This award will go toward the creation of Liberty For All: The Graphic Novel. I created Liberty For All, a comic strip about a queer, undocumented woman named Liberty Martinez, because I wanted to see stories that reflected our experiences as undocumented and queer immigrants of color living in the U.S. Liberty For All first found its home on my Facebook page, but has since branched out to become a weekly comic on CultureStrike, a national pro-migrants arts organization that is trying to change the anti-migrant narrative through culture. When the comic made the move, I invited my best friend, independent journalist Tina Vasquez, to be the head writer. With the help of other brilliant co-writers, also queer, also of color, Tina and I have been able to bring Liberty’s big, beautiful world to life, filled with characters who are amazing queer and trans people of color.
We always had the dream of turning Liberty For All into a graphic novel, but we didn’t think we’d ever have the means to – until now. Tina and I couldn’t think of a more weirdly appropriate way to tell you about our project than to interview ourselves about it, so here we go!
Why a graphic novel?
Julio Salgado: As a kid, I remember reading the comics sections in newspapers and wondering how they came up with them. After I moved to the U.S., The Simpsons and Daria became my English teachers. Eventually, they had a huge impact on my own cartoony drawing style. It wasn’t until I got recruited as a political cartoonist at Long Beach City College’s Viking Newspaper, where Tina and I met, that I figured out that this could be a great way to tell stories. Then I discovered Love & Rockets from the Hernandez Brothers and The Boondocks from Aaron McGruder and I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.
Tina Vasquez: Besides it just making sense because you’re a visual artist, I’ve come to really embrace the possibilities of graphic novels. I didn’t read comics or graphic novels growing up. What I did see was mostly superhero-related and none of it resonated with me. I’d been writing Liberty for about six months when I attended a graphic novel workshop with Mat Johnson through Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation and it changed everything I thought I knew about comics. Getting to see the work of my classmates and read graphic novels like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis really helped me to understand what a powerful medium this is for storytelling. A graphic novel is the perfect format for Liberty For All.
JS: When I read Persepolis, I just knew I had to create something similar that told our stories as queer and undocumented migrants in this country and bang! Liberty was born! Marjane Satrapi actually got this same award in 2012, so that’s got to be a good sign.
What is the story you’re hoping to tell?
TV: Where Liberty For All goes is really up to you, Julio. For me, the most important thing is representation. Already, Liberty For All is representative of the communities we inhabit. I’m excited we will be responsible for a graphic novel where the stories of queer and trans people of color are at the forefront. Not only that, but that those stories are being told by queer and trans people of color. That kind of representation is powerful and I’d argue very badly needed.
JS: I agree. And I also want to make sure that we keep our approach. When we have characters who are either Black or Trans, we cannot tell those stories ourselves because we’re neither Black or Trans. We’re constantly criticizing the way that white writers take freedoms to create characters that are POC or Trans, for example. We can’t replicate what we criticize. Our co-writers create characters that are not perfect and that’s my favorite part. Liberty is far from being the perfect immigrant. On the contrary, she’s messy. She’s problematic. She’s got flaws. And that’s okay. We all do. I want to tell these problematic and messy stories.
What is your dream for Liberty For All?
TV: I hope it’s a graphic novel that gets into the hands of the right kid at the right time so they feel a little less alone.
JS: I couldn’t have said it better myself.