Five questions for Pedro Martín

Nine kids. One motor home and a pick-up truck. In Mexikid: A Graphic Memoir (Dial, 10–14 years), Pedro Martín recalls his family’s 1977 road trip to pick up his abuelito from Jalisco, Mexico. 

1. You seamlessly incorporate a few artistic styles. How did you decide which would best capture a mood or moment? 

PM: I like to say my artwork is consistently inconsistent. But in this case, it worked to my advantage. My plan was always to introduce a vintage comic-book aesthetic when talking about my abuelito’s adventures. It kind of seemed the only way to see through young Pedro’s hero-obsessed brain. The other style changes came more organically. I felt like there were some moments when I needed to slow the reader down. In those instances, I drew the same as I usually did but added a lot more visual details hoping to get people to stop for a second. Some bits were more about the humor of the moment, so I took details away to speed things up. 

To tackle the historical moments, as well as the death of my abuelita, I softened things up considerably and used a pencil line with a limited-color pastel feel. I felt that my regular cartoon-style would take away from the gravity of those parts of the story. 

2. Did the experience of learning, writing, and illustrating your grandfather's stories and that history influence your own identity journey? 

PM: One hundred percent. Learning about his life, the hardships he had to endure so that we could eventually come to the States, made me really appreciate what I have. But also, how far removed I had become from my roots. Living in the Midwest, I rarely get the chance to speak Spanish or shop at Mexican markets or even hear our music on a day-to-day basis. So, working on this book has had the effect of filling me with all that cultural goodness I had been missing out on all these years. I tried to absorb as much “Mexican” as I possibly could while I worked on this project…both for myself and for the book.

3. What does your family think of the book? Would any of them tell a different version of anything from that trip? 

PM: I think they’re pretty cool about it! No lawsuits pending. (Quickly checks email). Actually, in a very real way, my family had a huge hand in crafting these stories. These are the stories we used to share at holidays and get-togethers. And everyone always had their own personal take on any given event no matter who was telling it. Our family motto is and always will be: “Hey! That’s not how that happened!” 

All these alternative takes on family history gave me a treasure trove of memories and moments to work from. Some of the funniest bits in the book came from observations by one family member or another that probably came up during one of our many tequila-infused Christmas dinners. 

4. Any good stories to share about family trips as an adult? 

PM: One of the last trips we took was to a cookout up on Mount Madonna in the Santa Cruz Mountains. As the parents set up for lunch, all us kids (and the kids of kids, some of them in strollers) decided to hike up to see some sort of ancient ruins or something. Not only did we not see any ruins, we got hopelessly lost in the woods for hours. HOURS! When we found our way back, everyone was packing up the food and getting ready to leave. We found out later that there weren’t any ancient ruins up there. Someone had a vague memory of seeing a ruin on a mountain once and talked us all into believing it.

5. Best and worst songs for a road trip? 

PM: I know you want me to say “Shipoopi” from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man is THE WORST. It totally is. Top to bottom a real yuck-o. BUT: if your goal is to torture or warp the mind of a jerky family is THE BEST. Clearly, you will end up undoing your own mind in the process. But with all good things, there is a hefty price. Shipoopi Madness! The actually best song off that soundtrack? “Ya Got Trouble.” It has the word boob in it. 

From the September 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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