While best known for his long career as a stand-up comedian and actor, George Lopez recently branched out and became a children’s author, drawing upon his childhood experiences to create ChupaCarter, in which 12-year-old Jorge Lopez is sent to live with his grandparents in rural New Mexico, where he befriends Carter, a lonely chupacabra in need of friends. In the sequel, ChupaCarter and the Haunted Piñata, the friends reunite to investigate sightings of a ghostly piñata that’s supposedly setting fires around town. PW spoke with Lopez about the origins of this series, working with his coauthor and illustrator, and what to expect from him next.
What inspired ChupaCarter and its sequel?
As a kid, I spent a lot of time by myself. I’d go outside, or I used to go onto the roof of my grandmother’s house and just lean back and watch the moon. I’d wonder, where were the people who would be in my life when I grew up? Who would I marry? What would I do for a living? And eventually, the neighbors would call and ask my grandmother if she knew there was a kid on top of her house. She’d tell me, “I don’t know how you got up there, but get down.” So I had these stories from my childhood, and I thought they were too good to keep for myself. I wanted to share these events and people. It’s why I went into standup in the first place.
For The Haunted Piñata, I was at a Day of the Dead party, and there were these Mylar balloons, which were in the shape of sugar skulls. We took a picture of one that was kind of askew, but in the picture, it was looking straight ahead and fit in between our shoulders. It was like a person getting into the picture and being all, “Look at me.” And its expression was not what I remembered. So I told [my coauthor] Ryan Callejo about my idea for a haunted piñata that knew if kids had been good or bad. If you hit it and weren’t good, nothing would come out.
How do the ChupaCarter books draw from your own experiences?
I had very strict grandparents, and a more active imagination than my friends. You know, they had siblings and parents, and I spent a lot of time on my own, watching television, drawing, and writing. I was thoughtful and not very outgoing as a kid.
I started to find my comedic voice in the early ’90s, and it revolved around my grandmother as kind of a muse. She was really something. No cars could go from zero to 60 as fast as my grandmother could go from calm to upset. I once went to school with butter on the back of my shirt because she’d thrown a butter knife at me, and I ducked, but it bounced off me. Stuff like that.
What’s your collaborative process like with coauthor Ryan Callejo and artist Santy Gutierrez?
Between Ryan’s ability as a great storyteller, and my wild imagination and ability to exaggerate things, it just became a great partnership. Ryan’s really easy to talk to. Like, we had a couple of long conversations while I was in Puerto Rico working on Blue Beetle [the forthcoming film based on the DC Comics Mexican American superhero], and I told him my idea for The Haunted Piñata, and it became such a fantastic story. And we sent things over to Santy, and it was really close to what we’d imagined. It was really expressive in the eyes and the hair and so forth. So we have this triangle of the guy who can tell a story, and the guy who grew up with this imagination, and the illustrator who pulls you in with his drawings.
What do you hope readers take away from these books?
There’s this awkwardness when you’re a kid, and I thought that if there was a kid out there like me, awkward and weird growing up, this book might inspire them. I want them to use their own imaginations and see themselves, or see something they can share with the world, and also recognize things that will stay with them: familiar or family things, little victories, some of the jokes, the behavior of parents and grandparents.
What’s next for you, both as a children’s book author and with other projects?
For the next ChupaCarter book, I’d like to explore a kid’s imagination, and the difference between what they see and what’s really there. Like I used to see weird things when I woke up in the middle of the night. So what do they see when their imagination runs away with them? And maybe nothing’s there, but then ChupaCarter shows up. I like the idea of someone thinking they’re isolated, but a friend comes back to be with them.
I’m also in the Blue Beetle movie. You know, sometimes when things are Latino projects, people don’t expect very much. This was only supposed to be an HBOMax movie, but then they thought it could work as a feature film. This movie is going to surprise people, and it’s going to thrust the character to a place where I would expect to see multiple Blue Beetle movies come out. In most movies, the hero saves the day, but in this one, the family goes to rescue the hero.
I’d also love to see the ChupaCarter series become an animated show or movie.
ChupaCarter and the Haunted Piñata by George Lopez and Ryan Calejo, illus. by Santy Gutierrez. Viking, $17.99 May ISBN 978-0-593-46600-1