Out of the gate here, let me just say there’s a lot of venom spitting at our Latinx peoples. So much and for so long I nearly forgot what it’s like to laugh—bellyache laugh. Garza and Esquivel’s Mashbone & Grifty lifted me from my thick malaise at the daily news of familia ripped apart at the proverbial Tortilla Curtain. They opened a window for my soul to finally crack a grin and release many a compulsive chortle.
Mashbone & Grifty is off-the-hook funny. It’s also comic book storytelling at its best. Garza and Esquivel know just when to drop a line of dialogue or a punch line; they know well just when to bring us into a close-up frame or hit us with a turn-of-the-page splash. That is, they are masters at verbal and visual storytelling. And here, it’s storytelling that relishes in all things bodily.
And with their joy of the body, Garza and Esquivel choose as their comic storytelling envelope a tradition that traces back to the greats like Cervantes with his Don Quixote and Rabelais with his Gargantua and Pantagruel. The difference of course, is that their characters are Latinx. The hybrid man-chango Mashbone and his equally anti-heroic sidekick Grifty take on the PI work of sleuthing out the mystery of the stolen cock named Mango (as in cockerel), they encounter all variety of Latinxs, including Mango’s owner Felipe, drug kingpin Panfilo, his righthand man, El Luches, and a coterie of underworld thugs. At one point, Felipe informs Mashbone and Grifty that he raised Mango from a “cheeken-puppy” to become “no ordinary cock [he is] larger than most”.
It’s an undeniable fact that the mainstream depicts Latinxs as either buffoons, criminal-gangstas, or hypersexualized objects. We’re tired of this, of course. However, when Latinx creators like Garza and Esquivel choose to use these same types, they do so in ways that at once call attention to the stereotypes as well as have us laugh with the characters—and all while showing respect for our Latinx cultures.
Mashbone & Grifty stands right up there with some of the best, including John Layman and Rob Guillory’s multiple Eisner winning Chew and Erik Rodriguez and Josh Bernstein’s parodic Hispanic Batman. It’s a reminder that comics can still have us laugh out loud, even while they address some serious ethical issues.
My colleague Christopher Pizzino just published a chapter (“Juvenile, Cruel, and MAD: In Defense of Immature Comics”) in my edited volume Comics Studies Here and Now. Here Pizzino shines the light on creators who seek to “retain strong affinities with deliberately juvenile traditions of expression” (319). He reminds us that these comics can clear a space for a laughter that elevates and transgresses; a space where we can dash to the ground political polarities and hierarchies of difference. With Mashbone & Grifty we find, in Pizzino’s words “a renewal and a deepening of this tradition’s provocative disruption” (331). We discover a comic book that serves an opportunity “to reengage a process of social discovery and self-criticism [and] the possibility of growth and change” (331).