Cómix Latinx Interview: Gonzalo Alvarez and THE LEGEND OF POLLOMAN

Mythology and it’s pantheon of gods and monsters have long been a source of inspiration for storytelling in the world of comic books. Wonder Woman, Thor, and Shazam are all examples of characters built off of ancient myths from cultures around the world.

One very important culture that has not been touched on with any serious amount of depth is the Aztec (Mexica) culture and their mythology birthed from the powerful civilization that stretched across Mexico. Gonzalo Alvarez, a comic book creator from Port Arthur, Texas noticed this lack of representation and decided to do something about it. He has created The Legend of Polloman, a comic book series that focuses on the gods and monsters from the Aztec pantheon.

Gonzalo took some time to discuss with me the origins, influences, and plans he has for his new series.

Chris C. Hernandez: Tell us about The Legend of Polloman; what is your synopsis of the story?

Gonzalo Alvarez: After stumbling into the Mictlan, Emmanuel, a timid human boy, learns that his heart is the key to casting Tonatiuh’s light, the sun god, in order to vanquish 6 terrifying Latin American Legends El Cucuy, La Llorona, El Raton de los Dientes, El Diablo, and El chupacabra.

His new found friends Cuka the know-it-all priest and Xochitl the adventurous warrioress, aid him in his 4 year journey as he becomes Polloman the sun warrior, bringing light to the 8 levels of the Mictlan and discovering his true self in the process.

This is a coming of age story where Emmanuel will learn the meaning of sacrifice as he faces childhood fears, betrayal and the greatest enemy of them all: himself.

CH: Tell me about your relationship with comic books. Does Port Arthur have a comic book scene?

GA: I actually didn’t read a single comic book until college. In fact, I thought they were something from the past like the 80s and stuff! I guess Captain Underpants and a few Manga in middle school is the closest thing. Port Arthur is an artless wasteland sadly, and so comics weren’t around, at least that I knew of. I didn’t have family or friends who were interested in them either, so I had no exposure of them. I’m naive when it comes to the world of comics.

CH: During the recent Cultura in Comix panel at the Texas Latino Comic Con you mentioned that in your younger years you steered clear of your Latinx background.  Can you share with us the point at which started embracing your roots?

GA: So, growing up I was the oddball in the family, the “whiteboy”. I liked punk, cartoons, and stuff that my family just didn’t understand. I wasn’t a cholo or liked Mariachi and I would always get criticized of why I wasn’t like them.

So naturally it made me hate that part of me, the Mexican part. I didn’t want to be associated with the people I was around. Once I got into college and saw some artwork by Matt Rebholz from his crazy awesome Mesoamerican themed Graphic novel, The Astronomer, something sparked in me that wanted to know more. I then got an idea for my own Mexican themed comic, The Legend of Polloman, and just started to play around with the concept.

To do it better though, I had to start researching, and once I saw the beauty of Mexico beyond what I knew growing up, I felt a proud connection to my roots. Being Mexican doesn’t mean you just have to like Mariachi and drink beer. No, it means you’re a part of a rich and beautiful culture that has yet to be uncovered and displayed to the masses.

I am proud of my Mexica ancestors (thanks dad!) for leaving behind their beautiful artwork, and I hope to share it with the rest of the world in a new light.

CH: What led to the creation of The Legend of Polloman comic book? What influenced you to tell this type of story?

GA: In 2015 I joined a comic club, 3C comics, with my graphic design teacher at the time and some art buddies. We made a little anthology and sold it and did decent enough to do another one. We then did a one page comic about wizards and I came up with a really zany and quirky page about Pedro El Mago stealing a magic churro when Polloman, some hero in a chicken suit comes and whoops his ass, eats the churro, and goes into a psychedelic trance haha I’ll see if I can find the page.

After this our second anthology had a videogame theme(perfect!!) and I thought, hmm, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a fantasy video game with a Mexican theme? Like I’m talking swords and magic. It’s NEVER been done. At the time I was playing Guacamelee and I really enjoyed it’s authenticity to the culture and it’s pop culture references in a Mexican style.

So I made the first issue of Polloman, where a warrior in a chicken suit and La Cukaracha, his loyal friend, try to defeat El Cucuy and el Chupacabra. It was pretty much just a bunch of action and jokes using different video game references and the direction and universe wasn’t really fleshed out. I still remember my friend saying it’s cool, but it be better if it was an actual story. I started busting my ass off after that comment to learn how to write, draw better, and make sure this time I would impress him. (I totally did, haha)

Couple of years later I made another little comic of it with the updated story, and then during my thesis in December I created the prologue issue, which precedes the current Chapter 1 that I just put out. It’s no longer a part of the series because the art and story has been updated since, but it was perfect practice. This summer I finally knocked out the first chapter between April and July and here we are!!

