Getting To Know… Desiree Rodriguez

des-2Marco Lopez writes,

I've decided to make this a regular thing outside of the You've Never Heard Of series and the Nerd Fight articles with Gene Selassie. I wrote my first Getting to Know article on pint-sized comic book creator Evie Dunn and it was a success and I like the sound of the whole Getting to Know title. It's very inviting and comforting.

So, with that having been said I decided my next article should be with Desiree Rodriguez. Who is Desiree Rodriguez you may be asking yourself? Well, she is a writer for Nerds of Color and Women Write About Comics and has written numerous articles on feminism, ethnicity and gender identity in comics and film and television. And she is good at what she does, but what made me want to interview her is when it was announced at NYCC (during the Catalyst Prime announcement) that she was brought on board as an editorial assistant at Lion Forge comics.

Having worked for Lion Forge I can vouch for what a good company they are and a group of people, but adding a Latinx comic journalist to such a prominent role and assisting in shaping what will be one of the most talked about (in my opinion) superhero lineups for years to come. Well, it got me excited. You know outside the creators and comics they announced.

Now let's get to know a bit about Desiree and what she hopes to accomplish at Lion Forge and in the industry in general.

des-3Marco: I've probably repeated this same first question in the three interviews I have done so far for Bleeding Cool but I think in one form or another it's a greater starter question. Especially for those who might not be familiar with who I'm interviewing. So, tell us a bit about yourself. What comic got you into comics and why is it you chose to write about comic books, geek culture, and the industry?

Desiree: I wish I could say I always loved western comics, but my first love was anime and manga. I grew up with Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Card Captors Sakura, obviously, but also Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, and Cowboy Bebop were all my introduction into pop culture and comics. My first manga was Yu-Gi-Oh, and the first one I bought with my own money was Tokyo Mew Mew I'm a bit ashamed to say.

But I always loved those fantastical fictional stories. Eventually, I was introduced to the Teen Titans cartoon show, and before that X-Men Evolution which was both my first taste of western superhero comics. As my interest in anime and manga waned (I blame 4Kids dubs) it was revitalized with those shows. I always tell people I blame X-Men Evolution for why I love Scott Summers to this day. But it was really the original Teen Titans show that got me into print comics.

I loved the balance of heartfelt character drama, with superhero vigilantism. It was near impossible at first to really get into comics. Growing up in a rather poor neighborhood in New Jersey didn't offer a lot of opportunities for seeking out a local comic shop. I had to buy everything from Barnes and Nobles which didn't have much of a comic selection as far as monthlies went. Luckily I had the internet, where I could google all the information I needed. That's how I found out about New Teen Titans and began absorbing those stories.

des-4It helped, in perhaps a selfish sort of way, that one of the creators I learned was Puerto Rican (George Perez). It was one of the few times growing up I felt a connection to something on that level. That someone with my cultural and ethnic background made something that I could appreciate and hold in my hands. Before that, all I had was Selena, and JLo as far as media went. Which was great in some aspects, at least there was a face, but Maid in Manhattan isn't my speed, and I always appreciated the creation behind the scenes. So knowing there was someone Latino who created one of my all-time favorite characters (Starfire), that was just fantastical.

I met Perez once, about a year ago at MegaCon Fan Day though I doubt he remembers me. But it was one of those moments when I went, 'wow, this is happening, I can do this too' and it helped cement my love for comics and the industry.

I always loved writing, I grew up in the age when fandom was slowly growing because of the internet and social media. I spent a lot of time online and learning about comics, and discussing various other media. I loved to write, for years I loved to write and discuss, and debate with others. But journalism wasn't an option for me. It wasn't how I was raised.

I was always taught that you picked a stable career. You go to college, get a degree and get a job or a trade. You don't write. Not unless you want to starve. So I went to work right after high school. I originally was going to be a teacher, English because I'm a cliché like that. I was always a good tutor in school, and I always wanted to give back to kids, and I loved literature and writing. Why not go for the stable job of a teacher? So I decided to work in childcare and get a taste of what it was like. Worked for the Boys and Girls Club as an Assistant Pre-School Teacher, moved up to Head Teacher, moved to Florida, became an after school Third Grade Teacher for Girls Inc. and realized I just couldn't do it anymore.

