Article by Nicole Gordon - Images Provided by Nicole Gordon
Nicole Gordon and Stephanie Grajales with
It was my first vacation in a decade, and I could not wait to get to Puerto Rico to push the reset button and decompress. I had been there 17 years prior but this time, the art of the island awakened the spirit within me. Upon arriving in Santurce, I asked fellow artist and dear friend Stephanie Grajales if I could get out of the car to see some of the pieces up close. I walked through the streets of Santurce with such excitement, because everywhere I looked there was something that captured my attention. Recognizing artwork by D*FACE, Bikismo, Cero had my heart beating faster and I found myself walking into areas I had no idea where I was. The art moved me. Literally. Artist ChrisRWK hooked us up with a tour of the Elegel Group and we had the pleasure of getting a full idea of what will soon be a gallery with an artist’s residency, tattoo parlor and more.
Nicole Gordon with Art by ChrisRWK
Art by Bikismo
On the roof of this beautifully modern building was artwork by Chris, Keya Tama and I noticed a beautiful piece by ROA on the bottom level. I later learned that ROA had just finished 11 murals around PR- revolving around calling attention to some of the endangered species of the island. I had been a fan for years so it was very special for me to see his work again and in my new environment! There is a very strong connection between Puerto Rico and New York, because Puerto Rico is an island like Manhattan that appreciates colorful artwork as well as history and social commentary.
Art by Keyatama
Art by Huetek
Thanks to our dear friends at Classic Material New York, whose roots are deep in hip-hop and also incorporate their love of Puerto Rico in their brand, both Stephanie Grajales and I had the opportunity to meet with comic book creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez of the independently published graphic novel series La Borinqueña. It all started with a small request to bring back the four limited edition chocolate bars that Edgardo created for Chocolate Cortes. They featured La Borinqueña in four different poses and each inside wrapper contains an original comic created for the collaboration.
Collaboration between Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and Cortes Chocolate
La Borinqueña, the protagonist, is a female character and patriotic symbol named Marisol Rios De La Luz who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is when she goes to study abroad and explores the caves of Puerto Rico that she finds five similar sized crystals. Atabex, the Taino mother goddess then appears before Marisol once the crystals are united and her sons Yucahu and Juracan give her superhuman strength, the power of flight and control of the storms.
The overarching project, Limited Edition Chocolates, is an original comic strip that was written and produced by Edgardo and illustrated by his artists under his studio Somos Arte. These were published on the inside of four limited edition chocolate bars and Edgardo designed the outer wrappers. Proceeds from the bars and merchandise created go towards the Fundación Cortés and La Borinqueña Grants Program. Destiny had asked that we get them and because of her request, we had the honor of meeting Edgardo himself!
While dining at the Chocobar Cortés restaurant, we were told the gallery upstairs, Foundation Cortes, was exhibiting the story of La Borinqueña. Unfortunately for us, it was closed so I asked that my card be given to Edgardo in hopes of us seeing him another day. "He's on the third floor if you'd like to meet him" were the next words out of the maitre d's mouth and we quickly sprung into action.
Suddenly, there he was, and he couldn't have been nicer! We saw so many beautiful pieces of original art from the comic books along with the character’s original costume that was previously exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. We went through the exhibit rather quickly as Edgardo was being interviewed on camera so we made a deal to finish the interview upon his return to NY.
What hit close to home was that dear friend John "Crash" Matos also collaborated with Edgardo to create their own variant comic book cover: CRASHONE + La Borinqueña! Both their comic book cover art and all of their colorful merchandise available online are so wonderful that I found myself wanting to purchase everything! To see Crash's unique art on the comic book cover made me so very excited. You can see for yourself by going to the comic’s website.
I had many questions for Edgardo - the following was our own interview that touched upon questions I was curious about:
What are your personal ties to communities in both Puerto Rico and New York?
I was born in NJ, raised throughout NYC because I came from a poor single-parent household. Neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, El Barrio, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx were where I spent most of my childhood. Imagery of graffiti on trains and buildings and comic books I’d buy after saving up money from collecting bottles and cans fueled my imagination. In my early adolescence we moved to Puerto Rico where I lived in San Lorenzo, Caguas, Las Piedras, and Ceiba. I became an activist as an undergraduate at Colgate University and that seed grew into my career as a community organizer in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the 1990s I’d march for social justice against police brutality and organize youth conferences to teach young Boricua youth in Nueva York about their Puerto Rican heritage. Decades later, with a family of my own and my own design studio, I decided to create La Borinqueña, the first graphic novel series directly connected to social justice and philanthropy committed to supporting non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico.
