DESIREE RODRIGUEZ is a columnist and Editorial Assistant for Lion Forge's Catalyst Prime. Desiree has written for outlets such as: The Nerds of Color and Women Write About Comics. She has written in detail on diversity in comics and pop culture, Latinx representation, feminism, and sexuality. Rodriguez is currently working as an Editorial Assistant on Catalyst Prime for Lion Forge Comics, coming out in May.
GREG ANDERSON ELYSEE: Ms. Desiree Rodriguez! Thank you for taking the time to be here at The Griotvine. How are you today?
DESIREE RODRIGUEZ: I love that you call me "Ms." I'm still not used to it and it makes me feel older, I love that. But I'm doing really well thank you!
The weather here is warm and getting warmer which I love. I'm not built for the cold. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, I'm really happy to speak with you again!
GREG: Wait... where are you that it's warm?! I'm dealing with this cold blizzard right now!
DESIREE: I heard about the blizzard, stay safe up there guys! Yeah I live in the south so the coldest it's gotten here so far is like 61 degrees. Which is freezing for me cause I'm a wuss but I can't really complain [laughs].
GREG: [Sighs] You got problems. [Laughs] Well I don't normally interview other columnist, so this is definitely new territory for me but first off, I want to say how much of a fan I am of your work and your thoughts and criticisms when it comes to representation of people and characters of color, women, and LGBTQ in pop culture media on your column.
DESIREE: I've got that island blood man, we're not built for cold weather [laughs]. But seriously you're gonna make me blush! That's such an amazing compliment, thank you. I love your work as well and I've learned a lot from reading your columns. You understand how hard it can be to put your writing out there to the public not knowing what the reaction will be. Sometimes it's great, sometimes you get backlash, most of the time it's this mixed bag.
When I'm writing I worry a lot about if I'm talking too much. I'm a long form writer, my average word count is around 3,000 words I think. Which feels like so much sometimes! But I try to do a lot of research into what I'm writing, to better make my point. The one thing I was good at in school was essays.
GREG: Ah yeah. Essays were my thing too back in school. I'd churn one out the night before class, last minute and still manage an A [laughs]. Now what exactly pushed you to get so passionate about addressing the issues of representation in your writing and websites?
DESIREE: I think it mainly started with - and this is so embarrassing - Glee.
DESIREE: Don't judge me! Okay, no... judge away. Look man I was a high school theater kid, it was almost required I like Glee.
It was the first "fandom" I really got into after Harry Potter ended and I moved on from that. So I ended up writing a lot of meta on the show and that's when I started becoming more socially aware and politically involved. But when it came to issues like race and how race intersects with sexuallity and gender, well I didn't see people talking about it much so I started to. I also fully blame the Young Avengers fandom, man those were wild days but I think that fandom more so than Glee really kickstarted my desire to write about social political issues.
I'd say that's how my writing started to really develop. Sure, I wrote all the time in school, fiction and nonfiction; I worked for my school newspaper, and wrote short stories in my spare time, but fandom is really where I started developing my own voice.
Eventually I started to branch out and seek places where I could write in a more professional setting. But I think what pushed me was, 1. I selfishly wanted to share my perspective and 2. I didn't see people talking about the things I wanted to see.
Which I suppose in a way is also a selfish desire. But what's so wrong with being selfish when it comes to issues that directly affect and represent you? Aren't people always telling marginalized communities if we want to see something that represented us, we have to do it ourselves? So I did, I started writing about the issues or topics that I wanted to see more of.
GREG: Which would lead into writing about Latinx issues?
DESIREE: Yes exactly! It was that absence of discussion about Latinx issues within the industry and overall comics community that pushed me towards speaking up. Not that there aren't amazing Latinx journalists out there. There most certainly are, ones that are smarter and far more articulate than I am. Which was why I started doing #BeingLatinxInComics because I didn't see a singular place that highlight Latinx voices within the industry and I wanted to fix that.
I just don't feel right complaining about an issue that I could have a hand in fixing. I'm not arrogant enough to believe I can fix the overall problems we face as a community by myself. That's ludicrous. The issues are varied, vast, and many are beyond my direct scope. But I can try to aid, learn, and educate.
That's one of my goals are both a person and a creative professional.
GREG: I'm used to people maybe ranting their displeasure on Facebook groups but you truly use your voice and present so much research in your work.
DESIREE: Oh no, don't get me wrong I rant! I rant hard sometimes. Never ask me how I feel about Nolan's take on Robin it's not pretty. The one and only tattoo I have is of the Robin symbol so that's one thing I can rant about. [laughs]
But I only do my ranting privately, not on social media. But I also double as a social media consultant, so I might be more self-aware of what I put out on social media than others. That's just an assumption on my part though. But every time I type something, tweet something, even posting on my personal Facebook, I think of the potential consequences of what I'm saying and ask myself if it is worth it before ever hitting the enter button. This goes into my writing and columns too, because I'm putting out this piece to the public so I want to be 100% sure I can stand by what I'm saying.
