Dave Ortega has already proven his ability to transform family history into compelling and tender comics with his regular title Dias De Consuelo, which covers the story of his grandmother’s family in Mexico in 1914. River: Stories of Old Anapra exists as a kind of bonus to the story he tells there, a small jump to Consuelo’s teenage years during Prohibition when her family lives in Anapra, New Mexico, to the west of the Rio Grande, to which the title refers.
Ortega’s focus here is the reasons for crossing the Rio Grande and Consuelo’s family’s relationships with those. As a border between the countries, the river becomes a symbol of opportunity, both for Mexican citizens wanting something better by illegally crossing it to make a new life and for bootleggers who see a willing market for their goods during Prohibition. These circumstances can bring disgust and horror, as well as an unexpected bonus for the family.
As witnessed by Ortega in his conversations with Conseuelo, these times in Anapra became a focal point for a brain that was having a harder time keeping hold of its own story. River: Stories of Old Anapra was created for an exhibition in New Mexico, and Ortega uses it to provide this aspect of his grandmother’s attempt to cling to a part of herself with a public testimony that she did, indeed, exist.
It’s a scant 12 pages, but Ortega infuses it with just as much emotion and information as any other work of his about his grandmother’s life, and more than most comics I’ve read lately. His black and white art is rich in detail of that life, of the houses occupied, the people involved, and the landscapes that defined so much of the experience he’s depicting, so much so that even a short work like this has an incredible immersive quality.
It’s this depth of talent that demands a wider audience for Ortega’s work. The subject matter is timely, for sure, but Ortega’s approach to it is such that it transcends any timeliness. It’s powerful and intelligent stuff that doesn’t need the boost of being topical to seize your attention and admiration. But surely being topical should send more attention his way given the quality of the work.
There’s no reason to not be reading Dias De Consuelo, but River: Stories of Old Anapra is a nice bonus for people who have already latched onto that, and a possibly an effective gateway to anyone who would like to read something self-contained by Ortega before embarking on the larger work.