What role does Marisol play in the comic book world- and how was she first embraced by the community? Both in PR and the comic book community? You are a pioneer so I want to know how the character was initially embraced.
From the initial introduction of my superhero character La Borinqueña I was immediately received with praise and celebration. She debuted in the 2016 National Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC on her own float alongside high school seniors wearing T-shirts adorned with her image. I was interviewed by mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, FOX, and countless others. I delivered a talk to graduate students at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and my alma mater Colgate University. The Mayor of New York City awarded me a proclamation and my own day (November 30, 2016). All of this occurred before I published my first issue in December of 2016, the same year I debuted my character.
How did the collab between you and Crash come to fruition?
We both met in 2016 the same year I debuted La Borinqueña. I’m already friends with Bio and his wife Marlyn Matias so when I debuted my character, Marlyn mentioned that Tats Cru would be in Bushwick, Brooklyn painting a Boricua themed mural.
Marlyn asked me to send Bio the illustration of La Borinqueña so Nicer, being the amazing renderer that he is, took upon the task of painting the image of La Borinqueña into their mural. Crash was there too painting his section of the mural. After meeting then, Crash and I would reconnect when our mutual friend John Leguizamo would frequently invite us to lunch with other Latin men like Rubén Blades, Crazy Legs, Residente, and more. One time before lunch, Crash and I threw around the idea of collaborating. What I’ve always loved about Crash is how he’s always incorporated comic books art elements from characters, to facial features, to Ben Day dots into his art. I always felt that a team-up between the two of us would be perfect as we are both Boricuas raised in the diaspora now creating art. When the pandemic hit, we decided to start our collaboration. We both needed a creative project to keep us busy so we decided to combine our skills to produce a variant cover for another printing my 1st issue of La Borinqueña. I designed the cover digitally for print and Crash created a painting inspired by our cover. My friend Russell Singler in London created a whole line of merchandise inspired by our collaboration.
How did the collaboration with Cortés come about? Did they approach you or did you approach them? Are you planning to do more collaborations with them in the future?
My family and I were eating dinner at the Chocobar in Viejo San Juan when my business partner and wife Kyung Jeon-Miranda recognized Adelisa González-Lugo, the executive director of Fundacion Cortés. They had applied for one of our grants, but we hadn’t enough to award every organization so I walked over to the bar at the restaurant to introduce myself and to tell her that perhaps we could collaborate with one another for a charitable project. I reached over and picked up a chocolate bar and I recall saying “we could always have La Borinqueña on your chocolate bar as a fundraiser.” Months later, Adelisa introduced me to Carlos Cortés, and she asked me to reintroduce the idea of the collaboration. That was late 2019, and that conversation with Carlos Cortés evolved into the La Borinqueña chocolate bar comic strips and our first art exhibition in Puerto Rico. We just launched the campaign in Puerto Rico this summer and are looking to do a tour this fall along with the release of La Borinqueña #3 to promote the U.S. release of the Chocolate Cortés chocolate bars.
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez at Fundacion Cortes Gallery
Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?
I’ve been using my platform as a graphic novelist to bring to light the necessity for the island of Puerto Rico to be decolonized and for it to have self-determination. For 123 years the Caribbean archipelago has been a colony of the U.S. It’s inhabitants have U.S. citizenship, serve in the U.S. military, but are not allowed to vote for U.S. President. Puerto Rico under the Jones Act has paid billions of dollars in tariffs to the U.S. since 1917. Residents across the 78 municipalities have a very unique cultural identity. In Pan-American sports events and even the Olympics, Puerto Rico competes as an independent nation and when they win, their national anthem La Borinqueña plays. The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020 was introduced by Representative Nydia Velázquez and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to address the need for Puerto Rico to decide its status. Until then, I dedicate my resources via our La Borinqueña Grants Program to support nonprofit organizations in Puerto Rico. Over the last 3 years we have awarded $165,000 in grants and our hopes are to establish ourselves as a non-profit that will continue to award grants and one day open a visual arts and cultural center in New York City and Puerto Rico committed to celebrating the heritage and people of Puerto Rico via artistic and philanthropic collaborations with our graphic novel series.
After the interview with Edgardo, I left Puerto Rico with a sense that I would be returning very soon not only to visit my newly made friends, but also to see some major new artwork being created. More to come…
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