Since 2004, Eric J. Garcia has been making the weekly syndicated political cartoon El Machete Illustrated. The strip is brilliant and scathing look at veterans issues and immigration, imperialism and history. Comics are just one of the many field Garcia works in. He’s a teaching artist, a muralist sculptor, and painter who has created public art projects and whose work has been in museums around the country.
The Latinographix imprint is publishing a collection of Garcia’s comics, Drawing on Anger: Portraits of U.S. Hypocrisy, a selection of his work from 2004 to 2017. Garcia is also one of many contributors to the new anthology Tales From La Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology. Drawing on Anger comes with advance praise from cartoonists and scholars, and like all great collections manages to provide a sense of not just what Garcia thinks, but how he thinks.
Garcia will be at SOL-CON this weekend at Ohio State University in Columbus, where the book will be debuting, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his comics work.
I like to ask people, especially when it’s their first book, how did you come to comics?
Ever since my brother and I were given a box of old comics books I have been fascinated with the art form. Even before I could read I was thumbing the pages and following the story with just visuals.
The name comes from an old anonymous political newspaper that my older brother had told me about. In New Mexico, where I am originally from, at the University of Highlands, during the Chicano Movement this newspaper was going around. A Chicano activists newspaper that gave critical local and national news, this is where I first encountered “El Machete”. Later on did I realize that this was a name that was borrowed from an earlier political newspaper that was made by politicized artists Diego River and David Alfaro Siqueros in Mexico City. I wanted to carry on this moniker and the radical legacy that came with it but I wanted to make mine purely an illustrated edition. This is how I came up with the name of “El Machete illustrated”
You made a comic for Tales From La Vida called “Chopping Down the Cottonwood” and I wonder if you could talk a little about it. It’s a different approach than the comics in El Machete, have you made many comics in this way? How did you decided to tell this story?
For Tales From La Vida we were asked to create a comic strip about a significant time in our lives. Now, a good majority of the work I do with “El Machete Illustrated” is one panel drawings which are more common with political cartoons. But, I do make long form comic stripes. With “El Machete” I’m trying to condense a complex issue into one visualization. The comic strip with multiple panels allows me more flexibility to tell a longer story with more details. The comic strip I did for this book was a story of my own military experience and how my upbringing, culture and history was intertwined with it.
I love to use different media and depending on the project/idea will determine the medium. A good majority of my Machete cartoons and prints have to do with the looking outward to whats going on in the world where as my art works are more personal and self reflective.
How did you decide on the title, Drawing on Anger?
The title was actually developed buy the brilliant mind of my editor at the OSU. The title fits perfect, a lot of the issues I illustrate are done from a point of frustration and anger that these ludicrous situations are happening in the world.
The book contains the 10 best cartoons from each of the past 12 years cartooning.
Could you pick one comic and walk through how you first got the idea and how you approach it and how you draw the comic?
One cartoon that comes to mind uses my favorite duo that I use a lot: Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam, with the addition of our current imbecilic president. Trump came into office with a lot hate speech and themes of racism. Many people – including myself – thought these ideas have been slowly eroding way from this country, but in actuality these racist mentalities were alive and well, just hidden under a very thine veil. I visualized this idea by depicting Trump tearing open Uncle Sam’s shirt and unveiling “racism” tattooed on his chest, that had always been there but was just covered up. Lady Liberty shouts to Tio Sam “I thought you got that removed?!” In other words racism has been in the U.S. since the beginning and has never left and unfortunately right now is being displayed proudly.
I create a weekly cartoon, so that means I have the benefit of a week to figure out what to create. All week long I am listening to NPR or Democracy now, reading history. All week I’ll be making thumbnail sketches of ideas from all this. Then at the end of the week I’ll see what issue has not been given the spot light it deserved or how can I give a unique angle on a popular issue. I sketch everything out on a 11″ x 8.5″ piece of paper with pencil. Then I’ll ink it with micronpens. After that I scan the image, make it a digital file where I clean up things on photoshop. Once it’s a digital file I then send it out to my publications and social media.
Ha! Yes, I will be unveiling the book at this year’s Sol-Con, which is the OSU’s Black and Brown Comic Con on September 28th. I will also be having a Chicago unveiling at the National Museum of Mexican Art on Oct 25th. I will be in Madison, Wisconsin in December and Albuquerque, NM in February, so I will be hitting the road pretty soon.