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Five questions for Raúl the Third

There’s so much to see in Raúl the Third‘s comics-influenced picture book ¡Vamos!: Let’s Go to the Market! (Versify/Houghton, 5–8 years). The story takes place in and around the bustling Mercado Cuauhtémoc as Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé make their way through the marketplace. ¡Vamos! is part of the debut list of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Versify imprint, curated by Kwame Alexander. See more at Out of the Box: “Versify at Harvard Book Store.”

1. How long did it take to create each of these intricate scenes? How did you know when you were done?

Raúl: It took quite a while! I sometimes worked on them for days on end. There was a lot of discovery involved in the process. Characters began to introduce themselves as I drew, and their actions would force me to follow them throughout the book. This was the case with the old lady feeding pigeons and other background characters. Important story elements, such as El Toro hiding in plain sight underneath a paper bag, also emerged. These complex scenes were also a fun way to introduce Spanish words and cultural elements to readers through signage on buildings or items in a shop.

2. Did you draw with specific vocabulary words in mind, or did you draw first and add labels (in Spanish) later?

Raúl: It was a combination of both. There were many words I wanted to include — when I created the first glossary it was out of control! I had hundreds of words in there. Margaret Raymo [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt senior executive editor] helped me rein it in. We have a disclaimer: “These are only some of the words found in Little Lobo’s story. Be sure to look up other ones you don’t know in a Spanish/English dictionary!”

3. The vibrant palette is so crucial to the illustrations — how did you collaborate with your very special colorist (and wife) Elaine Bay?

Raúl: We have collaborated on many different projects over the years, most recently SpongeBob comics. When the opportunity to create a series for Versify came along, I knew that Elaine needed to be a part of it. As a printmaker she has a unique understanding of print and print media and is very experimental. I wanted the book to reflect the border in ways that went beyond my illustrations, the Spanish, and the setting of the Mercado. Elaine also grew up in El Paso, Texas, so she understood the colors and textures of the Southwest border towns I was illustrating. Her colors reflect how the harsh sun affects the lighting; often it appears that color has been bleached from our pages. She had fun with textures, and used photos she had taken on our trips to El Paso to help color certain details. Basically, it’s a match made in heaven. It’s exciting to see each spread after it has received “the Bay touch.”

4. How did El Toro break his mask laces?

Raúl: El Toro almost losing his mask after breaking his laces is a story for another time. A masked wrestler never reveals their true identity, and El Toro is no different. Just like his favorite luchador, El Santo, El Toro fully intends to be buried with his mask.

5. What’s your favorite thing about the Mercado Cuauhtémoc?

Raúl: I love that the Mercado Cuauhtémoc provided my family with a living. I love the feeling of community — as kids running through the multilevel Mercado, we always had someone we knew watching out for us. The Mercado helped give me a sense of pride in my culture. It also inspired my artwork in ways that I am still discovering, and for this I will always be grateful.

From the April 2019: Spring News issue of The Horn Book Herald.

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