“Lowriders to the Rescue” is the fourth book in a series of graphic novels for kids by Portland author Cathy Camper and illustrator Raúl The Third. The book opens with a forest fire started by a firecracker, which Camper says was a reference to the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. In addition to the series’ main characters — Lupe Impala, an octopus named El Chavo Flapjack, and a mosquito named Elirio Malaria — the book introduces a new character, a monarch butterfly named Sokar. The monarchs are affected by the fire and the three friends come to her family’s aid. Along the way, they learn about the ways that Arab and Latin cultures overlap. We hear from the author and illustrator about their latest collaboration and what they hope kids take away from the series.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Geoff Norcross: This is Think Out Loud on OPB, I’m Geoff Norcross. If you’re looking to teach your kids about the importance of helping others, being respectful of other cultures, doing good things for the environment, and even learning other languages? Well this is a great book: Lowriders To the Rescue is a graphic novel for kids by the Portland writer Cathy Camper, and the Boston Illustrator, Raul the Third. It’s actually the fourth book in their Lowrider series which has been called fantastically original, smart, funny and drop dead, cool. Cathy Camper and Raul the Third now join us on the line. Cathy, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Cathy Camper / Raul the Third: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Norcross: It’s great to have you. Cathy, if you would first start, you know, this is the fourth book as I mentioned, and you know the Lowrider series has three main characters in it. Can you introduce us to them, first? Cathy, are you muted by chance?
Raul the Third: Well, you know…
Norcross: Yeah, Zoom life, muting, Cathy... Do we have you?
Camper: Yeah, can you hear me now?
Norcross: I can, I can… I asked you about the three main characters in the Lowrider series.
Camper: Raul and I can share it. But the Elirio Malaria is a mosquito and he paints murals with his beak, and Lupe Impala is an impala, like an African deer, but she’s also named after the Chevy Impala, the chosen Lowrider, and she is a mechanic, and Flapjack el Chavo Octopus is an octopus and he cleans and buffs the cars…Raul, do you want to say anything else?
Raul the Third: Well, what’s exciting about this volume is that we have also introduced a brand new character named Sokar, who is also a monarch butterfly.
Norcross: Cool. And they all work together to get good things done, and we’ll get to that in a minute. The book, though, starts with a wildfire, that was started by a firecracker, and Cathy, am I wrong in thinking that sounds really familiar?
Camper: Yes. So Raul and I were working on this book, probably 2016, 2017, so it was highly influenced by what was going on. And I wanted, because it’s about the environment, I wanted to show the human and even, even the childrens’ contributions to things that destroy the environment. It would have been easy to have it be like a spark of lightning, but I wanted to show that we need to think about our actions and a lot of what we do even previously can have huge consequences.
Norcross: Yeah. And Sokar, the monarch butterfly who joins the friends in this volume, her father dies in that fire, and that’s a lot for a kid to take, maybe. Why did you feel it was important to include that scene in the book?
Camper: Well, actually, a lot of the Lowriders books is based on Raul’s life in El Paso, and I kind of realized I was missing from the books, and my father actually died, not like this, he died from cancer when I was 20 or 21, so Sokar has some things that reflect my own life, but I also thought about how, when he died, that really pushed me forward to… in activism, in doing things that made me realize you have to do what you need to do in life because you don’t know when that might be cut short, you know?
Norcross: I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t know how old Sokar is, but was she the same age as you?
Camper: No, No, she’s much younger, you know, but I also, I mean, it’s also a reflection of monarch butterflies, right? I mean she’s humanized, but butterflies, like on the West Coast, we’re struggling to keep the monarchs alive. So you know, it kind of reflects both humans and insects.
Norcross: Yeah. In fact all of these, all of these characters are kind of animal-human hybrid, and they have emotions and they form friendships and everything, like us humans do, but they also have their special gifts too. So why did you want to bring animal humans into a story like this?
Camper: Well I think one of the fun things about writing a comic is you can have all these… you can stretch reality and it’s not…just like, have someone fall off a cliff, and they don’t die. It’s like you can have… like I realized like we have humans and then we have kind of humanized animals which are like our characters and then there’s some characters that are just animals and there are some animals that transform, and if you think of shows like the Simpsons or other comics like that, that’s one of the fun things like you don’t have to stick to a reality or even have a total consistency throughout, right, like a character can get all beat up and the next show they’re back, and they’re normal and there’s nothing said about what happened. So I think both Raul and I really like to play with that, and that’s one of the possibilities that you get to do in a comic.
