Space Operas and Feline Martial Arts: An Interview with Yehudi Mercado
What I want, and what I have always wanted, even when I was a little kid, is more comics. More graphic novels. More floppy comics you get on Free Comic Book Day or at your local comic shop. More webcomics, more newspaper comics, and more comics via my Instagram feed. Wherever I go, I want more comics. And when I find someone that makes good ones, I want them to do nothing else. Just produce comics for me, 24/7.
I might feel that way about Yehudi Mercado. Remember Sci-Fu? Here, I’ll jog your memory:
That’s the stuff. 1980s Brooklyn kid battles robots with copious hip-hop references. Well Mr. Mercado didn’t stop there. This year, 2020, he has TWO new graphic novels out. And considering how rare it is to find Latinx graphic novelists, I figured now might be a good time to talk to the man about his work. Hold onto your butts, cause we’re going to find out a lot more about the guy that isn’t afraid to draw places where no human has gone before.
Betsy Bird: So here’s how I remember it. I’m walking through C2E2 (Chicago’s premiere comic book festival) and like Excalibur gleaming in its stone, across a crowded hall I see Sci-Fu, your 1980s Brooklyn/space opera comic mash-up for middle grade readers. I was hooked from the get-go. The fact that I only got, like, 40% of the lyrical references was okay because I knew kids would get even less than that. Tell me a little about what got you to that book. What’s your background in comics? Where’d you start out?
Yehudi Mercado: Sci-Fu has always been a story rattling around in my head. I’ve attempted many different iterations of Sci-Fi/ Hip Hop/ Kung Fu robots. My first published book was a middle-grade graphic novel for Boom/ Archaia called Pantalones, Texas, and that’s when I decided to make Sci-Fu about a kid DJ from Brooklyn, set in the 1980s who gets abducted by aliens and is forced to battle robots with his DJ skills. It took a publisher like Oni Press to see its potential.
I started my career in video games working on edutainment games for kids then I started my own small animation studio in Austin, TX. I would come up with pitches for cartoons and some of those pitches I turned into graphic novels.
BB: There are definitely some video game elements to the book. There are also a LOAD of music references. Are there going to be as many in the Sci-Fu sequel?
YM: Oh yeah, there’s going to be lots of hip hop references in Sci-Fu 2. There’s an extended reference to RUN DMC’s Walk This Way.
BB: Yesss! Okay. So we see so many comic creators do a book and then disappear into the midst, never to write for kids again. But this year, 2020, you have not one but TWO comics out with more on the horizon. How the heck did it happen that both CAT NINJA and FUN FUN FUN WORLD are being released, practically simultaneously? Do you ever sleep?
YM: I do work around the clock, but I work fast. I was an Art Director at Disney Interactive for many years and I would work on my graphic novels and pitches for cartoons at night. So now that I can do my thing full-time, I feel like I should take advantage of that privilege. I finished another 200 page graphic novel this summer and if all goes well I will finish Sci-Fu 2 by December.
BB: In the case of FUN FUN FUN WORLD you’re going back to a science fiction/alien premise. What keeps you coming back to the outer universe in your books? And where did the idea for this one come from?
YM: I love science fiction. All the movies I grew up on were sci-fi. I love Star Wars. As a Mexican-Jew, I do feel somewhat like an outsider at all times so I tend to create sympathetic alien characters.
BB: Shoot, I was going to ask you “Star Wars or Star Trek” but you beat me to the punch. I think I have to at least ask this though: Any Start Trek love at all on your part or are you 100% in the Star Wars camp?
YM: Star Wars is a religion in my family so I would say I’m pretty solidly in the Star Wars camp. I did like the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie, but mainly because it felt like a Star Wars movie. I am enjoying Star Trek Lower Decks on CBS, that’s right up my alley.
BB: CAT NINJA’s a little different from your other books since you did the art but not the writing for that title (it’s written by Matthew Cody, who has a long history in middle grade). How did this particular project land in your lap? What appealed to you about it?
YM: I was tabling at New York Comic-Con and the team from EPIC came to my table. They were such fans of Sci-Fu that they asked if I would be available to draw Cat Ninja. As a freelancer, I never say no. But I’m glad I didn’t because I had no idea that it would become so popular.
BB: We librarians talk a lot about equity in our library’s collections, but how many Latinx comic creators for kids can I come up with off the top of my head? Lemme see, there’s Raul III and Jarod Roselló, and you, aaaaaaaaaaand . . . that’s it. So you’ve been in the business of making your own comics at least since 2013, and you were a Disney Art Director before that. Where’s the hold-up here? What’s not happening? What needs to be done? And who am I not mentioning in this list that everyone should know?
YM: Yeah, I wish I could come up with more names than that, too. It’s really sad. Comics journalism tends to focus on Spider-Man and Batman and nothing else. If there were more articles pointing out that LatinX comics make up only 2% of the marketplace. It takes comics journalism to put spotlights on creators and awards.
BB: Are you completely focused on these comics now or do you have other projects you’re working on as well?
YM: I’ve been showrunning and writing a narrative podcast based on my graphic novel Hero Hotel. It’s for the PINNA audio network. I’ve also been writing and directing an original animated short for Nickelodeon. And I have a show in development at Cartoon Network.
BB: Congrats! So what’s next for you? What can we expect to see?
YM: Summer 2021 I will have a graphic memoir called CHUNKY published by HarperCollins that I wrote and illustrated. A graphic novel for DC comics that I am writing and illustrating. And Sci-Fu 2 is slated to be released Fall 2021.
Great heaps of gratitude to Yehudi for answering my questions and to Jackson Ingram of Andrews McMeel Publishing for connecting us. Be sure to follow Yehudi at his website, on Instagram at @supermercadocomics, on
LinkTree at supermercadocomics and on Twitter @ymercado.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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