Isabel Quintero & Zeke Peña Talk Graciela Iturbide, Overcoming Self-Doubt, Chicanx Identity, and Records

Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña are rock stars in the literary and artistic worlds separately whether it be wildly successful novels or cover artwork for Adrian Quesada or Chicano Batman; but together they have conquered both worlds by teaming up on now multiple occasions for a children’s book to a graphic novel and more.

In an interview in 2018, Isabel and Zeke talked about the process of creating the graphic novel, Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, published in 2017 which shows the life and impact of legendary Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle cover.

But that graphic novel wasn’t the first or last time the dynamic duo teamed up. The first was for Isabel’s critically acclaimed young adult novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, that was published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2014 and for which Zeke illustrated the cover. Last year, they had another hit success with My Papi Has a Motorcycle, a children’s book published through Penguin Random House publisher.

This interview took place in 2018 when Isabel and Zeke had a few dates of presentations and discussions about the book on Graciela Iturbide. In the interview they cover how that graphic novel came to be, Graciela Iturbide herself and the significance of her work, the self-doubt that can arise working on a new project, Chicanx and identity, collecting records, and designing work for Chicano Batman.

Antonio Villaseñor-Baca: I guess my first question really is about the book and just how did the idea come about? How did it start coming into fruition? Manuscript, illustration, what were the first steps, next steps, and then finishing touches?

Gabi, a Girl In Pieces cover.

Isabel Quintero: So, Getty contacted me. They asked if I wanted to write the manuscript for this graphic novel that they had in mind, that my name had come up from some library, from the L.A. public library system. And then I said yes, and then they asked if I had an illustrator I’d like to work with, and I said yes. Zeke Peña because he and I had already worked on, He’d done the cover for [Gaby, a Girl in Pieces] and we just hit it off and so we’d already been talking about other projects and so this kind of just was a great way to do something else together.

How did it become an idea? Because it is such a unique project, it’s not the normal, traditional book?

Isabel: So, they had someone else in mind also like at the same time for the project, but they asked us to put together a proposal of what it would look like. So, Zeke and I immediately started working on talking about the project and looking at stuff and we did it rather quickly. Like we put together, Zeke did four spreads, eight pages we put together and that’s what we turned in and they really liked it. Then we really got started on the whole project.

Zeke Peña: Yeah, so they contacted Isabel and she was in contact with the editor who I think initially reached out to you right?

Isabel: Yeah.

Zeke: Ruth Lane, our editor at Getty Publications, was the first person to contact Isabel and so after all of us we were like yes, absolutely. I mean for me, I’ve always wanted to make, publish a graphic novel or comic. It was about just to have the opportunity to publish something but the fact that it was something as interesting as like you know Graciela’s photographs made it even better. So, after we agreed to work on the project, Isabel was saying it was quickly just having a conversation about how we were going to approach it. So, Isabel was getting into research, learning basic history about Graciela’s life, familiarizing ourselves more with her work and looking at her work.

A framed piece of Zeke’s hung in the El Paso Museum of Art during his lecture with Isabel in April of 2017. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

And then from my perspective trying to understand how exactly to compile the, I guess basically not just like illustrate but also how to put the book together right. So thinking about how the photographs were going to be integrated and then also trying to consider the text right, if, Isabel was going to do a lot of longer text, where was that going to go and how would that fit into the comic book narrative. So, I think one of the things we started off with was like what kind of comic books did we like or even just illustrated books that we like. Do you remember some of the ones?

Isabel: I sent you a list. Zeke was very like, okay give me some suggestions of things that you like. I think I sent, I said I liked Bitch Planet (a comic book series by Kelly Sue DeConnick) for comic books and then like a bunch of children’s books that I can’t remember and other stuff. Oh! Radioactive (by Lauren Redniss) was one because that’s a biography about Marie Curie. It’s really cool because Getty didn’t really give us limitations on what style. It just had to be a graphic novel, but it didn’t have to be traditional panels. So what I liked about Radioactive is that it was like this hybrid thing and so I referenced that a lot when I was thinking about story or narrative. Like what else could a graphic novel look like.

