Early last week actor/comedian John Leguizamo launched a crowdfunding campaign on Seed&Spark.com for his graphic novel project PhenomX. Thanks to his producer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, comic veteran and creator of the LatinX Superheroine La Borinqueña, I was able to sneak in some time with these busy creatives to chat about this new and exciting project.
I want to thank Mr. Leguizamo for his time and for bearing with me as I had some technical difficulties at the beginning of our interview, I lost part of that recording through a glitch in the microphone. I wasn’t able to recover the information as he jumped right into our conversation, the man is about his craft, and I didn’t want to stop his enthusiastic take on what makes this a worthy project or take away too much time on his day off from performing. I was able to get some of the answers back with the interview questions below.
The Beat: You’ve spoken about growing up with comics, what’s your relationship with comics like now? Do you get to go to a shop and pull weekly’s or are you a collected trade reader?
John Leguizamo: I mean I’m not as addicted to it as I once was. When I was a kid, comic books serve a purpose when you’re younger, it just lets you tap into that imaginative side of you that is dealing with your angst, your feelings of insecurities, it fills that need that a lot of things don’t fill, like in a mythological kind of way. Its kind of like the same thing with mythology worked in our empires, the Incas, the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Greeks, mythology filled that need of their limitations, their insecurities and to help them feel more powerful and overcome. I’m a little older now, I look at it more now if it’s fascinating and interesting, I’m down to read it. I always love to reread Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, it’s so innovative and powerful, and Elektra, I just love the more literary ones.
The Beat: As busy as you are touring, how long have you been working on this project and how did you pick your creative team?
Leguizamo: I’ve been working on it for about 7 years because it’s a hard thing to crack. I wanted this one to be literary too, to have a really great dialogue, characters, really great action, really believable. I don’t think everybody works as hard to try and make sure that there are no holes or speed bumps, you know what I mean. When I finally got to a good place I did Freak with Edgardo and all the artists, and with Edgardo as the producer, I said let’s do it again, I love the work that you did on that.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez: I am particularly drawn to this project because John has always been a pioneer in introducing the Latin narrative to mainstream audiences. The comic book industry has had a Latin presence behind the scenes as far back as the 1940’s when then Puerto Rican migrant Alejandro Schomburg y Rosa illustrated Captain America for Marvel back when it was still called Timely Comics. I want to give a shout out to our team for this, cover artists Jim Muñiz and José Marzan, interior artists Chris Batista and Dexter Vines, and colorist Juan Fernandez.
The Beat: Why Seed&Spark, why them and not the other guys? I love the way you broke up the levels of contribution, so let’s talk about some of the perks that fans will receive on backing this comic?
Leguizamo: Fanny Veliz Grande of Avenida Productions is my crowdfunding expert who’s helping me with this, she helped me raise money to fund the PBS documentary that I did with Ben DeJesus. In terms of the prizes, Max Gomez looks like me back in the day and all the characters are going to look like different people and with the crowd funder the top donor is going to have one of the characters drawn like them, the second top donor is it going to get a character named after them. it’s going to be lots of different prices. I’m also going to be giving some memorabilia away which my son is bugging out about, “why you giving that out.” I’m giving out my original Super Mario action figure that was given to me, some seat-backs for movies that I did things, things that I value that I know that the fans will value as well, I know they’ll take care of it. They’ll get backstage passes or free tickets to shows, dinner and that depends on the show as I’m touring, I’ll do a voice mail, and signed comics, posters, and t-shirts, we’re being very creative with the prizes because people deserve to get something for contributing and supporting. The beautiful thing that we’re doing here is we’re showing Hollywood and the publishers that we Latin people can do it all, we can self-publish, we can sell, we can produce. We can compete with the big guns we don’t have to wait for them anymore. It’s like Tyler Perry said, “Don’t wait to get a seat at the table in Hollywood, make your own goddamn table.”
Miranda-Rodriguez: And giving the power of supporting PhenomX to its core audience helps them realize their superpower. The Census Bureau has data collected in 2017 that shows us that there are 58.9 million Latins living in the US, and by 2030, that number may reach 72 million. Our buying power is $1.539 trillion. That shows us that we consume products overwhelmingly that do not actually reflect, represent, nor respect our heritage. By crowdfunding, Latins can ensure the independent success of this project.
The Beat: Of late we’ve seen other independent LatinX superheroes, what makes PhenomX different? What kind of hero will he be? How political will the book be with the hero working for the FBI? And for me, because I still live in the Lower East Side, how much of it will we see?
Leguizamo: Obviously I want the characters to be inspirational and he’s going to be fighting against foes and enemies of the US, but his relationship to the FBI is going to be tricky because he was falsely accused and wrongfully incarcerated kind of like the Central Park Five whose story was told last year in the Oscar-nominated documentary When They See Us, how they’re locking up Black and Brown kids in New York City who’ve done nothing wrong, I was addressing that, so it will have a political social overtone definitely.
Miranda-Rodriguez: I 100% agree with John, his project PhenomX will tackle the prison industrial complex and how disproportionately people of color are incarcerated oftentimes for crimes they are innocent of, but due to the lack of resources, education, and corruption end up in jails across the US. As artists of Puerto Rican and Colombian descent living here in the United States, we both have a responsibility to not only create art that reflects our heritage and experience as US-born Latins, but it’s also our responsibility to use our platform and art to bring awareness to injustices. Superheroes as a genre in comic books are fantasy narratives mostly written by white men. Our Superheroes, La Borinqueña and PhenomX fight for social justice from the comic book page to the real world.
Leguizamo: And we’re definitely going to have the L.E.S. represented, it’s going to look like Avenue C and D.
The Beat: Where does the name PhenomX come from?
Leguizamo: One of the experiments that the government’s doing is called Metamorphosis, how the people who live in the L.E.S. are exposed to toxins and ambient radiation that exist in this neighborhoods, this allows them to survive the secret experiments where they are able to gain powers, and PhenomX is one of the experimental units giving Max metamorphic powers, so he can change into different metals.
The Beat: Will this be a one-shot, or are there more stories to be told with this character?
Leguizamo: I’m hoping that we can keep going. I just have to see how successful this is and how people dig. If it becomes a hit, then definitely we’ll keep going as far as we can, if not it’ll be a beautiful one-off.
Miranda-Rodriguez: However, as a Latin community of artists and storytellers, we have never owned our characters or their narratives. John’s new comic book series will follow in this new renaissance of independent comic book storytellers, therefore, when the studio’s express interest in making PhenomX or La Borinqueña into a motion picture or TV series, they come directly to us and not another studio or publisher.
The Beat: Does the character look like you so if they make a movie they have to use you?
Leguizamo: Kinda, yeah except he’ll have to be like The Dark Knight because I’m older, I’d have to be an aged superhero.
The Beat: Nowadays with new technology, they can young you up real quick.
Leguizamo: I don’t want to do that, I like my wrinkles and crow’s feet, I’ve earned them.
This project launched November 11th and is looking to be funded with less than 20 days left, to support this project click on PhenomX. For more information follow John Leguizamo on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as for Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez he can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
For The Beat’s previous coverage on his announcement check out John Leguizamo Launches PhenomX.