“Nobody ever has the balls to publish it. Vertigo does.”
Next week we’ll all be taking a trip to Border Town — at least, those of us willing to take a leap with one of DC Vertigo’s newest comics in their relaunched line. The series is written by Eric M. Esquivel and drawn by Ramon Villalobos, and focuses on a small town in Arizona where local undocumented workers are being blamed for the acts of supernatural beings that also go bump in the night. It’s a series that aims to not only discuss a difficult topic in America today but also explore the wonderful and eclectic mix of monsters based in Mexican folklore.
At San Diego Comic-Con, AiPT! was invited to a press roundtable where we were able to ask DC Vertigo creators questions about their upcoming books. With Border Town less than a week away, allow us to give you a portion of that interviewing experience with writer Eric Esquivel and artist Ramon Villalobos.
They kicked things off by talking about the inspirations for the series. Rooted in both their youths, Esquivel and Villalobos talked about growing up in Mexican families where monsters were very real. “It is about the town that I grew up in and the mythology that my aunt used to scare the s--t out of me, like the Chupacabra,” Esquivel said. Its focus on Mexican folklore is an element that’s incredibly unique since the monsters may be largely unfamiliar to American audiences. Villalobos added the monsters that show up in Border Town were the same ones that his grandmother would use to get him to behave as a child. “If I was playing with toys, like ‘if you don’t stop doing that, there’s a ghost and you know she’ll come alive and your toys will kill you.'” Esquivel added his own anecdote saying he’d hear from a parent, “You gotta pray to Jesus and eat your vegetables or Cucuí is going to eat your toes.” Being half Irish and half Mexican, Esquivel said he grew up with Catholicism around him, but the Mexican folktales were there too. “I feel like they are not fictional. It’s as real as Jesus is or the Devil.”
Covering monsters and supernatural folktale creatures in Border Town also allows Villalobos to explore the visual side of things. With most of these creatures not appearing in film or visual storytelling up until this point, Villalobos said he approached the design completely fresh. “I did it with minimal research. I just wanted to not be reliant on stuff that we’ve already seen. I wanted to do new stuff.”
It’s a series rooted in Esquivel’s hometown of Tuscon, Arizona, where being Mexican or a Mexican immigrant was a way of life. Arizona is a location in America Esquivel says served as in incubator for a lot of the problems in the country today, which inspired the story. “We are where Joe Arpaio came from — people asking for your papers started in Arizona. Like, everything that is horrible about the country started where I grew up.” Esquivel said to expect this series to show a town where illegals are blamed for everything including crop circles, shared nightmares, mutilated cattle, and other supernatural events. After leaving Esquivel said he sees it spreading like a cancer across the country. “I think every town is a border town now. Every table is a border table. We are so divided right now and the book is about how a community can only save itself if we come together.”
The only hope in Border Town is a group of teenagers who are “hyphenated Americans like myself” Esquivel said, who don’t belong to any certain group in town. As half Americans, they serve as a representation of half the population with one half hating them. Drawing a teenager-lead book is something Villalobos said he can’t wait for us to see. “I love Dawson’s Creek, Degrassi, you know, that kind of stuff. Dude I want more like teenage romance stuff but more like kids getting into little petty arguments!” One might argue the youth is our only hope when it comes to the racism and prejudice we see in the streets and it’s also a group that hasn’t been represented perfectly either, Villalobos says. “I feel like you could show this comic to young kids and they would see themselves represented. And I think that’s very important.”
Ultimately it’s thanks to DC Vertigo and this relaunch that the book is coming out at all. Esquivel related he’s been asked why he doesn’t write more Hispanic characters, but said he’s wanted to for a long time. In fact, he said he’s pitched this story, and other stories with Hispanic characters “but nobody ever has the balls to publish it. DC Vertigo does.” Both creators are huge fans of DC Vertigo (Esquivel even has a Vertigo tattoo) and writing for the line means a lot to both of them. Villalobos related how he only read books like Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles growing up, and “all that stuff has a very special place in my heart.” Esquivel related how DC Vertigo was edgy in the ’90s, but it’s a new kind of edgy they’re about to launch this fall. Books like American Carnage from Bryan Hill, or Mark Russell’s upcoming Second Coming make the creators of this new line “culturally dangerous,” as Esquivel puts it. “Everybody here is actually culturally dangerous and that’s really exciting.”
That said, Esquivel and Villalobos don’t want people to think this is a politically charged book at its core. No, instead it’s more of a fun horror series. “It’s not a political book. People have been wrapping a lot of political debate around it. The idea that Mexicans exist is not political. It is not a political statement.” No, it goes deeper than politics and gets at the core of being human. It’s a facet of the series Esquivel says we should look forward to as they build these characters. “The borders in Border Town are more than just physical too, they are also the borders between ourselves within a culture or broader culture or even gender,” Esquivel said.
You can purchase Border Town wherever comic books are sold September 5th.