When I began working at the Boys and Girls Club I started freelancing online. Gosh looking back on some of my older articles they were terrible. But it was a starting point.

Did some things for Paper Droids, The Young Folks, until I began at Women Write About Comics. But I wasn't committed. It was something I loved to do, especially when I began writing at WWAC, but I still clung to the idea of stability. But I began to hate teaching, grew to loathe the American education system, and just felt burnt out. Which wasn't fair to the kids, and wasn't fair to me. So I quit and decided to finally start school and pursue journalism legitimately. I'm really grateful for the support system I had in place because otherwise, I would probably be a frustrated, bitter teacher right now instead of speaking with you!

desMarco: To familiarize myself with your work I read some of your articles as you know and as someone who is Latinx the article that stuck out to me the most was the one called Being Latinx in Comics. Because for one I had no idea that term existed. Thanks to you and others there are quite a few terms I didn't know existed. Which means either I'm old and at 35 I doubt that or I'm just not paying attention to society or the media is doing a crap job of informing people.

How important is Latinx representation to you in comics and entertainment? Either on the page or behind the scenes. And what do you see as the fundamental flaws in the comic book industry when it comes to representation of Latinx people and characters.

For example, to use me for a second. As a writer working my way in comics and film it's something as an adult I think about a lot more than as a teen. I don't think as a military brat growing up in various cities in the U.S. it ever dawned on me the cliché representation that was Skin from Generation X or how among all the superhero characters in comics there has never been an A-list superhero or supervillain of Latinx descent. Yes, now a day we have Blue Beetle and Sam Alexander, but none of those were created with the input of a Latinx individual. And when it comes to Cinema we do have quite a few directors and actors in front of and behind the camera. But even then I would be hard pressed to name a popular TV show with Latinx representation that isn't cliché. I'm looking at you Jane the Virgin.

Desiree: I think the fundamental flaw in regards to the representation of Latinx people in any media, comics, film, television or otherwise is ignorance. As frustrating as I found the education system at times, I'm a big supporter of being educated.

We're not born with in-depth, intricate knowledge of social politics. It takes time, effort, and wiliness to learn about each other. At 19 I had internalized so many harmful, awful beliefs and behaviors not just because of our media, but because of American society at large. I didn't start unlearning a lot of these beliefs and behaviors until I was around 19 or 20 with the help of, oddly enough, social media. Which is a double-edged sword of course, but I truly believe in its positive merits of enabling people to share their stories, and experiences in a more wide-spread manner. Furthermore, it enables people to find information and broaden their perspective beyond what they've learned and been taught.

The key, however, is to seek it out. You have to seek out this information. I'm a cis woman, I have no clue what life is like for a trans woman, or the trans community at large. So I feel it's my job to seek information out about the community so I can better understand their struggles, the discrimination they face, and how I can help. How can I be the best ally to their community that I can be? Not by talking over them, not by not including them in the process of fictional creation – I'm a creative writer too – but by purposely seeking their input and being sure to learn as much as I can from their firsthand accounts.

I have trans colleagues that have told me, "hey this makes me uncomfortable and here's why" and I apologize, try to do better, and try to learn more so I'm not contributing to their marginalizing or discrimination. The important thing, I believe, is admitting that we're ignorant but ignorance is not an excuse, it's a learning opportunity to be better people.

I see a lot of 'well everything is PC now' or "politically correct culture is ruining things', but what I hear is that people lack empathy. I don't believe in being 'politically correct' I believe in being empathetic.

When it comes specifically to Latinx characters and learning about Latinx people, we need to include more Latinx voices. It's not enough, not for me personally, to simply have a character with a vaguely Spanish-sounding name, and say they're "Hispanic/Latinx". What does that mean?

