As parents of still young kids (nearly 5 and 7 years old) it is sometimes difficult to meander the fine line of “that’s too babyish” and “that’s too mature”. This is problematic across all forms of media but particularly in TV/movies where violence seems prevalent even in “kids” shows. If I am perfectly honest, prior to my recent experiences of reading comics geared toward kids/all ages, I have long worried that comics would be another medium that introduces violence at too young of an age for my kids. What I didn’t know then was how captivating comics can be and how they can work in such a positive way.
As I’ve commented on other blogs, the amount of material being created and geared toward kids is exploding and becoming more common place in libraries and bookstores everywhere. I look at books like Cardboard Kingdom and Sanity and Tallulah where there are challenges and conflict but the resolutions are creative and empowering.
I’m not sure if anyone out there is reading this, but as a comic book podcast and blog, the GotS crew is truly passionate about educating/informing the public about comics and introducing people to comics they might not have considered previously. And I, as a mom, am most interested in finding comics for you to enjoy with your kids, that also teach a lesson, that aren’t too babyish and aren’t too mature. Hence, I bring you a newish book on the block…Punk Taco.
Punk Taco is the story of a space-taco and his bandmates who travel around the galaxy playing to their fans and helping people where they can. In the first installment, Punk Taco befriends a very hungry alien who turns out is a refuge from a planet just overtaken by the evil tyrant King Boogarr (a hamburger of course)– who thinks he can just take over everything and make everyone his slaves. Punk Taco promises his new friend that together they will go rescue his missing family and fight to free the planet. Though the band’s music and message of peace and love, plus a few well timed karate kicks, King Boogarr is defeated and carted off by the Galactic Union. However, the book ends on a cliffhanger as the Punk Taco van is snatched by a giant hand extending from a black hole!
Through the Twitter-verse Ghosts of the Stratosphere was able to connect with creator Adam Wallenta who wrote the book with his young son Makana. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ask him a few questions about this book and the forthcoming Volume 2.
First a little background. What’s your comic book story? When did you first get into them? What were/are your favorite series/characters? How did you get into the creating of comics?
I’ve been reading and collecting comic books for as long as I can remember. Somewhere between the ages of 5-6 I was given my first Spider-Man and Batman comics and I’ve never been able to stop reading them. Spidey is definitely my all time favorite along with Captain America but I have love for all of them.
I always loved to draw and write. I started writing my own stories when I was about 6-7. I used to illustrate the pictures and then put them into our typewriter and type out the story in an attempt to make it look like a real book. Many years later I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY to study illustration and while attending I got an internship at Marvel Comics. While interning at Marvel and learning the ins and outs of publishing, I was hired as a colorist and got my first professional work.
From there I continued to work as a professional illustrator and colorist as well as doing editorial work and then started my a publishing company called American Mule Entertainment that I ran between 1997-2017.
That is so cool—I’m completely non-creative. I’m good at following instructions to make something but horrible at making my own creation. I’m glad to see Makana takes after you!
Speaking of, Makana, when was he first introduced to comics? What are his favorites (aside from Punk Taco of course)?
I introduced Makana to comics the moment he was born. The first graphic novel I read to him was the Elfquest series when he was a newborn. We would put him in his rocker and I would sit next to him and read him to sleep. Since then he’s had an endless appetite for books and reading and devours everything he can. He’s 7 now and besides the books he reads on his own, we read together every night. Everything from classic Marvel Omnibus collections of the original Amazing Spider-Man series to Kirby’s Captain America, the Fantastic Four and more. He has a huge collection of books and some of his favorites include the Hilo series, Mighty Jack, Avatar the Last Air Bender, Tiny Titans, The Three Thieves series, Sci-Fu, Hero Bear, Rocket Robinson and Tin Tin.
Thanks for providing a wish list for our son Jakob’s 7th birthday later this month. 😜
So how did Punk Taco come about? What came first, the story or the character? Was it your idea or Makana’s? How did it evolve from there? How much was he involved with the actual writing of the comic?
I actually had the name bouncing around in my head for over 10 years. One day, Makana and I were just hanging out playing Lego and making up stories and I mentioned to him that I had this name “Punk Taco”. He thought it was hilarious and started coming up with ideas for the character, the story, and all of the supporting cast. From there he started doing some drawings and I helped him develop the art and structure the story and write the dialogue.
He was involved in the whole process and even helped produce some of the art in the book. Once the story and art was drawn, we would work on the dialogue together going back and forth with what worked and what didn’t. I wanted kids to enjoy it as well as adults so we had to work together to find that balance.
Clearly the focus of the story is anti-bullying. Is there an incident or situation that sparked this as the premise of the book or was it more of a general awareness?
