Smash Pages Q&A: The ‘Mañana’ anthology interview

Alberto Rayo, Maddi Gonzalez and Tristan J. Tarwater discuss the stories they helped create for ‘Mañana: Latinx Comics From The 25th Century.’

Power & Magic Press run by Joamette Gil has put out a series of exceptional anthologies in recent years, including Heartwood, Immortal Souls and The Queer Witch. Their most recent book – and arguably their best anthology to date – is Mañana: Latinx Comics From The 25th Century, which came out at the end of 2021 in both Spanish and English language editions. The book, edited by Gil, features 27 stories that are set in Latin America in the 2490s, or in the diaspora among other planets. It features an incredible lineup of talent, including Julio Anta, Terry Blas, Kat Fajardo, Jamila Rowser, H. Pueyo and Dante Luiz.

The anthology offers a wide variety of stories, styles and approaches that are realistic and poetic, set on Earth and much further afield, small stories and large. They are stories of survival, of continuance, of possibility, of transformation, of community. They are stories of hope. As Gil wrote in the book’s introduction, “Mañana presents dozens of possible futures, with one thing in common: we’re still here. El futuro es nuestro.”

I had the chance to speak with three of the creators involved in the book. Alberto Rayo wrote “A Dream of a Thousand Stars,” which was drawn by Sebastian Carrillo. Maddi Gonzalez drew “A Little Esperanza,” which was written by Jamila Rowser, and Tristan J. Tarwater wrote “Bats and Fish,” which was drawn by Molly Mendoza. The three were kind enough to speak about their work and the possibilities of the future.

To start, how did you come to comics?

Maddi Gonzalez:  There’s the typical origin story for comic artists: you did nothing but draw as soon as you could hold a pencil! That’s true for me, too. I always knew I would want to dedicate my life to comics, my true love, or animation, my wild stallion of passion. And then I got rejected from an animation college. Ahem. Um, anyway…

Alberto Rayo:  I started reading comics and manga when I was little, but it wasn’t until I saw a local comic fanzine when I was 15 that I started exploring the local comic scene in my country. A few years later I was doing my own zines. Thanks to that I met a lot of artists that wanted to do comics too and we teamed up, that’s how I became a comic writer. 

Tristan Tarwater:  My tongue in cheek answer is that I was born into comics. My mom (and titi) named me after a comic book character: I’m named after Sir Tristan in Camelot 3000. That probably dates me a little bit, but that’s my namesake. As far as writing comics, I came to it through writing prose. I wrote a novel series and then did a webcomic with my friend Adrian Ricker and my spouse about one of the side characters. Around the time that was coming out we moved back to Portland and got to know people in the Portland comics scene through events, mutuals, conventions. I just keep occasionally writing comics. 

Maddi, what did you like about “A Little Esperanza” and working with Jamilia on the story?

Maddi Gonzalez:  I believe Jamila to be a super genius. Her script was evocative and impeccable. Jamila’s vision for Esperanza was very clear, of course— and she had tons of visual reference set up for me to absorb, but she still gave me quite a bit of creative freedom with designing the world and characters. I had dozens of designs for Coqui alone! Maritza came out pretty much fully fleshed the first time I drew her. I love that her head and hair makes a big exclamation mark. Though, maybe it would have been smarter to make it a question mark to reflect her inquisitive and curious nature.

It’s a simple story on the surface, and I’m curious about working with Jamila and using the art to portray this future and give a sense of future Puerto Rico.

Maddi Gonzalez:  I agree that the story has a lot more depth than it seems at first glance! It’s exceptionally dark, reflecting on it. When I read the last page of the script, I was knocked out. Jamila has a really lovely way of planting all of these clues in the world that lead up to this big wham moment: the page where you actually get to SEE the reality that these people live in. I’ve got a pretty decent fear of natural disasters, so it still gives me the willies when I think about it! But at the same time, isn’t it nice that you get a little bit of hope in the face of it all with Maritza and her family? Horror and desperate hope hand-in-hand seems to be the way many of us view the future these days.

Alberto, tell me about the idea behind “A Dream of Stars?”

