Lives in Inked Panels

This is the last in a series of blog posts before the release of Certain Dark Things. I’ll be discussing Mexican films, the barrios of Mexico City, and the folklore which inspired the novel.

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My grandfather was a painter. Not the kind who exhibits in galleries. He painted billboards. That is, until technologies changed and photographic reproductions replaced the carefully airbrushed creations he made.

He grew up poor. One story he used to tell is how the only time his mother bought fruit was when the bananas were rotten at the market. She could get them at a discount, then. He wore the same pair of shoes until the shoes were too small for him and his toes ached. And he loved comic strips. Tarzan was a favourite. Later, he followed the adventures of the lower-class family La Familia Burrón. 

He loved inked panels. When he was a child, he thought he could become an adventurer in the Congo, like the drawings he found in the newspaper. When that didn’t pan out, he thought about giving art a try, becoming an artist, making it to the Academy of San Carlos. Anatomy sketches and an interest in colors instead led him to become a billboard painter: It paid and he needed the money.

When I was a teenager, I hung out with a group of street kids a couple of times. They used to work at an intersection nearby, washing car windows or selling bubble gum. As I started thinking about Certain Dark Things, back when it was a short story, I was interested in having a street kid as a character. I gave him a love of comic books, like my grandfather.

A lot of my stories are about escape. Characters wishing to run away, making it or never making it. Escape, motion, was a constant force in my family. My grandfather on the other side of the family abandoned his children and wife, ran off with a mistress. My grandfather the painter stayed put through the grinding years of an unhappy marriage until his kidneys gave out. His wife, my grandmother, also trapped, would sometimes speak to me wistfully about that handsome guy she had dated when she was younger and the time the singer Pedro Infante visited the office where she worked. The highlight of her entire life. My parents were always changing jobs, cities. I left Mexico as soon as I could, seeking something else. It almost didn’t matter what it was.

In Certain Dark Things Domingo, full of stories of vampires he’s read in comic books and graphic novels, meets a real bloodsucker. The novel is about gangster vampires, about feeling alone and unprepared, about violence, about being young and stupid, and it’s also quietly, secretly, about the way my grandfather escaped through the comic strips.

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