Puerto Rico has had many reasons to celebrate lately in the sports and artistic community, and you should add another reason to that! Tom Beland, Puerto Rico’s own adopted son, originally from Napa, California, has landed a deal to publish his new Puerto Rican creation, Chicacabra through IDW Publishing. IDW is better known for publishing the Doctor Who, Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, among other licensed comic works.
It’s not the first time the Eisner Award-nominated writer and illustrator homers one out of the park while wearing the Puerto Rican uniform. He previously worked in Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four in Puerto Rico, and True Story, Swear to God series. Tom’s new work seems to revolve around the Puerto Rican legend, the Chupacabra. But who better to tell us about it, than Tom Beland himself? Here’s what he has to say about it:
Roberto: Tom, what event would you say inspired you to become a comic book writer/ artist? How’d you start off?
Tom: My father loved cartooning. He instilled in me a love of the art and I started reading comic books at around the age of six, I believe. They were around twelve cents back then. We would read Mad Magazine together and we knew all the artists’ styles.
When I turned six or so, I was at home with a cold and my mom brought me this big stack of Marvel comics from the store she worked at. She just grabbed a bunch of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Avengers and Marvel Team-up, and they immediately blew me away. The books were so fun that I knew I wanted to be a part of that someday.
From that point on I became obsessed with them. I also drew cartoons on everything I could get my hands on. I did that in school, I did it at work and I still do it. I most comfortable when I have a ball point pen and a sketchpad at hand.
Roberto: We all have favorites comics, what’re yours… and why?
Tom: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Avengers are sort of my holy Trinity of Comics. I grew up with them. But I also came to love a lot of independent books like Bone, Strangers in Paradise, and the K Chronicles by Keith Knight.
I never read anything by DC until a friend of mine that I worked with at a hotel turned me on to them. I picked up Teen Titans just because George Perez and Marv Wolfman left Marvel to do this book. Still one of my favorite series of all time. Superman by John Byrne was a lot of fun too.
Roberto: Who’s your favorite superhero, and why? How are you similar to him/her?
Tom: Spider-Man. Because it was the first time a superhero was my age. My father was just beginning to lose this battle with cancer, and I would eventually lose my mom to the same disease. Peter Parker seems to have the same luck I had with life and I immediately related to him.
Roberto: As a reader of your previous series, the Eisner Award-nominated “True Story, Swear to God”, I gotta say you’ve been through quite the amount of adventures moving from Napa, California to Puerto Rico. Did you ever imagine you’d end up in a place as crazy as this?
Tom: A few months before I met Lily, I had turned down a job that would make me drive from Napa to San Francisco to do my work that far away. So it never occurred to me that I would meet someone later who would inspire me to move 3000 miles away.
Roberto: What was the toughest aspect about moving to Puerto Rico? And what do you like the most (and least) about this place?
Tom: I still struggle with the language. It’s just very hard for me to grasp it and the speed of it. Driving is terrifying. At I’m really bound to the people back in the town that I left. My brother, my sister, some friends… and I miss them dearly. I missed out on watching my nieces and nephew grow up and I have a lot of guilt about that. But that said, I would do it all again for a chance to spend my life with Lily.
Roberto: People say you have a superpower, and it’s the ability to magically become a fluent and experienced Spanish-speaker when faced with a mic, a camera, and national tv, is that true? Do you like… tap into the Speed Force, or some kind of weird powerful force to achieve that?
Tom: I think the level of panic puts me into a zone that I can’t really explain. Because I’m terrifyingly nervous when I have to speak Spanish, especially in front of a microphone. I focus on f%*&ing it up more than getting it right. But you know that face that you give to your friends when you’re surfing and you’ve caught a wave and you look at them and say “Hey, look, I’m doing it!!” I find myself getting that face to Lily when I’m holding my own in Spanish. I usually have to rehearse what I’m going to say in the conversation several times in advance. So when I’m going good with it, if the person suddenly changes topics, I’m totally screwed.
Roberto: How does it feel to be married to a celebrity such as Lily Garcia, and to become such a huge celebrity here as well?
