In March, we had the privilege of republishing a short story by the great Mexican writer Juan Villoro. “The Whistle” originally appeared in the author’s first short story collection The Guilty, whose English translation appeared on bookshelves last summer. The story, about a worn-out football defender on his last legs who survives a bombing in Mexicali, was lovingly detailed with original illustrations by San Diego artist Manu Faves.

Faves’ illustrations gave life to the unnamed athlete-narrator in the story, a player with the fictional Mexicali Toucans football club who narrowly survives a bomb explosion. The narrator’s puffy bush of curly hair melts into the border landscape that separates Mexicali from El Centro in California. It’s a scene probably similar to what Faves saw in parts of Tijuana just over 100 miles to the west of Mexicali.

Faves developed his love for soccer in the streets of Tijuana and San Diego at the age of 10 while also developing a few casual skills in drawing and sketching. The latter came in handy during his studies in architecture, and it was those two loves that brought him global internet fame in 2014, when he uploaded a few sketches of fútbol players before and during that summer’s World Cup.

Road to World Cup Players (Messi) by Manu Faves

“When I did that World Cup campaign it was mostly for me,” he says of his sketched, comic book-style profiles of Guillermo Ochoa, Lionel Messi, Iker Casillas, Andrea Pirlo, and many others. “I wanted to do the players and I envisioned this series of cards or posters of players. Each team has a representative. It wasn’t really serious but it got picked up by Yahoo later on for an article. That propelled it and I started working more and more on those characters.”

Two years before his big internet break, various neighborhoods in Tijuana were witness to his earliest works. A graffiti artist friend of his invited him out to work on some murals and he was immediately enthralled by it. As it turned out, working on murals became a natural extension of his studies and work in architecture.

“I feel that architecture does its own interpretation of what art is but it’s not as flexible,” he explains. “When you combine architecture with a mural, you’re essentially giving it more personality, you’re giving the structure or the house or the building or whatever you’re making have more personality. If you really think about it, architecture is just four walls. “What gives a space life? I do believe that art, in general, gives it that personality.”

Original Manu Faves illustration for ‘The Whistle’

His early experiments in Tijuana have lasted longer than he expected. The murals remain intact and have not only been accepted by but are also protected by the communities they’re in. He’s also painted five murals in San Diego so far in La Jolla, Little Italy, and Barrio Logan. His latest piece, “La Gringa – Stardropper,” was recently shown at Gallery D in Barrio Logan and is his most political piece to date. The piece is one that should resonate with the large, bicultural Chicano community of the area.

“The whole story behind her is she comes from a different background…and she’s carrying with her all these traditions, foods, and stuff and they’re represented in roses,” explains Faves. “She’s carrying a bunch of roses on her back and those are the things that she sells and she sells them here in America. It’s a way of sharing her culture and her background. Those roses are mixed with stars and those are liberties and civil rights that you acquire when you become an American.”

Faves’ is looking into putting his architecture degree to more use by building installations for future art projects. However, he remains focused on painting murals as he believes they “are the best way to go. I think that’s the best way of making an impact.”

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