Zeke: In terms of like influence, there was a couple other books. And just from my end I was looking at, a graphic novel called The Photographer (by Didier Lefèvre, Emmanuel Guibert, and Frédéric Lemercier) illustrating the author trying to find other books that were similar in nature. So they’re biographies but also journalistic kind of visual narratives. That photographer one was one that I looked at right, because they also have photographs in the narrative. They’re integrated a little bit differently. So it was just kind of that research, and then quickly kind of going through that, talking about what photos we really liked or photos that we would be interested in and then trying to pick.

Isabel: And it also was because the Getty sent over catalogs of her exhibit and them, dance time; they sent over the book on Juchitán which was Juchitán de Las Mujeres. And it had essays in there and photographs and so that’s really like what we had readily available like right there, you know, in our hands and so we started with that.

Zeke: I guess once we decided that, we put the proposal together. It was, from my end, super crude because we hardly had any time to do it but after we submitted the proposal we basically had to wait for them to decide whether or not they were going to accept it. If they liked it basically. And yeah fortunately they liked it. Then we really started to go to work.

What was [the project and exhibit on Graciela Iturbide] for, what did they want from you?

Isabel: It’s with Getty Museum in Southern California. They’re all over the world, they do art confirmation and stuff like that. So, they had this initiative PSTLALA (Pacific Standard Time Los Angeles Latin America) who were celebrating the work of Latin American artists in Southern California. They wanted to publish a book for young adults, which they really don’t do. They publish some books for children but not a lot. And it’s really nothing like the book that we put together.

One of Zeke’s illustrations of a photograph by Graciela Iturbide. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

They wanted to do the book on an artist and because the shows where celebrating Latin American artists, she wanted to do a Latin American woman artist and since they have a lot of Graciela’s work, that’s who they wanted to do the book on. You know, they wanted to get her more recognition in the area because she has that connection with L.A. And so, it was like a year, maybe seven months of shows from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and she was in three shows, in three galleries and museums. And so they wanted the book to come out at the same time so they have something else for people to look at.

And what year was that?

Isabel: So they contacted us in 2016 in about July, June. We started working on the project I believe like in August and then Zeke was still finishing up stuff. We were still looking at stuff like in July of 2017.

Zeke: I think the proposal was in August, I remember starting in October. Yeah like actually kind of going on it.  I think the final files were sent June of 2017 and then PSTLALA, the show, we had a presentation, like a soft launch for the book at Rose Gallery in Santa Monica.

Isabel: In September. It was really fast.

I think I remember you saying, on Thursday night, at the art museum that your background is indirectly in creative writing. Can you both speak a little bit to your backgrounds. Because even you with doing Graphic Design doing a graphic novel, there’s still a little bit of a twist and contortion of it. So, what was it like having to adapt? What was that like?

Zeke: So for me, I went to school for, amongst other things, I ended up getting my degree in art history. I have a bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Austin. It’s like an inside joke because I would always talk about how I went to school for art history so its hard for me to not like, think back. [Isabel] would joke that like in The Office when Andy was always talking about how he went to Cornell, so she would always just clown on me. But anyways, so I went to school for art history, after that, and you know I was really just trying to appease something that a lot of us are brought up with which was like you want to get a degree that you can make money out of basically, right? Your parents want the best for you and they want you to find a career that you’re going to build to support yourself and kind of keep on that trajectory of like every generation trying to do better than the generation before. That was my alternative. I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel like it was going to be acceptable for me to go into art or into painting. So I went into art history because I thought, with an Art History degree I can go and be a professor at a university and like have benefits. After graduating I just kind of took a break a little bit. I moved back to El Paso and then that’s when I started working in the film industry a little bit. I worked for about five or six years in many departments here in El Paso, shooting in New Mexico and kind of regionally. After I did that I started working in graphic design. And so the graphic design stuff was really a nice balance between drawing and painting but also finding a space when you’re designing something for a company or for organization to also be creative and create something that’s more unique than just the logo or whatever. So after exploring that for a number of years, I had a few people that worked with me, businesses here around town. I’ve also always done a lot of work for a non-profit organizations, grassroots campaigns. So more around immigration, working with nonprofits and stuff. After having that experience with the graphic designs, I started to transition more and more into focusing on that creative space. And then that leaves just the illustration, so more and more people started to contact me to do illustration jobs. The illustration to me is like a balance between drawing and doing comics and doing graphic design. To me that’s kind of in the middle because a lot of illustrations in the way that they’re used, they’re used to market stuff. So when the graphic novel project came up it felt like the right time. I was a little hesitant, a little scared, I guess just self-conscious of whether or not I could take it on because I hadn’t ever really done that many illustrations and I had never published before that way other than like in Gabi, doing book covers. Or like a few interior illustrations. I was trying to learn as I was going, just like, trying to troubleshoot things. Just like kind of like self-doubting. I think a lot of people do that; we self-doubt our work but we finished it at some point. I think for me a lot of the time it’s just like figuring out where to draw the line. It’s like where do I stop. It’s always my difficult thing is like when do I feel like I can let this go and let it be complete. I think that one of the benefits of this project was this wasn’t high stakes, but it was going to be a real test of all the things I’d been practicing over the years. But it was also good because there was this very definitive deadline. We had to finish on this date so that the book could be out by this time and that. As stressful as it was to produce it, it was the best thing because of where I was at in my process. And it ended up being great after working on that book and after it published.

