First centers on a disconnected Mexican family who come together to save the world. The superhero comic is rooted in a connection to a shared Latin history and culture, including the recruitment of Al Madrigal, a veteran of The daily show, as a screenwriter for the comedy series. With illustrations by Carlo Barberi, First revolves around three cousins who discover their powerful Mayan lineage.
Before First‘ from AWA Studios, CBR sat down for an exclusive interview with comic book creator Al Madrigal. The writer immersed himself in his love for comics and discussed what separates First Ricky from other teenage superhero protagonists. Throughout the discussion, Madrigal explained why bringing authentic Latinx voices to the genre is vital.
Al Madrigal: I have always been a big shine fan. I always leaned towards more witty secondary characters. My children were adults when [the Arrowverse Flash series] came out, when all these Greg Berlanti shows started coming out. So we started watching the CW Arrow and shine. It was hard to stick with us as the kids were growing up. But again, love it all.
CBR: It’s interesting that you bring it up because Ricky, the central character of First‘ first issue – it has this gossipy, almost goofy Flash vibe. What was it like playing with the genre like that?
It’s great to have Axel Alonso as your guide, like my Sherpa in the comic. Our narrator is going to be a kid who’s an aimless 17-year-old asshole who just had molly and mushrooms at a party, and then discovers that he is the most powerful wizard in the world. He is our narrator. So our eyes in this world and what happens is a D student in a public high school.
Which is not exactly the mold of Peter Parker.
No. He doesn’t help anyone in STAR Labs or Oscorp. He does not receive the scholarship. He takes AM/PM slushies near his home.
But it ends up working well compared to this huge cosmic space opera where he’s stuck where he’s not the hero. He’s the kind of person you know in high school who’s at the back of the party trying to look cool.
I’ll tell you, even in Hollywood, I have this social anxiety… There are parties where I walk in with my wife and I’m just terrified. I can’t be cool here. It’s like everyone I see on TV. I love TV so much it’s hard for me not to say “Did you see that?” So I’ve totally been Ricky – unprepared, almost unwilling to take advantage of an opportunity or do the right thing.
And so, that’s where this kid is. Once again, it is imposed on him. Just when he’s getting his bracelets and his power back, he sees one of those big, badass Mayan sicarios picking up his mom from her night shift at the hospital…I don’t want to give too much away. But again, you’re trying to give this kid a path to success. He has to intervene and it takes a little time. I was a late bloomer. I lost my twenties, and he’s on the same path.
At this point in your career, you have experience in the film, television and stand-up worlds. But as you said earlier, you have Axel Alonso as a resource while moving into comics. As a creator, what’s it been like to switch mediums like this – and what surprised you the most about working on First?
[Axel] is the best resource. It’s a combination of several things. It’s having the artist Carlo Barberi to execute that… In some cases, it’s complicated. That Axel is excited about where this is happening is the ultimate compliment, because he’s seen it all. I know I’m on the right track because my Sherpa is the best Sherpa there is and tells me I’m doing it right. When I’m not, when we’re in the editing process, and when Ricky’s narration is missing or something, he lets me know and I fix it. It was great. We’re friends, that’s another thing. We are both football fans. We went to Detroit together at the start of the football season. He has become one of my very good friends.
This isn’t your first experience with the superhero genre either. You actually have a role in the currently unreleased movie Morbus.
let me defend Morbius get pushed. Morbius was supposed to come out in July 2020. They identified that date. No one saw this pandemic coming. It’s Sony and they don’t have the Disney+ relationship or the streamer to deliver it, and they’re not going to sell it. After seeing some of ADR’s scenes and talking to [Morbius director] Daniel Espinoza is good. That’s why they pushed him. If it was bad they would have thrown it away, so I’m very glad they saved it.
As someone who clearly loves this genre, what comics have you drawn inspiration from?
It’s almost like my acting and my career, it’s an eclectic mix of everything from Crossedwhich is perhaps the rudest comic of all time, at gold booster. AT The daily show, we were circulating graphic novels left and right. It was a lot of the morona lot of Walking Dead, which I’ve only done so far because, like the TV series, it’s like, “There’s no hope.” I read Scalped. Again, just shitty stuff behind me too.
It’s such an eclectic mix. It’s crazy. [Once and Future] was fantastic. I really encourage anyone watching this, or reading this, or listening to this, to get started. There’s no reason you can’t cast one. Just start. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you have that nagging little thing that made me get up and open all those other doors — if you have that nagging little thing and voice, definitely listen to it and keep going.
One of the stated goals you gave for the creation First was that you wanted to accurately represent the Latinx community. You wanted to give this underserved community a more authentic voice. Why was it so important for you as a creator to see this and transform audiences’ perspectives on Latinx characters?
On television, we rarely think of ourselves as the main character. Everything I play, I’m the ethnic friend, the comic relief, the supporting character. And the same is true for most Latinos and Latinas on TV and in movies. Have you seen this USC Annenberg study on Latinos in film and television? It’s Cameron Diaz and J Lo. That’s it! 20% of the population and 5% of the characters. You need to see yourself on TV. You have to see yourself in the comics. You need to see yourself and people like you portrayed in the film. Not just to know that these jobs are possible, but also to dream and see it make sense, I think.
How is a fourteen, fifteen year old – who this is written for – supposed to realize he matters when he can’t see anyone who looks like him on TV or in comics? Again, that’s a big reason why we do First. It all goes back to The daily show. It’s like, are you gonna complain? John Stewart… When I was there, he realized he could bark about something all day, but if you didn’t come up with a solution, what did you do? You’re just a pissed off asshole. And the asshole rant is funny, but if you really want to make an impact, you have to do something about it. That’s what me and Axel did. We did something about it. We weren’t just the complaining guys.
Primos #1 by Al Madrigal, Carlo Barberi and Brian Reber is available now from AWA Comics
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