GREG: How long does it take you once your mind is honed in on a topic, especially with the research?
DESIREE: The research heavy pieces are a more recent aspect I've developed in my writing. Looking back on my early - and truly terrible - articles, I noticed my arguments and the presentation of my arguments tended to be very weak. Not only that, I didn't have much of a clue as to what I was talking about, I had maybe half a clue. Now, when I write, it's a huge undertaking because I want to make sure I don't just have the whole clue, but the next three clues after.
GREG: How much time it takes depends on the topic. Something fun and light, like any of my anime articles or my recent Black Canary piece, only took me a few weeks to complete.
DESIREE: For a larger article, like The Disappointing Truth About Supergirl's Maggie Sawyer, it took much longer to complete. There was a lot of research that went into that article, which ate up a lot of time. The current project I'm working on, one that discusses the film Logan from a Latinx perspective, is going to take some time to complete because it'll be another big research project for me.
My most recent article, Erased and Ignored: Dick Grayson's Rromani Identity Comes to Light was actually about a year in the making. I started it after a discussion with a friend of mine, and never finished. It was sitting in my drafts for about a year. Then, after the film news hit, I was decided to go back and finish it. I pretty much rewrote the whole thing from scratch in about two weeks. I pulled an all nighter finishing that one, my roommate was very concerned 'cause I had work the next day!
GREG: Ha! Life of an artist. Now going back to the topic of Latinx, the very first article I recall reading from you was pertaining to the representation of Latinx people in comic books. Can you give us some details on what exactly you were addressing and your feelings? How do you feel about the representation of Latinx characters in comics today?
DESIREE: I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It got more positive reception than I ever thought it would. I always attribute that piece to why I got my job at Lion Forge.
It actually started as a discussion on Twitter actually with the blog LatinxGeeks. We were just discussing our mutual frustration with how Latinx characters are written in comics. Namely the lack of cultural identities Latinx characters in comics seemed to have. There just felt like a block, a cloud of misunderstanding on what it meant to be latinx. Which eventually led to the first #BeingLatinxInComics chat I sort of accidently had on Twitter. Which led to another one about Miles Morales and El Diablo. Just a bunch of Latinx comic fans talking about the positives and negatives of Latinx characters in comics.
When I started writing the article itself, I really wanted to nail down all my thoughts that occurred in the chats into a solid essay format. I wanted to address some of the misconceptions about what being Latinx is.
Now of course there's the problem of Latinx stereotypes, which has been discussed quite a bit already, so I wanted to discuss the differences between Latinx and Hispanic. I wanted to discuss how Latinx is a racialized ethnic identity. I wanted to discuss how comics don't understand our collective cultures - because as a community we are a culture of many there is no singular "Latinx" culture or race - and tend to lump us all together. I also wanted to discuss how there are many Latinx people from many different races. Which is something we don't see often in comics. The concept of a Afro-Latinx or Asian-Latinx person seems out there to many people. Some non-Latinx people don't seem to understand that not all Latinx people are Indigenous, or that we have a multitude of indigenous cultures within our community, or are of one race.
So my ultimate goal with that article was to educate. I didn't see anything in the circles I was in at the time discussing Latinx issues in comics in detail. So I wanted to fill that gap with my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I wanted to open a dialogue about our community and how comics fail in some ways to represent us as a community.
And while I think there has been progression forward, I still feel there's gaps that need filling. I adore Jessica Cruz from DC's Green Lanterns, I truly do, but I haven't a clue what her Latinx identity is. Sunspot in Marvel's USA Avengers is still a whitewashed version of his former self. I'm not overly impressed with Dynamite's Lady Rawhide as a leading Latina character. There are positives of course, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez's La Borinqueña is amazing. And I really enjoy Marjorie Liu's Tuya from Monstress a lot. She's an example of a Latina character in a fantasy setting without resorting to any stereotypical tropes to showcase her Latina identity.
So, there's progress, but there's still steps that need to be taken for the betterment of our representation. Which I believe can be aided by having more Latinx writers and editors taking lead on stories about our community.
GREG: Aww man! Don't even get me started on the whitewashing of Sunspot's skin color! Especially at a time where Bleaching cream is getting a lot more coverage and advertisements. I'm curious as to how there isn't anyone behind the scenes there to address to the editors and artists why lightening Sunspot is so damn problematic after introducing him as dark skinned.