Isabel: So I don’t have an MFA. I have a master’s in Composition, but before that I wanted to be a high school English teacher. That was my goal, and then I failed miserably at that, so I needed to reevaluate what I was going to do with my life. In high school I really started writing poetry and then failing at being a high school English teacher pushed me to really think about what I was going to do. And creative writing was there. I took a couple of creative writing classes and then poetry because that’s where I started: writing poetry. I just started working more and more, being more disciplined with my work. So when the project comes along, I did Gabi and I was happy with it. Having that deadline was really nice because it was stressful, but it got things done. Like Zeke talked about it at the museum, the fact that, while you weren’t trained to do this thing earlier, or look at it theoretically, I feel the same way about writing because I don’t have that stress of, okay well so and so says this about writing a scene or writing a graphic novel, then I can’t stray from that. It makes it more difficult to stray. But because I don’t have that I just go with it. It makes it a little bit easier. But there are times, you know, I have craft books at home that I look at and then Zeke, for the graphic novel, recommended some stuff and sent scripts over. What was that how to draw comic?

Zeke: Understanding Comics and Making Comics by Scott McCloud.

Isabel: Yeah, it was really helpful to look at that stuff and really get acquainted with how graphic novels were that way as opposed to have a degree in graphic novel writing or whatever. Yeah, the Making Comics is the one that I bought and was really helpful. Yeah, I mean, having that deadline because I’m really, you can attest to this, I’m really long winded. I like ramble, and I can go on and on and on. And that’s the same in my writing but what was helpful is that with the graphic novel I had to remember there was going to be illustrations and I had to cut and cut. And poetry because I love poetry, that’s what I love to write, helps with the cutting of stuff.

And I guess to continue on writing what about the niches and the kinks of it? Like I remember you mentioning the point of view of the narrative perspective for the story and how that changed and how you still had some snippets of the iguana narrating the scene or something? What was that like? The position to change?

Isabel: Initially its practicality, one, because we were on a deadline we didn’t have the luxury to try figure it out. I tried it with some stuff and it just didn’t feel right. So then everything was in third person and then like I said, Zeke and Ruth kept pushing me. What about first person? Really consider first person, really consider it. And it was tough for me to do that because I didn’t want to speak for someone who was still alive, I mean, that sounds terrible. If I had been writing a book about, I don’t know, about Frida Kahlo, that’s the first person that came to mind, I don’t know why but Frida Kahlo. I think I would have felt less bad doing like first person or less hesitant because she wasn’t going to read it.

An illustration of Zeke’s of Graciela Iturbide. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

But because Graciela was reading it then I felt like I should probably not do this in first person. But you know the more I looked at it and I started playing with certain passages and certain sections the more it started to make sense. And I just had to figure out a way of how I would feel comfortable in writing in first person. And that’s why the three different points of view or three different narrators came into play because that kind of gave me a little bit of a distance as a writer. Some of the dialog that Graciela is using, they’re direct quotes, so that made me feel more comfortable because it was her actual words. And she’s speaking to you directly because it’s her actual words.

And so for both of you, was Graciela somebody that you were already aware of? What was the process like doing the research and what does it mean to you now that the book is a finalized thing and it’s out there? Who is she to you, I mean obviously the biography tells the story but to you personally, individually who is Graciela?

