Nearly three decades have passed since our communities — and finally the world — began to see the horrors in the Mexico/US borderlands: the epidemic spread of rape, mutilation, and murder of women in Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican bordertowns.
In a post-1993 NAFTA super-exploitive economy, women are forced to work extreme hours for a few pesos, often returning home exhausted alone at night. They never make it home. Just as systematically, the murderers have remained above the law.
But this is not the result of capitalist economics alone. This is the result of a nation built on the preservation of a toxic-masculinity — to the most violent of extremes. This is a nation that through and through will protect this toxicity, even blaming the victims of dressing to deserve their rape and murder. These mutilations and murders not the work of a serial killer or series of serial killers. This is the action of men generally who value women as less than human — as disposable objects.
Feminicidio has been used to describe the sexual murders of women and girls in Ciudad Juárez; the term was picked up by Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano (Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Américas) to describe this epidemic of violence toward women and girls as a “gender-based violence that is both public and private” that involves complicity of the government, police, and the murderers. Fregoso and Bejarano further identify this as a “systemic violence rooted in social, political, economic, and cultural inequalities.”
Many mainstream and community creators have sought to memorialize and wake audiences to these horrors. In 2002 Social and Public Art Resource (SPARC) brought community artists from both sides of the US/Mexico border to create the exhibit: “Hijas de Juárez.” In 2003, Lourdes Portillo released her Señorita Extraviada that aimed to give voice(s) to those disappeared by capturing the resistant testimoinios of the mamás and others.
Authors such as Alicia Gaspar de Alba (Desert Blood, 2005) and Roberto Bolaño (2666, 2004) clear narrative space to let breathe the unimaginable: the depths of despair and horrors of violence. In “Señorita X: Song for the Yellow-Robed Girl from Juárez” (2007) poet Juan Felipe Herrera takes us on a journey where we meet the “mourning mothers with revolution guitars” and the interiors of coroner’s office “tiny flat table chrome a hacksaw a / hammer a string.” Musicians like Los Tigres del Norte have also sought to memorialize with songs like “Mujeres de Juárez.”
The mainstream has also dared to venture here — often turning tragedy into sensation. I think readily of TV FX’s The Bridge (2013) that displace the epidemic horrors as it focuses more on the white woman on autism spectrum El Pas PD detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) tense relationship with Chihuahua State Police Detective Marco Ruiz (Demían Bichir). I think of Director Kevin James Dobson’s The Virgin of Juárez starring Minnie Driver as reporter Karina Danes as well as Gregory Nava’s Bordertown with Jennifer Lopez as reporter Lauren Adrian — thrillers that sensationalize violence.
With the all-Latina creators of the graphic novel, Jalisco (2019) we see the impulse to make real through graphic storytelling means life for women along the Mexico/US border.
As we follow the journey of Alicia Cuevas, aka Jalisco, as she seeks to find her disappeared mother, we discover the making of a Latina superhero along with her warrior (Adelita) sisters in their fight for justice. Along the way, the all-Latina crew that create Jalisco celebrate Mexican and indigenous traditions built on cosmic harmonies, and not violence and oppression.
Violence continues to scorch our communities on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Predators continue to pray upon the most vulnerable, women and children. Children are forcefully separated from family members. Women continue to be those escaping violence and waiting for refuge are now victims to cartel violence. We can only hope that Jalisco and the arts arising from our communities will wake more and more to action.
To my great fortune, I was able to catch up with some members — Kayden Phoenix (writer/creator), Amanda Julina Gonzales (penciller), Addy Rivera Sonda and Gloria Felix (colorists) — that make up the extraordinary creative crew of Jalisco.
Frederick Luis Aldama: How might you see you and your work intervening creatively, culturally … politically?
Kayden Phoenix: I hope it’s a movement! That’s what our Chicana culture is all about — to stop society’s oppression on us — politically, culturally, and so on. We all have to support each other and that’s what Jalisco is about: women supporting women and rising up as one. It’s a universal truth that’s relatable, regardless of culture.
