January 3, 2003

Up Close and Laughing With Lalo

by Raymond R. Beltran

“I was an art major and an editorial cartoonist for the Daily Aztec newspaper, and I went studying with two friends of mine, one being a reformed homeboy. We were in the Chicano collection [at the SDSU library], where they got, like ... three Chicano books,” says Eduardo Lopez with a mischievous grin between his goatee. “I went to the men’s room in stall number three. I sat down and looked up, and the toilet paper dispenser said, ‘Eduardo Lopez is a greasy, wetback, spick who should go back to Mexico. His mom, too.’ I said, ‘That’s messed up ... they don’t even know my mom.’”

Facetiously proud of what he considers his first piece of hate mail, Lopez never found out who wrote the message in stall number three, but laughs when he says it was signed by one of those SDSU fratboys from “Kappa Kappa Kappa.”

Eduardo Lopez, currently known as the political, funnyman cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, is one of the most controversial artist in the comic strip business, and last month his cartoon creation “La Cucaracha” was launched nation wide by the Universal Press Syndicate as a daily comic strip in newspapers across the country.

“La Cucaracha” is the first Chicano comic strip to achieve daily status in newspapers. It contains characters such as Eddie, the average Chicano, Cuco Rocha, his militant alter ego, his Americanized young-er brother Neto, and Eddie’s girlfriend Vera, who Alcaraz refers to as “the comic strip’s closest thing to a smart person.”

Eduardo López cartoonist

“I was born in Tijuana, where everything good in San Diego comes from, and I grew up bitter and alienated,” says Alcaraz about his young adult life. “I saw myself pissed off because of the way my parents were mistreated. Cops would follow us around, because we were poor, and my school [Helix High School] did not work hard to retain students of color inside the classrooms.”

Alcaraz, a Lemon Grove native, attended SDSU as a Mechista, and started his early experience drawing cartoons on fliers to raise money for Cesar Chavez to come and speak on campus. “I always thought school spirit was wrong,” says Alcaraz smiling. “[In the Daily Aztec], they used to call me ‘Please Forward My Hate Mail.” In the early 1990s, he also began creating a series of comic strips called Pocho Magazine, which are now referred to as cult classics by Chicanos who’ve known about him from the beginning of his career.

Revealing that Mad Magazine is one of his major influences, Alcaraz says, “In Pocho Magazine, we were taking Calvin and Hobbes and rewriting the dialogue. We were coloring in Calvin’s hair, so that it was dark, and calling it Chato and Homes. We were creating Chicano comic strips in our magazine,” says Alcaraz. “We turned the Fusco Brothers into the Chuco Brothers. We turned Family Circus into Those Darn White Kids. They were like the racist militia family.”

After graduating from SDSU in 1987, Alcaraz moved to northern California to attend UC Berkeley to study architecture. But, with the Los Angeles riots of 1991, Alcaraz returned to southern California to respond to the predicament of the barrios and the ghettos. “I tried to sellout for a little while, but it didn’t work out. Nobody was buying it,” he says. Immediately following the return, he began self syndicating his work by making copies at places like Office Depot and handing them out at Chicano events.

Following his recreation of main stream culture-absent comic strips like the Fusco Brothers and Family Circus, he began including the cucaracha into his parodies, and when he took his creations to the L.A. Weekly, the strip became known as La Cucaracha. “I didn’t know about style, man. I was just trying not to draw an ugly drawing,” he says. “It took me years to finally feel confident enough to look at my style, then try to develop it.”

During the early years of Alcaraz’s dream to be a cartoonist, he distributed his Pocho Magazine solely by footwork, and began to feel the difference in consumer’s willingness to pay a Chicano artist verses paying corporations that rake in profit by the millions.

“That’s my pet peeve,” says Alcaraz with frustration. “When we used to sell Pocho Magazine, we used to sell them for two dollars on sidewalks at events, and people used to give us [grief] for selling them. They’d say, ‘Like ... you should give it to me for free!’ And I was like, ‘Why? I wrote this. I created this. Why don’t you give me two dollars? It’s only two bucks!’ Then, they’d ask me where the money was going. They just wouldn’t pay a Chicano artist,” he exclaims. “When was the last time you went to K-Mart, and right before paying the cashier, asked them where the money was going. You didn’t. You gave the white man your money. You threw it at him, but when it comes to paying a Chicano, people are like, ‘Well, [forget] you, Chicano artist!’”

Alcaraz’s political satires trace back to the days when he would do screen writing on FOX television for the short lived Chicano series, Culture Clash. His parodies in his own profession reflect turbulent times for Chicanos such as his spoofs on former Governor of California, Pete Wilson and his infamous Proposition 187. “Wilson was my first good character,” says Alcaraz with his drawing of Wilson holding a can of Fraid, a reference to the cockroach spray Raid, and the subtitle saying, “S.O.S. Spray On Spicks: good for up to two elections.”

