Marisol Rios de la Luz is like many Colgate students: she hails from New York, majors in the sciences and plans her study abroad trip. Unlike most Raiders, Marisol doubles as a superhero whose powers range from superhuman strength to the ability to control natural elements. Marisol is the brainchild of Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez ’93, who paid a visit to Colgate on Thursday, April 27. In a talk with students and professors he shared his vision for Marisol – “La Borinqueña” – as a Puerto Rican superhero whose comic book can inspire activism.
La Borinqueña was published in December 2016 after a months-long campaign by Miranda-Rodriguez to sell his idea. Nearly a year prior, Miranda-Rodriguez had conjured his vision for a black, Puerto Rican woman as a comic book’s protagonist. He wanted to feed ‘the hunger people have for an image that represents them.’
By self-publishing the book through his studio Somos Artes, Miranda-Rodriguez was able to fast track its production in light of Puerto Rico’s economic problems.
To Miranda-Rodriguez, “La Borinqueña” is more than just art. It is a way of uniting the Puerto Rican diaspora and drawing attention to pressing issues on the island. The debt crisis, the question of Puerto Rican independence and environmental problems are particularly salient challenges Miranda-Rodriguez would like to address. But, he wants to make sure he does so in ways that are “more inspiration than lecture.”
According to Miranda-Rodriguez, Marisol’s struggle to register for classes due to faculty layoffs is a way of representing the debt crisis organically. By portraying issues through their everyday effects, Miranda-Rodriguez hopes to draw attention to crises without being overly direct.
Miranda-Rodriguez went on to discuss his choices in differentiating “La Borinqueña” from other comics. The comic is heavily bilingual: nearly every page includes Spanish, and some have no English at all. When asked to speak on his use of Spanish, Miranda-Rodriguez was steadfast in his opinion.
“This book was being produced on my terms,” he said. “And I don’t have to explain myself.”
“La Borinqueña” defies convention in other ways as well. The first issue does not have a villain storyline for Marisol, and Miranda-Rodriguez insists future installments will maintain that deficit. He wants readers “to fall in love with Marisol,” and to champion her causes for Puerto Rico instead of a fight against a villain. Similarly, Miranda-Rodriguez has no plans for a romantic subplot. While many comics have been written through a patriarchal lens, Miranda-Rodriguez said, he intends to promote Marisol’s independence by adopting a feminist view.
Marisol’s costume is intended to reflect this view. As La Borinqueña, she dons a long-sleeved bodysuit whose red, white and blue colors stem from the Puerto Rican and Grito de Lares flags. Miranda-Rodriguez commented on steps he took to avoid hypersexualizing Marisol; specifically, he noted an overall lack of exposure keeps the costume from being too suggestive.
Miranda-Rodriguez’s claims did not please everyone, however. Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Meg Worley, who teaches Colgate’s Rhetoric of Comics course, expressed dissatisfaction for “La Borinqueña’s” look.
“Ultimately, I wasn’t convinced by his insistence that he did not conform to the usual comic book conventions in representing the female body,” Worley said. “Yes, [La Borinqueña’s] butt was bigger than Wonder Woman’s or Storm’s [from the Fantastic X-Men], but her waist was still tiny and her boobs were huge. Perhaps that’s just proof that you can fight the system, but you can’t beat it.”
Nevertheless, Worley was glad to welcome Miranda-Rodriguez. Having him at Colgate was a unique chance for students to expand on their class discussions of the comic. Those enrolled in courses with professors Danny Barreto, Ana Rios, Cristina Sernna and Meg Worley had all read La Borinqueña leading up to the talk.
Miranda-Rodriguez will release the next issue of “La Borinqueña” in December 2017. In preparation, he is curating a graffiti mural of the comic’s cover art to be unveiled in the South Bronx. It is a publicity move that is unconventional, artistic and ever-so Nuyorican – check it out in the coming months.