As a kid I was bullied a lot but there was no specific incident that influenced this tale. As a parent, we’ve had some incidents at school we’ve had to deal with but nothing serious at this point. So I guess it’s just inspired by a combination of past experiences and the world we currently live in, where it seems like, even though there is more awareness than ever, we’ve been desensitized and a large portion of people have embraced a “tough-guy” bullying mindset. You would think at this point in history, the idea of bullying another human wouldn’t exist, but it does and people still feel alone, helpless and frightened. We wanted to create a character that helped those in need and let them know it’s ok to have this range of emotions and ask for help.
I love how your book talks about the simple yet incredibly strong power of love, especially in how you actually just spelled it out for the reader. As a parent in this sometimes (ok, often times) crazy world we live in, what other ways do you personally try to teach this lesson?
I think the best thing we can do is just lead by example. We show our kids endless amounts of love and affection and encourage kindness and empathy towards others. I try and express and vocalize my love for our family all the time as well as love for the world around us, from friends to nature, music, art and science and education. It’s not always easy, because there are plenty of things to vocally hate like war, racism, bigotry, sexism, poverty and corruption. So we have to make sure when we battle those things we do so in a positive way that helps spread love and talk about what we love more than what angers and frustrates us because that stuff will consume you.
I found the bully’s power of brainwashing very intriguing. Was there a particular reason you chose this as the villain power? Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but I felt it was very apt given the world we live in where it is so easy to be consumed by the webs spun around us, whether by trolling on social media, polarizing politics or hyper-reactive media outlets.
Being bullied physically sucks but once they get to your mind, they can really control you. You lose all self esteem and confidence, you get depressed and lose a part of yourself. So to me I feel like the worst bullies are the ones that use this power to destroy who we are.
On a different note, I have a couple of random questions.
- What type of taco is Punk Taco? Are we going traditional beef? Fancy fish? And can you actually eat tacos without pretending it is Punk Taco himself?
- When you think of Punk Taco, the band, what do you “hear” them playing? I mean, clearly it’s rock but are we thinking Rolling Stones vs. Stone Temple Pilot vs. the Eagles?
Great questions. We designed him to be a beef taco (although I prefer fish tacos) and of course he has a variety of extras including tomatoes, lettuce, onions and olives. Punk Taco himself is a vegetarian.
Punk Taco and the band are somewhere between The Clash and Bad Religion and Public Enemy and De La Soul. They are a positive, uplifting band that are vocal about injustices in society and they are not afraid to speak on these topics despite their intergalactic fame. They like to have fun and party though but there’s always a message in their music.
You are currently working on publishing Volume 2 and are pushing through the last few weeks of your Kickstarter campaign (check it out here!). How are you feeling about the project?
I’ve had projects stall and fail and not get funded in the past so it’s always nerve racking until you hit 100%. We’d love to go beyond 100% though because we have some great stretch goal rewards like a Punk Taco coloring book, and more story for Volume 2.
A $25 pledge will get you a copy of Punk Taco Volume 1 or 2 or you can get both for $50 along with bonus rewards like stickers, buttons, bookmarks, pins, original art and more. The book itself is an awesome oversized 8.5×12 hardcover and looks great on your bookshelf and both kids and adults love to hold and read it.
What have been the biggest challenges in self-publishing other than establishing funding?
Reaching a larger audience and distribution. Those are definitely the biggest challenges. The creative process is the most fun. When it comes down to the business, then it becomes a bit stressful. The comic book industry only has one real distributor and that is Diamond Comic Distributors. For 20 years they distributed my books and I never missed a deadline. For some reason they rejected Punk Taco and that really hurt us. We wanted to get into more stores and libraries but without them it has been much more challenging and we’ve had to do it all on our own.
This must have been so incredibly hard, especially for Makana. But I can only imagine the personal growth and resilience his is developing, learning that things just don’t happen overnight, they require work and effort and persistence.
Makana is now 2 years older (from 5 to 7 years old right?, which is a huge gap both academically and emotionally)–how have you seen his writing/creative process evolve? How has the collaboration between you changed (or has it)?
That’s correct. He’s a much better storyteller now and has learned a lot more about writing thanks to his teachers and his consumption of so many books. He’s a lot more opinionated on what we should include and has a great imagination. Nothing has rally changed in regards to how we collaborate, we’re just about to communicate better because he’s so much more articulate and understanding of the process and what it takes to make a book.
Well I for one am looking forward to Volume 2 and adding the books to our home comic book collection. Thanks for your time and best wishes!
Thank you for the great interview and to all the people who read it and support Punk Taco! Rock on!
No surprise here! I love it! Strong message, one that is so important for our kids to learn and for adults to be reminded of! Also beautifully made, great colors and classic comic book style.
BONUS interview from the little man himself:
Makana, what’s the coolest thing about working with your dad?
I really like working with my dad because we get to spend time together creating fun stories, and drawing and I love going to conventions because my dad shares the money we earn and I get to buy more books and toys.