Sandy Jimenez is an American comic book artist, writer and director of Dominican descent, known for the underground 90s comic book Marley Davidson: Bronx Exorcist, as well as for his comic book series “The Sh!t House Poet”, published in World War 3 Illustrated from 1991 till this day and in the process of getting a collected edition by Ethan Heitner. You can find more of his work at his website.
Sandy, who was called the “best kept secret in comics. (He is) probably the best writer in comics today” by Seth Tobocman in an interview at Comic Watch earlier this year, sat down last weekend for a live interview with our journalist Duna (video bellow), and from the start of our talk he showcases the motivations and ideas behind his stories. His latest one, “God Bless The Americans” in WW3I #51: The World We Are Fighting For, is based on cycles of anti-Chinese bigotry in the USA and touches on “the racism we don’t talk about, the bigotry we don’t talk about, and that’s the bigotry we ourselves have”.
The interview happened right in the afternoon the elections results were released, and within it Sandy touched on issues that surround the political conditions present before and after said election and that enabled Trump’s America, as well as the ongoing colonialist and racist issues that are stitched and embroidered within the culture surrounding us.
Sandy talked about his upcoming project: “Let’s Bet The Planet”, an anthology about criticism of climate change denial he’s co-editing with Joyce Farmer (author of Special Exits and founder of Tits and Clits Comix), including a story he’s working on around cryptid animals’ reaction to the increase of oceans’ upwelling. Another exclusive project in the works that he talked a little bit in the interview is Johnny Next, with Michael Mejias on script, about a New Yorker magician that wakes up in a world where everyone has superpowers but him.
The interview moves very early towards his interest on supernatural and terror narratives within popular culture and how that shaped Marley Davidson: Bronx Exorcist. “Marley was my response to a few things: reading X-Men in highschool, the metaphor of mutants as outsiders was very potent to me as someone who’s Hispanic, it’s a pretty open allegory about race, even though it wasn’t explicitly said. I thought comics were losing that kind of allegory.” then he ties that with the vampires allegory and its origins, “the story of Dracula begins with a real estate deal, and it sorts of speaks to much of the xenophobia in England at that time. That count that lives upon a hill, collects taxes… All these things were very political for me. So when I began Marley, in the 90s, as horror comics were getting closer to scientific explanations and superhero tales, I was more interested in the political in supernatural roots. (…) Growing up in the South Bronx, where there was no shortage of exploitation with regards to real estate, burning people out of buildings, to me it was interesting to create these vampires that were basically the mafia.” The third inspiration for that response was Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings. Sandy talks about how convenient it is that all orcs disappear into a hole in the ground, and how a world would be if the story had to deal with all these orcs and their aftermath, their political realities after the war.
The reflection of the monster poses itself as political through the conversation. “Monster means ‘out of the natural order’. So who’s a monster? And that’s a political question. One that I started exploring in these issues. (…) When you call someone unnatural, what you say carries weight, and that is not a new thing.” The story goes as far as to question and face his own protagonist as a dangerous character in his own actions and cut and dried morality. “Marley has to decide what is the real meaning behind the violence that he’s engaging, is he trying to protect people at this point? Is he trying to solve a problem? It’s sort of about the limits of power and violence.”
As we get on his “Shit House Poet” stories on WW3I, Sandy clarifies that none of them are actual autobiographies or memoirs, but most of them are based on events that happened, where the creative work goes around crafting salient stories with the themes Sandy wants to highlight out of them, and, “in doing that, sometimes you get closer to the truth than the actual events would tell. Because you’re injecting it with so much of your own thoughts and your own fears.” These stories talk about intertwined themes like the relationship with media itself, the little details that signify how we relate to others or the harm that comes from the structures we ourselves embody.
All of his work is self-defined as personal, but not ending in the personal. From childhood memories to the horror of incarceration to grief to sexual harassment through race commentary, showcasing social issues for Sandy goes through processes of countless drafts to make sure they are not presented as an “easy fix” issue. When Duna asks him about the point of view of a comic shining a light the unfairness of trans women’s exclusion and bitterness by (some) cis women in WW3I #50: Shameless Feminists!, he calls to the way the comic operates by itself: “You’re supposed to have problems with that story, it’s about people not doing things the right way, of personal politics and academic politics and how they play across generations (…) and the unfairness that we commit against each other. What happened to Marta isn’t happening from the patriarchy, these are her friends.”
All these rough stories come with his distinct art style, in which he puts the characters in “Disney-like graffiti-style forms” to draw the reader towards it, because the stuff inside is harsh and making criticism of even intra-community politics. “I’m not trying to cause an unnecessary division (…) but I think that we do a lot of harm when we pretend that things are more perfect than they are.” Sandy’s comics don’t shy away from difficult issues, and make sure to not put too shiny lights on characters or themes, even posing situations like a character discussing their own representation or leaving the pages. It’s work in constant self-criticism.
“Most of my characters don’t do the right thing, at least at the beginning. And I feel like that’s an honest way to tell stories about life. Cause I’m already doing something remarkably artificial, which is telling a story that begins and ends. Life doesn’t do that.” His reflection of the art he does ends in that note of searching honesty through the work and the world around you: “That’s why I spend a lot of time listening closely to the people in my life, and that’s what probably benefits my writing most.”
Sandy is comic back on 12th December for a second turn of social commentary, this time fully related to X-Men, on our Mutant Watch show. On the meantime, you can hear all these thoughts expanded, see more snapshots of his work and watch the full live conversation that happened between Duna and Sandy right here:
How Can Comics Talk About Life, A Conversation With Sandy Jimenez
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