Not to make any aspiring aristocrats of the social networking scene feel inadequate or anything, but the half-naked cartoon woman on the cover of this year’s Love & Sex issue probably has more friends on MySpace.com than most living, breathing, actually desirous-of-friendship cyber socialites.
Of course, being an illustration, it’s easy for ‘Gata’ to be presented as more likeable—and tantalizing—than your average acne-addled, angsty, indie-rocker wannabe. Gata is barrio royalty in the world of the ‘Homies,’ the cast of eses and esas brought to life by artist and entrepreneur David Gonzales, and largely known for being sold for 25 cents in vending machines.
In fact, 140 million Homies have been sold out of vending machines, a Nintendo DS game called Homie Rollerz has been launched and a television show—kind of a contemporary, edgier Fat Albert—is well on its way. SFR talks to California-based Gonzales about his home, his Homies and doing the cover for this week’s issue of SFR.
SFR: Is it true you’re from New Mexico?
DG: My father’s from Raton, my mother’s family came from Albuquerque and I’ve got family all up and down the state. In 1994, when I was selling mostly T-shirts, I moved to Taos for four years. I loved it, but my business started to suffer, and I just felt like I had to be back out in the Bay Area and closer to Hollywood as well. But New Mexico has always been good for me in general: Marcos Romero and I took first place at the state fair with a carved viga and I designed the ballroom doors at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. I still have to sneak back for chile and piñon.
Your characters are based on what you see in contemporary Latino culture—how much is translatable to norteño culture versus just being purely urban?
When I initially designed the characters, especially the first core group, I was 18 or 19 years old and into lowriders. I drew the people around me and I drew from the scene in Española. There are a lot of people there into the Latino culture, maybe not like your typical Chicanos like you find out here, but there are commonalities and a lot of the same flavor. Some of the very early characters—Alien Ese who crash-lands at Roswell and evades the men in black by becoming a chilero in Chimayo and El Chilote—are totally New Mexico.
Are there any upcoming New Mexico-inspired characters?
Not right now. If I ever wanted to do a Homie that likes to go four-wheeling and elk hunting, I’d probably look at New Mexico, probably base the character on a Tafoya or a Duran. I do love the people there; I like the richness of the Spanish Catholic tradition, the santuario, the penitentes, the luminarias in the snow. And the skies, the landscapes, everything is a giant canvas in my eyes.
You’ve gotten hassled in the past for promoting stereotypes and gang imagery…
I tell people I use stereotypes to break stereotypes…there are rough characters just like there are in any community and there are priests and there are gangbangers and guys selling corn on the street. You know, it’s art and I don’t have to explain it, but if a person is predisposed to consider someone in baggy pants a gangbanging
bum, there’s nothing I can do—that is that person’s personal issue.
With an image like the one for the SFR cover, do you expect complaints about sexual stereotypes or promoting unrealistic body expectations?
I don’t know. That’s a sexy picture, I guess. I have had comments about sexism. At one point I was approached by a group of machistas, so I made a character called Adelita, who is an activist student with her fist in the air. But you know, this isn’t a political movement, it’s entertainment. In the story of the Homies, Gata and Hollywood (the male character on the cover) are a couple. That’s what my wife looked like when I met her and that’s the kind of big hair I had when I started drawing all these characters. This cover, it’s love, it’s Valentine’s Day. Based on what you guys have done in the past, well, you’ve done more controversial covers than this.
The Homies all have detailed back stories that can be read on your Web site (homies.tv), stories that often challenge visual stereotypes. Are there any gay or transgender Homies?
No transgender Homies. I have been approached by the gay community. So far, there’s one guy, he’s like the barber for this big cartel guy and he ends up going into hiding in a little barber shop in LA and he happens to be gay. But maybe more will surface in the future. I’ve got lots of races, Jamaicans, Koreans, all kinds of Asians and even a journalist, with a sensitive ponytail and a notepad. But, you know, how do you incorporate everyone?
Do you feel pressured to represent ‘everyone’?
More important, I think, is to stress the big issues. We try to impress on people that all forms of life and lifestyle are valuable. There are a lot of messages in my characters about the consequences of hatred, violence and bigotry. When we have a character who is bad, we say why he’s bad, point out that he’s going down the wrong path. In a way, I could have exploited the Homies and made more money off of them, but by self-censoring and walking an edge, I can feel pretty good about what I’ve put out there.