Alberto Rayo:  I wanted to write Andean-futurism for a long time. I love sci-fi and wanted to write a future that is shaped by a cultural vision of the cosmos based by the Inca’s cosmogony. The cult to the Earth and the Sun, taken to their logical next step on the age of space exploration was also a big point of inspiration for me, using it to discuss the colonization narratives abundant in sci-fi was also one of my objectives since I started writing.

This is an incredibly epic story that you managed to tell in a handful of pages. Was there a model you were looking to or thinking about as far as turning this big history into a folk tale, almost?

Alberto Rayo:  It was tricky, having several centuries happen in just 12 pages meant we had to use the nine panel grid in most of the pages and use every panel to distribute the exposition and the pacing as best as we could. Thankfully, Sebastian’s craftsmanship allowed us to do this without losing the heartfelt moments between the protagonists. What I had in mind while drawing was how I wanted it to end, and ended up discarding everything that didn’t lead us to our final page.

Tristan, where did the idea for “Bats and Fish” start?

Tristan Tarwater:  So the core of “Bats and Fish” comes from two places. One, at some point on Twitter someone asked “What is something common in latinidad that never gets shown in media that you think deserves some time?” or something to that effect. I said, “When you meet someone from your background and you start talking about where your family is from and you wind up having a hometown or neighborhood or even a relative in common.” On its face it’s just a funny thing that happens more than it should, but I think it speaks to people wanting to make connections, being willing to listen to where someone’s from and try to find that thing they have in common. The idea that in the future, in 500 years, two boricuas could wind up on a space station and just happen to find each other seemed extremely likely and extremely funny to me. The feeling that it would generate, the warmth, the relief you feel when you meet someone who understands you, I wanted to hit that while also asserting that there wouldn’t be just one, token latine in space, one Puerto Rican. 

Two, I knew I wanted to incorporate ancestral beliefs into the story. Writing the future, we have to consider the past. I knew I wanted to do something with bats because I love them, and because they were a part of the belief system of the indigenous people of the Antilles, the Taino. For them, bats were the spirits of those who had died, our ancestors. As mammals that fly, they occupy this space that is different from what we typically think of mammals in general occupying, just as humans on a space station, in outer space, would be occupying a different physical space. The fish comes via the West African traditions that made their way to the Caribbean, Yemaya, a goddess from Yoruba tradition. The fish speaks not just to her being of the water but to the abundance of her people. It was important to show not only that latines were in new spaces but that they were thriving. I was very lucky to get to work with Molly Mendoza, who is an amazing artist and she really expressed these themes visually, combining the technology with the organic in a way that I think is really emblematic of like, what humans can do and continue to do.

Was the idea always to effectively have a meet cute and convey a lot of details about the setting and the world – both literally, because it takes place on a moon of Saturn, and figuratively?

Tristan Tarwater:  So writing a meet cute, no, that was not my original intention! It was more “meet,” and then the “cute” came later. I think it became a meet cute because the awkwardness that pops up because of this sudden attraction is funny to me and I am a sucker for funny stuff. As far as how information about their world is conveyed, they speak from their knowledge, which is different from ours so I tried to capture that in their dialog, how they talk about Puerto Rico and the diaspora, how they talk about their fields of expertise, which includes their work and their history. Paz is a little bit of a know-it-all in my head, while Mercy is more chill. Molly nails how the present is wrapped around the past and grows into its own thing, and how the size of things relative to their effect can be wildly different. 

I do love the image of most people on Earth living underwater in this future.

Tristan Tarwater:  Yeah! I’m glad to hear it. I mean, why not underwater? I could see it happening for a LOT of reasons. 

What is the relationship between your story in the anthology to your other work? 

Maddi Gonzalez:  Uh…This one’s got a frog in it and the other ones don’t got a frog! Next question, please!

Alberto Rayo:  I have worked in a handful of genres but this was my first real attempt at full sci-fi Andean-futurism. I’m planning to write more of this. I also want to write fantasy based on Incan Mythology, but I’m not seeing it happen soon.

