Comics and Chatter: Artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and His ‘Masks for America’ Initiative

Comics and Chatter
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[Note From Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora Dominguez got the opportunity to interview Artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and ask him five(ish) questions. Find out more about Masks For America and how you can help!]

Artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
Artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and his creation La Borinqueña.
Aurora: What is your inspiration behind your comics/graphic novels?

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez: In 2015, then Governor Padilla of Puerto Rico announced that the island would not be able to pay their $74 billion dollar. This was endemic to the island’s colonial status and connected to a history that has been overlooked by mainstream media. I thought to myself, given the love for superhero stories in comic books and the big screen, perhaps the best idea would be for me to create a superhero. The idea of La Borinqueña came to me in early 2016 because my hope was to use popular culture to bring light to the humanitarian crisis affecting Puerto Rico, 3.3 million U.S. citizens. My approach was to create a character that unapologetically embraced her heritage from her costume design to her origin story. I tied her superhuman abilities to the mythology of the Taínos, the islands indigenous people. I name her after the original name of Puerto Rico, Boriken, and the name of the island’s national anthem that was originally written by Lola Rodriguez de Tío. Her costume design was inspired by the flag created by Mariana Bracetti in 1868 for El Grito de Lares revolution against the Spanish Empire and the original Puerto Rican flag designed in New York City 125 years ago. My storytelling would tie into issues directly affecting the island and our people: austerity measures, economic displacement, and climate change. The success of my independently published graphic novel series would get the attention of DC Comics who reached out to me weeks after Hurricane Maria. I was the only comic book creator with a character and a series directly connected to Puerto Rico so DC Comics gave me permission to use their catalogue of characters to team-up with La Borinqueña in our second published book Ricanstruction: Reminiscing & Rebuilding Puerto Rico. Ricanstruction was a commercial success with close to a quarter of a million dollars in sales which we used to start our philanthropic work via our La Borinqueña Grants Program. The success of this book garnered me the most prestigious award in the comic book industry, an Eisner, for our humanitarian efforts. To date, we have distributed $140,000 in grants to non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico. Our character has evolved to become a symbol of hope and social change in the real world.

Why do you feel comics/graphic novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?

The internet has given a voice to the voiceless. Social media has empowered an audience to tell mainstream publishers and studios “¡presente!” However, this doesn’t always translate into characters that are accurate or rooted in real world history, culture, or places. La Borinqueña has been able to reach an international audience because people can see images of our characters and instantly share them on their social media accounts. For eighty years superhero comic books have been published here in the U.S. but the overwhelming majority of these characters and creators are white men. As an independent publisher, I can create and distribute my own series and engage readers with stories that speak to my experience as a Puerto Rican growing up in the U.S. When people open the pages of our graphic novels, they see the humanity of our characters, and in that the universality of our stories. That is where the true power of storytelling is. When people can see themselves in La Borinqueña who aren’t Latinx, of color, or even a woman. She’s the superhero that is the most relevant for our era.

What’s next for you in the comics/graphic novels world?

I am presently working on the third edition of the La Borinqueña series. I have posted the first cover for this book on our website in hopes to drum up pre-order sales to help us fund our book. The continuing story of La Borinqueña goes further into issues affecting the island, particularly in the areas of economic displacement. In addition to the natural disasters continually hitting the island from hurricanes, to earthquakes, to our current pandemic, Puerto Rico continues to struggle. Our graphic novel is studied at such higher learning institutions like Carnegie Melon, Princeton, Colgate University, Penn State, and even in public schools throughout Washington D.C. thanks to support from the PEN/Fauklner foundation. We bring social issues into our series that are relatable and relevant in our world now. La Borinqueña vive, as is the theme of our third book, because she lives in all of us.

Who is your current favorite writer and artist? Why?

Presently, I admire the art and storytelling of fellow Puerto Rican Mike Hawthorne (I’ve attached cover artwork for his upcoming graphic novel). Via his graphic novel memoir Happiness Will Follow, Mike Hawthorne takes you on a visual trip through his life and introduces you to his mother, Blanca Otero, and the life of a Puerto Rican in the diaspora. His story presents a common thread with many migrant families who struggle to survive in the United States amidst all forms of adversity. This powerful memoir will hit you at the core as you see ‘Miguelito’ and Blanca facing conflicts, and how the art that created this actual book is the transformative act that saved his life. Mike Hawthorne is celebrated as a comic book illustrator, with a successful career presently with Marvel working on such titles as Deadpool, Superior Spider-Man, and more. A Graphic Novel Memoir: Happiness Will Follow will be his first full length book illustrated and written by him.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers and artistic creators? 

