Centering Stories: An Interview with Jarred Luján of DRY FOOT
CBY maverick & creator Jarred Luján was gracious enough to sit down with us this past week to talk about Dry Foot, his heist-meets-coming-of-age tale from Mad Cave Studios.
The book drops on September 9th from a stellar team of pros, so we got the scoop on inspiration, friendships and how it's not just about representation in comics - it's about stories by and for Latinx people.
CHRISTA HARADER: First off, thank you for your time! How’re you and your family/community doing right now?
JARRED LUJÁN: Everyone is okay so far! I had several extended family members get COVID right from the outset of the pandemic, but all have recovered. My immediate family has so far remained safe and that’s all that I can ask for. Texas has been doing better in terms of masks and such, but I dunno. I think the price you pay for living in Texas is accepting that it’s crazy, and you just live on a bit of a wing and a prayer.
CH: Dry Foot #1 drops September 9th, and you’ve been hustling for most of this year. Do you get to take a beat to celebrate when it’s out, or are you grinding for issue #2 already?
I really wanted DRY FOOT to feel authentic—not just in the representation of living around violence, but in how it presents the kids that want to get away from it.
JL: Sort of! I’m taking a vacation from my day job the day Dry Foot #1 drops and I’m honestly probably just gonna hang out at home and sleep for a couple days. After that, I’ll be doing my next wave of emails for Dry Foot #2, sending the PDFs to shops or really anything that Mad Cave may ask me to. I don’t want to take the foot off the gas until we’re all wrapped up!
CH: Tell me about what inspired the story of Dry Foot - the kids, the camaraderie, the villain, all of it. It’s not just entertaining. It feels real.
JL: A lot of it comes from my own personal experiences. I’ve grown up around the barrio, I work in its heart right now. I’ve seen gang life, seen people swallowed up by it. Really, Dry Foot is a lot of me telling the story of my own experiences mixed with some of my friend’s experiences. I really wanted Dry Foot to feel authentic—not just in the representation of living around violence, but in how it presents the kids that want to get away from it. These kids’ friendship is pretty much the friendships I had in my teenage years, a lot of heart and loyalty where a sort of second family has grown.
As for El Viejo: everyone who lives around gangs knows a guy who’s done some terrifying stuff, but has also helped out the neighborhood.
CH: You have an ear for teenage dialogue, and that’s really hard to pull off. Tell me how you maintain that as an adult.
JL: It’s probably because I’m an immature jackass, hahaha. In reality, it’s because I work with a bunch of teenagers. I have to listen to them all the time. I think it’s just one of those things you pay attention to and kind of get a knack for. At the same time, I don’t think that the way the kids talk is too different from the way my friends did: a little trash talking, a little sarcasm, and maybe someone saying something dumb from time to time.
CH: Orlando [Caicedo] understands the right balance of drama and youthful cartooning to make this a successful first issue, and Warnia [Sahadewa] adds just the right neon menace. Tell me about how you assembled your team.
JL: Oh, I didn’t. I wish I could take credit for this team, but I can’t. Orlando and I are both Talent Search Winners, and I believe Chris Fernandez, Mad Cave’s publisher, is the one who put both of us together. Working with Orlando has been one of the best parts of the book, we’re both so organically in tuned to what we wanted to do, it’s been such a pleasure and an honor making this with him.
Nia was hired on midway through #1, I believe. She’s also been amazing. I think Nia is someone so special and I’m certain that working with her this early in my career will be something I can brag about in the future. She’s an incredible colorist, she takes feedback and runs with it. Seriously, a great time.
Short version: Chris Fernandez is the one who deserves the credit for this team of AMAZING people.
CH: Justin [Birch] finishes off the aesthetic with the right font to give the book some flair, but knows when to pull back, too. How’d you get him to work on this book?
JL: Justin’s actually done a bunch of work for Mad Cave, so I think Mad Cave just brought him on to our book too. Really, I didn’t have much say in the team, but I couldn’t have put a better one together if I tried my absolute hardest.
Justin and I actually met at C2E2, the FINAL CONVENTION OF 2020, and we’ve really been talking a lot since. He’s such a sponge, someone who really wants to learn and get better at every step of the way. I’m really looking forward to bugging him to letter some of my other projects in the future.
