“Sombra,” a Comic Book on Cartel Violence Illustrated By Someone Who Lived It

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Cartel violence has touched the lives of countless people in Mexico, including artist Raúl Treviño. So when American writer Justin Jordan set out to create a comic book about gang violence in the country in 2012, he reached out to Treviño, whose first-hand knowledge gave Jordan the human element he needed. Understandably, Treviño felt apprehensive about the project; he’s “experienced misfortunes with two close family members caused by the cartels and the violence,” therefore, he “rejected illustrating all sorts of violent stories,” he told The Washington Post.

As Treviño learned more about the project from Eric Harburn, his editor at BOOM! Studios, his doubts subsided. He eventually signed on to illustrate Sombra, the story of rogue DEA agent Conrad Marlowe who goes missing in Mexico; then, returns to wage an extremely violent war against the cartels.The DEA tasks his daughter, Danielle, to track him down.

Though it’s not exactly inspired by the current political climate in Mexico, it does partially borrow from real life.  At a recent United Nations General Assembly, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the country’s staunch enforcement strategy against cartels. “During my administration we have sought to address the phenomenon of drugs in an integrated way with a strategy that avoids generating violence,” he said, according to Vice. “We have detained the main criminal leaders and violence has been confined to specific regions of the country and, as a result, crime has been reduced.”

But EPN failed to acknowledge that the jailing of cartel leaders has led to a power struggle, with smaller groups fighting for control. In some cases, it’s even deadlier than the original leaders, according to the New York Times.

In Sombra, Danielle is similarly misguided. “I think the big problem for Danielle is the gap between what she thinks she knows and what is actually happening,” Jordan said. “She think she understands what happened to her father, but she’s wrong. She thinks she understands what the futile war on drugs has created, but she’s wrong there, too.”

The four-issue mini-series debuts July 20.