Rodriguez’s debut graphic memoir, Worm (Metropolitan, Nov.), interweaves his anti-Trump political art with the story of his family’s exodus from Cuba in the 1980s.
What are some false assumptions that Americans have about Cuba?
Since I was young, I kept looking at how liberal America treats countries like North Korea or China as “bad.” What’s so different about Cuba? There’s this kind of love affair with everything Cuban. We’ve got the food and the dancing. Cuba had a very good PR campaign. But politically it’s not that different from North Korea, where you have one guy in charge for 60 years. Anytime that happens, horrible things take place.
How does your memoir respond to Trumpism and rising extremism?
In telling a story about immigration today, we say “ten thousand people showed up at the border.” But we don’t get into why they’re here. Most people do not want to leave their countries. I wanted to tell a story about why people leave, what they leave behind. As a political artist, I’m confronting what’s happening in America. Americans are maybe thinking “I don’t want to be here anymore.” Since I grew up with that experience, I felt that I could help them understand.
How has being a father given you insight into the choices your own parents made?
Once I had kids, I wondered: Could I do this with my own children? What would it take for me—after establishing myself as an artist and having a house and raising kids—to want to get out of here? That’s when I became interested in interviewing my parents.
I went back to Cuba in 2014 with my kids. We were in my hometown because I wanted them to know the place. At three in the morning, my daughter wakes up with a really bad stomachache and I tell my aunt, “We gotta go to the doctor.” But there’s no doctor here, and there’s no cars. I can’t take her. All of a sudden I was put in that place my parents were when I was a child.
How did you decide on the color palette?
I wanted to use limited colors, and what kept popping up were the red of communism—everything is red in Cuba—and the green of the military in the beginning of the book. Except when I landed in Miami. Had to use some pink in Miami! And then orange for Trump.
For a long time, I didn’t use red because it was commie red. Then, I wondered, “Why does a dictatorship have the right to own colors?” I started using it constantly.