What influenced me where two things: First how amazing Avatar: The Last Airbender was at transporting me into a believable world based in a Chinese universe or Inuyasha, Naruto, or pretty much any other anime bringing me into a Japanese universe. Avatar is one of the best written cartoon series of all time, and I hope to create a world of believable characters with the growth they were able to achieve.

The other thing that influenced me was the complete lack of Mexican fantasy universes and over abundance of Medieval fantasy. We have Game of Thrones, Tolkien, and dozens more universes of white guys in armor fighting dragons. Literally there are hundreds of these type of games, books, movies, etc. and definitely not all good either.

Don’t get me wrong I love it all and it’s been super inspirational! But why the hell aren’t there fantasy universes with Mesoamerican warriors and gods? Screw the plate armor I want to swing around Macuahuitl’s, summon giant Mesoamerican gods and wear bad-ass jaguar armor! Just give me something, damnit!

Finally, I decided if no one is going to make it, I’ll just make it my damn self.

CH: How long did you spend preparing to write and illustrate the book?

GA: Oh boy. So I officially started writing the actual story back 2016 and really fleshed out the first concept in the fall after I  participated in the Inktober challenge and designed the Polloman world. There were a couple a things that have been there from the very inception and that was that Polloman would have to face 6 Legends and defeat them, but it’s grown into a much deeper story since then.

After that I began really writing the first draft of the story and I learned how to write by reading articles about the hero’s journey, watching a lot of animations, and other content that could help. In 2017, I was getting closer and closer designing the story and it slowly morphed from this pseudo-Mexican medieval fantasy into a more Mexica/Mesoamerican themed as I learned more about real history and mythology.

During summer of 2017 I was able to fund-raise to help with a research trip to Mexico City and Yucatan where I spent every second learning, sketching and taking reference photos to prepare for my thesis, which ended up being the prologue. Without that trip, Polloman would not be what it is today and I am grateful to everyone who pitched in. Being at the pyramids in person and seeing the statues is a whole other perspective.

To keep it short, I would say it took from 2016 till now working nonstop on this project while making time for my game studio and other projects. Close to three years.

CH: Who are what has most influenced your art style for Polloman?

GA: I would say starting as a printmaker my first two years of college really influenced my heavy application of black in my work. I really fell in love with the etching work of Albert Duhrer and contemporary print makers such as Matt Rebholz. Kentaro Miura is the creator of the Berserk series, and despite being a mature series, his rendering of creatures and locations really influenced the “creepy” aesthetic of some of my work.

I began with a more rendered semi-realistic style, but after studying the Aztec codices for the last 2 years, I’ve been able to take those chunky, solid, and colorful shapes to influence my work. The best part is that the art style lends itself so well to video games and cartoons styles that I’ve been able to take influence from them as well. Funny thing is, I didn’t grow up with a lot of artwork in my life so a lot of my art influences early on actually came from video games!

For example, Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door and the Legend of Zelda: Windwaker both have colorful stylized characters, creatures, and worlds that to this day remain timeless. The branding, the art direction, and just everything as a whole has an aesthetic that it sticks with throughout every little detail from the UI to the character designs, etc.

I’m wanting to do the same with The Legend of Polloman, taking the stylization from the Aztec Codices and bringing them to life, and much like the UI of the games, making the books also carry that aesthetic with the use of a square book with red panels and paper-like background to feel like a contemporary Codex.

CH: You compare The Legend of Pollman to being similar to a Studio Ghibli production. What influences from their creations have you drawn upon to create your story?

GA: I really enjoy the juxtaposition of these young fragile characters going up against horrific creatures, but in the end, having a deeper moralistic value. I feel like it’s hard to create that balance without going too kiddie or too mature, and they just happen to have found the sweet spot. Their creature design and world design is so magical, it just sucks you right in, and most of the time, they’re set in an Ancient Japan-like setting, and we all get to learn about the culture.

Well now, I want to create that same feeling, that same level of quality in storytelling and art, but bring people into a Mesoamerican universe for once. Polloman will have to travel across the 8 levels of the Mictlan, which are based on the real mythology of the Aztec underworld, and each one had a challenge.

For example, the first level was a river of electric lizards that could only be crossed by the help of a dog. The second level was two mountains that would smash together and you’d have to get across. The third, a mountainous region made of obsidian knifes, and so on. It’s PERFECT for a fantasy setting, yet again, where the heck is it?

CH: What has been the response so far to Polloman? Are many people familiar already with the monsters and myths or are they learning about them for the first time?