What does it mean for a character to be Latinx? Latinx isn't a race, it's an ethnicity. Being Latinx is to be a part of a culture. Growing up my family spoke Spanish and English, we had big family gatherings for no reason, we ate arroz con pollo, tostones, and carne guisada which are all traditional Puerto Rican dishes. We even make our rice differently than people who are Mexican, or Cuban, or Columbia. We're not a monolith; each of us have specific cultural identities. For me, you can't say Character A is Latino, and then throw in some Google translated Spanish on the page and call it good representation. For me, that's inauthentic and misunderstands what it means to be Latinx.

But this goes back to seeking out people who are Latinx to be a part of your Editorial staff. We're out there, you just have to actively seek us out, and be willing to give us the opportunity to be a part of the team.

Marco: It's funny that you bring up some of the food Puerto Ricans eat. I was recently working on a short comic book story with a Latinx hero set in Puerto Rico based on my youth and one of the things discussed (in a scene) is what's for dinner and how it's always this certain type of food and how the main character's mom knows he sometimes gets tired of it. Which comes from being a Puerto Rican kid who grew up in two worlds from moving around a lot. A very American meets Puerto Rican upbringing.

Which as you pointed out a non Latinx writer telling the stories of a Hispanic youth wouldn't know of these things as these aren't their experiences. And without those experiences, you can't sometimes truly do the character's justice.

Now you ended your answer by bringing up Latinx people being part of the Editorial staff of comics. Which brings me to the fact that recently at NYCC it was announced that you were brought on board Lion Forge comics as the editorial assistant for the Catalyst Prime line of comics. First, let me say congratulations to you on that. You've gotta be over the moon about this. How did that come together? And what is it that you hope to accomplish while in this position?

Desiree: Thank you! I'm just still on a cloud of 'is this really happening?' it has been a very educational, and fulfilling experience so far. I'm over the moon, and on Jupiter right now skipping along the asteroid belt.

I told a brief version of this story at the Lion Forge panel at NYCC actually. I've known Joe Illidge for maybe a year now? A bit longer perhaps. Mostly through Twitter, both being journalists in the comic industry we traveled in similar circles. We started following each other on Twitter, and he'd always talked to me about how we needed to have a Batman conversation. But things always came up that got in the way.

One day he messaged me on Twitter asking if he could speak with me and I said yes. He called me up and I was thinking he just wanted to talk about Batman. Well, I was ready to gush about Tim Drake when he began asking me what I wanted to do in comics as a whole. I told him, being a part of the creative process, in all aspects, was something I wanted to eventually be a part of.

I love creating things. I love the process of creation. When I was in high school I was in the drama club and I was a part of every sector: light crew, stage crew, building sets, putting together costumes, even acting on stage. I love the act of creation itself. I love watching people create things, and I love being a part of creating things.

So after a bit of that, Joe asked if I'd be interested in being an Assistant Editor for Lion Forge. It was all very hush hush of course. And I had to go through another interview and a lot of waiting before I receive confirmation. He made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone, and like any properly raised Latina woman I told my Mamita right after we finished talking. Just her, though! I had to, she's been my biggest supporter when I decided to fully pursue journalism.

She said to me, "Chepa, I have no clue what any of this means but I'm so happy for you!" and she really doesn't. She doesn't read comics, but she reads almost all my articles, and she almost cried when I told her about the offer itself. When I got the job I'm pretty sure she did cry. She's gonna kill me for saying that.

I think, in part, what really got me the job was my article on being Latinx in comics. Which makes me, perhaps selfishly, really proud. I'm proud that I was given the opportunity by the Editor-in-Chief of The Nerds of Color, Keith Chow, to write that piece. And I'm proud that I was able to write something both meaningful and educational about my culture.

I hope that I can be an asset to Lion Forge, and contribute positively to the Catalyst Prime project by providing both support and insight from my perspective as a queer Latina woman. It's been a whirlwind so far, and I know I'm very young, I feel that, so I'm very grateful for all the amazing people who have both helped me get where I am now and continue to help me grow.

Marco: Now it may be a bit early to ask this question given that the new line of superhero comics from Lion Forge doesn't begin until May of next year. But how do you feel this line of books will impact the rest of the industry? I mean from the looks of it the lineup of titles and creators have been curated to bring a true multiethnic superhero comic book experience to not only the audience of comic book readers but those who may not generally pick up superhero comics but have an interest in the genre. Because the truth is sometimes seeing you in a story starts a strong emotional attachment. It's then up to the team behind the comic to strengthen that and make the reader a continuous fan.