Addy Rivera Sonda: I think we have a responsibility of representing our cultural heritage in the most honest way possible, for people to be able to find themselves and their experiences valued and represented in pop culture, and other mediums. It doesn’t matter how big or small our audience might be, as long as our artistic expression comes from an honest place it will resonate with people and contribute towards creating a more inclusive society.
We also have the opportunity to make education about our Hispanic culture accessible to those who come from a different background. through art and stories, people can connect and see past stereotypes, recognizing the humanity in every individual.
Amanda Gonzalez: That’s exactly what drives me to create. Following the news, living through this political climate — it’s a lot, and it can feel frustrating. Art is my weapon against feeling helpless because I’m driven to tell stories that fight for diversity and representation, stories that will inspire other people as well.
FLA: How does one create during a time when there’s so much division and economic uncertainty for the majority of people today?
KP: I believe that’s more of a reason to create. I write things that anger me. Like, femicide. It’s not just in Mexico. Tragically, it’s just the most rampant there. I don’t believe there’s more division today. The current prejudice toward every non-white male has existed. It’s just that today the oppressors are bold enough to take their masks off.
ARS: I have the need to express my ideas and my feelings, sometimes I feel that if I didn’t draw I’d explode. It’s almost a way to navigate and process the current political climate.
FLA: Today more than ever we need comic book creators like you all calling it for what it is. However, how does one survive day to day as Latinx comic book creators alert to social, political turmoil that marks US and world today?
KP: We survive the same as everyone else, no? We just have a different creative outlet for portraying the truth; in digestible storyboard form where justice prevails.
AG: I think there’s always been the question of ‘how much should an artist sift their opinion from their art?’ There’s always the idea that you need to be marketable, especially in industries like film and animation. But the attitude more and more, I think, has shifted closer to, ‘if a company doesn’t want to hire me because I’m outspoken about these issues, I don’t want to work with them anyway.’ I think just being true to yourself is the best way to navigate it.
FLA: Where do you all find your source of wellness? Is this even important as Latinx creators?
KP: My mom and my family. They’ve always been the heart. And definitely have always kept me grounded and humble. They’re my reason I’m even a creator.
ARS: I really have to improve here, I work too many hours, but I try to find the time to read, walk, water my plants and cuddle with my cats.
AG: As an artist or creator of any kind, wellness is so important.
Physically, art is basically a demanding desk job. I’m currently in an animation program and was working on Jalisco while also animating my thesis film, so I would be sitting in a dark room hunched over either my computer or a lightbox for at minimum eight hours a day in crunch time, seven days a week. I had to switch out my studio chair with a stool because it helped me sit a little straighter, and I got a compression glove because I was starting to develop tendonitis in my drawing hand — keeping on top of your health is really important so you don’t burn out.
And then mentally, of course, one of the most difficult things as a creator is staying in a creative headspace when you don’t feel like being creative at all. I surround myself with things I find inspiring — I’m always working to films, music, random stuff like antique restoration videos or lofi channels — anything to help stay motivated and positive while doing the work.
FLA: Why choose to recreate in comic book storytelling form the femicides that plague the Mexican/US borderlands?
KP: It’s important to me. It’s an injustice that’s been going for too long. Hopefully, Jalisco sheds some light and a response to all those taken.
Comics are very political, if you look at Golden Age super-heroes like Superman, The Arrow, Captain Marvel, Captain America, among others, they fought against Hitler. You can call it propaganda, or you can call it super-heroes getting their justice. Apparently, no one’s fighting against the misogynistic murders of my gender. Natives get stolen from Canada and USA, Boriquas are disappearing, and all throughout Latin America women are found mutilated and killed. That’s why my dedication page is to them. My team and I care.
FLA: Why Jalisco as the title?
KP: Mainly because my grandmother was born there. And regarding folklorico, Jalisco is the most well-known and “the heart” of Mexico. At least, that’s the way I learned it.
