I'M DEFINITELY NOT THE BAD GUY

an interview with Medar de la Cruz

by Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz

It’s a summer night and I ride my bike over to Medar’s studio in Brooklyn. He meets me at the corner and we walk up some stairs to where his desk is, all his pens, pencils, rulers are organized neatly in little cups. He’s got some tamarind candy and tea for us to share while we chat. Medar and I went to the same high school in Miami but didn’t really get to connect until he moved to New York a little over a year ago. In this year, I’ve seen him working so hard to put his art out there; from selling comics for a dollar at the Union Square subway station to working multiple jobs. He’s definitely a hustler and his persistence, heart, artistry, and the relevant content of his work really inspire me. I was excited to sit down with someone I now call family and discuss what he’s currently working on, thinking about and manifesting into the world.  

—Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz

Medar de la Cruz: My grandfather was a high school professor in the Dominican Republic from 1961-1978. He began at the age of 17. He loved reciting poetry, which inspired one of the kids in the neighborhood to study drama. This student’s name was Theophilus. The story goes that Theophilus asked my dad, who was just a little kid, to help him practice for the plays, which then inspired my dad to search for his own ways to express himself; poetry—which eventually inspired me to draw.

Photograph by MJ Katz 2016

Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz: That’s awesome, that’s like tracing back all the histories of creativity.

 

MD: Yeah, it’s a pretty straight lineage. My sister, my mom, and my grandma all have a creative side as well. I feel that the immigrant and Black experience in America is all about constant creativity as a means of survival, whether they’ve acknowledged it as art or not.

XIU: Yes, it’s definitely always there. So tell us, who is Medar de la Cruz?

 

MD: At this very moment? I’m a 24 -year-old living in New York. I work at a library in the Bronx, in Riverdale. It might as well be upstate New York, and a lot of our patrons are coming in from Yonkers. It’s an interesting situation for me because I’m learning so much about how many different cultures can be represented on one block in this city. Before that, I was going to school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Art Center is an elite school, and I had a hard time getting by. I was an illustration student for five years there because I couldn’t get out. It was too expensive and incredibly demanding, and so I took it really slow and it took me a long time to get out of there. Before college, I lived in Miami, Florida, where I was born and raised and for two important years of my life as a child, I lived in Texas. I think that’s the best way to describe who I am, I’m a result of the places I’ve lived in or visited.

XIU: I didn’t know that! Where in Texas did you live and what brought you there?

MD: In Austin, my dad had just gotten married to my stepmom and was pursuing his Ph.D in Spanish Literature, and I believe she was as well. And he’s a very adventurous guy, my dad, so the way he proposed the idea to me, I was probably 7 or 8; he sat me down and he was like, “You could stay here in Miami or you could see something new!” I will never forget that—it was one of the most important moments in my life. Laughs. He said “You could see stuff, and be in a different place and Miami will always be here,” he put it like that to me. “Miami is not gonna leave.” So I left, which broke my mom’s heart.

 

XIU: Wow, but so you came back to Miami two years later? Laughs

 

MD: Yeah, my sister, who is seven years older than me, moved to Texas after me to go to school at UT. Her being there was pivotal to me going back to Miami. She sensed my depression, my little youth depression from being homesick, and she was like, “If you wanna go back just do it.” So she actually went up to my dad and said, “He wants to go back.” I learned about a lot of weird alternative stuff with my friends in Texas. In Miami, it’s not like you can’t find that but you have to look harder. Miami can feel like one solid culture.

"BEING IN LITTLE HAITI, IN THE HOOD, WAS LIFE-CHANGING FOR A KID FROM THE SUBURBS. MY DAD LIVED IN LITTLE HAITI FOR A WHILE, SO I WAS FAMILIAR WITH THE NEIGHBORHOOD AS A CHILD, BUT AS AN ADVENTUROUS TEENAGER IT WAS A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD. "

XIU: I think that’s so important to having become an artist in Miami. I think about it a lot because you’re right, Miami in some ways has a very homogenous culture, which I think has much to do with tourism, the beach, and all the fantasy surrounding our city.

MD: I think it’s also a big Latino problem, a homogenizing of all of us, racially, culturally. I know somebody from here from New York, who had the same experience, apparently, in terms of discovering who he really was, he was like, “I didn’t know that I was Black until the other day!” He’s like 30. That’s the same thing in Miami for many, it’s Anti-Blackness to the core, at least in the suburbs.

Exponential Blackness, Woodcut, 2017

XIU: Yes, that’s very real. Especially within Latinx communities, there’s a lot of self-hate around indigeneity and Blackness.

MD: I was like in third or second grade when I was memorizing all of Eminem’s lyrics.

 

XIU: Laughs. Me too, I’m not even kidding. I was learning how to speak English at the same time as I was learning all the lyrics to The Eminem Show. He was popping off. It seems so bizarre that this very young 10-year-old immigrant from South America was listening to this white man from Detroit. What’s the connection? So what do you think? Will you ever go back to Miami?

 

MD: It was obvious that he was the underdog, the image of the underdog. I haven’t been back to Miami in 3.5 years, I’m like showing it off at this point, it’s almost 4 years actually. I don’t know, I have reasons to not want to go back right now. We deal with a whole lot going back home. But I also do wanna go, it’s a beautiful city.