Desiree: I remember feeling not alone when I first read Greg Rucka's Gotham City Central because of Renee Montoya. Growing up, I didn't have many Latina faces to relate to on television, film, or in comics. Let alone ones that weren't straight. While I'm not a lesbian, Renee was a presence in a fictional format that I could relate to because she also wasn't straight and she was Latina. Most non-straight characters in any media are predominately white. Willow was nice, but Renee was important to me personally.

I believe the best kind of fictional media gives you those moments. Moments when you feel something but especially when you don't feel so alone. When you read a story or watch one in motion, and it makes you feel something in yourself. For marginalized people, there is, I believe, a quiet sense of loneliness when we watch a majority of media because we don't see ourselves reflected back in it. If we do, we're stereotypes or martyrs, we hardly ever get to be the hero. And I'm not speaking in simplistic bad guy vs good guy terms either.

By 'hero' I mean protagonist. Complicated and genuine, fully realized characters that display us in sympathetic ways. Characters that are human. Jessica Alba is one of my personal heroes because I think she's brilliant, but I also pity her career a bit. She was near forced by Hollywood to reject her Mexican-American heritage in favor of whiteness. That was damaging for me growing up. I was so excited to see her star in Fantastic Four, only to see her being sexed up, and then dyed so blonde and blue eyed she looked more like Barbie than the beautiful Latina woman I watched in Honey.

This is where Catalyst Prime, I believe, is trying to do it right. As nice as it is to see Renee Montoya on the page, I would love for one day, a Latina woman to write her character. Because behind the page diversity is just as important, if not more so, than on the page. I don't believe it's enough to simply have diverse characters while continuing to lock out or bar opportunities to creators of color, or LGBTIA creators. When will a trans woman finally get a chance to write their own stories in more mainstream spaces? Or brought in to consult?

It's hard to say what the potential impact of Catalyst Prime or Lion Forge will have on the industry as a whole. I hope it's a positive one, I believe it has the potential to be a very positive one. The mission, as was stated at the NYCC panel, is to make 'comics for everyone' and it's a mission I strongly believe in.

Comics should be for everyone. They should also include everyone in telling those stories as well. Which is what we're trying to do. I can't give away any specific details, but I have high hopes for what we're building.

Marco: So, we've been talking a lot about diversity and change on the page and behind the page in comics and the industry. Now I personally believe that while superhero comics are great and I love the genre to death as I've been reading them since I was a kid. I don't believe that genre is what has pushed the industry to where it is now and what will keep further pushing the industry to greater heights. I think sci-fi, horror, fantasy, romance, action, etc. do more to represent a medium better to an audience and specifically a diverse audience. Do you agree or disagree? And do you think the superhero genre itself even with a diverse set of characters and creators can bring in a wider audience of readers? Given that generally Marvel and DC are the only ones so far that have could pull in large numbers via the superhero genre. That's not to say Valiant hasn't had success or others in the past and creator owned work but none currently at the numbers Marvel are doing.

Desiree: I think it depends on a lot of different factors. I'm the type of person who doesn't believe in one answer, black and white concepts just don't do it for me. People are more complex than that, almost frustratingly so.

I think superhero comics can and have proven to push the boundaries of the overall status quo of what is and isn't comic book stories. I'm a big Green Arrow/Black Canary fan, and the things some of those comics touched up – prostitution, drug abuse, racism, and having an HIV+ positive character once upon a time – were all boundary pushers. They were topics that needed to be talked about. The recent, and unfortunately short-lived Nighthawk series took on police brutality a hot button topic for sure, but one we shouldn't shy away from. I just finished reading The Omega Men trade paperback which has a lot of metaphors and allusions to real world politics.

So superhero comics, I believe, can tackle a lot of relevant issues from a specific filter of a "superhero" book. If anything, the "superhero" part opens up a lot of potentially interesting questions about the state of our real world and what we can do to better it. One of my favorite graphic novels is a series done by Paul Dini and Alex Ross: Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth, Superman: Peace on Earth, and Batman: War on Crime all ask really interesting questions about our world and world problems through the specific perspectives of god-like characters.

