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DF Interview: Jarred Lujan brings Latin-American influences to a 1980s coming-of-age tale in ‘Dry Foot’
By Byron Brewer
Diego Gomez is tired of the drugs and violence that surround him. He wants nothing more than to escape west and leave the neon lights of 1980s Miami behind him. With the help of three friends, Diego hatches a plan to rob the most dangerous gang in the city, Los Marielitos. Filled with Latin-American influences, Dry Foot is a coming-of age-tale that deals with family, friendship, trust, and adversity. Many would kill to live in the Magic City. Others would die to leave it behind.
This month from Mad Cave Studios comes Dry Foot! Written by Jarred Lujan with art by Orlando Caicedo, colors by Warnia Sahadewa, and letters by Justin Birch, the title is the radical winner of the publisher’s 2019 talent search. DF is anxious to know about this one too, so we hooked up with scribe Jarred Lujan to learn more.
Dynamic Forces: Before we begin, Jarred, congratulations on your title’s win in the 2019 Mad Cave Studios Talent Search. How has that felt? And how did it feel when the pandemic obviously threw you a kind of waiting curve ball, I would suspect?
Jarred Lujan: Thank you! Winning was a crazy feeling. I’ve been in comics for a few years, mostly doing shorts, and I had lost the 2018 Talent Search. I think, as a writer, you sort of prepare yourself for rejection, even when you honestly believe you did your best. So, as the days ticked by, I was like “Okay, I lost, let’s move on.” Then I got the email and I lost it. I’ve had a ton of fun doing this and learned so much, I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity.
The pandemic sucks, I don’t have an eloquent way to put it. Getting Dry Foot delayed just stung because I am so confident and so proud of what we put together. Honestly, though, all things considered, Dry Foot’s delay is small potatoes. The delay sucked, but I am very lucky and grateful that my family and I have remained healthy. A lot of people didn’t wind up so lucky.
DF: How did you become interested in writing, and in comic book writing?
Jarred Lujan: I’ve always been into storytelling. I did Drama Club in high school, I’ve been a giant bookworm since I was a kid, I obsessed over movies growing up. I mean, I have four book-related tattoos! I’m a giant nerd.
I think my earliest introduction to comics was manga. I was pretty into anime in middle school (still dig it now, just not as much!) and I had friends that introduced me to manga. From manga I just kind of slowly got introduced into western comics. I’ve been in and out of comics for about ten years, and it was really my discovery of how deep and amazing indie comics can be that convinced me to stick around. Finding those stories made me realize there was a place for the stories I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell them.
Plus, I suck at writing novels and I think artists are wizards, so this lets me buddy up with them so I can learn their secrets. One day!
DF: Tell readers the overall storyline of Dry Foot. Will this just be a one-issue deal, or will this be a limited series?
Jarred Lujan: Dry Foot is a four-issue series set in 1984 Miami’s Little Havana. At the time, Miami, and more specifically Little Havana, was a particularly violent place. Lots of violence and drugs moved through the ports and it created this powder keg that essentially exploded over the course of a decade.
Our story follows four teenage friends that want to escape that life. They see it kind of corrupting everything around them, but they have these big, ambitious, lofty dreams of what they can become. Something more than what Little Havana can provide, or will allow to grow. So, together, they come up with a plan to rob a vicious local drug lord of cash to help fund their escape out West.
I’m a little biased, but it’s pretty good.
DF: Introduce us to your protagonists in the book. Tell us a little about them as characters and where they are in their lives when we meet them in issue #1.
Jarred Lujan: There’s Angel. Angel is a guy who loves lifting weights, video games, and his family. He’s a really lovable dude. There’s Fabian who is a slick cool guy, who really likes to hit on girls.
Mariana, who is my favorite to write, is a foul-mouthed, stubborn, anytime-anyplace type of person. Then there’s Diego, who loves movies and is really the leader of the group.
I think all of them are kind of at that point in their teenage lives where you become unhappy with the situations around you. I think all of us have this age where we can reflect where you started to become the person you really, truly are. That’s kind of where we find these kids, where this is one of the defining moments of their lives and they have to make some pretty big decisions.
DF: I know this is a very emotional book for you and that a lot of your own life’s experience went into it. Explain further, if you would.
Jarred Lujan: I grew up about three miles from the Texas-Mexico border. I was raised pretty adjacent to poverty and the drug trade. I watched friends get sucked into that life and have it spit them right back out. I currently work in my city’s barrio area. I work with kids, and with adults, who have seen things they shouldn’t ever had to. I’ve been exposed to violence and crime related to those same motivations.
All these people have had big dreams or motivations. They had lofty ideas of who they’d be, and I’ve seen those things taken from them for one reason or another. So, when I was writing these kids, I was really writing my own friends and myself in a lot of ways. It was hard sometimes, but I think it’s one of those things that needs to be told in an authentic way.
DF: Talk about the art of fellow winner Orlando Caicedo.
Jarred Lujan: Oh, man. I can go on for days. The easy way to say it is that Orlando is a brilliant artist. He’s got such an incredible way of capturing the energy of 1984 Miami. He handles action super well, his art leads the eye well, he has a real vision of what he’s doing.
The other thing about Orlando is that he and I were just organically on the same storytelling page from the start. Without ever really knowing each other prior to the project, we both just knew what we wanted to do. We both like action and humor, and we both really liked using Orlando’s slightly cartoon-y way of drawing as a bright, uplifting juxtaposition to the high stakes and themes of the plot. One of the other things is that Orlando really does an excellent job on character emotions. All the little subtle things that make a scene funny, to all the drastic things that make one tragic, he’s nailed each outing. When Mad Cave teamed us up, there couldn’t be any way of them knowing it was like the Team Up, but it was! Dry Foot wouldn’t be a sixteenth of how good it is without him on the pages.
Orlando isn’t just a brilliant artist, he’s a fantastic storyteller, and one of the absolute best collaborators.
DF: What can you tell us about the others who worked on the book, colorist Warnia Sahadewa and letterer Justin Birch?
Jarred Lujan: At some point, long ago, someone cast a spell in a murky cave summoning a coloring magician to our realm and that magician was Warnia. She’s the best. Every time she turns in pages, it’s like my pupils deteriorate and then reform because they are both unworthy and incapable of comprehending what is in front of them. Warnia and Orlando have some absolutely killer art coming for folks and I have done EVERYTHING IN MY POWER not to spoil it on Twitter regularly.
I think Justin is one of the best letterers around right now. Justin is just a sponge, he’s just a student of the game, constantly learning and constantly working towards making his work better, but it’s already SO GOOD. A lot of people haven’t seen the end pages of #1, so they don’t get to see quite how well Justin handles the characters speaking to each other in a different way than normal, but I think things like that are where he shines. He just has such a clever and unique way of handling change-ups like that, and he does it without ever interrupting the art or the flow of the book. One of a kind, that Justin Birch.
DF: Jarred, you have your first published comic under your belt. Tell us what you’re hopeful your future holds.
Jarred Lujan: You know, I just want to keep busy. I love comics and I want to continue to prove to the comics community that I belong here by consistently putting out good work. I’d love to work with Mad Cave again. I really like everyone there, I’ve had so much fun, so I’m hoping some time they’ll put up the Lujan Signal and summon me back.
I would also accept global domination.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Jarred Lujan for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Dry Foot #1 from Mad Cave Studios is slated to hit stores Sept. 9th!
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