Isabel: I also knew about her work. My first encounter with her work was at the Getty Museum like in 2007; they had an exhibit The Goat’s Dance and it’s probably still my favorite of her series. It’s about the slaughtering of the goats around La Mixteca. And so this is a really long lasting story. I wrote about it in the book, we explore it in the book. The last 500 years these goats have been slaughtered by the same indigenous people for the same Spanish colonizing families. So it’s a long history of the suppressive situation but the photograph that came from that really moved me. I guess after reading so much about her I really do understand what she means by like, this is truth. Natural Geographic photographs in a way that these are other people. Like I’m not part of that community, but it is a truth that I can see and that is in the here and the now as opposed to something that seems more like consumable. Like Natural Geographic pretty pictures kind of thing. And I feel the connection that I have with her now. It’s a tough question that I hadn’t really thought about, I guess. I think her work is important for many reasons. I think she’s photographed a lot of indigenous people within Mexico in a way that shows communities thriving as opposed to, you know, look at these poor communities. No, look at these communities and how they’re living and they’re still living amidst all this adversity that’s been inflicted upon them for centuries. I had the same goals, I want young people to read this, people in general and to see ‘oh, what can you do with photography. What kind of truth can you reveal?’ Especially in the United States, like in Mexico she’s well known but here in the United States, especially for marginalized communities like Chicanx or Mexican-Americans or Mexicans here, you don’t get to really learn about yourself and so to learn there’s this Mexican photographer like me, there’s this woman like me going out there and working and being an artist. It’s not only like Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo that are artists, that are Mexican artists. There are other Mexican artists. I think it’s really important for young people to recognize that and to be taught that. And you know since this book, one of the goals that Getty has was to make is usable or accessible in the classroom for teachers to use. I think we did a good job doing that. Hopefully teachers do use it in the classroom so that kids, not only marginalized kids, but like kids in general can see a little bit outside of their world.

Zeke: I was familiar with her work before the project came up. When I was younger, I took a road trip through Mexico and I was gifted a small book of Graciela’s photographs and that was the book that I took with me on that road trip. So it had kind of like a special connection for me because that trip was just me as a young person, going out on my own and trying to do whatever I was going to do, you know, take photos or whatever it was.

Isabel: You went by yourself?

Zeke: I did yeah. It was a bus trip. It was before phones too, so I had to print all of my maps and stuff and took buses. It was great, it was a great trip.

Around what age was that?

Zeke: It was 2007. Probably 22 or 23, 24 I don’t know; I’ll get back to you on that. No, I couldn’t have been that old.

Isabel: You were probably 23.

Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña pose for a photo in central El Paso. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Zeke: Yeah, I was probably like 23. So I guess now down to the second part of the question. I was familiar with her work, I always remember it really standing out to me, just the images there. I don’t know, there’s something about them that I didn’t find in my schooling. Like looking at our history, learning about photography, reading all the super academic books about, the eye, the photographer’s eye, all of these things, framing. But when I saw Graciela’s photographs, there was something a little different about them. They just felt different, they were framed differently, the mood in them, the fact that they’re black and white, and then also the content, right. Those where all technical things but the content of her photographs, the different people that she looks at, the places that she goes, the culture. So now that the book’s out there, I think for me it kind of just comes full circle. I’m excited to help facilitate getting her work out there more. For younger people that are also in that mode of exploration trying to figure out what they want to do. Especially young people from marginalized communities. That’s a group that I’m specifically interested in, but I think that when you look at other photographers that we learn about regularly or that are really well known in the United States, I think that when you put them side by side with Graciela, it looks very different.  When you look at the tradition like National Geographic’s, the way that National Geographic has been very voyeuristic, the idea of voyeurism, people from the outside coming into indigenous communities, they’re coming into communities of color, taking photographs, and then going away with them and making their living off of these people, not having a real connection with the community or any significant investment in the community. It’s not a reciprocal thing, and I think that Graciela is a great example even though she may come from a place of economic privilege , I think that she’s a good example of an alternative to that which is being very clear and intentional with the community that she’s dealing with, speaking to them directly, and then developing a long lasting relationship with them. She becomes a part of the community which is something that Isabel always talks a lot about. So, I think that sharing that with other people and having Graciela as a woman, as a female photographer, as a Mexican female photographer, like you know, having that for young people, it’s just a good thing.

And so now kind of turning the questions a bit more onto you two. Outside of the book, you mentioned these terms Chicanx, Chicano, what does that word, that term mean to you today? Do you use it yourselves? Especially living in California and El Paso.