Alcaraz’s parodies don’t shy away from the Chicano stereotypes either. He recalls angst from what he calls the Chuppies (Chicano yuppies), when he released the cartoon, “How to Spot a Mexican Dad.” The cartoon was of a Mexican American man sitting in a recliner chair, guzzling his second beer in a tank top and khaki pants. They argued that Alcaraz didn’t draw a Mexican dad as an attorney, but he didn’t see the average Chicano father in those positions.

“About five years ago I became a part of the Association of Editorial Cartoonists, which was made up of all white men making money as cartoonists,” says Alcaraz. “Ninety five percent [of the artists] were white and conservative. There were three white females, an old Filipino, who was a right-winger, and me.” In the middle of 2000, Alcaraz joined the University Press Syndicate, which is launching his new strip today.

With the Bush Administration waging war on ‘terrorists,’ Alcaraz says he has no problem finding material. “It’s way easier now,” he says comparing comedic themes between the Bush and Clinton eras. “There’s so much material.” With his cartoons ranging from a 9-11 statue, casting a shadow that spells “OIL,” to a caricature of Trent Lott hugging O.J. Simpson saying, “I love you man,” Alcaraz seems to have no limit to what his satirical and brutal truths will bring to the surface for his new strip.

“There’s only so much you can get into the newspaper. I’ve been really, except for the pedofile priest, nice to the Catholic Church,” he says with the same mischievous smile. “My wife’s a hard core Catholic, and I’ve been pretty lenient with them. No one’s really called me on that issue. I guess now I’m calling myself on it. What can I say? I’m pro-Catholic!”

Comic strip readers would even disagree that “La Cucaracha” is not the first Latino comic strip to run on a main stream daily basis with the existence of strips such as Baldo. Alcaraz disagrees with this argument because the foundation of the Chicano lifestyle in his cartoons are unmatched by any comics presented in newspapers today.

“My comic strip marks the arrival that we’re over that warm and fuzzy stage,” he says. “It’s like that strip Baldo that’s out that nobody notices for two years. You don’t even know what ethnicity or nationality they are, and they won’t say. The writer’s are Chicano and the artist is Cuban. So, they mix it up. The kid in the strip goes to bodegas and he goes lowriding. I don’t even know how that’s supposed to appeal to everyone. It’s like a big mess, because it’s not rooted in anything. It’s generic.”

La Cucaracha is now available in the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal, San Francisco Examiner, the Tucson Star, as well as over forty others. He is also currently working on the development of a children’s cartoon being scouted by Disney. It is based on the original Chuco Brothers, created in his early days, but with an alcoholic goat. “There’s no alcohol though, he’s hooked on goat nip,” laughs Alcaraz. “He has all the bad stereotypes of Mexicanos, but he’s a goat. Not to say that a goat is not a Mexican animal, but he’s not a human Mexican ... I’m proud of my Mexican animals.”

People might think that with all of his recognition and success in the comic industry, people might not think he’s the “greasy, wetback, spick who should go back to Mexico,” like in his SDSU days, but think again. Alcaraz still enjoys his share of hate mail, which he carries around with him wherever he goes, from Caucasians and Chuppies.

“A guy invited me over to discuss the September 11 attacks in further detail,” says Alcaraz holding up the e-mails. “But, he says I better have dental insurance.” Putting that page down he proudly picks up another. “This one says ‘Another Idiot,’ but they misspelled the word ‘idiot.’”

Whether hated by readers or not, as long as Bush continues to bomb for capital, as long as Lott continues to prove he’s not a racist, and as long as the Chicano population continues to grow at exponential rates, Alcaraz will always have something to say whether people disagree or not.

“There are people that are mad that they replaced Gasoline Alley with La Cucaracha,” he says. “How did I get them to replace an old white people’s favorite comic strip?” contemplates Alcaraz. “They told me to put it in the editorial page because they didn’t want to hear any politics when they read the comics page. They just want to be numb and entertained. My challenge is when I go out and say it’snot just a political strip, but a social satire about Latinos. And if it was just that, white people would hate it anyways. If it was Mary Worth with all Mexicans, they’d hate it.”

Although Alcaraz says that the strip is based on Chicano culture, it is geared toward all nationalities because it’s written in English. The purpose of the strip is to bring awareness to the culture and politics of the day, by means of good humor and wit. “There’s no reason for anyone to be alienated from the strip, unless they’re Emilio Estefan. He wants Gasoline Alley.”

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