it’s some of the characters; not all brown people in our comic talk like that, just like in real life.
RE: That’s also how the people in Matamaros, Tamaulipas sounded when we’d party in Mexico as teenagers. It was pretty awesome of them to accommodate us by doing their best to speak English instead of having us speak Spanish. I mean, they were trying to sell us shit most of the time, but still pretty awesome.
CH: You have a lot of pop culture easter-eggs throughout the story. are you a big pop culture fan?
RE: We’re huge fans of pop-culture. We’re 80’s and 90’s kids which was a great time to be bombarded with everything entertainment from both the Mexican and American cultures and we soaked it all up. We’re obviously fans of comic books, but we’re also huge wrestling/lucha libre and Star Wars nerds along with probably every other fandom you can think of.
OG: We came out swinging in issue 1 referencing Aladdin, Robert Stack, the Blacktop Bully, and the Blood In Blood Out: Bound By Honor. We’re all over the place.
RE: What we try to do with our work is representative of what it is to be Chicano. That is, we blend cultural influences from both sides of the border to create something we feel is truly unique. We were kids who grew up in the U.S. who are proud of our Mexican heritage but whose American entertainment choices didn’t see many people outside of Culture Clash, Cheech Marin, Edward James Olmos, and Selena that looked or spoke like folks from our hometown. For this reason it makes sense that there’s been a big disconnect in the acceptance of more Latinx people in prominent entertainment roles that go beyond being a narco or “the help”. Our series is fun, silly, and entertaining first and foremost so that anyone can be drawn into this world and learn to accept these Chicano characters and settings in the same way they should accept their brown neighbor. We also wanted to make something that 15-year old Oscar and Rolando can look at, laugh, and feel they could be a part of…as messed up as some of the adventures may get.
CH: What do you hope that readers come away with after reading Mashbone & Grifty?
RE: Laughter, and lots of it, to make someone’s day more light-hearted. As Roger Rabbit wisely said, “A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.” This is especially true in today’s social climate when more and more you see people of color being harassed and accosted simply for existing. Mashbone and Grifty is our way of saying it’s okay to be who you are as long as you have the best intentions at heart. Our characters are not perfect. They stumble and bumble their way through life in an attempt to follow their dreams but they will always do what they feel is right and lead with their hearts.
OG: I want folks to feel better at the end of the book than how they felt when they started, then I want them to tell their friends about it while they read it the second and third time.
CH: What are your plans for the series? Ongoing? Limited run?
OG: Right now the plan is to do 4 issues a year, but we would love to do more. There is an overall ongoing adventure that will be revealed as you read, but each 48-page comic can stand on it’s own. We want you to be satisfied after reading each story, not string you along with “to be continued” every single issue. I don’t have a lot of time to read single-issue comics as they are released, but I did last year for a special 12-issue “event”. After the first 4 issues at $4 a pop and the story barely going anywhere I wanted to rip my hair out.
CH: Are you currently working on any other projects as well?
RE: Absolutely! We most recently finished up an animated short film to be screened at Latino Comic Expo’s Latino Animation Festival in San Francisco and we are developing an all-ages comic with a tentative release date of Spring/Summer 2019. We have also been developing other series that take place in Mashbone and Grifty’s universe which will span from gritty tales of redemption to more fantastic fiction a la Lord of the Rings and Dark Crystal. Stay tuned!
CH: What influences have affected your style of artwork?
OG: Carlos Meglia (StarWars: Underworld), Sam Kieth’s The Maxx, Disney’s Tarzan, WB’s Freakazoid, and various shows of Chris Prynoski, to name a few.
RE: The alphabet. I can’t draw to save my life.
CH: What inspired the design for the characters?
OG: In college I got really into the book Dynamic Anatomy by Burn Hogarth, which led to me drawing a lot of hands and feet in extreme poses. Hands and feet are the bane of even the most popular artists, and I did my best to overcome that. Once I felt comfortable enough with anatomy, I was able to break and stylize to my liking. Once I got his look down, I used physical traits from my brother and myself at the time to create Mashbone’s friend, Grifty.
The thing about Mashbone is, on paper he looks like a superhero: mutant ape-creature, shirtless like the Hulk, giant Logan mutton chops, and giant Popeye forearms. But when you actually look at him he’s lanky with a fat pot-belly, and he doesn’t actually have any powers. I feel that really comes from a bit of impostor syndrome that artists struggle with sometimes. I tried to make a superhero but in the end he’s just Mashbone.
CH: Your visual storytelling is excellent, the flow and pacing is absolutely spot on. What do you find is the hardest part in picking a scene or moment to include in the flow of the story?
OG: I am an animator by trade. Being a good animator means focusing on key poses of movement to get your point across, so when we write these stories I end up with a full animated series in my head. I pick the best looking key-frames when I pause the cartoon. The hardest part is keeping it in my head and not animating the entire thing! In fact, I have a bunch of scenes from issue 2 and the upcoming issue 3 that we used to make an animated trailer.
RE: That being said, for any networks looking for a fresh, original animated comedy series, Oscar’s done the storyboarding for you. Get at us, mang.
CH: What are your thoughts on the current state of Latinx representation in comic books today?
RE: I believe we are at the beginning of a Latinx renaissance in comics, but there’s a lot of work to be done. The best example of a step in the right direction is the re-launch of DC/Vertigo being spearheaded by Eric Esquivel and Ramon Villalobos’ Border Town, which has received critical acclaim ahead of its release. We are hopeful the title will show the mainstream that you don’t need a Latinx veil over existing frameworks to make a successful comic and that titles with fresh characters and settings are what will really make a difference to bring more eyes to the medium. When you look at the indie comics scene there are so many amazing Latinx artists and writers who deserve more recognition, with Javier Hernandez’ El Muerto series and Gonzalo Alvarez’ The Legend of Polloman coming immediately to mind. The market is ready for more books by Chicanos, Boricuas, Peruanos, Guatemaleño’s, etc. but we really need the mainstream comics industry to wise up, step up and realize their audience wants new and different rather than the same old vehicles with a new coat of paint.
OG: Ditto to all of that. It use to be awful, could be worse now, but it’s getting a helluva lot better. We all gotta do our part for representation. It’s just not enough for the artists to create, it’s also up to the fans and media. There are a bunch of great podcasts and websites like But Why Tho?, Comadres y Comics, Salt & Honey, Cafe con Leche Nerds, Shoot the Breeze Comics, and of course your work here on Cómix Latinx that do an amazing job of bringing awareness to the great work out there.
Find Mashbone & Grifty here!