For anyone who knows Ricardo “Naco” Gonzalez, they know that he can’t sit still without doodling while having a conversation. That’s how you know he’s paying attention. With a pen in hand, he’ll draw on napkins, receipts, scraps of paper. I’ve seen him use cheap water colors to paint the Joker’s face on a paper plate once. He might as well have done it with a tree branch and rain water.
Since he was a child, drawing cartoons was a favorite pastime and what essentially got Gonzalez into drawing and painting. More often than not, he refers to himself as a fanboy of certain comics, cartoons and movies.
A few years ago, Gonzalez realized a goal of his, which was to develop and create a comic book. In partnership with Graham Cracker Comics, he released his first issue of “La Chamba: Street Vendor Comic Book” in the summer of 2018 and has released two more issues since then. The Chicago Tribune wrote about his release that year.
So after reading his comic books and buying them for myself, I’ve felt the need to write about it and dish out why this is such a groundbreaking comic.
- As kids in the neighborhood, street vendors may have been the only adults we saw during the day outside of school. They are our friends and know that if they wait long enough, we’d come out with our dollars to buy summer treats. Something we saw every day that represents our people is finally being seen in traditional media.
- Everyone is brown, just like in our neighborhoods.
- The text is bilingual. Well, it’s mostly written in English but there are phrases in Spanish that we all know and use in our daily lives.
- The buildings are iconic to those of us who know Latino Chicago. Gonzalez even says in that Tribune article that the look and feel is based on the south and southwest sides of Chicago where Latinos have been making their homes for decades.
- The name. As I was standing in line at Dunkin’ showing the first comic to a friend of mine, the lady working the cash register looked at us and asked to see the comic. She was in awe. She told us, in her accented English, “Chamba means ‘work’.” We nodded and said we knew, but just the look on her face said it all. She asked if we’d buy one for her and I brought it back to her that afternoon.
Reality. Gonzalez pulls from the realities of living in these neighborhoods and brings it out into the limelight. He brings in a case of what really happened when some years ago people from across the country donated to a paletero in his 90s who kept working to support his family. Gonzalez doesn’t hide the realities of not having a retirement plan, sometimes not having enough in the day-to-day. But the resilience is clear and visible.Gonzalez doesn’t shy away from these particular realities that are sometimes extremely hard for people to discuss and bring up at all.
Respectability. The characters are upstanding citizens and common people. Those who have stories have to be respected and dignified. The fact that someone is writing their story and telling it through a beautiful art form makes it accessible to so many people.
Gonzalez considers this part of the D.I.Y. Cultura movement that we’ve written about on this site before. When no one else is doing it, might as well do it yourself.
If you haven’t purchased your copies of the comic books, you can do so at Graham Cracker Comics downtown at 77 E. Madison Street or online.