Tom: I’ve never seen Lily as a celebrity. She was this woman that I met who turned out to have this really cool job. I’ve seen fans react to seeing her, and it’s always interesting and cute to watch. I battled with being a celebrity. I love people seeing what I make and what I can create, but I don’t like having less privacy. I don’t like being called a role model. I am as beautifully f%*&ed up as the next person. I just believe in everybody getting along. That, and the legalization of marijuana.
Roberto: During your comic book career, you’ve created memorable characters like “El Vejigante” in the Marvel Universe. Which one’s the most memorable one; the one you’re most endeared to, and why?
Tom: Actually, I think my favorite creation so far would be Isabel, from Chicacabra. The other characters are more of a team result, where you give and you let go of things to make the team happy. Isabel is right for my brain to the page. So I have a lot more invested in that character than with the Marvel stuff.
Roberto: Let’s talk about your style now. What’s your favorite spot, or place where you write/draw your comics? Can you tell us a memorable experience that happened to you there?
Tom: Starbucks, in Guaynabo. I have a certain table that’s next to the counter and I like to sit at and write. I always get a tall mocha, which they always make when they see me in line… which always makes me feel like a rock star. And when I write, I really sketch the pages out in a sketchpad, and my writing looks just like a comic book layout. Then I go home and redraw everything.
Roberto: So, Chicacabra, huh? What’s this all about? How’d you manage the transition from “True Story, Swear to God”, to your new series?
Tom: I was kind of burnt out on True Story, and I’d also developed a tremor in my drawing hand which made it impossible to draw the way I’d like to draw. That led to some depression. And when I was able to fix the tremor, I thought about doing something in the realm of fiction. This is the toughest book of ever done, as far as workload. With True Story, I had a break down on where things go and where story lines lead to. With this book, everything is made up so I have to create everything out of my own head. That’s a lot of work.
Roberto: You’ve worked in places like Marvel Comics, and Image Comics before. How did Chicacabra catch IDW Publishing’s attention?
Tom: I cold-pitched it to IDW. As in, “Hi whoever this is, here’s my book.” Lol. It even started with “to whom it may concern” because I didn’t know who to ask. Chris Ryall got right back to me, he read the book and wanted to make it. It felt great to get a response that quickly.
Roberto: What’s been the funnest aspect about creating this new series?
Tom: I love writing her. I love how she stands up to people. She’d someone who I’d like to hang out with. I love the way she devours bacalaitos. She kind of doesn’t have a filter, which I don’t either, which makes me feel close to her.
(If you do not know what a bacalaito is, you should visit Puerto Rico. Hard. -Roberto)
Roberto: What’s the main difference about writing this series, when compared to “True Story, Swear to God” AND your Fantastic Four in Puerto Rico series?
Tom: The difference is I can take the story anywhere I want to take it, without having it approved from anybody upstairs. I can create characters to use in the stories without asking if anyone else is using those characters at the time. It doesn’t have to be historically accurate. I have a horrible memory and it was tough to write stories based on fragments of memory, I get aggravated when I forget the little things.
Roberto: So, after Chicacabra, will Tom Beland create his very own BelandVerse, or is he planning on writing superhero properties for the big companies?
Tom: Already stories for anyone who will let me play with her toys. I just wrote a pitch for Mouse Guard that I would love to do someday. But I really am horrible at pitching to other companies. I lack the confidence to say “Hey check out this awesome story I made.” I’m more of “please read this and let me do it.”
(Pssst! If you know the Mouse Guard people, send them this article, and don’t let Tom know I sent you to do it! -Roberto)
Roberto: Just for kicks, Lily says you’ve turned into quite the cook. Which Puerto Rican dish do you prefer to cook, and why?
Tom: I make a fabulous Pernil, I get that skin as hard as a tortoiseshell. According to my niece Adriana, I make the greatest hamburger on the face of the planet. I’m also told of my sloppy Joe’s are amazing. I make my tostones thin and crispy.
Roberto: What’s your advice to aspiring Puerto Rican comic book artists and writers out there?
Tom: Just do it. Make books that you would buy yourself. They’ll suck at first, but the more you make, the better you’ll get at it. Don’t write for an audience you don’t have yet. Write for yourself as the audience.
Tom, we wish you the very best with your comic adventures! Make us proud, man! Special thanks to Tiana Garcia for our cover photo!