One of the latest artists to bring a little seriousness to the funny pages appeared at the MultiCultural Center on Thursday night.
Lalo Alcaraz, author of the nationally syndicated comic “La Cucaracha,” gave a workshop and multimedia presentation of his strips. About 60 people heard Alcaraz read hate mail aloud, answer questions sarcastically and give his best George Bush impression.
One of only two Chicano syndicated cartoonists, Alcaraz’s strip is appears in 65 papers daily, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune. Alcaraz also illustrated Latino USA: A Cartoon History, a comic book-style history book published in 2000, and has editorial cartoons appearing regularly in the New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as well as occasional columns in L.A. Weekly.
The occasionally political content of the cartoon has also garnered it some publicity. Alcaraz was featured last month in a special section of Rolling Stone magazine dedicated to political cartoonists, along with “Boondocks” author Aaron McGruder and “This Modern World” author Tom Tomorrow.
All his projects are marked by pointed cynicism, directed at everything from politics, the Taco Bell chihuahua and the evils of Ricky Martin.
“Basically, my strip is like a Chicano Seinfeld,” Alcaraz said. “Sometimes it’s political and sometimes I’m just trying to be funny. My target audience isn’t Chicano people; it’s people who can read.”
The U.S.-born Alcaraz, born Eduardo Lopez, grew up in the Lemon Grove area of San Diego to immigrant parents from Mexico. Alcaraz got his start in cartooning at San Diego State University, drawing editorial cartoons for the school’s newspaper, The Daily Aztec. “La Cucaracha” debuted in 1992 in L.A. Weekly shortly after the Los Angeles riots, or as Alcaraz would say in his George W. voice, “the untidiness.”
“I shopped the comic around a while, and got rejected by every single [comic] syndicate at least once,” said Alcaraz. “It wasn’t until I started really turning up the schmoozing that I got anywhere. Desperation played a role, since I don’t know how to do anything else.”
Alcaraz’s comic was first picked up four years ago by Universal Press Syndicate, which spent years with him developing the comic’s direction and look. It debuted last year in 38 daily newspapers, with about 30 more papers picking up his strip since. So far only one newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, has dismissed “La Cucaracha” from its cartoon page as a result of negative backlash over the comic’s content. It had replaced the popular comic “Gasoline Alley,” to the chagrin of Journal readers.
“The problem is that the comic page is rarely diversified at all,” Alcaraz said. “There’s been the same comics in there for decades. ‘Blondie,’ for example, is being drawn by the grandson of the original author. It’s tough to get people to accept change.”
The political message of Alcaraz’s cartoons, both in his daily strip and his editorial work, has drawn a massive amount of hate mail, which he enjoyed reading to the audience. Among his favorites was a message from a member of the NYPD condemning his lack of patriotism along with a line that simply read, “Not funny, ese.”
Alcaraz said he uses the comic strip as a form of self-expression.
“I’m pretty bipolar, which is why I have two male characters to express myself through on my strip,” Alcaraz said. “Sometimes I get pissed off and want to tell people what to think, and sometimes I want to get drunk and watch ‘Wildest Police Chases.'”
Alcaraz said a highlight of his career came late last year when he wrote in his L.A. Weekly column that Cuban singer Gloria Estefan had declared the Latin Grammys an “independent nation,” complete with a revolutionary government of the Latin Grammys. The ensuing controversy caused Alcaraz to deliver a televised correction, broadcast nationwide on Telemundo, which he delivered dressed as Fidel Castro, punching the air with a cigar for effect.
Alcaraz is currently working with the Disney Channel on a show called “The Chuco Brothers,” the first Hispanic cartoon show. As for a televised version of “La Cucaracha,” Alcaraz is “not picky about offers. I don’t care if the Home and Garden Network wants to run the thing.”