This summer I traveled to Ciudad Juarez, a border town in Northern Mexico. Some
incredible and beautiful people from the 656 Comics crew invited me out. 656 Comics is an international award winning crew of Comic Book creators, who do their part to
educate and work with young artistic minds from all walks of life in Juarez. As a growing production house of comics, they have independently published their
work, spoke at universities and conferences, contributed to anthologies, and given back to their city’s youth by bringing art to them by any means necessary. And in one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, that is no small accomplishment!
Their stores about life on La Frontera are illustrated with care and attention to detail. They are written with a serious but humorous satire that mirrors the changes that have been happening in the city over the past decade. I am super blessed to show you some photos, video, and share some thoughts about what it was like to kick it with them.
This August I was flown down to El Paso Texas, then driven over the border into Ciudad Juarez. I had been communicating with “Pancho” and “Oliver” of 656 for over two years. I had been introduced to their work by Samax at Ghetto Manga and immediately hit up the crew when I was still art directing Come Bien Books to collaborate. We spoke over the phone and through email, but it was nice to finally meet in person. 656 main crew consists of Francisco, Oliver, Laura, and Marcos. There is another cat who’s in the crew but I didn’t get a chance to meet him. Below you can see some covers from their incredible stories!
I was picked up from the airport by The US consulate in Ciudad Jaurez who sponsored my trip. Big shout out to the US Consulate, because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to meet such amazing folks.The homie Juan Pablo “JP” came to get me and immediately took me to see a place I was super excited about, Cinco Puntos Press! Located in El Paso, this is one of the premier publishers of bilingual books and it is one of the first publishers I sent my art to. Dope people, great store, truly an honor. Next I got a new sense of what it was like to be in a foreign country for the first time in a long time. We went to a taqueria in Juarez and I realized I had a lot to learn about how things work in Mexico. First, pesos. I’m told that 11 pesos equals a dollar or something like that. Anyway, when I paid for my tacos they told me I could pay in dollars…What??For reals? Too easy, its going to take more practice to learn pesos. I think it’s also very fucked up that the US is the only country using miles or gallons when in Mexico and so many other parts of the world they use kilometers and liters. I think small things like this are to cut us off from the rest of the world. Anyways, here you see some photos of the stop on the workshop schedule.
The first workshop was at MUREF (Museo de la Revolucion en la Frontera). This was located in the middle of town and was a beautiful museum. The inside was beautiful and as I was lead on a tour of the museum I was told that this museum was dedicated to the history of the Mexican Revolution with artifacts, newspapers, weapons, photos, and memorabilia of Pancho Villa, La Adelita, and Emiliano Zapata. The workshop I was to give was meant to be with 20 or 30 kids and there was something like 50 or 60 people there! It was a big challenge for me to give it all in Spanish too, to a room of kids, parents, elders, and museum officials. I was nervous but once we started communicating and laughing it was hella (a lot of) fun. The youth were inspiring. Super creative, skilled, excited, alert, and engaged. After two hours of exercises and group work I spent the next 30 minutes trying to humbly take the praise I was given by the folks in attendance. Everyone was so nice, asking to take photos with me, or asking for drawings. Some even gave me their drawings! I fought back the tears as I was truly touched. To see more photos from this event like the one below go to SOMOS Frontera/El Paso Times.
Here is the crew in front of Muref.
Conference in the University TECNOLOGICO DE MONTERREY campus Cd. Juarez. This was a heavily guarded university that was farther out of the central city. They told me it was the nicer part of town. It was a beautiful building that I spoke in. There I got to meet Laura Ramirez a university instructor and the one behind a local library called Ma’Juana. The class was very cool, small in comparison to the previous day. With the kids I did a powerpoint presentation talking about me, how I started in art, my influences, and my crew. It was cool to look back as I spoke about memories and homies and it was cool for these kids because they spoke English as well as Spanish. So they got to practice their English skills with me. I did a very brief workshop with them about mural sketch design where I talked about messaging, legibility, and audience of a mural. It was fun and the folks who could stay for the entire thing were very laid back.
