Graphic Novel Tells Grim Story Of Cuban Revolution
ALLISON KEYES, host:
I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
A rising star on the so-called good ol' boys circuit is a 17-year-old boy from Colombia, South America. It's part of NASCAR's effort to recruit talented people of color to the racing ovult(ph) of America. We'll talk about the drive for diversity initiative in a few minutes.
But, first, the autobiographical tale of a young woman's life during the Cuban revolution, told with drawings. The book is called "Cuba: My Revolution" and it's a graphic novel. The story is set in the late 1950s when 17-year-old Sonya is about to set aside her dream of becoming an artist to join Fidel Castro as his rebels overthrow the government. Along the way, her life takes some challenging turns.
We're going to hear from the illustrator, Dean Haspiel, about how his drawings helped the story come to life.
But, first, the author herself, Inverna Lockpez. Welcome.
Ms. INVERNA LOCKPEZ (Graphic Novelist, "Cuba: My Revolution"): I am so delighted to be here, Allison, you know, and really great that we can have a conversation.
KEYES: I am curious. Having read this, it's so visceral. There's so much blood. There's so much graphic - I mean, it was difficult to read. I wonder if it was difficult for you to write.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: It was quite difficult. I was living in New York. I left New York, came to Florida. And the reason why I did that was a sound, a smell, brings you back to memories when you were a child, of your first love, of your first relationship.
So I came back to Florida to listen to the sounds of the water, the crickets, the smell of the grass after a big rain. And it brought me back like it was yesterday. I wrote down the first memory and the first one brought the second one, the third, and then 300 pages came about.
KEYES: What was the first memory you wrote down?
Ms. LOCKPEZ: The first memory was that night, December 31st, 1958 when we were all getting - putting ourselves together, getting dressed and we were going to celebrate new year. And you know why that came back? Because when we went to the restaurant, the firecrackers were immense. And it was raining and the sound was the rain and the firecrackers, and it was the rebels - they were really were attacking and coming down from the mountains. And they were really entering different areas of Cuba.
And the sounds of that night, with the sounds of the crickets in Florida, brought me back to that first day.
KEYES: So, these are things that you actually saw and experienced, the body parts and the dead people? These are things that you actually saw and experienced?
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Yes. Remember when you are very young, you always feel that you are invincible. You really sent to the army. People are really very young. They think, that will never happen to me, I won't die. And I volunteered. I really believed in what Castro was saying. I total believe him. And I didn't know that you had to compromise and you have to do with these negotiations as you grow older. So that kid was incredible experience.
KEYES: Let me back up and ask you to share a little of the story with the audience, who hasn't read the book. And it starts out with the character, Sonya, as you said, she's dressed up. She and her mom are getting ready to go out. And then all kinds of terrible things happen to her. Tell us a little bit.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Everything that really happened in the book really happened to me. She goes through a period of believing in the revolution, and wanting to participate and putting aside her career as an artist and becoming a physician.
Then the Bay of Pigs comes. It's an event that happened in April of 1961 where one of the invaders that was a Cuban, she discover him and he was injured. And at that time, Sonya is a student, but because of the lack of physicians in Cuba, she was able to do a series of surgeries.
KEYES: She was a doctor. Or she was acting as a doctor.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Yes. And they asked me to operate on him without anesthesia. And it happened that this was the first love of my life. We met when we were teenagers. He left Cuba because his family was against Castro. And he was in Miami and he came back as what is called a mercenary. He was trained by the United States to invade Cuba.
KEYES: And you were on the Cuban side, so you were then on opposite sides.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Yes.
KEYES: And you hadn't known it.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: No, I didn't. So, and he died. So that was the - I mean, first of all, I didn't understand why he was on the other side. And then, I, who as a doctor have to treat people in any side, because that is my duty, could not believe that the government will let them die. Because there was not enough blood and the blood was only kept for the Cubans.
