Books

the story behind the book

Raúl Gonzalez: learning his art at 7-11

david wilson for the boston globe

“I always say that if it wasn’t for the museum a couple of blocks away from the apartment complex that I grew up in, I wouldn’t be the artist that I am today,” said Raúl Gonzalez, who grew up in El Paso, Texas. “This museum was very accessible, and it had the art form that I ended up dedicating my life to,” he went on. “And this museum was the local 7-11,” with its spinner racks filled with comic books whose illustrators were among his most influential art heroes.

“That was how I learned to become an artist,” Gonzalez continued, “by taking these artists home and copying their images onto my own note paper.” It’s the same process by which students learn at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where Gonzalez taught for 12 years.

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A Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow, Gonzalez exhibits his paintings under his own name but illustrates graphic novels for young people, including the “Lowriders in Space” series, under the name Raúl the Third. His collaborator, the writer Cathy Camper, is a fellow zinester (she’s also a librarian, based in Portland, Ore.). When she proposed a book that would star an impala, a mosquito, and an octopus who work on cars and travel through space and time, Gonzalez said, “I immediately knew how it should be illustrated.”

He drew inspiration from his own border-town childhood; his grandmother’s beautiful curly hair became Lupe Impala’s mane, and as for the mosquito, an artist who draws with his nose, Gonzalez pointed out, “a mosquito has wings, and the zoot suits that Mexican-Americans wore in the ’30s and ’40s, those had coat tails and those look like wings.”

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The book, he added, “is basically like a summer blockbuster, although the budget is much lower — it took only a few Bic pens to draw it out.” Gonzalez chose the tool because, like his childhood museum, it’s pretty much available to just about everyone. “When I was a little boy,” he said, “it was the only pen I knew existed.”

Gonzalez will read and draw at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Porter Square books.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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