Tony Sandoval is a Mexican illustrator and author with a passion for strange stories. Born in 1973 in the desert of Northwest Mexico, Tony grew up with a love for art and music. Tony’s first US book, Doomboy, was nominated for a 2015 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens, and was selected by several best of lists that year. He followed that success in 2016 with Eisner Award nominations for Best Multimedia Artist, as well as Glance Backward, which he illustrated. Here we delve into three of his titles, including his latest, Watersnakes.
Rendez-vous in Phoenix
Dangerous though it may be, Tony is determined to cross the U.S./Mexico border to be reunited with his girlfriend and pursue his dream of becoming a comic artist. Armed with his Rottring .03 pen and a pair of very smelly sneakers, Tony faces the odds, border control, peril, and exhaustion in his quest for a better life. Sandoval’s art evokes the desolate landscape, and the first-person narrative offers glimpses of the hope and desperation fueling those who brave the journey north.
Immigration is undoubtedly a hot topic, and this autobiographical tale would be an excellent springboard for conversation with Upper-YA and New Adult readers—although do be aware of some language. Fans of Sandoval’s other work will not be disappointed, and while it’s not as dreamy as Watersnakes or Doomboy, there is a dash of ochre-tinged magical realism for good measure. Read it alongside other memoirs like Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do and Diane Guerrero’s In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, or other books and articles exploring immigration issues. Consider how things have changed in the 10 years since Tony crossed the border, and the perspectives of other characters in the story—the families Tony meets, the border control officers, the Coyotes, the stout bespectacled hosts that house Tony and his fellow travelers in Phoenix. You’ll find no shortage of conversation-starters in these pages, especially when viewed through a Cultural Competency lens.
D is a musician with a broken heart and a powerful imagination. After his girlfriend, Annie, dies, he finds himself with a literal gaping hole of sadness, and decides to send her musical messages under the guise of Doomboy. He becomes an overnight-mystery-solo-sensation, much to the chagrin of his former bandmates, and eventually finds closure with the help of his Doom Metal transmissions to the beyond.
Doomboy is a feeling tribute to the therapeutic power of artistic expression. Sandoval’s use of magical realism allows the reader to sense the mythic proportions of D’s emotions, and his innocent and earnest temperament will elicit empathy and consideration for what others may be battling beneath the surface. Do be aware of some language, violence and suggestive content. The story will speak to those experiencing loss, as well as metal fans and anyone looking for a heartfelt story with a little edge. Fans of Will Walton’s novel I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain may find connection here as well.
Watersnakes is a gripping, fantastical tale of two girls, a mouthful of ghost-teeth, and an octopus king. No, really, it is. Mila’s summer is turned upside down when she meets the adventurous and mysterious Agnes, and the two have all sorts of adventures, from pilfering picnics to defeating skeletal wolf minions. New Adult and Adult fantasy, paranormal, and horror fans will enjoy this, as will anyone who appreciates darker shades of whimsy. There are some potentially unnerving visuals, including a rather bloody dream-battle, so give it a read before handing it to a student or younger library patron. The dreamy illustrations could give way to writing prompts and panel analyses, and in general are worth poring over. Themes of friendship and courage are present throughout, and it’s certainly a story to get lost in.