 

XIU: What made you decide to come to New York?

Twin Snakes, Animated GIF, 2017

MD: Alright, I feel like I was always supposed to end up here. But, I actually ended up here by mistake; I was visiting my sister and I was SO SURE, I was positive that I was going to end up teaching English in Japan. I had gone to Japan like 8 months prior for one week. I swear, I believe it’s because I had a big afro that they didn’t give me the job.

XIU: I don’t doubt that.

MD: Because I had gotten a second interview with them, and it went well, they were impressed. They were like, “Oh wow, you’ve been here, most of the people that apply here don’t have a degree, you’re ready for this.” And they didn’t give me the job. I was so qualified. And I knew this girl from Art Center that went, and they were giving out this job to high school graduates. I was so cocky and confident about the job when I came to visit my sister.

XIU: What are all the jobs you’ve had since you’ve been here?

MD: I started delivering food on my skateboard, for a company called Caviar. I applied as a bike courier and was immediately hired. I told my parents and they said, “You’re insane, what are you doing? Just move back in with us.” And I said, “No! You taught me this!” My mom used to always say, ‘you never take a step backward.’ I will have to crumble before I go back home, that’s what I told myself. So I delivered food and I didn’t get any tips like I was so confident that I would. Then my girlfriend told me about a job opening up at an art store. And I got the job at Artists and Craftsmen Supply in Harlem, it was my first full-time job. But before that, I had already applied for the library job like way before. So then after a few months at the art store, I got the library job. I was hired to teach computer classes to a small group of students once a month. But on the regular. I’m just a librarian. But, it’s such a small library that people ask me for help all the time on the computer, so I help people send emails, edit resumes. I helped a guy who is a Holocaust survivor apply for reparations the other day, which I didn’t even know was a thing. The guy wanted to hug me and give me a tip.

XIU: Wow, you should’ve been like show me this process! You should be getting reparations too.

 

MD: Exactly, that’s what I was thinking too, I need reparations. I helped him through the entire process. He was probably like 85 years old. So that’s where I’m at now. And then through looking at Facebook, I was able to get a studio.

When I was a senior in high school at Design and Architecture Senior High...and high school (by the way) was the first time I experienced being around a lot of other Black people in the first place, and art expressing Blackness. The crazy thing about senior year at the magnet school we went to is that you had to go out and get an internship. And I got an internship with Lucia Del Sanchez’ dad, Oliver Sanchez, who built the sculptures in the yard of our school. His gallery/studio Swampspace had paintings that reminded me of comics. So I interned with him for a year, and I learned about how the big guys do it. They talk business over a cup of coffee and I saw that. He was really nice to me. And recently Lucia was looking for a studio mate and I reached out and that’s how I’m here now.

 

XIU: How do you think going to that high school has contributed to your life? I’ve been thinking about it, we were very privileged to have that kind of high school experience, and at the same time I feel there’s a lot of things about that school that maybe we don’t talk about enough, like there’s a huge class difference, which is of course always tied to race.

MD: I think you may not have been there. I think it was my senior year that this class came in which we called “the Black freshmen.” The school all of a sudden realized that they had a weird ratio of white to POC students, there was like not a lot of Black students, then all of a sudden the whole class was Black. It was a weird school. I came from, and I didn’t realize this until I went to Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH), like a racist part of Miami. So I went to DASH and I was in shock to be around other Black people! Like I had never even seen that many Black people before to be honest. As a child I went to DR a lot but was taught to consider Dominicans to be different, those weren’t “Black people” in my brainwashed mind because I was Dominican those were “Dominicans.” So I went to DASH and was exposed to kids who were coming from all over the city.  And at LEAST we were in Little Haiti you know? Being in Little Haiti, in the hood was life-changing for a kid from the suburbs, my dad lived in Little Haiti for a while so I was familiar with the neighborhood as a child, but as an adventurous teenager, it was a whole different world.

XIU: Now it’s so gentrified.

 

MD: Yeah, now it’s a weird place, it’s a mall. That whole spot.

"EACH FRAME IS PAINTED ON THE SAME CANVAS. IT TAKES SO LONG, BUT IT’S SO MEDITATIVE TO WATCH AND ANIMATE A PIECE THAT IS ESSENTIALLY CREATING ITSELF." 

Black Minimalist, Screenprint, 2017

XIU: Where in Miami are you from?

 

MD: I’m from...they call it “La Sauguesera”

 

XIU: Laughs

 

MD: Southwest Miami, it’s a weird area. A very specific neighborhood between Sweetwater, Doral, and Kendall, but it’s none of those. It’s like Tamiami Park, FIU.  

 

XIU: Yeah, West Miami is where things get weird.

 

MD: Yeah, it’s like that dark place in my mind. I feel scared walking around sometimes. I had a car my last two years of high school and I would get pulled over so much. I would get pulled over just for driving, like nothing. I hated it.

 

XIU: Was there a lot of white people in your neighborhood?

 

MD: They were all white latinos, there wasn’t a lot of white Americans, I knew like one white kid that wasn’t latino. It was rare. My neighbors were mostly white, but at least they all spoke Spanish. The kids would spend the summertime back in their parent’s countries so they came back with this different mentality. The one white American kid I knew, his brother went to the army, he was a rare American Floridian.

XIU: Yes, where my family lives now there’s some white American confederate flag types, and not all of them are American actually. People really think Miami and South Florida, in general, is not the South. But...

Cucala, Acrylic on Canvas, 2017

MD: It’s scary honestly. It’s one of the reasons that stop me from wanting to go back to Miami. I like to be out at night but I wouldn’t want to do that out there.  Ironically enough, I feel safer in New York.

 

XIU: So I recently saw this video you posted of yourself when you were 12 years old…

MD: Haha! Yeah! I have this flipbook, it’s the first animation I ever made. A bird shits on this character’s head and he shoots at the bird, but the bullet exits the frame and comes back into the frame behind the character, killing him instead. I remember being so excited by the idea alone. I’ll never forget showing my dad and realizing that he was genuinely impressed!” He told my stepmom, “this kid’s gonna be a director!” He would say wild things to me.

XIU: He sounds so encouraging. Let’s talk more about also the process of your animations. How do you go about creating them?

MD: I mostly use Photoshop and DragonFrame, which is a program that is made for stop motion animation. The way it works is amazingly straightforward and saves a whole lot of stress because animation, in general, is so time-consuming. Each frame is painted on the same canvas. It takes so long, but it’s so meditative to watch and animate a piece that is essentially creating itself.

 

XIU: So when you were 12 and you were like, “I’m gonna be a comic book artist,” did you plot that out for yourself? What was your plan for making it happen?

 

MD:  It all started in Texas with my friend in fifth grade who had his own comic  he called “Yurtle the Turd.” I was already familiar with newspaper strips, but this was the first time I saw a kid actually draw a comic, and he’s the one that got me into collecting comics. He had this little folder and it had like 10 pages of hilarious comics that he drew of a turd just doing silly things. My mind was blown, I was never the same. These two white boys that I’m still friends with, Zak and Austin, were into doing crazy shit. We explored our neighborhood all the time and got into trouble.  I was used to being from the burbs and never leaving, but in Texas with them, I was exploring Downtown, goofing off at grocery stores, record shops, and a local bookstore. We were very independent 11-year-olds. Anyways, Austin drew comics and I joined in on the fun. I would draw my band teacher. I hated his ass. In 6th grade, we were all in band. I would draw him going through these torture chambers. He’d be laying down and I was like, "Fire here, spikes there, lava here." I would think that motherfucker’s gonna go through all that shit, he’s gonna die like nasty! And I would show all my friends, we had our own little gang. Oh my god, Texas was the craziest adventure of my life. We had a little name for our crew and everything, we would hang out, have sleepovers. And I would show them my drawings while explaining what was happening and they would crack up, and I was like that’s it I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life.

XIU: That’s so special. I have a moment in my childhood like that too that is definitely one of the most memorable moments. When I lived in Mirones in Peru and literally every kid in the building complex I lived in would all chill together. All 22 of us. It was really amazing times. It also sounds like you’ve been drawing your whole life.

MD: Yeah, but my sister once said in front of her friend, “He never used to draw that much,” and I defended myself, “I always used to draw! What are you talking about?”

We grew up playing music—our parents just put a piano in front of us. My sister played the piano and the flute for several years and eventually let it go. I told that to my mom the other day to put it into perspective because we’re always going at it about my career plans. I was like, "Look mom, I’m just sticking to my shit.” I’m doing something that can seem so ridiculous, I always have to read about it to remind myself that people do this. Even when I find some other professional that really does this online and I’m reading their comics and I don’t like it—which is a lot—I’m really critical, I’m like “How are these people living off of this!?!” That’s what makes me wanna draw, I see something and I don’t like it and I tell myself this shit, I don’t like this shit, so I have to do something that’s better than this. And I think about it, because I know they are eating off that shit, and I’m hungry right now.

Cucala, Animated gif, 2017

“Califé, Ink on Paper, 2016”

XIU: Talk to me about Platano Planet. What is it? What made you start it? Where is it now?

MD: I had a professor at Art Center that I really liked, so I took a lot of his classes. His mentality was do what feels right, and he is a successful illustrator making work, so I trusted him. The first assignment in his class was to draw the same thing 100 times in different ways. Each drawing had to be different. So around this time, I was just unearthing my Dominican self, I had just come back from a trip to DR.

XIU: Right, after not being there for 12 years.

 

MD: Right, so I was there [DR] for a month and I came back and I was like “Oh my god, being Dominican is the dopest shit ever!”

 

XIU: Laughs

MD: Like what?! How did I forget? I knew it, but not at school. At school I was just trying to be good at drawing, that’s all I cared about. But be good at drawing what?? So many students were so good at drawing but they didn’t know what they wanted to draw! So, I drew a plantain 30 different ways, and the first 30 drawings were just like...A PLANTAIN. I had plenty of plantains, cause I was eating that every day and I was drawing them in all these different angles and my professor was really into those.

"IN CALIFORNIA I WAS  SPECIAL. EVERYBODY WOULD SAY, 'YOU’RE DOMINICAN? WHAT'S YOUR CULTURE ABOUT?'”

But, I was pulling an all-nighter and it was 6 in the morning and I was only at number 50 and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m gonna fail this class!” And I just started drawing plantain cartoons, like a plantain car...and then from there—the class was at 2, and it was already noon, I still hadn’t eaten breakfast, I hadn’t slept, and I was at drawing number 96. At this point I was drawing plantain people and wild ideas, I just looked at anything in my room and I was like---that’s a cup! I’m gonna draw a plantain cup! A plantain helicopter! And then when I presented in class, my professor said “I like the drawings of the plantains,  but all these other things are just cute,” he said it like that “that’s cute, but those are interesting perspectives on an actual plantain.” But when I was presenting to everybody else, they were cracking up, the whole class was laughing! I showed it to my parents and they were laughing, and I was like yo, maybe comedy is my thing. So that’s how Platano Planet started. Why? Because my mom and my dad laughed, even my grandma was laughing—she loved them! I had never drawn something that my grandma could laugh at, so I told myself, I’m gonna make art so I can make my grandma, my sister, my whole family laugh.

Platano Planet, Gouache on Paper, 2015

XIU: But you’re not working on Platano Planet now?

 

MD: Yeah, well then, I just said, "Fuck that." I guess I felt so low when I got to NYC and shit didn’t work out for me, that I felt like I wanted to reinvent myself. Laughs. And I was HERE, literally in Platano Planet, New York. There are mad Dominicans, I didn’t feel special anymore. In California I was special. Everybody would say, “You’re Dominican? What's your culture about?” and I would say, “Let me tell you about being Dominican…”

 

XIU: Right. What else do you think contributed to putting a pause on that project?

MD: Well, I had found out about Afrofuturism. I honestly don’t even like it anymore because I went this zinefest at the Bronx Art Museum and it was about Afrofuturism and they had a panel with the so-called “creators” of this idea/concept. And there was this one white dude on the panel, who was wearing a tuxedo and everyone else was being casual, he was like, “I created the term, Afrofuturism.”

XIU: That’s fake!

 

MD: Yeah, my mind exploded. I dedicated so much time to this idea…

 

XIU:  No, but that’s not even true. Look at Sun Ra, like nah.

 

MD: Yeah, well apparently, this guy Mark Dery, coined the term.

 

XIU: That’s ridiculous.

MD: I’ve always been interested in Sci-fi because of the architecture that I would see in different movies. During high school I decided to study architecture and now when I draw, I always tell myself part of me wanted to be an architect. So, every time I sit down and draw I take out my ruler, ya know? Laughs. I always think about Mr. Hankin, my teacher in high school, and all the architecture schools he told me I could’ve gotten into.

Funky Butt, Woodcut, 2016

"... I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS SELLING THEM IN UNION SQUARE, THIS MOM CAME UP TO ME WITH A LITTLE KID AND SHE SAID, 'I DON’T KNOW, IS THIS FOR LITTLE KIDS?' AND I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, OH SHIT, THIS IS MAKING FUN OF WHITE PEOPLE. AND I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, I HAVEN’T SAID A SINGLE BAD WORD IN THESE COMICS. SO I TOLD HER, 'YEAH THIS IS FOR KIDS.'"

XIU: He would say that to you?

 

MD: Yeah. ‘cause I was competitive, I don’t know what really made me that way.

 

XIU: It probably has to do with that school. I think it made us all be that way, competitive and pitted against in each other in some ways.

 

MD: That’s true. I just remember seeing other people and I would think, wow, you’re 15 and you’re Michelangelo! So many people, that in my head, I would tell myself, this person’s probably like the next Da Vinci—at this age? So many people blew my brains out when I was 14, 15. But, to be honest, I don’t even want to give that school all the credit. When I came here [NYC] and I did graffiti with these kids—it’s funny I was under the illusion that the culture was mostly white today, so I didn’t even know that New York’s graffiti culture was still very Black—I was seeing the same things as when I was in DR. In DR I met a lot of Black skateboarders and in New York, I’m meeting a lot of Black graffiti artists—amazingly talented and they are so young.

XIU: I think it also goes back to what you were saying about the places that you live make you who you are. Because this city is so, so many things—growing up here is very different than growing up in South Florida for sure.  

MD: Yeah, and people have said it to me. I meet people on the train sometimes that tell me things like that. This city is structured so that people can make money and do whatever they want. They’re going to struggle whichever path they take. That’s it, people come out here to do the wildest things. So I told myself, I’m going to do something so ridiculous, something so against the grain, and I imagine my designs being mass produced but the other part of me tells me don’t mass produce it. I think about that a lot.

XIU: Laughs. Well, let’s talk about it, let’s talk about these new comics that you’ve been making. They’re all black and white, they also deal with Blackness and whiteness. How are you feeling about them at this moment?

Today’s Forecast, Ink on Paper, 2017

MD: I was already doing things related to race at the end of college. I got into a conversation with my cousin, who was formerly in the marines. He has a more American mentality now, even though he’s an immigrant. We got in a weird argument, ‘cause I would always post things about how I’m not really into cops, you know? I honestly think I could be more sensitive about it but I was also just trying to be funny. So he messaged me saying, why are you not into this? I couldn’t really explain it to him, so my main impulse was to draw what I meant. And it’s so visual, I still hate when I get into a conversation about race with anybody. I’m just like are we really talking about this right now? If you know you know, it’s that simple. So the topic, in general, is just so ridiculous to me.

Like you’ll read comics that are ridiculous, people’s brains are exploding, there are dicks talking, this and that...to me, this is the most ridiculous topic that we STILL have to talk about. So I told myself, I’m going to make it brutally straightforward. There’s going to be a white character and there’s going to be a Black character. I consciously told myself I wanted to make something that can be a design, an image that can be made into a t-shirt, no problem. I want it to be easy, keep it simple, that’s my philosophy. Because I’m always translating things to people in Spanish, and I wanted it to be easy for people in Spanish to read too, that’s why I draw the way I draw. I want it to be so straightforward. And I remember when I was selling them in Union Square, this mom came up to me with a little kid and she said, "I don’t know, is this for little kids?" And I thought to myself, oh shit, this is making fun of white people. And I thought to myself, I haven’t said a single bad word in these comics. So I told her, "Yeah this is for kids." I want to be able to make little kids laugh too, I want everyone to think about this topic.

XIU: Do you have a favorite one?


MD: I think the ones that have pissed people off the most. I’ve pissed a few of my friends off with some of them, and those are the ones that I like the most, I guess. Like there’s one I did where all these white people are asking the same Black person to go out, and he’s like, "Nah I’m good." My friend didn’t like that one.

XIU: Why didn’t they like it?

MD: I don’t know, honestly just sensitive whiteness—what the fuck bro, why are you advocating this Black v. white thing? That’s so bad, blah blah. And I feel like I’m venting at this point, but that really inspired me. This guy, like wow, first of all, this is a good friend of mine, and people were getting pissed? Let’s do this then! Let’s fucking do this. I took a militant approach to it, that kind of fucked me up and I was very spiteful. It led to a dead end at one point. But I responded by telling myself, I’m gonna do this shit every fucking day. So I started putting out a comic every day. I think it lasted like 8 days, but I was so mad and every time I thought about the fact that people were actually mad about this, or pissed off. I was just putting myself in their shoes and drawing that shit.

XIU: Yeah, like you are mad at this drawing, but you’re not mad at how things are. That’s what you’re mad at.

 

MD: Exactly. Like, you’re talking to ME right now dude? Wow.

 

XIU: Tell me more about how the response has been overall. So these are some of your friends, have others responded positively? What have they said?

MD: A lot of people have responded very positively, told me to keep it going. But also I was giving them out at the subway stations and a lot of people on the train would just say no. I would have to convince people. I was really trying to stack up the money. I think that’s what people were into actually, the fact that I was selling them for $1. But then, every time I do it in a certain way, people respond positively. I don’t know how to explain it. It has to be genuine. It has to do with the way I put it out there, I think it has little to do with what I’m actually saying. I actually tell people, "I need support," I don’t even lie. I tell people to help out, I’m really trying right now. And I don’t lie about that. I think people sense that and respect that. We’re in New York. I grew up mostly knowing creators. At this point, almost everybody I know is a creator in some way or another. I buy from artists, and they buy from me. And I love that, ‘cause this is all I have.

Nah, I’m Good, Ink on Paper, 2017

XIU: I also saw you did a few of them in Spanish. What did your family say? Did they get to see them?

 

MD: I think my dad may have laughed about that. My mom is still weird about talking about race, she freaks out.

 

XIU: Do your parents identify as Black?

Photograph of Emanuel Xavier for Urban Latino (1999).

Your Guilt, Ink on Paper 2017 

No I’m Not, ink on paper, 2017

MD: My dad yeah. My mom is light skinned, so she’s not Black in her eyes, like no way. But she’s totally Black and so is my grandmother. She just doesn’t want to talk about it that much, which is a huge influence on me. She’s nervous, honestly. When I was passing out the zines in Union Square she was like, "You’re gonna get attacked, I don’t want you doing that." I tell my mom everything, this is my biggest mistake. And the little dumbass kid in me still gets excited by danger. But she really thinks I’m going to piss somebody off, and I’m like fucking yes then, let’s do this.

 

XIU: Have you had any in-person confrontations with strangers like that yet?

 

MD: Yes. Only really once so far. It was a big scary dude actually, haha, which is why I won’t do it anymore. Every time I want to do it, I think to myself, is it really worth it though? Sometimes I get freaked out, too. When you’re in the train station, you will get confronted by whoever’s in a bad mood and wants to argue with you. So, this one guy was like, "You’re privileged by just making art! That’s a privilege right there!" Because my big comic was about white privilege. Laughs. He was a big white fancy guy looking like he just came from Wall Street. He felt an attack on him immediately, he was just defending himself over and over. He told somebody who was next to me (‘cause he wouldn’t say it to my face), he winked at them and said something like," he knows he’s losing this argument." So I said, “I already won this argument ‘cause I have the paintbrush in my hand.” I was painting the comic, and he had the zine in his hand, he walked away and he threw it on the ground. Laughs.

It was really inspirational to me, I thought, no matter what anybody says it’s done already. I made it already, it’s over. You can disagree with me all you want, but do it in a comics form, then we can talk. Speak my language. You’re just gonna come at me in a way that has nothing to do with what I’m doing? It’s like a hip-hop battle with two rappers and you just come and start screaming, no, you gotta rap back, you can’t just come and scream at me. Even my family members—there’s family I have that don’t support what I’m doing, they think it’s hateful. What’s hateful is to actually do something. I’m sitting down and I’m drawing. And I grew up watching South Park, like hateful things that made me laugh. It’s dark. Dave Chapelle, Celebrity Death Match shit that was hardcore. I’m desensitized.

"WHEN I WAS PASSING OUT THE ZINES IN UNION SQUARE [MY MOM] WAS LIKE, YOU’RE GONNA GET ATTACKED, I DON’T WANT YOU DOING THAT."

Where’s Negro, Ink on Paper, 2017

XIU: Right.

MD: So to this day, my little inner child knows—and because I’m a skateboarder, and because of everything I do, and all the people I know who have tattoos, represent a different part of society that nobody cares about...we thrive off specifically THAT! If all of a sudden it became important, maybe we wouldn’t thrive so much off of it. That’s kinda the point maybe.

XIU: You told me a story before about what your dad said about tattoos when you were little…

 

MD: Oh yeah, that’s a good one. When I was little I had the little lick-on tattoos, they would give them away at school. My dad wasn’t really about video games, water guns, none of that. He was a revolutionary motherfucker, he was like Super Black in a way. He saw my tattoos and he was like, oh my god that’s like a criminal thing. “That’s what criminals do, wear tattoos, Take that off!” Honestly, I felt bad. I still see tattoos and my inner child is like that’s “criminal.” I’m not even gonna lie, I wanna lie and say that’s not the truth, but it is the truth, it’s so conditioned in my brain. But anyway, I was little and I saw a cop (this was in Miami so he was wearing shorts in the heat), the cop had like a full leg tattoo. And loud as hell, I screamed, I think I laughed and I said it super loud, “the cop is a CRIMINAL!” It was like 1+1=2, of course! It made sense because the culture of being an immigrant is that cops are bad. So it made sense to me.

XIU: And now, you tattoo people.

Hand poked tattoos, Summer 2016

MD: Yes, I haven’t done one in a while, but every time I see one I get excited. I like a lot of things. I want to make sculptures, everything. Tattoos are awesome.

 

XIU: Let’s talk more about this character, that exists in the Very Black and Very White comics, but is also their own entity. Who is this character?

 

MD: To me it’s just a shape, that’s it. It’s become MY shape, I love it. It’s an obsessive and compulsive thing. Every time I draw it, and I recognize it, and I go to sleep with it in my head and I wake up with it in my mind, I just think—that’s mine, that’s mine. It’s kind of like looking in the mirror, like that’s me right there, boom.

MD: Sometimes I hate my character, I don’t like it. But I know what it is. So, I go into the world and I recognize it for what it is. I see things—wheels on cars, houses, things that start to look like my character, and that’s a good feeling. My dad had a cool signature, so I got obsessed with things like that, a symbol. And that’s our culture I think too. I had to go through a lot of art history classes, I’m not even going to pretend like I’m coming up with anything interesting. I know that this is in my head, the way that culture works.

XIU: Right, like a formula.

MD: Yes, it makes perfect sense to me. Considering how many people weren’t recognized until they were way past their death; I better expect that even if I do it one million times, somebody somewhere is only going to see it once. That’s the way I see it. I grew up eating McDonald's. And it’s like this weird, going-to-McDonald's mentality. You go to a sushi restaurant and you get sushi, right? You don’t go to a sushi restaurant and order rice and beans, or tacos! At this point, I’m trying to run a business, so I have to think of myself in that way. If I’m a sushi restaurant, and tomorrow I wanna be a taco restaurant, I can’t just do it overnight, that’s what I tell myself every day.

 

XIU: Laughs. That’s a great analogy.

MD: That’s the only way I can think about it. I’m only at the tiles right now of this little house I’m building. I can’t walk away at this point. Every time I sit down to draw a comic I tell myself, this is so stupid! But I have to fucking finish. And it’s going to take a lifetime. I look at myself every day and I’m like, you cannot turn back. I see my friends who are just being, doing other things and being successful. I tell myself every day, like a little kid, the tortoise v. the hare, I’m the tortoise right now. I’m the slow guy, I’m taking it real slow. One step at a time, even if it leads to nothing I’m not going to regret it because I didn’t put my ass out.

Person of Color, Acrylic on Paper, 2017

And I did put my ass out. I put my ass out, that’s what selling the zines at Union Square was to me, like give me a dollar, please. But, I put my ass out, (laughs) no one put it out for me. I give dollars to the people on the train that ask for money, they get to me. I see them, I can tell, sometimes I honestly feel like I can tell and I probably am misjudging a lot of the time, when people are genuine. I’ve witnessed some amazing ways of making money here. I’m such a religious person in the way I do things, that I see the same people every day. I see the same performers doing the same performance, at least once every week on the train. They’re in the same rhythm as me. It’s amazing. I sometimes sit next to the same people. New York is not that big, I realize.  

XIU: How do you feel that current events and news are affecting your work?

Untitled, Animated gif, 2017

"I TELL MYSELF EVERY DAY, LIKE A LITTLE KID, THE TORTOISE V. THE HARE, I’M THE TORTOISE RIGHT NOW. I’M THE SLOW GUY, I’M TAKING IT REAL SLOW. ONE STEP AT A TIME, EVEN IF IT LEADS TO NOTHING I’M NOT GOING TO REGRET IT BECAUSE I DIDN’T PUT MY ASS OUT."

MD: I grew up  watching Donald Trump (laughs) with  “you’re fired.” And I grew up with The Terminator, too and he became the governor of California. And watching comedians making fun of politics prepared me for what I do now, which is simply reacting to what’s happening in the news. My dad is really into talking about politics, too. He writes about Dominican politics a lot.

Politicians are the easiest to poke at, and I am not that optimistic, I don’t see a happy world at the end of the day. I am optimistic in some ways, I know it’s the only thing that keeps me going, the hope for another day, but it’s so ridiculous what’s happening, what the media says is going to happen every two minutes and what’s slowly happening psychologically to all of us.  

XIU: I think it’s so heavy that many of us and our families have already lived through similar situations not only here, but also in the places where we come from. And just seeing the cycle repeat itself is just…

 

MD: Well, I think the American mentality is to look through something from an outsider’s perspective. So we grow up looking at all these dictators that are active in South, Central America, and all these dictators that are active in all these other parts of the world. And the mentality is to be like, oh look at those people!

 

XIU: That’s not us!


MD: Right, it’s definitely the way that we are taught to look at the world in geography classes in school. They, those people. Like, have you ever thought of looking at yourselves, Americans? Look at us. We are mentally conditioned, obviously, nobody can tell me otherwise. I will take you on a tour of my own house that I grew up in. You can’t tell me anything. Our minds are culturally conditioned. And it’s all through the most entertaining format possible. Right now it’s Twitter. Trump is killing the game with  Twitter. Twitter-mania. In my opinion, the they and us game, I play it too. Like those people, those are the bad guys. It’s that simple. That’s the only true part of the Superman and Batman franchise in my opinion. There’s a bad guy and a good guy, that’s the cool thing about comics.

XIU: Right, it’s very “black and white,” like your comics.

MD: Laughs. Right.

XIU: But, you’re flipping the script.

Heaven, Ink on Paper, 2017

MD: You know, that’s just part of the culture as well. I’m not trying to invent anything new. It’s just like Shakespeare, all these people, there’s a bad guy and there’s a good guy. And that’s how Trump puts it—to Trump, there’s a bad guy and a good guy, obviously.

 

XIU: In every situation.

Jodidos, Acrylic on Brick, 2017

MD: Even the structure of political debates—Republican v. Democrat—even the idea of what a criminal is versus what an innocent person is. It’s amazing! You’re a criminal until proven innocent?! WOW! They say it to you, I mean come on. If a cop could come up to you at any moment and ruin your life and you’re constantly being reminded of this fact. Then, you definitely can’t say anything to me. I’m definitely not the bad guy, that’s all I know. Laughs. That’s just how I feel, and then when anybody tries to say anything to me about what I’m saying in my comics, I’m like, I’m sorry but I’m just still not actually doing this shit. I’m just venting and it works. I make myself laugh and that’s all that matters.

XIU: Definitely. From what you were saying it also sounds like literature was a really big part of your life. Is there anything you’re reading right now that’s really inspiring you?

 

MD: This is funny, I just started reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I just finished reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

 

XIU: Wow, wow.

 

MD: I just finished that one.

 

XIU: You’re going back to back!

 

MD: Laughs. Yeah, I’m really excited about that.

XIU: How did Oscar Wao make you feel?

 

MD: It was great, I told myself I’m gonna study Junot Diaz. Because he’s a Dominican writer and this book is sooo Dominican, and he’s so well received in America. Like wow, this guy is so successful in my eyes, he’s a superhero in my eyes. And when I read the book, I’m like, the Dominican Republic is such a small place, like how many people are actually relating to this?....but even though people don’t get exactly what he’s saying they still can sort of understand. But I go online and I can see that this dude is really putting himself out there. He’s WORKING, he’s doing a lot of work, and that inspired me. I read the book not only for the story but also who is writing it, and he’s genuine. So many Dominican words, so many things that are sooo specific to our culture are in that book, and it was beautiful to read. I was laughing, I loved it.

XIU: You know, once in school, I overheard a professor and a student talking about Junot Diaz. They were saying something to the effect of, "He says he’s Black but he’s writing in Spanish, like how can he be Black? He’s not Black." It’s a moment I think about sometimes.

 

MD: That’s something that I have to talk about, yes. There’s nothing more interesting to me than the topic of race when white people are not involved. When white people are excluded, and we’re talking about race, NOW we’re talking. Now we’re having a real conversation. Because when I’m talking to a white person about race, I’m like pfft, I don’t even care about you right now dude, like you got the good education, you got access to the good books, easily. You should know about this already. That’s the other thing when I talk about Dominicans and Black people, if you can’t recognize that the topic of race is a taboo from the start, then you’re brainwashed. There’s a lot of people who will still talk that way.  If you’re even engaging in the conversation of who’s Blacker, then you’re confused, in my opinion.

