Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your YA graphic novel! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this new story?
Marco Finnegan: Thanks so much! The premise of the story is that two twin Chicano sisters find a lizard creature and try to reunite him with his family all in the midst of the Zoot Suit Riots that happened in Los Angeles in 1943.
BD: The story deftly weaves history, science fiction, and sociopolitical issues into a story that is not only engaging but propels forward the concepts of representation and inclusivity. What can you share with us about your approach to crafting this narrative and the various genres and themes?
MF: The story originated from my love of genre stuff like comics and '80s movies (Goonies, ET, Gremlins, etc.) that I loved as a kid and a desire to create stories that represented the type of neighborhood I grew up in. I grew up in an apartment complex that was predominantly Latino, and there weren’t any stories about fantastic adventures happening to kids like me and my friends. Around the time I started planning this story, I rewatched Luis Valdez’s play, Zoot Suit, and read Culture Clash’s play, Chavez Ravine.
I started digging into some research about the Zoot Suit culture of the time and how it has been perceived through popular culture and realized that outside of those two plays, Zoot Suiters of the time were either seen as criminals or as these icons of “cool.” I set out to make a story about these kids that touched on the trauma of the riots but also allowed these kids to have an adventure. I like to think of this book as a comic strip that Chicano kids during the 1940s would read and relate, too, if pop culture had included their lives at the time.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in balancing the writing and illustrative duties of the project while bringing the story to life?
MF: This was the first book that I wrote and drew, and it was definitely a learning experience. My “writing” process was to actually draw out the entire book in small thumbnails as my first draft and then do a written pass for my editor, Greg Hunter. Greg really helped me shape the story and polish the edges. Then, I developed the art style to emulate a comic strip look from the '40s. Again, trying to imagine that this book existed in the time it takes place.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Flaca and Cuata’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
MF: I hope everyone enjoys the story, but, in particular, I hope kids can see themselves in the twins. Flaca and Cuata are not your typical heroines. As first-generation Chicanas, they struggle with being “American” because of the music they like, the style of dress, etc, but they aren’t accepted by mainstream America either. They are seen as girl gangsters, unpatriotic and up to no good. As individuals, they struggle with who they are and where they fit in their own world. Like most teenagers, they are still trying to understand themselves while simultaneously trying to live up to the standards of others.
This story has a lot of my mom in it, as well; she is both the model of the way the twins' mom acts in this book, but the girls are also a nod to my mother's life as a teenager. Although she grew up in El Pason and wasn’t around during the riots, she lived with the same type of prejudice and obstacles the girls faced.
BD: What makes Graphic Universe the perfect home for Lizard in a Zoot Suit?
MF: I cannot stress how lucky I am to have worked with Greg and the crew at Graphic Universe. They really allowed me to tell the story I wanted to tell and supported me with all the technical aspects so I could focus on creating. Greg has such a strong sense of story and comics that he was the best sounding board for anything I wanted to try.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
MF: I am currently drawing a graphic novel for John Jennings' imprint, Megascope (through Abrams). The script is written by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes and it is amazing!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Lizard in a Zoot Suit and your other work?
MF: The best way is Twitter (@marco949). I am on their posting art quite often.