CH: There’s clearly a lot at stake for anyone who goes up against El Viejo, but for a group of kids it’s extra tense. Spoilers aside, what can we expect in terms of roadblocks for them?
JL: The obvious answer is Los Marielitos, Viejo’s gang. The less obvious answer is that some of the kids have more at stake than others regarding the heist and regarding not doing the heist. That’s something we really explore in #1, so I’ll leave it at that.
My main point is that Latinx people have a lot of amazing stories to tell. We’re more than immigrants. We’re more than cartel members. Our culture is more than sugar skulls. We have a unique history, with an incredible group of indigenous civilizations at its heart. We have a brilliantly varied culture that offers a multitude of new stories, inspirations, and approaches to storytelling. Beyond that, let us just tell stories with us at the center.
CH: You’ve emphasized how important it is for Latinx creators to tell Latinx stories in comics, about how it’s more than just surface representation that matters. Can you share more for our CBY audience?
JL: So, this is going to be a long answer because this is an important question. The thing is that you can condense almost all Latinx stories in mainstream media not told by Latinx creators in three categories: Cartel story, Immigration story, not a story at all but some kind of assassin/villain that uses sugar skull imagery. So, here’s the issues with that:
1. Cartels, immigration, the sugar skull, and the appropriation of Día de Muertos, are all pretty much just surface level ideas of what Mexicans are, what our culture is, and what we have to offer. The thing is that we’re more than that. It’s frustrating, as a Mexican-American creator, to not be able to catch an editor’s ear for a story about Mexican characters, but American Dirt was able to hit the Best seller list. We have more to offer and we have to almost beg for permission to show it.
2. Mexicans aren’t the only Latinx people on earth! They are certainly my favorite, but la raza extends to literally an ENTIRE CONTINENT of people further south than Mexico. People with histories that are both shared and unique, as well as varied cultures and practices. Presenting Latinx people under the three banners you can tie to Mexicans isn’t just racist, it’s boring as hell, and you’re missing out on all of the greatness that Latinx people truly have to offer. Dry Foot has four Latinx teens as the main characters, not a single one is Mexican. Not one. I am extremely proud of the work I did to present those characters and their histories well, it has been one of my biggest joys to see people who have had early releases connect with those characters from their own backgrounds. I’m very grateful for that and I look forward to seeing more of those stories.
My main point is that Latinx people have a lot of amazing stories to tell. We’re more than immigrants. We’re more than cartel members. Our culture is more than sugar skulls. We have a unique history, with an incredible group of indigenous civilizations at its heart. We have a brilliantly varied culture that offers a multitude of new stories, inspirations, and approaches to storytelling. Beyond that, let us just tell stories with us at the center. Like, let us have sci-fi and fantasy with Latinx characters. Let us be wizards and elves and ghost hunters and gunslingers. Just let us tell some damn stories!
Representation is vital. I believe that with all my heart, but I also love new and genuine storytelling. Letting us in the room is also a commitment to that.
CH: What have you been reading/watching/listening to lately? Does your media consumption mirror your work, or is it different?
JL: I’ve been reading all of “The Wicked + The Divine” alongside my normal pull list. It is damn good, as many have told me. I’ve been watching a bunch of westerns like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and The Shootist, but also a lot of Akira Kurosawa movies, most recently Yojimbo.
My media consumption usually doesn’t reflect my work until I have an idea in my head, and then I want to surround myself with that sort of era. I’m working on a supernatural Western pitch, so that explains why I’ve had an itch for Westerns. My creative approach is really obsessive, from inception to creation, so I really do just immerse myself in the style of story I’m crafting.
CH: Anything to plug? Appearances, other work we can expect, etc.
JL: I will be on The Collective (a Florida comic shop’s) Facebook Live event Tuesday the 8th, the day before Dry Foot #1 hits shelves. I’ll be answering questions and talking about the book!
Other work, I have two anthology pieces I’m working on at the moment, including one for Black Hole Entertainment’s A Cold, Dark Universe anthology that is REALLY fun. I should have another mini-series at another publisher coming out spring 2021 that I can’t talk about yet. I am ALSO planning a Kickstarter for Q1 of 2021 to launch my own mini-series for funsies. Mexicans with Swords 2021!!!!
CH: Where can we find you on social media?
CH: Anything else to add?
JL: Wu-Tang is for the children!