Tristan Tarwater:  “Bats and Fish” is probably closest to “Pasitos Grandes,” which I did for Puerto Rico Strong with Cynthia Santos. The premise of both is basically, boricuas, in spaaaace! “Pasitos Grandes” is a more general kind of futuristic telling of history, it’s a moment that could happen many times over, because we’ll keep telling that history over and over. “Bats and Fish” is more intimate. It thinks very big, but it shows how that big thing plays out in this small space between these two people. I’ve been writing more Puerto Rican characters, people from the Puerto Rican diaspora lately I guess is the actual answer. I have a short story coming out in an anthology and the main character is a Puerto Rican from New York City. Write what you know. Well, I know I’m tired of not seeing Puerto Ricans in the media, so there you go. I think all three are hopeful, in different ways. 

Lately it’s hard for a lot of us to think about the future. It’s hard for some of us to think more than 100 days out. What did this project and thinking in these terms mean for you personally, and what does it mean for us (however you choose to define “us”) to think in this way?

Maddi Gonzalez:  I’ve always had a difficult time thinking about the future, and I think it’s been made worse lately. It’s a common experience, I feel. I wake up and treat each day like a singular unit. I don’t quite think in weeks or months anymore, it’s overwhelming for me. It’s a great privilege to be able to work from home and experience time like this, even if it does feel a bit like I’m regressing into a small rodent.

It can be a bit frustrating trying to sit still and draw funny pictures while the world is on fire around you. I try to remind myself that art is essential, not only to its creators but to the people that experience it. I think if anything has helped me live outside my bubble/hamster-cage, it’s been seeing people react positively to the story. It helps that the book is so pretty, too!

Alberto Rayo:  I wrote the comic about six months before the pandemic. Back then, my biggest problem was to get enough time to study while working 9 to 5 while still writing comics. I didn’t imagine so many things would fall apart including my job and school with pandemic. Thankfully, I’m on a better situation now, but at the start of the pandemic I didn’t think of my future at all. Everything was about getting through the day and if there was time, thinking about the next day. On a less hopeful note, I’m as stressed as I was before, but with more job security.

Tristan Tarwater:  So I was lucky in that I wrote “Bats and Fish” before the pandemic started! But I think the pandemic has shown that how we think about time, how it’s constructed, is really fake. It often feels like we are running down the clock but we are also living smack dab in the middle of forever. It’s hard for me to imagine the future for myself when I think about just myself, but when I put myself in the context of my community, it’s easier. I think that was part of the key to writing this story: imagining the possibility of enough people working together to leave the planet, to set up elsewhere, to live among others. Wanting to thrive among others. To retain an identity of being from somewhere, even if it looks very different 500 years from now. That drive to connect multiple selves, pasts and spin up a new future. It might seem strange but I don’t think “Bats and Fish” is too hopeful. 500 years from now is a very long time for a human. Time enough for some more deserving people to maybe get thrown into a volcano and their influence erased from the earth. Time for people’s efforts to make their lives different and better, to bolster the efforts of those who will come after us. “Bats and Fish” has one foot in scientific possibility and the other in straight up desire for the future and if I think about it too much, to be honest, I get really emotional about it. 

What else are you working on right now?

Maddi Gonzalez:  Dishes of Destiny, our crowdfunded all-ages comic, is coming along really nicely! Right now, my co-creator and I are collecting reference and doing a lot of editing. Tiffany’s Griffon, my debut graphic novel written and co-created by Magnolia Porter-Siddell (of the acclaimed webcomic Monster Pulse!) is right around the corner. I’m also 90% finished with the thumbnails for Poster Girl, the follow-up to the Ignatz-nominated comic The Conductor. Other than that, nothing. Okay, I’m lying. But it’s a secret, okay?! 

Alberto Rayo:  My first comic series is coming out on Webtoon. It’s called Doble Detective Difunto. I’m also editing an anthology and preparing some personal comic projects.

Tristan Tarwater:  I recently graduated from college (returning student) and am auditing a class in Spanish/English translation, so, that takes up a few hours a week. At the very least, keep working on my Spanish. I wrote “Bats and Fish” right before I went back to university and it came out around the time I graduated, so this comic has kind of bookended my return-to-college experience. I’m working on an RPG system, which is low-key bonkers because I’m bad at math. When I went back to school I kind of took a hiatus from writing, mostly because I didn’t have the energy to be creative in this way but now my brain and energy is back so I’m trying to find the next project. Maybe I will try to do something community oriented with #LatinxsCreate. I don’t know, I’m reaching out to my community and tryna figure out what I want to do. I’m also just writing for fun, which is honestly amazing. 

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