Isabel: To be honest, I’ll use Chicanx when I’m like writing. If I’m asked to write like a blog post or whatever like, I’ll use them. And Ill try to use them as much as I can to reflect the changing communities. Or the different ways that we’d like to be addressed but usually I refer to myself as being Mexican. Which I know is inaccurate, I know I was not born in Mexico, but I’ve already referred to myself as Mexican because my mom has always referred to me and my brother as Mexican. For my mom, we were never American. Or we have never been American. Sometimes she’ll say something about Los Americanos and I’m like tus hijos tambien son Americanos but to her Los Americanos are white folk. And so she’s always referred to us as Mexican, so that’s usually what I use but I’ll use Chicana, I’ll use Chicanx. Sometimes if I want to make white people very upset, I’ll say American because it makes them uncomfortable, well at least some folk, to think that we can use that term. I think they’re important terms and they should be respected. Whatever the person would like to be addressed as should be respected. So if there is somebody that would like to be called Chicano then call them Chicano. If they like to be called Chicanx then that’s what you should address them as. I don’t think it’s a very difficult thing to understand. I think some folks get caught up in what makes them comfortable or what is really easy, even though its not a difficult thing I don’t think, to be like ‘oh, this is what you want to be called? Okay I’ll call you that.’ It’s like calling someone by a wrong name. Oh your name is Jose well I’m just going to call you Francisco because it’s easier for me, like no, just call people what they want to be called.

An original work of Zeke’s on display for sale. Photo by Antonio Villaseñor-Baca.

Zeke: Well, I do refer to myself as Chicano, I also fully support and also use Chicanx. When I was going to school I was fortunate enough to have classes and patient professors to help me kind of explore that, kind of breaking down gender and trying to understand that. So I fully support that Chicanx and I think for me it’s also my generation even though I’m, I think I’m a little older in this younger generation, but it’s very much young people who have decided that we should use that term Chicanx, and I support it. I’m like okay, if that’s what young people think we should be using, then that’s what we should be using. Because I think it does put good question to a lot of the machismo that has been heavily ingrained and misogyny that has been heavily ingrained in the Chicano movement. When you look historically, its mostly the men that are revered, it’s the men that are written into history and a lot of the women, the queer people, people who may be transgender, they’re marginalized in that history. So I think its important thing even if you’re not going to use it to identify because I am male presenting, I respect and acknowledge someone when they say Chicanx and I think that it’s an important thing to use. I think kind of going into the history as Isabel was speaking about her mother, I grew up confused and I think that we do that a lot here in the States. And I guess I should mention something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I don’t define the term Chicano, Chicanx or Chicana, I personally don’t define that by saying Mexican-American. When I say Chicano, I’m also acknowledging the fact that I’m also detribalized indigenous. Like my mother’s family comes from Southern New Mexico.  I have a number of relatives that went to the Indian schools, were adopted into families that were native. So that simplifying things in terms of nationality is not how I identify myself because to say, for me to say Chicano, I am saying that I’m American, or that I’m Mexican. Nationality, doesn’t for me, have anything to do with race necessarily. It has to do with governments, it gets all crazy. But I’ve always loved the term Chicano, Chicana and Chicanx because it is inclusive in that way, you can include, if someone does want to identify as being Mexican and be Chicana, Chicano, then why not. It doesn’t need to be this rigid, binary thing. Because it’s the same way with gender. Why would we be binary with nationality. So for me it’s also acknowledging those indigenous roots and also not denying like white roots. Like not denying that I have Spanish blood in me, I have white blood in me. So it’s that complicated thing, it’s like [Gloria] Anzaldúa, it’s like ni de aqui ni de aya, it’s like all of that right. So we don’t fit, I have never fit into this thing right, I’ve never fit into this space. Not speaking both languages well, I’m not fluent in Spanish and I can sometimes speak English very poorly. Growing up, it was a process of having that confusion not having our histories in schools, like not learning a history that is specifically relevant to my people and like my place. But I think that later, when I got into high school, it was like, I was radicalized a lot by hip=hop. I think that listening to different rappers, there’s other musics that were along there but definitely hip-hop was pretty influential so that helped send me off on this exploration. And I think that it was around that time that I started to explore more like what does it mean to be Mexican-American, what does it mean to be Hispanic, what does it mean to be white, what does it mean to be Chicano, like what are all these things, Latina, Latino, like what are these things. I think a lot of younger people are unpacking that right now and I’m excited about that. I’m excited that, because it seemed like that term started to fade away a little bit, like this lull, and then all of a sudden it’s like wow. There’s young people using this term or young people disagreeing with this term. They were just talking about it. So I think that coming from this place, you should be able to define yourself in any way, you should be able to identify in the way that you are and people should respect that, the way that you want to identify yourself.