GA: People are loving it. I’m honestly having a better reception then I had anticipated, and I only wish I could put out the rest of the chapters faster! I would say a good majority really know about La Cukaracha, La LLorona and El Chupacabra, but surprisingly a lot of people weren’t aware of El Raton de los Dientes, the mouse tooth fairy, or the Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. Luckily I’ve designed the story in a way that presents you with these familiar characters, but the readers along with Polloman, will slowly learn about the new world together as Cuka guides him and teaches him about the world. It’s gonna be a fun and educational ride and my favorite part is that it won’t be forced.

It’s like in Pokemon when they pull out the pokedex and it says something like this Pokemon does this or that, but now it’ll be Codices that Cuka carries and he’ll be describing things that are actually based off real creatures, deities, or locations. My biggest rule when it comes to things with educational material is do not force it. Don’t make it boring and expositional! So I promise it won’t be done in that way. It’ll be just as organic as learning about the worlds of any other franchise. Except now it has real history and culture behind it!

CH: What is your favorite Mexican folklore story or character? Why?

GA: El Cucuy. When it comes to the Mexican community everyone knows him, everyone fears him, but no one knows what he looks like. His ambiguity made it that much more frightening because I didn’t know what to look for! Also, it was a fun challenge to try to create his “official” representation.

CH: What can you tell us about the new card game you are releasing?

GA: So Teotlan: Land of Gods is actually designed by Genaro Vallejo Reyes, the co-founder of Macua Studios, our Mesoamerican focused game studio. I’m doing the artwork and help with some design choices.

The game is a Meso-American deck-building battle game revolving around the flower wars, ritualistic wars fought to capture sacrifices for the gods. Two players choose one of 20 unique gods and battle with Meso-American units to either destroy their opponents god, or recruit 4 more gods, by either paying cacao for tribute or sacrificing units. It’s not just another card game with an Aztec themed slapped on to it.

We made sure that all the game mechanics are designed with the theme and aesthetic to really make something unique, and what essentially is the first true Meso-American battle card game. It’s highly influenced from TCG’s like Magic and Yu-gi-oh, but you just buy one box and you’re ready to play. I’ll begin production on the art between Sept-Nov and hopefully we have a publisher or a Kickstarter by then! The game is 99% done all that’s left is the art and getting the money to print it!

CH: Do you have plans for Polloman to go beyond comic books?

GA: Yes, it is actually designed as a media franchise from the ground up and my goal is in fact to create the first true Mexican folklore transmedia universe. Pokemon was my life growing up and I loved how the world worked so perfectly that it was able to be adapted from a game into the show, the toys, card game, and I could enjoy all of it. While creating the story of the Polloman universe, I’ve actually been developing the video games, toys, merch, animations, and more in order to reach as many audiences as possible and teach them about this beautiful culture!

In the Polloman universe, dangerous Alebrije’s exist that can cast different spells each from 1 of 6 elements; Tletl(Fire) Atl(water) Eztli(Blood), Omitl(bone), Ehecatl(air), and Yohualli(Darkness). Warriors of the underworld can wear down and capture these Alebrijes in an Obsidian Canica(marbles), permanently gaining one of its random spells and equipping up to three different spells at a time in their weapon to cast.

The names of these spells will be in Nahuatl, much like how Harry Potter uses Latin for its spells. For example fire is (tletl) and bird is (tototl). So Tletototl would be a fire bird spell. Nahuatl is a beautiful language and I hope it’ll help people find more interest in it.

This magic system is based off Mesoamerican mythology such as the obsidian mirrors that were used to “capture” or see into ones soul by priest, or the Olmec rituals of placing a jade marble in a recently deceased person to capture their soul. Also the Aztec mythology believes that we had three souls: the Tonalli, our fire or strength located in the head, the Teyolia, our soul or vitality located in the heart, and the ihuiyotl, or breath located in the liver.

I currently have a prototype for the tabletop marble battle game, I’ve written a 38 page script and thumbnails for the pilot episode which I’m currently pitching in a month or two, and I’m trying to find ways to produce some figurines. If I can find a publisher, it could make this a whole lot easier!

CH: What is your view of the state of Latinx in comic books currently?

GA: Right now there’s a big change happening. People are standing up and people are getting their voice out there and are being heard. There are so many Latinx comics that I’m discovering that are still in their prime and it’s exciting to be amongst them. A huge wave of Latinx content is coming and it’s about time and I’m just glad to know that my kids, when I have them one day, will have what I wish I had growing up.

CH: Thank you so much for your time and for creating The Legend of Polloman!

GA: Thank you, and welcome to the Mictlan everyone.

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