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Al Madrigal is a stand-up comedian, an actor, a television writer and a producer — and now he’s adding another job to his resume: comic book author. The Daily Show alumnus has partnered with artist Carlo Barberi and the creative platform AWA (Artists, Writers & Artisans) to publish Primos, a new series centered on Latin American characters that spans literal (outer) space and time.
The protagonist of Primos is Ricky Pascal, a seemingly ordinary teenager from the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights who discovers that he, along with two distant cousins, are direct firstborn descendants of the ancient Mayan emperor Janaab and tasked with saving the world from the forces of Janaab’s vengeful younger brother, Kan (both brothers, being time- and space-travelers, are still around).
The first issue of Primos is out in both English and Spanish today, and Madrigal spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his inspirations behind the project.
How did the idea to create your own comic book come together?
I’ve always been into comic books, and it wasn’t until I went to The Daily Show that I got to do a comic book podcast, and it turns out the other guy on the podcast with me was Axel Alonso, who was then the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. We discovered we had a tremendous amount in common: We both had nine-year-olds at the time who were super into playing hoops, we went to the same high school [St. Ignatius Prep in San Francisco], we have the same favorite restaurant in The City that we’re obsessed with, the same love of the Warriors and the 49ers, we’re both half-Mexicans and we’re both married to Koreans. And then his kid Tito and my son Max meet, and they are the exact same person.
He has me up to Marvel and we become fast friends and start talking about the lack of any Latino superheroes. They asked me what kind of comics I gravitate towards, and I always like the minor characters, because they were always more diverse. Like when you’re watching Super Friends, I was excited when Apache Chief came on.
When Axel made the shift to AWA, he nudged me and said, “Hey, remember when we were talking about creating our own comic book? Let’s do it now.” One thing I learned from The Daily Show was, are you going to complain or are you going to do something about it? So I pitched [Axel] a couple of things, and I had luckily stumbled upon this Mayan emperor named K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, who ruled from 603 to 683. His dad wasn’t royal; he got to become the emperor because they thought him to be the descendant of the First Mother. I also found really Indiana Jones stuff: archaeologists had been looking for his tomb this entire time and only found it in 1952 because it was hidden behind this coded wall-staircase. And then where fiction takes off is they went to find his body, and it was gone because he had been in space for centuries. We used that as a jumping-off point to get us into this series where the narrator is this 17-year-old Boyle Heights kid who just took mushrooms and acid at a party.
Why was it important to you to root your story in real Mayan history and culture?
You think about superhero origin stories and it’s spacecraft, aliens and toxic waste. The ring finds the Green Lantern, a scarab attaches to the Blue Beetle’s back. I thought it would be cool to do something with DNA and ancestry. Ricky Pascal, our hero, is in a line of first-borns from the First Mother.
When Janaab’ and his evil brother come back to Earth in 2022, they try to find their people, and people are selling waters at the pyramid they called home and trying to take selfies with them, thinking they’re Chilean pan-flute guys. They look throughout time and see obviously there was famine, and the conquistadors put the nail in the coffin of that civilization. I thought it was just a good way to tie it to everything that’s going on. Imagine this thriving culture, and you leave in 680 and come back in 2022 and look at all the change and what’s happened in the world. It allows me to sort of comment on what’s happening with Latinos today and how we’re still villainized in this country.
Why did you decide to publish both Spanish- and English-language versions of the issues?
You’re just looking at this completely underserved Mexican American and Mexican national community. I want a teenager to be able to go to a comic book store and see a character that looks just like them on the rack. On TV it’s the same thing: Every show I write and produce has a practically 100 percent Latino cast. It’s the same reason I wrote the comic book and it’s in Spanish. You want as many of those people to see that. I wrote this letter in the back: Yes, I’m doing this because somebody needed to, and I know there’s other people trying to do the same thing because we’re so underserved, but if this sparks someone to pick this up and write whatever their creative endeavor is and gives them the inkling to write their own thing, then that’s fantastic.
Is it too early to ask whether a screen adaptation of Primos is in the works?
Honestly, we’ve gotten a ridiculous amount of incoming traffic, so there’s a whole team on that. I want all four books to come out so people can see exactly where the story goes. But yes, there’s been a lot of incoming calls, writers and directors and studios are calling, so that’s awesome. We’ll see. Wouldn’t it be amazing to get that Invincible/The Boys treatment?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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