Getting into just fun extra stuff. You mentioned music, what music do you guys, individually, personally like?

Isabel: I listen to a lot of different things. I like Chalino Sánchez. I like a lot of regional Mexican music. That’s what I grew up with. My dad listening to Chalino, listening to corridos and corridos perrones, shit like that. I listen to a lot of that. I also like hip-hop and rap like old school stuff and new stuff. I like E-40, I like Cardi B, I also like oldies. I grew up with Art Laboe. Art Lebeau is huge in Southern California and he is a DJ and I believe he is in his 80’s now maybe 90’s. Every Sunday he’d have an oldie show from like six to midnight, six to eleven. It’s a way that for a lot of incarcerated folks, it can get messages to their families, like back and forth. But not only for incarcerated folks, for everyone. It was just an oldies station like oldies hour, few hours. So I’d listen to that. I love cumbias, I like rock, I just like a lot of different kinds of music.

Zeke: Yeah, I mean, I’m the same way. I started DJing when I was in middle school.

Isabel: DJ?

Zeke: Yeah, I started DJ-ing when I was in like 7th grade or 8th grade, using like the CD thing. And then I bought my first turntable when I was a freshman in high school. I’ve been collecting records for twenty years probably. I owned a record store, It was like in the corner of Virginia Street and Montana Street and so I appreciate all of it. The stuff that’s really close to my heart, like my mom is like a super big rocker. So I grew up with Santana, Jimmy Hendrix, like a lot of the classic rock stuff. But I love oldies, soul music, and as I mentioned, hip-hop always has a special place for me because it’s also a very inclusive form. I think that that history is also becoming more complicated. Because there were Puerto Rican people that were important or like Latina, Latino people who were important in that movement and so those histories are starting to be more inclusive. A lot of the best rappers, in my opinion, right now are rapping in Spanish and they’re women. I’m really excited about that because there’s really exciting hip-hop music that’s being made in South America.

Oh, like who are you listening to? There’s a few rappers I’ve been listening to a lot right now.

Zeke: Ana Tijoux is a super dope rapper. And they’re just like rapping about politics and calling shit out and just going for it but also just like technically, breaking down like rhythmically and how much different rap is rhythmically when it’s in Spanish. When dudes who rap in Spanish in the 90’s or even in the late 80’s I feel like it was still trying to figure out that rhythm. So it’s kind of choppy but now its just fluid and beautiful. And what about you?

Antonio: Ana Tijoux is definitely one of them, another one is definitely Nitty Scott. She’s from Brooklyn but her whole last album, because she’s Boricua. Her album Creature! covers Afro-Latinidad like songs like “La Diaspora” and “Coqui”. It’s so good.

Zeke: Dang, yeah, I’m going to look it up. Yeah but I love jazz, but you know, all of it. Same thing: cumbias, I love salsa.

Antonio: What was the name of that, you said you owned a record store?

Zeke: I did, it was called The Wax Museum. I had the record store from 2007 until like 2009, 2010. Originally it was selling records out of Shine gallery which was a gallery that was up on Stanton Street and right there on Cincinnati and Stanton. Then maybe eight months after that I moved out here on Montana and I had a little record store there. There was actually a record store there before my record store I think in the 90’s. And so people would come in and tell me their stories like, ‘hey we used to come here and buy records’ or like punk seven inches and so yeah I had that record store there. I mean it was doing well but it just got to the point where I was like do I want to be doing this in five years and the answer was no and so I closed it. It’s sad, all of my records have been in storage for like two years. So they’re just sitting there not being played.

Isabel: I just started buying records.  I bought a record player and my speakers already gave out. I’m like super sad about that. I don’t know what happened.

Zeke: Your system?

Isabel: Yeah, like I bought Eddie Gomez and Los Panchos and I was bragging to Pavel and he was like, Pavel is an artist friend we have in common, and he was giving me shit about it and like right after he’d text me, my speakers gave out. I was bragging to him so I feel it was the universe like telling me like why are you bragging about this.

