TONIGHT AT 7:30, many people will meet Lalo Alcaraz and his impassioned work for the first time. So what would the creator of “La Cucaracha” — the first widely syndicated Latino-themed political strip — like those Ovation channel viewers to take away from this introduction?
“I hope people can be tricked into thinking how simple and easy a cartoonist’s gig can be,” Alcaraz tells The Post.
“But seriously,” the Southern California-based creator says, “I hope they can see how I’m not a scary bomb-throwing Chicano artist.”
As a cartoonist and illustrator, podcaster and writer, Alcaraz has spent years growing his multiplatform profile as a commentator on Latino culture. When Ovation debuts “The Art of: Comics” episode Sunday night, Alcaraz will be spotlighted as an editorial voice (also featured tonight: the publisher Top Cow and Marvel mastermind Stan Lee).
Comic Riffs caught up with Alcaraz — who also is working as a comedy writer on Seth MacFarlane’s latest animated project, “Bordertown” — to talk about how he wears so many professional hats so well:
MICHAEL CAVNA: For those viewers being introduced to your work Sunday night for the first time [on Ovation], Lalo, what do you hope they most take away from it? What are a few things that you hope become illuminated for them?
LALO ALCARAZ: The Ovation experience was cool, and though I’ve been covered in the news nationally, this is a pretty much a wider net. I hope people can be tricked into thinking how simple and easy a cartoonist’s gig can be. But seriously, I hope they can see how I’m not a scary bomb-throwing Chicano artist.
MC: One thing that I marvel about with your career is how many different projects and responsibilities you seem to going at once — from the strip to your other political cartoons and artwork to podcasts to TV screenwriting to work for causes. How do you manage at all?
LA: Better living through cloning. Well, I hate to admit I’m a living stereotype, but I have always had five jobs. I enjoy all of them, so I guess that’s where it’s a cheat. By the way, we are going through final edits of my new book, “Imperfect Union” (Basic Books) … Launches July 4th, because the author Ilan Stavans and I are a couple of patriots.
MC: When you launched “La Cucaracha,” the comics page had long had an embarrassing dearth of Latino cartoonists — I remember Gus Arriola seeming like such an exception when I was a kid. Why do you think that was? And ["The Boondocks" creator] Aaron McGruder is among those who has talked about many syndicate and newspaper editors [historically] simply looking to fill a representative “slot” on the page, like some old-school standup-comedy bill — and thus [one reason why] the comics page is still largely white and male. Could you speak to your thoughts on that?
LA: Sad that it continues to be so, though I heard recently theough the syndicate gossip mill that papers have started buying new strips. Hopefully they will have a diversity that reflects our actual national makeup.
MC: In your Ovation profile, you talk about a strong and sudden outcry when the L.A. Times tried to drop you in 2007 or so — and you cite partly the reaction from Latino readers. Through your strip, do you feel a certain connection or responsibility to your Latino readership, or not so much?
LA: The Latino audience has generally supported me — t was humbling when they came out for me during the Times incident, and also when they reacted to my recent successes — so, yeah, I have their back, because they always have mine. Content-wise, I make no promises that Latinos won’t get as howling mad as anyone else, but I do my best to just make real comics for everyone.
MC: There are still so relatively few political strips on the [newspaper] comics page — and with “Doonesbury” on hiatus for the foreseeable future, there are only a handful of other syndicated creators doing fresh political humor. Does that give you hope for “La Cucaracha’s” continued growth of new audiences and visibility?
LA: Yeah, I hope “La Cucaracha” grows onto some screens, like of the widescreen TV variety… someday!
MC: You appear in “Stripped,” the new docu film about the state of the comic-strip industry, in part. How do you survey the landscape as a strip creator — is the print market holding, or eroding quickly, and how does a newspaper strip find a strong second life on the web?
LA: For me, it seems to be holding after a big slide, but my stuff does get around the Internet a lot — gotta figure that one out still. Self-promotion wise, I can’t complain — lots of new younger people are reading my comics, so that is definitely a good thing.
MC: So how is life in the writers’ room for “Bordertown”? And since Seth [MacFarlane] is known for knowing no sacred cows in his animation, how is the show dealing with, and surely satirizing, life in a border town in general and Latino culture specifically? Do you ever say, “Whoa, guys, we’ve just crossed a line!”
LA: I love my new gig, but it is no cakewalk. When the pressure’s on to get episodes in to the network, that’s when you eat both lunch and dinner at work and you don’t get to see your kids till the morning. However, it’s a job where you can laugh a good portion of the day, and that’s gotta be a plus!
Also, I’m working with some of Hollywood’s funniest comedy writers, and am hoping some of it rubs off on me. As for the sacred cows thing, a big reason I’m there — and Gustavo Arellano — is to make sure that we don’t stray into stereotype land with no good reason. Ive spoken up a couple of times, but happily that’s not too common. I’m also there to make sure things are real and honest, as far as Mexican culture and immigration politics. And I can actually write a funny gag here and there, and some of the offensive ones might actually be mine!
MC: Not unrelated, what political issues are you feeling most passionate these days? Be they national or global, or specific to California?
LA: Income inequality is a terrible affliction the U.S. and the world is going through today that I hope is not terminal. And of course, immigration. I have turned on the president on this one issue — his record deportations have to stop.
MC: One thing I take from your Ovation profile — you seem to take real joy in the very process of drawing. Some creators look pained — hunched over, brow furrowed, hand almost gnarled — but you look as though [physically], you genuinely enjoy putting pen to paper, or stylus to tablet.
LA: Gosh, I’ve always loved drawing, and I’m just a big kid. I don’t know how anybody could dread drawing.
MC: Anything I didn’t ask that I totally have?
LA: No, I didn’t meet James Franco. … [That's an] Ovation joke.