The first time I met Tony Sandoval we shared beers on a rooftop and bonded over our favorite comic artists. The second time, he shamed a notable European artist into sketching something in my book after he initially declined (he called the artist a “mother fucker” in French). The third time, he made fun of my contorted face after eating a Mexican chili candy.
This jovial rapport exists despite limited interaction, like we’re old friends running into each other in a dive joint on the other side of the planet. Sitting behind his table at San Diego Comic-Con throughout the weekend, I noticed him treat everyone with warmth and humility. It’s the kind of approach you see in someone who has experienced many trials in their life, like the person is simply happy to be in that moment.
Tony Sandoval’s using his perspective and experiences to tell personal stories like the one behind his upcoming book to be released through Magnetic Press, Rendez-Vous in Phoenix. He illustrates an autobiographical account of his own attempts to cross the Mexico-U.S. border in an effort to meet up with his girlfriend and break into American comics. Tony discussed these experiences that shaped the story and much more in our interview from the convention floor.
Joseph Schmidt for Comics Bulletin: We’re here talking about your new book that has yet to be released but it’s coming out soon, the translation of Rendez-Vous in Phoenix. Tell me a little of what this comic is about.
Tony Sandoval: This book is about my own experience crossing the border without papers. They said as they make it in Spanish, the Mojado. Which was the first title I had in mind but then, you know, it’s the wetback. And that’s it’s own, well, I don’t want to make it, well, I took it a little bit in France and I didn’t want to translate that in French because I didn’t want any sexual connotations because there’s nothing there to begin with. So this is about me in my youth, in a time when I was completely naive and didn’t know anything about… And I wanted to rejoin with my girlfriend who, she was American, was in the States. So I applied for a Visa but it was rejected so I didn’t know what to do so I began and I thought it was going to be easy and quite like an adventure. It was very hard and very difficult to do it. It took me a week or so to pass by and of course during the week a lot of shit happens to me and, yeah, in the end it comes to be a story. This is basically what the book talks about.
CB: It really is a journey. You go through a lot of, well, shit through your whole journey. All of your stories have this personal quality to them. Your stories kind of have this, if not autobiographical, they take on your own experiences. We talked about Doomboy before and you told me that was based on your brother.
Sandoval: That’s right but, the other books have a touch. Details, personal details, that’s it. Not quite personal, but this one is completely 100% autobiographical. Everything that’s in the book, it really happened. I just organized it to make it easier to read and easier to understand.
CB: You’re from the northern area of Mexico, Sonora?
Sandoval: Yes, northwest. Exactly.
CB: I live in Phoenix, and being familiar with some of the border issues I find it interesting that you told your story and you didn’t politicize it in any way. You kind of romanticized this journey but you didn’t make it about a very political issue and I just think that’s fascinating that you use that as a backdrop to tell your story. Like ‘these are the rules in place, and this is how I circumvented them.’
Sandoval: Yeah, I wanted to make it more like a journey, I wanted to make it more personal. I was just saying, listen, I have a story to tell, and I’ve had it for a while, like 18 or 19 years since it happened. And I don’t want to make it a real commentary, but it has a lot of real details to commentate, for real, man. It’s not like I invented things. I didn’t want to make it like, I don’t know. I wanted to make a nice story to read and I really wanted to take it out of my system. I had that story. I really wanted to tell it. For me it’s something like a Western. And something about when I was running in the hills and hiding from the border police, I felt like, I said in the book, it was in the apocalypse and then there’s this moment when I was crossing I said, if I didn’t have to stress out doing something I shouldn’t do this would actually be fun.
CB: How do you recapture those images in your brain and put them out there? You have this interesting view of the world and how you interpret it shows through your art. It almost is optimistic. Are you an optimist at heart?
Sandoval: I must say that it just comes out like this. I don’t feel optimistic. I just want it to be natural. And of course I didn’t want it to show it as catastrophic. In my experience, people win, and nothing bad happens. Then you see the police, the border police, they weren’t mean to us. They weren’t like “mother fuckers!” who beat us or treat us bad. They were actually cool guys.
CB: You see with the child in the book.
