The Eisner Awards are the comic book industry to the Oscar, and winning one is quite an honor. This year, there were a lot of surprises (Giant Days beating Tom King’s Batman after he won…everything else), disappointments (Tom King winning best reprint for Vision over the spectacular Berlin by Jason Lutes), and some that were deserved, but not surprising (Tom King winning for Mister Miracle…seriously, this guy should have just had a seat on stage). One award that was a front runner was for best anthology: Puerto Rico Strong.
Puerto Rico Strong for the People
The anthology came out in the wake of Hurricane Maria as a way to raise money to help Puerto Ricans on the island. The book was a surprise hit, and soon found itself on bestseller lists and top ten lists, including the Washington Post’s recent article on the Eisner nominees to look out for.
Still, though it was a frontrunner for the award, Puerto Rico Strong winning the Eisner was still a delight. The editors and creators (including the likes of Fabian Nicieza, Vita Ayala, and a host of other creators) created something unique: a tapestry of Puerto Rico, exploring the past, present, and future of the island its people.
Marco Lopez: Accomplished Editor and a Pal
After winning the award, I immediately contacted editor Marco Lopez, a friend of mine, to congratulate him. Thirteen years ago, at 2 AM (the time his award was finally announced in Eastern Time), we’d be at a diner with other friends talking comics and writing and bouncing ideas off of each other. To see “Eisner Award-Winner” next to his name isn’t surreal or surprising. In fact, after reading Puerto Rico Strong, it was more “about damn time.” But for Marco, it was a bit more than that.
So, on Friday night, you won an Eisner Award for being one of the editors of Puerto Rico Strong. What’s going through your mind now?
Well as soon as I found out it was the obvious excitement, then freaking out, then joy, then adrenaline coursing through my veins and me thinking is this real life? Haha. I still can’t believe it happened. I mean I never wanted to do Puerto Rico Strong to get an Eisner. It was always and will always be something that was done to help my homeland. The island I was born on and where my family comes from. This was just a happy byproduct and I feel blessed and honored that so many industry people voted for us and cared enough to vote. Every single one of my fellow editors poured their heart and soul into this and so did all the talent that was involved.
Puerto Rico Strong received praise from dozens of critics and fellow creators. Were there any that were particularly meaningful to you?
I honestly couldn’t begin to tell you which one. I am never good with the choose your favorite or most meaningful. Hell, I still go back and forth on what’s my favorite movie!
Puerto Rico Strong is a charitable book, raising funds to help the island recover after Hurricane Maria. How did the idea of a graphic novel anthology develop?
I was at home sitting at the computer reading the news about the second Hurricane that was going to be hitting Puerto Rico and I thought to myself “I gotta do something. Can I do something?” Honestly, comics and telling stories is all I can do and I figured, well, I guess that’s the answer.
How did it all come together?
I hit up (fellow editor) Derek Ruiz and he was on board. Right after I called Desiree Rodriguez and then Derek contacted Neil Schwartz and that was our editing team. Then I started reaching out to talent and Lion Forge because I’ve done work for them in the past. Desiree also championed the anthology from the inside since she’s an editor there. Lion Forge had Hazel Newlevant join our team, and that was a fantastic choice because she’s awesome. We also had Andrea Colvin was shepherding us in the beginning. It was just a fantastic time.
How did it feel working with all these creative people?
To do something for your own people and for others to want to help and join, even a publisher like Lion Forge…it was crazy. Everybody that contributed was so amazing. All these artists, writers, letterers and colorists providing for free their time and energy to make Puerto Rico Strong happen was unbelievable.
How did you decide on which stories made it into the anthology?
We didn’t really have a “no this or that” process. We pretty much wanted to open it up to all types of stories with Latinx leads, but we did have an idea of the kind of stories we felt had to be a must that either dealt with certain political issues or touched on certain cultural issues.
Were there any stories in Puerto Rico Strong that were especially dear to you?
Not gonna lie. The one I wrote with Derek Ruiz, “Of Myth and Monsters,” illustrated beautifully by Jamie Jones and lettered by DC Hopkins. I like stories that tackle issues as much as anyone else, but true progress is to see popcorn entertainment and popular commercial stories with minority leads. There will always be power in seeing yourself in something. That was our story, with a little touch of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and Robert Zemeckis.
I love all the stories. Vita Ayala and Jamie Jones’s “Areytos,” with letters by Micah Myers, is beautiful and powerful. Check out “Helping Hands” by Alan Medina, Ariela Kristantina and Micah Myers. They’re all fantastic and wonderful stories and pieces.
You’re both editor and writer, who were your big comic book influences throughout your life and career?
Man…again I suck at picking favorites but if I I have to, then Grant Morrison, Joe Casey, Akira Toriyama, Rumiko Takahashi, and if I have to say anymore I will be here forever.
Fair enough! So, What’s next for you on the horizon?
Mostly stuff I can’t talk about. Derek Ruiz, Neil Schwartz and I are starting a publishing label. It’s a boutique label. We’re launching a Kickstarter at the end of this month for something I think people are really gonna dig but that’s all I can say for now on that. =)
Well, we’ll definitely be looking forward to it, and once it’s up, we’d love to chat again!
While we’re all waiting for their next project, if you haven’t read this award-winning anthology, be sure to pick up a copy of Puerto Rico Strong today. And remember, when you buy a copy, you are helping the people of Puerto Rico.
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.