And because of that, there is another individual, we were in a school treating the wounded soldiers, the Cuban wounded soldiers. And they brought one of the enemies. He was a captain. And they put him in a broom closet and they locked him and he was screaming the whole night. And I asked the soldiers to open the door because I wanted to give him morphine.
And I said to myself, I am not going to let this one die. This is not going to happen again. And, of course, you know, they opened the door, I cleaned this guy, I cure, I put bandages around and he has a virgin hanging from his neck, a gold necklace with a patron of Cuba, the Black Virgin. And he gave it to me and I took it.
And they closed the door. They put the guy back. And the following morning I am really on the floor totally exhausted and they kick me and they asked me, you're going back to Havana because you are part of the CIA.
KEYES: So you were tortured.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Yes. I was half dead. I was burned. But the burns and the physical wounds are not the ones that remain, it's the betray - it's the revolution could be doing that to someone that was a believer.
KEYES: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes and we're talking with Inverna Lockpez about her new graphic novel called "Cuba: My Revolution." We're also joined now by the illustrator, Dean Haspiel. And thanks, Dean, for sitting in with us.
I'm very struck by the appearance of this book. I mean, I want to overuse the word graphic, but it really hits you right between the eyes. And your colors are so visceral. I mean, you used black, you used red, you used gray and white, but why not full color?
Mr. DEAN HASPIEL (Illustrator, "Cuba: My Revolution"): Early on, before I drew the first page, I decided to - we wanted to have a limited palette and we were going to use two colors and we finally arrived with black and red. Red alone evokes revolution, romance, blood, passion. And I thought it worked really well once we finally decided and settled on those colors.
And you'll notice that some of the book kind of sticks to the gray palette, but then the red will come out during the more emotional scenes.
KEYES: I wonder how the two of you worked as a process. You're both artists. How did you, Dean, conceive the pictures to illustrate her words?
Mr. HASPIEL: Well, I've been writing and drawing comics since I was 12 and professionally the last eight years I've written and drawn by own semi-autobiographical stories. So I feel like I can discover and create a good balance between the hyperbolic and the sensitive.
And when Inverna finally divulged her story to me, I saw both and I felt like it was going to be the greatest challenge of my career thus far. But I was ready to meet that challenge with what I had drawn before.
KEYES: And Inverna, why did you decide to tell this story with pictures instead of something with words?
Ms. LOCKPEZ: First, because I am a painter and I see the world very much in pictures and frames and colors. And, second, because I know Dean for a long time and Dean wants to illustrate the book and I know his work. And also because I like things that are quite difficult. When you are working by yourself as a writer or as a painter, you take all the decisions. You don't have to consult with anyone.
In this case, I was putting my trust on Dean's being able to visualize all the emotions that I was going through, and the pain and the drama and the joyful and the humor. And also we were working with a colorist and we were working with an editor. All of that is like a piece of theater.
And when the collaboration went ahead, it was extremely inspirational. It was difficult. It was a challenge. But I think the book became very much like a piece of artwork.
KEYES: Inverna, I just need to ask you, what do you want readers to take away from this novel?
Ms. LOCKPEZ: It's about very much believing in yourself. The narrative has been, really, the backdrop of my life. And when we are younger, sometimes we are fools, but, also, we're gods. And the majority of the situation, we rise to the occasion. You have to believe in yourself. You can't be full of fear or intimidation. You have a responsibility, when you don't like injustice, you have to talk and you can make a difference in the world.
KEYES: Inverna Lockpez is the author of a new graphic novel called "Cuba: My Revolution." She was kind enough to join us, along with illustrator Dean Haspiel from NPR member station WLRN in Miami, Florida. You can find her book in stores now, and we will have some pictures from it on our Web site. Just go to npr.org, click on Programs and click on TELL ME MORE. Thank you much for joining us.
Ms. LOCKPEZ: Thank you to you for really asking pertinent questions.
Mr. HASPIEL: Thank you, Allison.