FLA: I love that you chose to create modern-day Adelitas as the superheroes of the story, but not superheroes with supernatural powers. Jalisco and the others train to become social justice warriors. Can you talk about Jalisco within the context of male-oriented US and Latinx comics?
KP: I didn’t create (nor was it anywhere in my mindset) Jalisco to compare with other comics AT ALL. Do I know the mainstream comics? Of course. Were they written for me? Of course not.
So that was my base, where I started. Who’s “real” to me (in the comic book world sense): Adelitas. What makes sense to me: Adelitas. They rose up and fought. It’s like every female I’ve ever met. We rise up and fight. That’s what I know and that’s what I understand.
I don’t need some person/alien flying through the sky. That’s the 1930s-40s comics mentality. I need people that will stand up to injustice. Real injustice. To answer your question, my story is grounded. They don’t have supernatural powers. I need real world stuff to be solved.
As of right now, I can do this in the world of comics. I truly wish I could stop the femicides and the trafficking, absolutely. But until then, I’ll create heroes that can.
FLA: How might you respond to: Super-heroes don’t have to have to be white dudes, wear capes, masks, and sport vibranium shields to be, well, superheroes.
ARS: I think that this narrative is a big problem, we have to understand that we are the heroes, no one will come to save us. We have to take responsibility and act, of course, we have to demand structural changes from the government, but change won’t happen on its own, we have to be informed and most importantly we have to take action.
I think that seeing a non-white, non-cape-wearing superhero is amazing, and much needed, it helps all of us non-white, non-male citizens see us as the heroes of our stories.
FLA: Can you share with me your collaborative process?
KP: I was so lucky! I put together this amazing group, all with different comic experiences. Like Hannah, my inker, suggested we put it all on a google drive so we could all access it. If anyone had an idea or used their past experience to enhance or smooth out the process, we did it.
I lucked out. I’m definitely the new one to this medium. I’m a writer/director (and producer out of necessity) that lives in live-action films. In that, I do know how to collaborate and listen. I definitely brought that with me. The collaboration was amazing. I tend to hire all Latinas. We collaborate amazingly well because we’re on the same page and understand the cause, the overall purpose. And that’s why we succeed.
Mirelle Ortega: Computer. All the coloring was done in Photoshop CC.
FLA: Can you all walk me through the creative decisions made in creating, say, page 62 of the comic: scripting; penciling; inking; layout; panel size; gutters; lettering; coloring; shape of speech balloons?
KP: Regarding the script, I wrote out the feature (movie) length script and then broke it down into storyboard form: stick figures with notes on the bottom (angle sizes, who’s in each panel, specific details). Then Amanda, my brilliant penciller, interprets it and makes it real.
In the google doc, each artist has their own folder. So once Penciller is done, I check it, then move it to the Inker folder. Once Inker is done, I check it, then move it to the Colorer folder. After Colorer is done, I check it, I move it to the Letterist folder. Once the Letterist is done, I sign off on it. Then it goes to “Finished Folder”.
AG: For my part of the process as the penciller, Kayden wrote the script and drafted rough storyboards for each page and what she roughly wanted it to look like. I expanded on Kayden’s roughs in a comic layout and sketched out the page digitally, sometimes with notes for the inker or colorists, and then uploaded it for the inker.
FLA: What tools do you all use to create Jalisco. . . pencil, ink, color, Bristol board … computer?
KP: For my storyboard sketches, I put scratch paper together, flip it over (to the white side), hole punch, stick brads in, and call it a “notebook”. I like to recycle scripts as much as possible.
AG: I work digitally and have a 13” MacBook Pro and a Wacom Intuos 4.
FLA: How do you choose which events to focus on in your incisive visual critique of the sexism that permeates Mexican (and US) society?
KP: I research thoroughly and then outlined the story with its beats before I start writing. I didn’t necessarily choose events, I just followed the story of Jalisco, as I saw her in her world.
FLA: Jalisco has a distinctive color palette. Why these colors?