Embrace that storytelling and writing is an organic process. Stories live in our minds and spirits, and can often change like a natural flowing river: serene or intense. Therefore, I am constantly taking notes on stories that I am writing. I send myself emails when I have an idea, making sure to give every email the same subject line so I can search for them all when I need to. My other advice is to let your life guide your story. I never set out to be a graphic novelist, even though as a child I wrote and illustrated my own comic books that I’d sell to friends. At the age of 45 I was finally inspired to tell the story of La Borinqueña, because her journey would be the one that would bring my island to the world. She does this every time someone a child dresses up like her, because when they see my character, they see Puerto Rico.

Masks for America Crowdfunds Masks for Frontline Workers

Pediatrician, Teacher, NY Manufacturing Expert, and Graphic Novelist Launch Crowdfunding Effort to Source Masks for Hospitals

New York, NY — Nurses, doctors and other frontline medical workers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico are being forced to ration N95 masks or turn to inadequate bandanas, paper, and cloth masks — leaving them vulnerable to infection as they interact with COVID-19 patients. While the federal government’s response has been too slow to support these health workers — advocates are stepping in to try to help fill the gap. 

Over the weekend, a pediatrician, manufacturing and supply chain expert, a graphic novelist, and a teacher teamed up to launch “Masks for America” — an all-volunteer run effort that is connecting low-cost, FDA-approved mask suppliers in China to medical facilities in need. 

Masks for America, a fiscally sponsored project of 501(c)3 non-profit Social Security Works Education Fund, is working with GetUsPPE.org to distribute to the most impacted health facilities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. You can read more about Masks for America here: www.masks4america.org

The group is asking folks to fundraise and share about the call to action using the hashtags: #AmericaAssemble and #MasksForAmerica

“Frontline health care workers are putting our lives on the line — and we are running out of time to save as many patients as we can while also keeping ourselves and our families safe. We need protection now,” said Dr. Sanjeev Sriram, a Washington, DC pediatrician also known as Dr. America through his work with We Act Radio and Social Security Works. “You don’t need a medical degree to help — you just need $2 or a few minutes to ask your friends and together we’ll start to fill the gap immediately.”

The group raised $22,000 in just the first 24 hours, and is slated to send their first shipments of N95 equivalent masks to hospitals in New York City and Puerto Rico this week. Masks for America is also connecting hospitals and health facilities — who would prefer to purchase supplies — directly with manufacturers. Actor Mark Ruffalo was one of the first donors to the effort. 

The face of Masks for America is La Borinqueña, a Puerto Rican comic book superhero created by award-winning graphic novelist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez.

”Creating a superhero in this time means that she has to stand for justice in the real world.” said Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, award winning graphic novelist and philanthropist. “La Borinqueña is a character I created that represents today’s need for heroism.”

“We shouldn’t have to crowdfund to get PPE to frontline health care workers, but here we are. We’re putting out an all-hands-on-deck call for help, and America is rising to it,” said Kristin Mink, a DC teacher and organizer. 

“I’m a mom, and I want to make sure my kids know that when a crisis strikes — you help,” said Bob Bland, a veteran of supply chain management and manufacturing from New York City, and a co-founder of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. “If we can’t support the most vulnerable in this defining moment, when will we?”

About the Artist: 

Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez is the Creative Director and owner of his own Brooklyn-based production and creative services studio, Somos Arte. With close to 20 years of experience, Edgardo has delivered exemplary services in graphic design for both digital and print for such clients as Atlantic Records, Columbia University, Sony Pictures and Marvel. Under the leadership of our Creative Director Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, our studio provides graphic novel production, web design/development, branding, key artwork and video production. In addition, Edgardo is a curator of art exhibitions having already produced three original art exhibitions based on Marvel comics.

Edgardo continues to be recognized widely for his work on CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR and numerous other media outlets as a graphic novelist having already produced his creator owned project, the critically acclaimed La Borinqueña. In addition he has produced graphic novels under the Darryl Makes Comics imprint which he co-owns with Darryl DMC McDaniels (from RUN DMC), and the comic book series Freak written by Emmy award winning writer John Leguizamo. He has also written for Marvel Comics critically acclaimed anthology Guardians of the Galaxy: Tales of the Cosmos.

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