Zeke: We should go to a record store; they’re popping up all over. It really helps the music scene and yeah, but I can’t do it. I rarely, rarely buy them now. I got like boxes, just like to the ceiling. So it’s like I can’t buy them anymore.

Isabel, you said you just got yours, so what were your first records?

Isabel: So my friend gifted me Death Row Greatest Hits.

Zeke: That started this recent record collection?

Isabel: Yeah

Zeke: Sick. That’s a good one.

Isabel: Yeah, so that. I have a few records in Spanish. But where I live, the thing is, you know I live like an hour and a half from L.A. and we need more stuff where I live. We have like one local bookstore in our region. Independent bookstores, we have like several Barnes & Nobles but independent book stores we have like one in Riverside and then we have one children’s book store by where I live and like a few used book stores. And so record stores are like a handful maybe in our region. So if we go to thrift shops, that’s usually where we head out and look for stuff and there’s not a lot. Sometimes it’s like the same one, a lot of Engelbert Humperdinck and I’m not a huge Engelbert Humperdinck fan. Or Marty Robbins also. If I could find some Hank Williams Sr. that’d be awesome. Because I do like Hank Williams.

Antonio: Marty Robbins, I saw a lot of him in Albuquerque last time I was there. And everyone was like, ‘look, you’re from El Paso.’

Zeke: My first record.

Isabel: Marty Robbins?

Zeke: Yes, Marty Robbins, how’d you guys know? (laughter) This is going to take me a little bit. It was probably like a hip-hop twelve inch. I genuinely can’t remember but I think that the first record that I took and like I played myself. The first time I played a record for myself was on my dad’s old record player that I still have, it just needs a new needle, but it still works.

So lastly, Zeke, I definitely want to hear the story about the Chicano Batman single cover. How did you meet him and how did that come to be?

“This Land Is Your Land” single cover artwork.

Zeke: Yeah, so Caros Arévalo (Chicano Batman’s guitarist), I know Carlos through, I used to tour with a band and that was around the same time as the record store but 2005, 2006 around there is when I started to work with them. And that band, touring with them, I was like doing illustrations for them. I did their album covers and stuff. And when they would go on tour, they would make contact with other people and after the second album they were like really touring and momentum was picking up and they did a country wide tour. And one of the times when they went on tour, Carlos met up with the band because he liked them and so every time we would go to L.A. Carlos would come see the band and then that’s how I met Carlos. So we just kind of kept in contact and you know honestly, its crazy but a lot of the gigs that I get, cover illustration gigs, music gigs come from like ten years ago, dudes I’ve met 12 years ago or whatever, like touring. Or having the record store, we brought Brownout the first time they came out here to El Paso. And so Adrian Quezada and I have always stayed in contact and like the dudes from Grupo Fantasma and that whole band. And so talking to Carlos, we just kind of stayed in contact and he hit me up because I think Bardo [Martinez, lead vocalist, keys and guitar] and like a couple of the other guys were working on this new album and they reached out and unfortunately I wasn’t able to work on the full LP cover. But they were in town playing a show and I got to listen to a little bit of the album before it came out. Bardo and I were driving around and listening to it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me to do the cover but before they released the album they were going to put this single out and they had already figured out the cover work for the full album. And so I think Carlos was the first person to message me and was like ‘hey we’re doing this thing with Johnny Walker, they’re going to shoot this video and like where doing this little spot, we’re going to release the single at the same time and we need some cover art for it.’ And I will say this, normally working with bands, its almost always like last minute, like we need it in a week, and this was no different.  So I had some illustrations that I had been working on at the time and I was like man I got a few illustrations, most of them aren’t used, I haven’t published yet, so because you needed it so quick, I’m going to have a hard time making something brand new for it but let see if I have something that exists already that you guys kind of dig and then I can like rework to make it work for the cover. So I sent them some concepts and the one that they chose was the one that ended up being used for “This Land Is Your Land.” So what I had sent them was just like a line drawing. I was trying to make it look like an old 60’s record through the little classic kind of stereo logo on there. I recreated that little stereo logo and a lot of those covers, some of the covers like in the 60’s they’re just like really simple and very simple typography and just very clean and straight. So I did that and delivered it to them and then that’s what they ended up using for the single. 

By Antonio Villaseñor-Baca

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