Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz visited UMBC on Tuesday, Sept. 26. His comic strip, “La Cucaracha” is one of the few Chicano comic strips in the United States. He describes the main focus of his art as pertaining to both “immigrant rights” and “social justice.”
The event, “Show Me Your Papers,” was named after one of Alcaraz’s most notable works, a poster featuring Apache leader Geronimo holding a gun, framed by the words “show me your papers.” Besides his comic strip, Alcaraz is known for coining the term “self-deportation” which began as satire but found mainstream popularity through use by Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential campaign.
Alcaraz grew up in San Diego as the son of two Mexican immigrants. During his presentation, he showed the audience a picture of his mother’s green card, now a faded blue, revealing that she moved from Mexico when she was eighteen.
About his childhood influences, Alcaraz said that he read the Mexican-American comic “Gordo” by Gus Arriola during its last ten years of production. Because “Gordo” was the only Mexican-American comic strip in the United States during its run, and since comics centered on Chicano lifestyles are still a rarity, Alcaraz is a strong believer in media representation.
In 2015, he created a cartoon mocking the acclaimed comedy show Saturday Night Live. The SNL initials were followed by the words “Still No Latinos” with Donald Trump underneath saying “That’s why I feel so safe hosting!”
While pursuing his masters in architecture at the University of California Berkeley, Alcaraz joined a comedy group called Chicano Secret Service. The group performed nationwide, and he credits his participation for his appreciation of satire as an art form.
About his artistic approach and inspiration, Alcaraz said, “My cartoons are usually right on the bullseye. I pluck the obvious idea that no one’s thought of.” To illustrate this point, he displayed a wanted ad with a cartoon of Trump dressed as a western bandit with a pistol in one hand and a bag of Cheetos in the other. The poster advertises Trump as being wanted for “Attempted Murder of Democracy,” “Unwanted Lady Groping & Tax Evasion,” while listing “Don the Con,” “Tiny Hands Trump,” as well as “The Cheeto Bandito” as his known aliases.
On the technical side of things, Alcaraz revealed that he uses an iPad (although it’s a new method – he’s only had it five months), an Apple pencil and the digital illustration app, Procreate in favor of more traditional methods.
In addition to his successful daily strip “La Cucaracha,” Alcaraz worked as a writer and producer on the Fox show “Bordertown” in 2015, which portrayed the first ever Mexican-American family in an animated show. He is also currently a consultant for Pixar’s upcoming Day of the Dead themed movie, “Coco.”
Alcaraz explained that he was offered the position after campaigning against Walt Disney’s attempts to trademark the Day of the Dead. In response to Walt Disney’s trademark attempts, Alcaraz created his own Mickey Mouse rip-off, “Muerto Mouse,” a giant mouse skeleton crushing buildings and “coming to trademark your cultura!”
On dealing with criticism from both Chicanos and White conservatives, Alcaraz said “I get hate mail from across the rainbow.” Laughing aloud, he read one of his many hate letters to the crowd. It was from a retired history teacher who regularly read his comics. “These people are my best readers,” Alcaraz followed up. “If they don’t like it, they can just look the other way. Or not read at all.”
Alcaraz plans to release a “best-of” book of cartoons and comics titled “Show Me Your Papers.” The movie “Coco” will be released on November 22 of this year.