But superhero comics can't do it alone. I think what you need to push the industry further is a mix of things. Good stories, and good, diverse, people behind the page. I believe that for any comics, superhero or otherwise. There's, of course, a strong emphasize on the superhero genre which comes with its own restrictions due to the longevity of the genre. When people think "comics," they think superheroes.

I believe, given time and with the aid of the internet, people will eventually think "comics" and hear stories. With the help of social media and, fundraising options that exist now, all sorts of comics are and can be produced. I don't think the industry should be limited to just "superhero" stories. Any more than the film industry should be limited to "action movies" or the like.

We need web comics, we need horror comics, we need romance comics, and within those genres, we need the diversity of both characters and creators. The industry should be as vast and diverse in genre as any other medium of creative fiction. It'll just take some time dismantling the thought that superhero equals comic books period. They can, and should, be some overlap of course. But like the book industry, you can't have one specific genre and survive. And, again, I think one of the benefits of social media and the internet today is that information is more widespread and available. A comic can start off small, and web only, and turn into a huge success – like Check Please for example – and garner its own fanbase. Series like that can change the idea behind "comic books" and bring in new fans to the medium.

I don't believe there's going to be one great savior of the industry. It can't just be romance comics, or superhero comics, and so on and so forth. It should be a variety and a multi-layered one at that.

Marco: Given everything we've talked about. I wanna know what are your goals in comics? Beyond being an assistant editor or maybe moving up the editorial ranks at Lion Forge. Would you like to one day write for Lion Forge, Marvel, Dc and others? And even put out your own creator-owned work. Or is it enough for you to just be a good editor who works with a great team to put out a fantastic product?

Desiree: I'm not vain enough to believe I can change the industry single-handedly, but one of my overall goals is to be a part of change. I love comics, but sometimes it can feel like comics don't love you back when you don't fit the traditional parameters of what a comic fan should be or should look like. It's not easy changing an industry or an established mindset, but I still believe it's possible to create change, to incite it. So people can feel as included, and safe within it as both creators and readers. That will always be one of my personal goals within the industry.

I'd love to write my own series one day. I'm not nearly there, I haven't the experience yet, but it will happen one day. I have too many notebooks full of stories that I want to explore to not do it.

I learned a few years ago, when I took a huge risk and moved from the safety of my parents' home to an entirely different state where I only knew three people, and without much of a plan and no college education just a lot of work experience, that I couldn't say I wanted to do something. It wasn't enough. I had to say I will do it. I will pursue journalism. I will write my own novel one day. I will create my own comic. I will get this new job. Wanting it wasn't enough anymore, I had to need it. That switch in mindset has really helped me begin building a more fulfilling life.

I'm not perfect, so there are times when I fail and fall back on things, but there are still things I know I'm going to do. And one of them is for sure creating my own comic one day.

But I also want to continue helping others build up the industry; making it more widespread and accessible to everyone. To support new creators, and new fans, and give them similar moments like I had when I first read about Renee Montoya or New Teen Titans. Those moments of wonder, and more importantly, those moments of not feeling alone or the opportunity to create those moments for other readers, their readers.

I'm a greedy sort of person, I need to do it all.

And that's the way you end an interview. Thanks to everyone out there who checked out this article and don't forget to check out my other series You've Never Heard Of and Nerd Fight. I had a great time interviewing Desiree and I hope you all enjoyed it as well.

I believe she's going to be someone who's going to be a force to reckon with in this industry and bring a lot of forward momentum and change to the world of comics. Not only for Latinx people but everyone in general.

Marco Lopez is the co-owner of the website Atomic Rex Entertainment. Where you can find the ongoing weekly webcomic Massively Effective, that Marco describes as Abbott and Costello in tights. Also hosted on the site is Marco's web strip series Orion's Belt that follows an Afro-Latino family of adventurers in space and his anthology series A Shot of Whiskey. Marco has also written for Zenescope Entertainment and Lion Forge Comics.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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