Sandoval: There was a great moment I didn’t put in the comic, I wish I would have. They found a toy gun. They opened the, they were making the registration to see what we had in the back and they found a toy gun, the police asked “What did you find?” and the guy says “A GUN!” But it was a toy gun, of the kid’s! And they laughed, all of them. It was just human people doing their jobs. And they were nice, even played jokes with us, they just could have a normal conversation. And I find it funny because I just heard bad things about the border police, like they were mad dogs trying to catch immigrators. But no, I didn’t see anything like that. Even the coyotes, the guys who pass us, they were cool guys, man. I don’t know, maybe I have extremely good luck because a lot of shit happens. Of course, a lot of evil people are around there, people who don’t give a shit. But I have a lot of luck to pass by like this. Although I wish I had a passport, I’d pass by just like that but well, that story is part of me now. I guess it makes you grow up. It builds a little bit of character. Well, it’s like this.
CB: I want to talk about how dangerous it was. You hint at things, like you ran into people trying to rob you and you ran in to other coyotes who maybe had had drugs with them. But I love the optimism you portray in all of it with a sense of wonder while showing this is the way the world is, and everyone trying to get by. It’s this family, it’s the border police, it’s the guy trying to come to cross the border so they can earn enough money to open up his own market back home.
Sandoval: It’s a cliche but it’s true, man. I’m telling you, the guy was telling me that and he says, it’s true, man. People, the famous American dream, man. So many people in Mexico can not just learn this American way of life because it’s way too different. They work to come back to Mexico and bring the money and make a business. Many of them do that. It’s a cliche. At the beginning it’s a normal goal for the people. Some of them do, some of them just like the States and they stay there. Many of them die. This is a real thing, people want to have a nice life, to get some money, to get a nice job, to have a better quality of life, you know. And, unfortunately, in Mexico it’s difficult. I mean, it’s difficult to have a job… I mean, life in Mexico is not so bad. But yeah, if you want to do a thing with your life, you want to do something else, you have to go out. That’s in my case, for example. I was young, I wanted to do something different, but on my own. I didn’t ask for help from my family or anything. I was doing everything by myself. And right now, of course you are up, you start thinking differently. I mean, of course, I say I wish I was smart enough to do things differently. But it is what it is. It’s not optimistic, it’s naive.
CB: That’s a good way to put it. In this story, you’re trying to get to the States so you can break in to comics. But in the last year, you’ve built this presence for yourself. Your translations with Magnetic Press are doing well and earning Eisner nominations in the States. Do you still have that itch to do superhero comics or are you satisfied creating your own worlds?
Sandoval: No, I love to do my own stuff, I wanted to live and have a good quality of life doing my own stuff, my own universe. It’s a bet I could do something else, you know I could work on something else. I want to keep doing my own stuff. Of course I could make an exception and do some jobs for superheroes just to see how it feels. [laughs] Yeah, man, why not. Of course it would be nice. But my goal is to do my own things, to build my own universe and create my own stuff. Who knows, maybe I’ll start working with another artist in my own universe. It’s just a dream, you know, it started like a dream and I think that I’m waking up. So far I’m happy with it.
CB: How are you liking San Diego?
Sandoval: This is my first time coming as an exhibitor and I knew it was going to be like this, a little bit, but it’s cool man. I like a place to stay and sell stuff, have a new approach to people. I’m learning a lot, learning how it works, what works, making new connections. It’s awesome. And I really like it. It’s cool.
CB: What are you working on next?
Sandoval: It’s called Satanic Stories for Children. It’s not really for children. [laughs] It’s a trilogy I’m finishing. It’s a series I’ve been working on since 2013 and I love it. They are graphic novels. Watersnakes, 1000 Storms, and Satanic Stories for Children. And maybe I’ll do a fourth one, maybe. I think I have a good idea for that. A secondary character who takes importance, I like that.
CB: When are we going to see those books?
Sandoval: Probably next year. I hope everything goes is good, and I’m still working the same speed.
CB: And Future Nostalgia—
Sandoval: Is an ongoing series. I hope to make two books per year. Three, as it may. If I’m not coloring something. I can’t do everything, man. All I want to do, but there’s not enough to finish in time.
CB: What is the important experience you want people to take from Rendez-Vous in Phoenix?
Sandoval: I hope, I don’t know. I hope everyone has a chance to do what they want to do or dream of. I wish people can have a little chance to do it. I think I did have a little chance, or at least I stole it. But yeah, I had the good luck to know, since the beginning, what I wanted to do. And that’s a big thing according to me.
Rendez-Vous in Phoenix will be released by Magnetic Press this fall.