Actor John Leguizamo is the first to admit he’s played a little bit of everything in his 33 years in the industry, from gangsters to cops and animated characters and he’s been vocal about the limitations of being Latino in Hollywood. His face has graced movie screens, your television, and even the Great White Way of Broadway itself – a place he’s returning to this month with his sixth play, Latin History for Morons. But Johnny Legs has one medium yet to conquer: the comic book world.
Though Leguizamo had created a graphic novel in 2015 based on his play Ghetto Klown, he had yet to enter the world of serial comics. Two months ago, Boricua comic book creator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, creator of the Afro-Latina superheroine La Borinqueña, cryptically revealed on Instagram that “me and @JohnLeguizamo are debuting his 1st comic book.” Details were sketchy but at the recent New York Comic Con the first issue of Freak was debuted. Drawn by Miranda-Rodriguez, Freak is based on Leguizamo’s life that he would turn into the Tony award-winning play of the same name. Freak, the comic and play, detail Leguizamo’s tough upbringing in Queens, New York.
During an NYCC Live interview at New York Comic Con, both Leguizamo and Miranda-Rodriguez sat down to talk about Freak and its hoped for impact, as well as Leguizamo’s own legacy on the industry. Here are the highlights.
On Why Leguizamo Wanted to Turn Freak into a Comic
Leguizamo: We’ve got a real comic book and we’re on it. There’s people of color and they actually have color on their skin. The play was a great thing and I wanted kids to appreciate it, but it’s hard to read it in printed form. In a comic book you can read it easily just as it’s presented on-stage and it’s accessible. They can see what it took me to survive, to make it out of my neighborhood, to make it out of my humble underprivileged beginnings and make it to teenagehood.
Miranda-Rodriguez: What’s powerful about it is it’s a coming-of-age story and unfortunately there aren’t enough coming-of-age stories for Latinos or people of color. When you look at the comic book it’s literally New York City frozen in time in the 1970s into the 1980s. To actually have a coming-of-age story by one of New York City’s original New Yorkers is empowering.
Leguizamo: It’s a whole different imagining of the show because you saw the live version and this one is closer to the reality of what happened because he can draw it and make it what it really was. He got photographs, Google maps, photographs of the locations and he draws to that.
On How the Two Met
Miranda-Rodriguez: Actually we met at New York Comic-Con.
Leguizamo: I had Ghetto Klown, the graphic novel, and he was here with Run DMC’s…comic book.
Miranda-Rodriguez: We exchanged [phone] numbers very quickly, but then I got into working on my comic book La Borinqueña. [John] reached out to me and said, “I want to make a comic book. Do you know someone who can help me with it?” I said, “Why are you calling me? I make fucking comic books.” We linked up; we cracked jokes and it was an opportunity to take an incredible storyteller’s vision and visualize it for a new generation, because this story has evolved from the stage to HBO.
On the Need to Hire Latino Artists
Miranda-Rodriguez: It was amazing to pull together a team of artists because we wanted to empower our Latin community. We put together a team of artists representing the full spectrum – Colombianos, Puertorriqueños, Mexicanos.
Leguizamo: And we paid them very little just like everyone else does! We felt now we were the Man. I’m kidding.
Miranda-Rodriguez: It was a great opportunity to work with established artists and also bring these artists together under the banner of Freak.
Leguizamo on His Love for the Stage
I love the stage. I have such huge respect for the theater and I’m about to open up on Broadway now. It’s a lot of work, it’s my sixth play. It’s hard work, it’s no joke, but you connect with the audience. We’re doing a play but we’re here together and it becomes a real conversation.
On Leguizamo’s Legacy in the Industry
Miranda-Rodriguez: As someone who’s followed [John’s] career for 20 years, from Mambo Mouth through now; what’s important about John bringing his talent and storytelling, and more important his resources to do something like Freak is that he’s always been at the forefront advocating for our Latin storytelling, our own storytelling. From the beginning he didn’t get offered the roles so he created the roles. This is his sixth Broadway play; he’s literally taken our narrative to the mainstream and now he’s breaking into the comic book industry and doing it again.
The comic book Freak is now available on Amazon.