Comics are becoming increasingly inclusive and political, showing a different kind of lived experience than the medium has traditionally represented. While a small, vocal sect of people aren’t exactly embracing the shift, most of us know that it’s about damn time. BORDER TOWN is attempting to take the trend one step further.

Writer Eric M. Esquivel hopes that in the near future it’ll be less novel to have a comic which heavily features characters from the Latinx community and that his BORDER TOWN series will start a trend. It’s important that people see pieces like this not as “other,” but simply as a depiction of a human experience.

Plus, BORDER TOWN gives you more than just a human story. The supernatural comes into the fold rather quickly. Let’s just say it will definitely hook horror fans.

Esquivel was kind enough to chat with ComicsVerse about BORDER TOWN before it hits stores this Wednesday. Check out our interview, as well as some pages from the first issue, below!

ComicsVerse: First of all, Eric, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I very much appreciate it.

Esquivel: It’s my pleasure! Thanks for making the time to chat!

CV: BORDER TOWN is, in my humble opinion, the exact kind of book we need right now. Tell me about what inspired it, and how this idea was planted in your mind?

EE: It’s always a good time for books about moody teenagers getting ripped to shreds by monsters from Mexican folklore. Let’s be real.

Seriously, though. BORDER TOWN is a story that I’ve been pitching for years, but no publisher has had the courage to run until now, until DC Vertigo.

People keep talking about the book being “timely,” which I agree with — but it’s based on my experience moving from Illinois to Arizona the summer before my sophomore year of high school, which was fifteen years ago. In my head, it’s a classic horror story about a team of heroes consciously making the choice to journey outside of their respective comfort zones and reconciling with the forces of the unknown– both inside themselves and in the external world around them.

The press we’re getting as a result of our cast of heroes being from various corners of the Latinx community is bittersweet. It’s something we’re proud of, but it’s also something that should be common as Hell.

Maybe it will be after this book succeeds.

BORDER TOWN #1 page 10. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: The opening scene with the group of men patrolling the border is very intense. I was cringing while reading their dialogue. Is it challenging at all to write such hateful words, even if it is important to get your point across?

EE: As messed up as it might sound, the key to writing that dialogue is understanding that the people saying it aren’t necessarily that hateful. To them, it’s as cold and logical as a math equation. They don’t see statements like “Immigrants are ruining the country” as opinions — they see them as fact. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they see themselves as the target of a genocidal conspiracy to eliminate their people, and themselves as heroes for fighting against it… and there is a primal, mammalian part of me that understands and respects that super caveman-like need to defend the tribe. It’s just a shame that they don’t understand that they’re part of a bigger tribe, called “humanity.” The tragedy of these guys is that their instinct to protect has been manipulated into a compulsion to destroy.

There’s some pretty “cringey” stuff that comes out of the mouths of the town’s Latinx kids when they first encounter Frank, too. Because of his biracial heritage, they make him — really loudly — perform his identity during class, which is also a pretty uncool thing to do, and something that comes from my real life experience.

CV: From the very beginning of the BORDER TOWN, we see the all-too-real dangers that exist for a family crossing the border. It’s a truly heartbreaking moment. Can you walk me through the experience of creating that scene?

EE: Without spoiling anything, there’s a prologue in the first issue of BORDER TOWN that introduces us to the idea that the stakes are already as high as they can get. Hopefully, when the supernatural stuff starts going down, it makes you, as the reader, feel like “Oh my God! These poor people! Not this too! Haven’t they been through enough?”.

Which, honestly, is what every day has felt like for the past two years or so. 

CV: Julietta is a total badass, and she says something very poignant to Frank. Her statement that he’s not half Mexican, but all of his nationalities equally and all at once, is absolutely beautiful. Why was this something you wanted to make a strong point about?

EE: Thanks. Growing up being told that you’re half a person is a drag. It’s something I needed to hear when I was a niño.

I’m always thrilled to be able to pass that message along, whether I’m working with the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory, or DC — because it’s true.

BORDER TOWN #1 page 11. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: The Chupacabras in this story are absolutely terrifying. Why did you want to bring folklore and the supernatural into this story that is otherwise so tangible right now? And tell me about any liberties you took or alterations you made with the lore?

EE: I am the biggest horror nerd you’re ever going to find. I’ve read everything, watched everything. So whenever I see a new comic about zombies, ghosts, werewolves, or vampires on the stands, it makes me want to open my wrist and bleed out in the aisle. It’s so, so boring.

Our world is as weird as it is gigantic. There are billions of different kinds of monsters out there. And, in Mexican-American culture, most of them haven’t been explored by popular entertainment yet (because White guys have historically been the only ones given the opportunity to tell their stories).

Ramon and I had a blast dredging up stories from our pasts — stuff our aunts, cousins, and grandmas used to tell us to scare us into behaving — and rendering them visually for the very first time (as opposed to orally, which is how they’ve been kept alive traditionally).

CV: Can you tell me how you collaborated with Ramon Villalobos (who is freaking amazing, by the way) to create the look of the monsters?

EE: I bought him a mirror. Kidding!

Ramon doesn’t need direction from anybody. He’s an atomic bomb of creativity. My role in the visual creation of these monsters was to recall the version that my elders told me to Ramon, give him an insight into what the monsters represent in a metaphorical sense for our story, and then just sit back and watch in awe as the emails started to come in.

CV: And how did you, Villalobos, and the incredible Tamra Bonvillain collaborate on the whole project?

EE: Ramon was the only person ever considered to draw this book. There’s no one in the business who can draw realistic teenagers — sneakers and all — the way he can.

And the only thing he’s better at than drawing realistic people is super-heavy-metal-monsters. So it was a real no-brainer.

BORDER TOWN #1 page 12. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

CV: We’ve seen a very small, but very vocal, group of “comics fans” pushing back on diverse, inclusive content. Do you ever wonder about their reactions, or do you just focus on those who will enjoy it?

EE: I sometimes suspect that people don’t understand that if you obsess over something, talk about it endlessly, and help promote it on Twitter… then you’re a fan. Those guys are fans of us. Whether they know it or not. They certainly helped our pre-order sales.

But, yeah — I obviously wrote this series with a target audience in mind. And hearing their response to the book so far has been the most fulfilling experience of my life.

CV: Frank is such a rad character, and he’s clearly going through a lot. His anger with his situation and the ignorance of some of those around him feels like a conduit for the anger we feel in the political zeitgeist. Is that intentional?

EE: Thanks! I like him! Ramon and I actually just had a conversation about how Frank is exactly the kind of teenager you would imagine reads DC Vertigo comics: too smart for his own good, constantly at odds with authority, an individualist to the point of being abrasive.

When you’re a teenager, the world feels like it’s out to get you. When you’re a Chicano teenager, you’re kind of correct. And when you’re a Chicano teenager living in a town that is being terrorized by supernatural creatures from Mexican folklore, you are one-hundred percent on-the-money.

CV: What are your hopes for BORDER TOWN going forward, and what do you want people to take from it?

EE: BORDER TOWN isn’t just the story of these kids we are introduced to in the first arc. It’s a story that is influenced by events that took place back before the Spanish set foot on the American continent. It’s a story that is inextricably tied to the direction humankind is moving in as a species (read your Carlos Castaneda, kids!).

We’ve got a lot of story to tell, and I’m down for the long haul.

If Ramon quits, we’ll just hire Jaime Hernandez.

Check out BORDER TOWN #1 from DC’s Vertigo Comics at your local comic shop this Wednesday, September 5th!

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