ARS: This was all Kayden’s vision, she wanted really bright colors and to stay away from the stereotypical washed browns palette which is often used for Mexican related scenes.
MO: We wanted to create a very emotion-driven palette for the world of Jalisco. We wanted colors to reflect the emotional journey of the characters and to amplify the emotional weight of each scene.
FLA: Can you speak to how or where you see yourself innovating comics from?
KP: From movies. I understand movies. I used to watch 2 or 3 movies every weekend with my grandparents since I was small. In that regard, I understand visuals. Comics are just one visual per set of words. You don’t necessarily get to cut and show wide, single, insert, reverse, etc while one person is talking, like you do in feature.
But that’s what I was thinking when I was attempting to draw my stick figures: if I can get one shot, which angle would I use for her to say these words? It’s tough only getting one angle, but so much fun. Jalisco is how I would shoot my movie using the same angles.
FLA: If you were to step back from Jalisco, how would you characterize it?
KP: It’s a truthful look at our culture and how strong our women are with all the oppression forced upon us.
FLA: From all of Latinx culture (comics, music, art, literature, film, TV … whatever), who might be some of your influences and inspirations and why?
KP: Linda Ronstadt is always my number 1. She can do anything. My mom raised me with that same mentality. She never told I can’t do that.
ARS: Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Diarios de motocicleta) Gabriel García Marquez (Cien años de soledad), González Iñárritu (Amores Perros), Those books and movie were the first to show me the complexity, unfairness and honest beauty of the world that we are a part of.
Right now my biggest influence and inspiration is Mariana Matija, she is a Colombian graphic artist, who talks about feminism, civil disobedience, animal rights, activism, sustainability, and veganism.
AG: My primary influence is from my hometown of Albuquerque. My grandmother was a dancer, and my sister and I danced; I only did ballet, but I grew up watching my sister dance folklorico and flamenco and got into folklorico later when I moved to California.
I listen to a lot of Rosalia, who is a flamenco-pop singer; I’m head over heels for both the music and the art direction from El Mal Querer. Filmmakers like Jorge Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro go without saying — they both have such unique voices, I think by engaging with the stories they’ve created I felt confident to explore my art style without feeling afraid of being weird or unconventional.
FLA: We’ve come a long way in Latinx comics. The struggles continue, however. Might you share some highlights from your journey as it relates to Jalisco?
KP: I’ve had an amazing journey with Jalisco thus far. I was on a panel (Long Beach Comic Con) with Amanda and we didn’t even have a book yet! It was still being printed overseas. That’s how great this journey is. It’s needed and I hope there are a million more non-white, non-male superheroes. Not even just Latina. I root for all oppressed.
ARS: I learned so much collaborating with such amazing artists! I had to jump through some hoops because I am a freelance children’s book illustrator and this year I’ve been lucky enough to have my calendar filled with projects I feel very passionate about, so I had to organize my schedule and lose some nights of sleep.
But it really makes you want to do your best when you are part of an amazing team and the topic is so important, many interesting and relevant. Also, Kayden is the most amazing and organized director I’ve ever worked with.
AG: The entire experience was a highlight for me, honestly. Jalisco pushed me in so many ways; I’d never drawn comics before, and I am so grateful Kayden took a chance on me. I learned so much artistically and as a visual storyteller.
FLA: How are you getting Jalisco into the hands of readers, Latinx or otherwise?
KP: Social media pages, local book stores, and an independent distributer. I also have a choice on the shop page to donate a book to a Latina school, library, or organization. I’ve gotten a great response on that as well. Go to: JaliscoSuperhero.com
FLA: Is there a Spanish language Jalisco?
KP: One day!
FLA: What’s next?
KP: Most of my team returns for Santa, graphic novel of a Social Justice Warrior. We’re working on that right now.
AG: We’re working on the next project, I’m not sure how much I can say? Whatever Kayden said. For my own personal work, I’m currently in production of my thesis film, which will be a traditionally animated short film about how it feels to be a Latinx person who doesn’t speak Spanish.