Next day after resting in my old school hotel in the middle of the hood and hoping my stomach would recuperate, I had another workshop at “Companeros” with a group of teenaged comic writers and illustrators. Before this I got to walk around the hood next to “Companeros” that does literacy work, and data gathering about drug use by young folks in the city. A cool place with very laid back staff. That afternoon 656 asked me to talk about how I’ve fundraised with my crew and how I saw self promotion/ or self marketing, which was really fun to talk about. I Began by showing examples of my work and by doing a new workshop Ive been working on for a year now called “Sequential Storytelling”. It involves elements of Film, Children’s books, Graphic Novels, and Comics.
The youth there were mostly writers so it was a challenge to make it relevant to them as a visual artist. Talking about funds and promotion I delved into websites, blogs, social media, the law of attraction (which I’ve been studying), and sites like IndieGogo or Kickstarter. But, I have a lot to learn, because it isnt so easy to throw a party there with all the violence. And not everyone has access to a video camera or editing equipment to make a fundraising video. In the end, I stressed the importance of letting everyone around you know about what it is that you do creatively.
After that I got the chance to have lunch with some other folks. A young comic creator named Rexito Marana was with us, his work is definitely worth checking out. But after eating at a local joint called VIP’s (like the Mexican version of Ihop) my stomach got to me. It wasn’t a pretty site. Had to crash because I was super sick. Did my best to rest that night so I wouldn’t miss the next day’s workshops with the babies!
I get to see the babies! Ok, I must admit how much I love kids! I was missing my son too (who was away in Ecuador) so it felt good to be around little ones. I met many young kids at Ma’Juana library, which is an independent library. It was in another hood in Juarez that was very different from where my hotel was. No paved roads. Very old house. It kind of reminded me of Mississippi where my grandfather was from, except much much more densely populated. The library was dope though! There wasn’t anything like it for blocks in any direction. There’s a beautiful mural on the front and when I walked inside it was like children’s book heaven. Tons of books in Spanish ranging from picture books, encyclopedia’s, comics, and other assorted art books. It was very inspiring to see because Laura and Francisco/Pancho of 656 built the library largely from their own books, buying abroad, and getting donations. It was like a mini version of an all Spanish language bookstore I saw in Jackson Heights Queens once. They had classic’s like “En El Desvan” and new ones like “La Peor Mjuer en todo el Mundo”. So after sadly turning down a bowl of home made Posole because my stomach still hurt, I got to meet the little ones from around the way. Some were as big as 11 or 10 and some were only 3. They were all super cute, smiling, laughing, and staring at me like with curious eyes. I did a basic drawing workshop with them using letters and characters and they got into it, drawing with crayons, pencils, makers, and whatever was available. More photos at Communidad Fronteriza
After that I got to meet some of Laura’s family and some more cool folks from the neighborhood. Everyone I must say without a doubt was beautiful, humble, generous, hilarious, creative, and loving. I am eternally grateful for my short stay among the 656 Crew and their extended familia. They left me with some copies of their comics, a few independent Mexican and Spanish films, and even some books for my son. I missed them as soon as I got to the airport. I headed out with Laura dn Juan Pablo to do some shopping in El Paso just because I still had a bit of time and I enjoyed kicking it with them. JP even gave me a Julieta Venegas CD! I love me some Julieta (Tijuana, MX)!
And that was my trip. Despite what the media says about Juarez, what i’ve heard about the Femicide, Maquiladoras, or Narco Violence I found the folks I met to be super tough and ready to change the world. If you know any artists out there who are doing their best to create beautiful art, serve their community some how, and are not afraid of learning a few new words let me know. I will pass them to the 656 crew. Likewise, if you are in the US and you want to support this group, hit them up! Buy their books! Tell any young brown creative writers or aspiring comic artists that they CAN do it. This crew is proof of that, and they’re on their way to New York’s Comic Con this October (check this link to see how “Diverse” the event is and you’ll see why I ask for you to support their stories). Go visit their table, give them a pound and a hug for me. Love yall my Ciudad Juarez Family! Thank you to Pancho, Oliver, Marcos, JP, Laura Ramirez, 656, The US Consulate, Muref, Companeros, Ma’Juana, all the young students and artists I met (never give up! follow your dream, and change it all), and all the media that covered the workshops. Si olvido su nombre, perdon. Yo estaba enamorado con todo que estaba pasando en frente de mis ojos!
Here are some screen shots of some of the press the workshops got while I was there.