DESIREE: I think Sunspot is a great case for how deeply colorism permeates comics. He was presented originally as an Afro-Latino man, and specifically a dark skinned Afro-Latino man. I say specifically because there are Afro-Latinxs, like myself, who are very light skinned or white passing. But that wasn't the case with Sunspot and frankly, Latinxs like me,who are light skinned and white passing, we are favored when it comes to Latinx rep. Not saying Hollywood won't still pick an Italian over a light skinned Latinx actor, but we have more privilege because of colorism. So it's important that media showcases black, and brown Latinxs more. Sunspot being a black latino character matters in the greater discussion of Latinx representation.
And isn't it funny, now after so long in comic book limbo, he's leading a big named team book and is suddenly light skinned? This is an example of why we need more Latinxs of color working behind the scenes in the industry, and creators of color in general of course.
An editor has the power to say to a colorist, hey this isn't right, this isn't Sunspot's skintone, he needs to be darker. Editors in the industry are really important, more important than I think they get credit for sometimes. And we need good editors in the industry who are well rounded and versed in a variety of media and knowledge. It's not enough, I think, to just be able to catch spelling mistakes, or keep a book on the agreed outlined, you need to make it the best book it can be. You need to make it accessible, inclusive, and of quality. Letting things like Sunspot's skintone pass by is a fault of the editors for me. You're the last line of defense before a book goes off to the printers, work harder to be better.
GREG: Now this is a perfect segue into what I want to talk about now. You briefly mentioned getting hired by Lion Forge. How did that come about and can you tell us about your role concerning the company?
DESIREE: Well I knew Joe Illidge from Twitter and we traveled in similar circles, myself being with Women Write About Comics and Joe at Comic Book Resources. I had read his column and we have talked on Twitter a good number of times. Joe always said we needed to have a "Batman Talk" since he knows I'm a huge Robin fan. So he messages me one day asking to talk and here I am thinking we were finally going to have our Batman talk. Turns out he wanted to offer me a job!
I was shocked, like really, really shocked. Sometimes I wake up on my Catalyst Prime days, open up my email with scripts and pages for these books and I'm still like, "Is this real life"?
I'm not even sure what I said, I might have laughed a bit because, what really me? But Joe was 100% serious and it was all really hush hush at the time because it was just an offer. I still had to be interviewed by Mark Smylie, the Executive Editor for Lion Forge Comics, and then approved by the company board and such. I was convinced I didn't get the job until Joe called me, I think three or four weeks later, telling me I got it. My squeal probably shattered a couple glasses.
My role now is to helping Joe with the production of each Catalyst Prime book. One big aspect of my job is tracking materials, making sure we're on schedule with our books, logging in materials. I'm slowly becoming an expert in excel sheets. I also scout for talent, read scripts, and help Joe with whatever else he needs.
I'm learning a lot every day on what makes a good story, not just a good comic book. Joe is a great, patient boss and editor, and the company as a whole has been really welcoming. I'm the new kid on the block, I don't feel I've earned my stripes yet, so everyday I'm trying to make sure I'm earning my keep and learning as much as I can.
GREG: What can we look forward to concerning Lion Forge?
DESIREE: That we're trying. I don't know that we'll get everything right persay, but I can say we're trying. Between Joe and myself, we have a wide basis of social knowledge that I believe puts a lot of authenticity into Catalyst Prime books. It's impossible to get everything right, but we are trying.
Diversity, inclusion, they're not just buzzwords for us. They're not meaningless platitudes meant to garner headlines or fill an arbitrary quota. What I like about our characters is that they feel real and the world they live in reflects our own.
Press releases for all our books are out now, and what I hope people notice off the bat is each book is inhabited with characters of color. A character I'm really excited about, who doesn't specifically belong to any one book, is Lorena Payan. I can't say much, but she's a character that has me especially excited. She's a Mexican women of color who has a lot of complexities to her, which is the type of Latinx character I've always wanted to see. So getting to be apart of her development and story has been a real treat so far.
GREG: Given your interest in comics, representation, and your position at Lion Forge, I have to ask: any interest in creating a comic book of your own?
DESIREE: Yes! So much yes. I said previously in an interview with Marco Lopez for Bleeding Cool, I'm a greedy person. I want to do it all. I have loads of stories in my head that I'm going to bring to life eventually.
I really want to see more stories that showcase the diversity of Latinx culture and represents our cultural identities in a more meaningful manner. Who knows, maybe I'll do my own magical girl book with all Latina women. I can showcase Asian Latinas, Afro-Latinas, Indigenous Latinas and beyond. Their battle cry could be "si se puede" or something.
DESIREE: That's a terrible pitch, no one would read that. But yes, I want to create my own comic one day. Hands down I'll make it happen eventually. I've lived a long time not doing what I wanted to do, not being able to do what I want to do, so now that I'm at a point in my life where I can, I want to go for everything while I can.
Desiree can be found: