Dave Alvarez is a name that harkens back to my youth when I was a newly transplanted resident of Puerto Rico back in the summer of 1996.
I still remember when my parents told me that my father had gotten the orders for us to move to Puerto Rico. My sister, I don’t think minded so much (she was nine at the time) but as someone who had only lived there from birth until the age of two and visited only once since I was the least bit happy. Was I going to be forced to move from New York City the greatest city in the world to live in Puerto Rico? Did they have anything I had here? The TV shows? My comics? Anime? Oh, my God, I’m going to be screwed and so bored and miserable.
Luckily for me, I turned out to be wrong. Very wrong. Dead wrong. Which brings me to Dave Alvarez. You see right outside Fort Buchanan (the base we lived on) is a mall called San Patricio and in that mall, is a comic book shop called Metro Comics where I happened upon a comic called Changuy. Now my Spanish isn’t perfect and while I can have a conversation it’s a bit of a chore for me to read. But man, that didn’t matter with the beautiful animation quality art that Dave was pumping out.
For those of you wondering what Changuy is about its basically Gizmo Duck meets Darkwing Duck and that’s not doing it justice. Because it is its own thing and in my opinion lovingly inspired by the Disney Afternoon shows. Here’s a bit of a more appropriate description from Dave’s Facebook page for Changuy.
FENIX CITY! Crime is taking over it. A girl mouse named Julie builds a super suit with the latest technology to fight crime. The purpose? To sell it to the police, convince them that anyone can use it, but her project was rejected by the RSI, (Ribonucleic Scientific Institute). She decides to test it alone, and that’s when Arturo Mozambique, a common everyday change, decides to test the subject for the experiment. Now Fenix City has a new superhero. Someone that uses incredible weapons… throws himself down buildings, eats junk food, and leaves his face etched in every wall (nobody’s perfect). He is CHANGUY!
Come on I dare you to tell me that doesn’t sound like fun. Besides his work on Changuy, his fantastic newspaper strip Yenny and other comics. Including work for DC, Boom! and IDW. Dave is also a prolific character designer, storyboard artist and animator with extensive credits in the animation business.
And today we will get to know a bit about him, his love of comics and animation and his newest creations ChickenDuck and Vejigantes which I think is going to be a smash sensation and give Pokemon and Yo-Kai Watch a run for their money.
Now let’s get to that interview.
Marco: Okay so generally I hit people with a couple of starter questions. Your basic getting to know you but we’ll leave that for later. Because right off the bat, I want to talk a bit about Vejigantes.
So, tell us how the property came to fruition. If I’m not mistaken it started with your son asking you if Puerto Rico had its own Pokemon?
Dave: Yes, this came out of a mix between Pokemon and Yokai Watch. My kids are very into those and one Sunday morning we started to talk about how specifically those creations show traits of Japan and how their culture shows up in their animated shows. The obvious question popped up.
Do we have creatures or monsters in Puerto Rico? We talked about the Chupacabras and out nowhere…the Vejigantes. Which by no mean are creatures at all but talking about the Chupacabras sort of brought the idea up.
My youngest started to draw scribbles of what he thought were Vejigantes and that’s how it began.
Marco: That’s a great origin story. Now to further expand on that. What has the journey been like to get this project where it is. I’ve been following you since before you started Vejigantes but seeing it grow from a thought to designs, a card game, animation tests and plush dolls has been fascinating. What is the end goal?
Dave: The end goal is to develop a strong franchise that could stay and represent our culture in a fun way just like Japan does. The Vejigantes story is fictional so by no means I mean to teach anything through it but to entertain and create a Puerto Rican presence in the world.
Marco: Before we talk some more about The Vejigantes and the recently announced news of Changuy lets go back to your early beginnings. What made you fall in love with comics and animation? And tell us a bit about your journey getting into both entertainment fields.
Dave: I fell in love with animation first. My room walls were filled with Animation Magazine’s posters and “scenes” that I drew on my own. I wanted to learn animation but it was too expensive and my family didn’t have the resources to pay for that so I chose to make comics instead.
I wasn’t into super heroes, I was more into European comics and artists like Peyo’s Smurfs or Asterix. I saw a lot of beauty on the artwork but there was one thing that I didn’t catch that much and that was expressions.
So, I chose that as my starting point. I wanted to make expressive comics.
Getting into the field was a work of God. I cannot explain it any other way. I saw a couple of Looney Tunes comics and saw a submission request address, so I wrote to them. They answered back rather quickly so I send some samples back. A year later they called me back.
The caller was Peter Tuminello from Warner Bros Entertainment. At first, I thought it was a joke but when I realized it was real I was beyond excited. My first task was Animaniacs and after that, I was asked which book I wanted to keep drawing so I chose Looney Tunes.
After that the road to comics was interesting. I met a lot of people from comics and the animation field. At the end, I ended working on what I wanted to do first which was animation.
Marco: Now let’s talk some Changuy. Recently you announced on your Facebook page that Changuy was coming back via independent comic book publisher Angry Viking Press. How did that come together because it’s been quite a while since Changuy was in any comic shops? I wish I still had my lone copy I bought back in 96 or 97. I cherished that thing. Was this something you were pursuing? I noticed you also mentioned that there would be updates concerning toys and animation. Anything you can talk about right now?
Dave: Changuy was the first independent comic that I made in Puerto Rico. Edward Santiago was the writer, Jovany Zapata the letterer and David Martinez co-created much of Changuy’s world with me. The comic somehow traveled around the US and raised some interest from a couple of companies. Sadly, none of them came to fruition.
Jason Canty, Founder, and CEO of Angry Viking Press have asked me to add Changuy to their title lineup so I decided to give it a shot. As you said before, this is a comic that was published only in Puerto Rico in the 90’s so if it were to be published again, things have to start from the very beginning.
In benefit to the original audience in Puerto Rico, this comeback will show some origins that were unexplained back in the day. Also, the original crew will be back with a couple more new artists like Jessa Otero and Gabriel Rivera.
The animated bits have the talented voices of Ivan Joel Vega as Changuy, Marielena Alcaraz as Julie, Jose Saul Nieves as Rocketiger, Jesus Tobas as Mukarom, Lius Nation as 123 Fish and Cesar Soto as Professor Blips.
Marco: To continue the discussion about Changuy tell the readers a bit about the comic and how it came to be. I remember reading on your site a recent story you told concerning that and I want our audience to read that too because to me it sums up nicely the spirit of comics the passion and the can-do attitude it has.
Dave: The creation of Changuy was simple and naive. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns was playing on theaters. Everyone was talking about this new dark Batman and how he came to wipe Adam West’s image from our minds.
The Disney Afternoon was also a big thing by the time so you may imagine where this story is leading to.
My grandpa built me a small wooden drawing room at my grandma’s marquesina (that’s the Puerto Rican equivalent for a garage). My friends came up to visit very often to draw or just to joke around in this place. One Saturday my friend David Martinez dropped by and we started talking about Batman and how that leather suit would be a bad idea for crime fighting in Puerto Rico’s 98 degrees up weather. No matter what we couldn’t stop thinking of Adam West (not Keaton) sweating gallons under that suit.
We were laughing so hard and we started to draw thumbnails of silly situations. Batman in a drive-thru, Batman sitting on the city hall’s stairs sweating drops in mid-day waiting for the mayor to show up…etc.
Somehow during all the silliness, the Disney Afternoon topic came up. We started talking about how these classic characters were now heroes. I started sketching a Batman type Chango, (a Chango is a Puerto Rican crow).
Darkwing Duck was part of the Disney Afternoon and we talked about how he was different from all the other duck designs. I said “well, that’s because he has Roger Rabbit’s face with a duck beak over” So needless to say we tried a crow beak over the RR head shape.
The suit changed during the design stage. I’m a fan of European comics. I love the detail they add to every story. Asterisk was one of those samples. So Changuy’s suit is a salute to Uderzo’s character. He had wings on his head too at first but that changed eventually. His relationship with the Rocketiger is also a nod to Obelix and Asterix.
That weekend was glorious. Characters and situations were popping out of our minds.
We heard about this store owner who was publishing comics to all of those who had a good proposal. (Dave’s Comic Clan) So we came to him with a small Changuy story. He published what we called “el comic rosita”, (the pinky comic) because he used pink paper to publish it.
After that, we felt confident enough to publish our first formal Changuy comic book. So, we went to a printing shop where they gave us the whopping figure of $1,200 for 900 comics. We look over in other shops but prices go higher as we looked further…so it was up to the $1,200 place to do it. Needless to say, I didn’t have the money.
One afternoon I heard that my dad got a bonus at the factory he worked at. I didn’t know how to ask him so I prepared this whole presentation and how I was going to give him back his money and eventually “pay the house with the proceeds”. (That didn’t happen, of course).
One evening, after supper, I came to him trembling with my notebook full of childish dreams. He didn’t even let me start. He just smiled and pat me on the knee. He said that he trusted that I was doing the right thing. So he gave me the money.
That started it all.
Another good friend of mine Edward Santiago joined us to write stories for Changuy. Today he’s a polished screen writer.
I have a horrible handwriting so Jovany Zapata joined us for lettering. He had awesome skills and patience to do it. More friends like Yoani Fontanez and Gary Javier, (now the best editorial cartoonist I’ve seen) helped us on the way.
We distributed the comic book on our own. We filled Edward’s Toyota with $10 of gas and ran from West to East and North to South in a weekend. I still remember how much we joked around while driving and dream about the impossible. We traveled hoping to sell some comics so we could print the next issue or just to make enough money to fill the tank so we could return home.
We managed to print 6 issues. Printing prices sky-rocketed making impossible to do more.
In 2007 an editor of the newspaper El Nuevo Dia asked us to return Changuy as a comic strip. (I must add that Changuy was originally titled “Changay” (pronounced: Shan-guy). Silly concerns about readers misreading “gay” since the paper was distributed in the US came about so hence the title change).
By that time, I was really busy with the Looney Tunes comics so master illustrator Richard A. Cruz took over the art. The strip lasted a year or two. Its humor was overrated by their average elite readers.
A few attempts were made after that.
Today Angry Viking Press is bringing Changuy back to print. I’m deeply grateful to Jason A. Canty for believing in the bird or should I say…the Chango
Marco: I love that story. I never get tired of reading it. It’s so punk rock. Is there anything else you’re working on besides Changuy and Vejigantes? I’ve seen the ChickenDuck images you’ve been posting.
Dave: About ChickenDuck, yeah, there’s a small project circling around this crazy duck. ChickenDuck was a character that I created years ago. I had an image of him as a screensaver on my computer back when Windows XP was a thing.
Years later my friend Kyle Carrozza was helping me illustrate and write the Kee Kee Koki comic strips. I showed him an image of ChickenDuck. He later suggested that he should join Kee Kee as a sidekick character on the strip. That was working well, only that ChickenDuck was a more fun character to write for.
This year I posted some images of Kyle’s proposal for ChickenDuck on the comic on Facebook. Somehow people seemed to dig the character a lot so I started to make short animated bits along with my friend and Looney Tunes writer Bill Matheny. Everything is taking shape so I hope that ChickenDuck can become an official thing soon.
There’s a Kickstarter about this right now.
Marco: That’s fantastic to hear. I hope it’s a huge success. We’ll definitely need you to give us some more info on the Kickstarter at the end of this interview. Now besides your creator owned stuff and personal animation projects what are you currently working on for others in animation and comics? I know you did a story in the Jonah Hex-Yosemite Sam one shot. Which by the way I love.
Dave: I’m still playing multi-task man for comics and animation. Lol. I still illustrate the Looney Tunes comics on a regular basis. The Jonah Hex story was the most recent project. A real challenging one, by the way. Joey Cavalieri, the editor in chief told me that I could illustrate the story differently from what I normally do so I chose to redesign the Looney Tunes by mixing Bob Clampett’s, Tex Avery’s and Whitman comics style with a bit of Disney. Yeah, that’s quite a mix but it was fun.
Marco: And now this brings us to the end. But before you go I’m going to give you the chance to PIMP YOUR STUFF. This is your moment to tell the readers where they can follow you on social media, and what they should check out that you’re working on. Basically, it’s your moment to make a passionate plea to the readers as to why they should check you out and purchase your work.
Dave: Thanks for the awesome interview, Marco. Regarding my work, you may follow me on Facebook.
My official web page for commissions and art is Dave Alvarez Studios. Also, there’s our ChickenDuck Kickstarter project. You can help us create our next cartoon by following this link: The ChickenDuck Show
And last but not least, I encourage everyone to find and read more about Puerto Rican comics. Yes, I make Changuy, Yenny, and Vejigantes but there are so many creators and their creations waiting for you readers to follow their adventures. Just Google names like Turey El Taino, Sharky Tunas, Pepito, Tato y Kenepo, El Profe, El Isleño among many others and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
We have a lot to tell!