THE ART OF collaboration was instilled in Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez at an early age, when making the classic Latin American dish pasteles with his grandmother.
The preparation of pasteles — time-consuming and, if you’re lucky, involving more than one person — is the ultimate team effort, says Miranda-Rodriguez, noting that the lessons learned from cooking with his abuela have stuck with him while working in the comic-book industry.
“I’d be in the kitchen, grinding up the platanos [plantains], even if my knuckles got scraped up on the grinder,” Miranda-Rodriguez tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “That’s sort of been the blueprint of my life. Coming together to create something, but at the same time, recognizing that the very DNA of my existence comes from my Puerto Rican identity.”
As Miranda-Rodriguez continues to make his mark as a comics editor and writer, he says he never forgets who he is, or so crucially, where he comes from. Those elements, he says, are always at the core of what he produces.
His love of the art form started during his ’80s youth, when he would collect recycled bottles for change and use the earnings to purchase comic books — which, he says, were thankfully only 50 cents back then.
He even tried to be a young entrepreneur when it came to superheroes. When he was in school in the South Bronx, his friends would see him doodling superheroes in his notebook and began asking whether he could draw unique storylines for them.
Miranda-Rodriguez would go home and, after finishing his homework, spend the rest of the night drawing those comic-book tales requested by his friends. He was even drawing superhero civil wars decades before Hollywood would tell such stories.
Selling homemade comics was a business plan that would have had growth potential if not for one fact: Once he sold his first issue to a classmate, they’d just share the comic with each other, preventing the sale of copies of that issue. Regardless, Edgardo’s passion was established.
His love of comic-book culture would lead Miranda-Rodriguez, who lives in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, to being introduced to legendary hip-hop artist Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC fame. He would also meet Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Axel Alonso.
Miranda-Rodriguez is now the editor-in-chief of McDaniels’s DMC comic-book imprint. He has also helped curate art shows featuring top Marvel Comics talent. Eventually, he and McDaniels began coming up with ideas that they could pitch to Marvel.
The result was a short, one-shot story that appeared in a Marvel comic, Guardians of Infinity No. 3, which featured treelike creature Groot of the Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as the Thing, formerly of Fantastic Four fame.
Miranda-Rodriguez anticipated that the Thing, which was stylized like DMC, might be what readers of his Marvel project might most talk about. Or perhaps the fact that his Spanish-speaking Groot says, “Yo soy Groot.” Instead, he was surprised to learn that what fans most mentioned was Grandma Estela, a character he created who is convinced that Groot is connected to the Ceiba trees linked to Puerto Rico’s past Taino inhabitants.
Miranda-Rodriguez connected with the Latino comics-reading community by doing what he always does: Acknowledging his roots and applying it to his work, no matter the medium. As a result, many Puerto Rican institutions began contacting him, including the organizers of National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York; they told Miranda-Rodriguez they’d be excited to collaborate with him.
“All these cultural, educational, political organizations [that represent Puerto Rico] are reaching out to me? This is insane,” Miranda-Rodriguez recounted thinking — as Grandma Estela connected with readers.
So Miranda-Rodriguez gave the Puerto Rican Day Parade organizers an idea: Build a presentation during the parade based on a new Puerto Rican superhero.
“I pitched it to the parade and said: ‘What if we did an original comic book, and it was a collaboration between my studio [Somos Arte] and the parade?’ And they loved it,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “It was something that had never been done before.”
So he set out to create a hero who would represent Puerto Rican culture and bring light to issues that weigh heavy on the minds of many in the Puerto Rican community.
“No Puerto Rican can think of their heritage and the island from which it comes from and not start thinking about the current financial crisis plaguing Puerto Rico,” Miranda-Rodriguez said.
The comics creator decided that his hero wasn’t going to be a crimefighter per se, but instead a symbol of Puerto Rico who could shine a light on issues that Miranda-Rodriguez felt should be on the minds of all Puerto Ricans.
Thus, La Borinqueña was born.
Inspired by the Puerto Rican national anthem of the same name, the superhero La Borinqueña — a woman named Marisol Rios De La Luz, wearing a costume inspired by the Puerto Rican flag — will make her debut this summer at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. She also will be featured in a comic book to be printed in the fall during an event organized by Miranda-Rodriguez called Café Con Comics (“Coffee With Comics”); it will be held at the CUNY East Harlem campus building in a historically Puerto Rican neighborhood.
The event will celebrate Puerto Rican contributions to the comic-book industry, as well as the arrival of Miranda-Rodriguez’s newest heroine.
Miranda-Rodriguez announced his superhero’s forthcoming debut during a news conference Tuesday for the 59th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan.
“This comic book that I’m writing with my team is not going to solve the debt crisis in Puerto Rico, but it’s going to open the dialogue in a way that can be accepted and understood by a larger audience that will absorb it, learn from it, and also take action from it,” said Miranda-Rodriguez, whose talented collaborators include penciler/inker Emilio Lopez, colorist Juan Fernandez, editor Matt Barbot and penciler/inker Elliot Fernandez — an all-Puerto Rican roster.
La Borinqueña has the powers of nature — such as hurricanes, the sea and the sun — and protects Puerto Rico from natural disasters. Her greatest power, Miranda-Rodriguez says, will be showing Puerto Ricans — those on the island and in the United States — that the power to make Puerto Rico better lies within them as much as it does inside of her.
“It’s not about [her powers], but it’s about what the character represents,” Miranda-Rodriguez says. “She’s here to remind you that the power of our people comes from our people. We don’t have to ask for something when it is already within us. It’s a narrative that’s going to remind us of ourselves. We’ve always had that power. Being Puerto Rican is our superpower.”
It was the Marvel comic featuring Grandma Estela — the one that touched so many readers — that led to Miranda-Rodriguez’s creation of other Puerto Rican comic-book heroes. He says there is power in those panels when you’re able to see yourself through art.
“People saw themselves. And when you see yourself, that’s empowering,” Miranda-Rodriguez said. “When you hear your story, you recognize for the first time that you have that superpower.”