 

XIU: Right. Actually, Junot Diaz has this quote, I can’t remember if it’s in one of the books or maybe it’s something I heard him say in an interview. But he said something like, and I’m probably misquoting here, “It’s as if the hatred in my home and the hatred in New Jersey, shook hands every morning.” I think it really talks about it all.

 

MD: It’s so obvious, I just have to turn on the news, it’s so hard to even watch the news. Like, you don’t even want to talk about it anymore. It is what it is, this is the world we live in. I’m just participating in this. It makes me laugh. I’ve chosen my genre in this way. I like to laugh. Laughs. I like to laugh and I try to laugh as much as possible and I try to find ways to make others laugh so that I can laugh some more.

 

XIU: Right, I think that’s also very much our culture, as Latinos, as immigrants. Look at our music, we’re always dancing to things that are sad or difficult.


MD: Coping mechanism, and it works. I think it’s a reason why we do the wild things we do. Why do people party so much? Maybe because they can’t go to sleep—maybe they try to go to sleep but it’s impossible because the neighbor’s making a lot of noise doing some other stuff, so screw it we’re gonna stay up all night partying. That makes perfect sense to me here in New York. The reason why so much music was invented here, you just go out in the street and all the crazy things you have to listen to and see. You can’t go through your day without having to look at so many things. But to the person that’s looking at it in the right perspective, those sounds are like, I wanna sample all of this! Or a person who is looking for cool colors, like myself, I’m like wow, even everything that’s wrong with the world is beautiful. Deterioration, explosion, death all of that is still beautiful to me. I see it, and I see the colors. I see the beauty in it.

"... I’M LIKE WOW, EVEN EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD IS BEAUTIFUL. DETERIORATION, EXPLOSION, DEATH ALL OF THAT IS STILL BEAUTIFUL TO ME. I SEE IT, AND I SEE THE COLORS. I SEE THE BEAUTY IN IT."

XIU: Who are you looking at right now? Who’s inspiring you?

Shake Motor, Digital Animation, 2017

MD: I have to say my friends. Everything that you do is really inspiring to me as well. The friends I’ve made along the way have provided the true inspiration for me. It’s hard to not view their work subjectively, but that's what art is all about to me. There’s something about how we experience looking at things—we can recognize how long something takes. Although, I think it’s really easy to take things for granted. Certain things maybe go beyond us. I think specifically with visual art, people who create drawings, and handmade individual things, I think the point of that is the fact that you can recognize how long somebody may have dedicated to that. So all these artists, my friends that I’m looking at, they’re all making handmade things—they all have their own personalities.


I’m also looking at this guy Lawrence Rawdog Hubbard, this guy is so intense. I believe he’s still employed as a security guard. He’s a regular blue-collar worker from L.A, and he started with one of his close friends. So this guy, his comics are all about pimps and sex workers. He’s from South Central L.A. The amount of work you can imagine this guy is doing while having a full-time job that has nothing to do with art, and doing these things that are SO unrecognized. The least likely something is to make sense commercially, the better. Because, again like we were saying, Donald Trump is president. Everything that’s messed up makes sense to a lot of other people. So let’s just make that really obvious. We think all these crazy thoughts but we can’t actually say them so we have to find a medium to do so. That’s how I see it, and a lot of people are doing just that. Did you ever get into Happy Tree Friends?

 

XIU: Wow, yes, I also used to read a lot and collect Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.

 

MD: Right, that’s what’s up. We grew up in that, this weird violent, adorable...Comedy Central after dark, Nick at Nite. If you’re watching TV after 3 am, you see some really intense stuff.

 

XIU: Any last thoughts?

 

MD: It was so much fun to do this, I don’t know. I guess, if people are actually reading this...I’m just always in shock that this is actually what I get to do. That’s all I have to say. Unfortunately, the way that things are set up in society, I almost feel like I’m getting away with something. And it shouldn’t feel that way. I try to tell myself every day like, this is my duty! But other times I’m just like, wow, I get to do this? I get to do this, I get to draw and I really like it. That’s all I have to say. It truly is a privilege in a way.

 

XIU: Laughs. You’re gonna give that Wall Street guy the benefit?!

 

MD: No, no no! Laughs. Screw that dude.

Medar de la Cruz is a visual artist and cartoonist from Miami, Florida, living in New York City. He explores the potential of two dimensional images to communicate personal opinions and observations about identity. You can follow his work here.

Ximena Izquierdo Ugaz is a multimedia artist, curator and educator based in Brooklyn and originally from Perú. She is the co-curator of Visual Art at Nat. Brut as well as Teen Programs Coordinator at the Brooklyn Museum and co-curator of Sweety’s, a gallery and platform dedicated to supporting and exhibiting artists of color.

NAT. BRUT: THE RESPONSIBLE FUTURE OF ART AND LITERATURE
 

Nat. Brut  (pr. nat broot) is a journal of art and literature dedicated

to advancing equality and inclusivity in all creative fields.

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