Norcross: You know, human humans are in this book too, and Raul, the humans don’t come off very well. They started the fire at the beginning, they’re also unkind, they’re bad to the environment, they make poor decisions. Why was it important to portray humans this way?
Raul the Third: Well, not all of the humans in the, in the volume are portrayed in this way. There are many that come together at the end to help out in the community, but there are those who are bad and not portrayed in a good light, and those are the ones who are coming in, running out the old-time community members, like Pepe, by gentrifying the community, raising rents, and it’s a reflection on what Cathy and I experienced living in cities like Portland and I live out here in the Boston area. So we were basically reflecting the world and the community that we experience on a day to day basis.
Camper: And also, we were writing this right when Trump was elected. So the first thing he did was the Muslim ban, and then he did LatinX, banning people and locking them up at the border and the ICE attacks, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] so a lot of what we, you know, every… like what the teachers were talking about, daily events, are reflected in the book, the kinds of things that our communities are facing.
Norcross: If you’re just joining us, we’re talking right now about Lowriders to the Rescue, a graphic novel for kids. Raul,the Third is the Illustrator and Cathy Camper is the Author. You brought some really cool cultural connections between Arab culture and LatinX culture into this book. And it’s probably worth mentioning that, Cathy, you identify as an Arab-American and Raul, you identify as LatinX. So maybe this is an obvious question, but where did that, where did that idea come from?
Camper: Well, I read about a group… I have been thinking about this because like I said, Raul’s history was…the first three books have a lot of El Paso reflected. But I thought I’m kind of invisible in my own books, and then I had been kind of collecting things and reading things about overlap between LatinX and Arab cultures. And then right when Trump got elected, there’s a group down in Southern California called Taco Truck at Every Mosque. And they had the brilliant idea of bringing Taco Trucks to Mosques so that the two cultures could see we’re not different, we’re the same. And they... they pointed out some things like names like Hernandez and Gonzalez. The ‘E-Z’ comes from Arabic, back in the days when the Moors were in Spain. So that, plus some other stuff that I was finding, like overlaps in the food and the cultures made me think this is perfect. And it reflects what Raul and I are doing, which is a collaboration between cultures. And like right now, although we’re talking about diversity, we often still pigeon-hole, like, this is a LatinX textbook, this is a Black textbook, But the reality for us is that no, we’re collaborators and our cultures and our work, is merging. So I was really excited to have a story that reflected what we also do. And when I talk to kids, I also say that, you know, you can collaborate with your friends and do the same kind of work. You know, it’s not like everybody has to be separate and pigeon-holed.
Norcross: You know, there’s a really cool scene in the book that kind of gets at that – Flappy, the Octopus, and Sokar, the Monarch Butterfly, are at a cafe, and they’re sharing bits of each other’s lunch with each other and Flappy says, ‘Would you like some refried beans on a tortilla?’ She says, ‘Sure,’ and Sokar says, ‘Would you like some hummus on a pita?’ And he says, ‘Sure.’ And they both said, ‘That’s great, it’s the same.’ And I thought you know, we really are talking about mashed beans on bread.
[All three laugh…]
The Third: That is a great scene.
Camper:Yeah, I love that. And I mean, I’ve had conversations like that with friends and also meals where you know, we all collaborated from our cultures, and it wasn’t just one one ethnicity, that is cuisine, that we eat.
Norcross: Raul,well, last question. What are you hoping young readers are going to take away from this book?
the Third: Well, for one, this is the fourth volume in our series, and for our longtime readers, I feel that they are really going to enjoy reconnecting with characters that they have grown up with. Secondly, I feel that this new book is a wonderful way to show our kids that they have the ability to make changes in the communities, positive changes in the communities that they live in and we show many different ways that they can help the environment by using sustainable materials. We have Cathy, you created some very…
Norcross: I’m very afraid we’re gonna, we’re not gonna have time to go there, but thank you so much for your answer, I appreciate it. That’s Cathy Camper, Author of the Lowrider series and Raul the Third is the Illustrator. I’m Geoff Norcross, thanks so much for tuning in to Think Out Loud. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Contact “Think Out Loud®”
If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show, or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to email@example.com, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.