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UPLIFTT | March 29, 2017

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Alt Control Delete: Interview with Ramón Govea

Alt Control Delete: Interview with Ramón Govea
César Vargas

In the spirit of profiling our most promising up-and-coming talent, here’s an interesting (and telling) interview with California-born Mexican comic book aficionado and creator, Ramón Govea. The man decided to tackle with his work what we here at UPLIFTT set out to rectify through unapologetic advocacy and awareness: negative stereotypes and misogynistic perspectives in the media. Here’s what he has to say about his latest project, Alt Control Delete, and his experience in the publishing industry.

Why did you go into comics? What is it about them that appeals to you?

From the moment I read my first comic, I knew it was a medium I wanted to use to tell stories. I still remember being about 9 years old and finding a hardcover comic book version of Hamlet in the public library. I fell in love with Shakespeare and it legitimized comics as a form of storytelling for me. Until then, I had read Marvel comics, but the main reason I loved them, was that they effectively trigger the imagination by providing visual cues or checkpoints. They present rich worlds, but as a reader, you ultimately control the pacing and fill in the remaining action. It’s engaging in ways that other visual media are not, and because of today’s evolving digital landscape, I think that aspect is incredibly important.

What propelled you to create Black Mast Studios? Is it because of any difficulties in joining the major movers and shakers such as Marvel or did you want to start something separately without the gatekeepers?

It’s an interesting time to be working in the entertainment field. On the one hand, you have these traditional media dynasties that have run things for decades. On the other hand, the digital revolution has made content king – which then allows the smaller independent creators to have a shot at some marginal success. At this point, it’s all about reach. I had always dreamed of working for the majors as a kid, but that’s only because that was all that existed. I’ve been on the Internet since I can remember, because my dad was a self-taught IT guy back in the late 80’s.

I’ve been watching this digital evolution for along time, and the radical changes in media presentation in particular. In order to build a career, most of the time, it’s about having a pre-existing body of work to show big companies or investors, so that’s what drove me to create Black Mast Studios. I knew that in order to get my projects produced, not only in comics, but in film as well, I had to learn the business and produce my own work along with the work of other artists who are NOT business savvy.

So, the intention was simply to get high caliber projects made in a legitimate means that the big leagues would respect; that requires a business. For me it’s about positioning, not necessarily about avoiding gatekeepers. The hard truth is that these big companies have a lot of the money. I had to learn from people who built their careers the traditional ways of jumping through hoops for gatekeepers and I’ll admit, especially as a minority, it all sounds pretty awful. So I’ve applied what I’ve learned from people who made it through those hoops, and with the Internet, you at least don’t have to start at the bottom anymore.  If your content competes, you can skip up to the highest levels of gatekeepers for the big money, which translates to a larger platform for your voice.

As a Latino, how has the industry treated you? Have you ran into any obstacles or has it been easy for you to navigate certain waters within the industry such as the comic book industry?

It’s hard to say, really. Considering the fact that I’ve gone the independent route, I can’t say I’ve faced much of the discrimination that a lot of my friends have in the publisher, studio, and network setting. And though being Mexican is a critical part of my identity, I don’t necessarily use my ethnicity as the sole definition of who I am. Some people do, and that’s perfectly OK. I have a lot of other qualities that make me the best partner for certain projects, especially when it comes to digital media, so when I choose who I work with, the bottom line is I have a zero tolerance policy for prejudice. I don’t care if you’re the president of the biggest company, if you consistently treat me or those around us with disrespect based on ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, or other judgmental reasons, then F off.

That’s part of why I went the Independent route. The time and place for all that BS is long gone. Not that it has ever been appropriate, but if we are to progress as a species, ethnicity needs to become secondary in thought to skills, personality, and heart when it comes to both business and personal relationships. I will say it becomes pretty clear where people stand when they don’t realize you are Latino. It baffles me that people can be so bluntly racist or sexist by assuming you either feel the same way or want them to like you enough to sell out or brush it off. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some great people and have walked away from business relationships with ignorant ones.

Tell us about your comic book series, Alt Control Delete.

Alt Control Delete is a science fiction comic book series set in a world where everything is gamified. Video games have evolved into a high stakes professional sport like fútbol or basketball. Players backed by corporate entities plug into virtual reality consoles and compete for the global power structure. In this world, money has shifted into Experience Points – so currency is earned based on a game-like point system for accomplishing things and performing tasks in both games and in real life.  It’s an action-thriller that I initially wrote as a web series.  Doing a live-action version is definitely still part of the plan with this.  I saw comics as the perfect starting point to present the world and connect with the fan base.

What social issues does Alt Control Delete tackle?

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Because the story takes place in this dystopian futuristic world, I wanted to incorporate ideas that I believe will still be relevant down the road for our future. I’m talking 50 to 100 years from now, so a lot of them have to do with technology including Artificial Intelligence and the continued use of the internet. Themes and ideas like identity in the real world vs. the virtual world and the rise of bio-engineering are what make this science fiction, but there are some other issues I felt needed our attention in mainstream stories. That’s the perception of minorities and women in society. We have reached a point now where the topic of objectification of women (and even men) is an important dialogue. The treatment of  minorities, including the LGBT community, is a big issue that we should not be hiding from in mainstream platforms.

There is a pushback right now, and particularly with digital storytelling we’re seeing more stories that embrace the underrepresented members of our society and push for acceptance, but we need to see more – a lot more. I have an approach that fits within the context of this futuristic world and I hope readers will pick up on the underlying messages without me having to beat it over people’s heads.  This is not a political piece, but I do hope readers pick up on the satirical undertones. Our protagonist is a woman who becomes jaded by the commercial representation of women in gaming tournaments. Her virtual character or “avatar” in gaming jargon is a representation of what we see in Hollywood today. So there will be some real conversation about that.

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In our future, I see racism eventually dissolving as we cross racial barriers more and more frequently to simply keep our species alive. At some point, we’ll all have a diverse set of genes.  I think National Geographic did an article on this a while back and showed photos of the average person in 20 or 50 years.  Surprise, surprise, they were ethnically diverse in so many ways, so all the characters in this story will exemplify that. I think “Ethnically Ambiguous” is the hot Hollywood phrase in casting right now.

Can you tell us why we should stand behind your project besides the obvious of putting more of us out there? Why should folks contribute to your Alt Control Delete Kickstarter campaign?

It is my hope that as an underrepresented voice in mainstream media, Latinos start spending more money, not only on Latino creators, but really on movies, games, and comics that break stereotypes in general. If we are constantly spending our money on Michael Bay movies or projects that show Latinos as nothing more than gang-bangers, landscapers, maids, and dishwashers, that’s what big companies will keep producing.

The fact of the matter is I am Chicano. My father was a Mexican immigrant who raised himself out of the projects of the San Fernando Valley and struggled for decades, working 3 to 4 jobs to pay for my education.  He served in the US Army and got his education so that I wouldn’t grow up to become a stereotype. I waited tables for 10 years to pay the bills and fund my passion, so I’m no stranger to struggle. I also happen to have two fellow Mexicans, Eddie Nuñez and Ander Zárate, working on this book, but I chose them based on talent first. It was later I found out they were both Mexican too. The most important thing I want anyone to see before anyone looks at our ethnicity is the quality and talent behind the book. These guys are amazing at what they do, and they have worked for big companies like Marvel, DC Comics, and Boom! My question is why aren’t they working for them on regular books? Is it because they are Latino?  I don’t know. But all our hard work outside of the big publishers is in vain, if no one, Latino or otherwise, buys our projects.

Kickstarter is brilliant, because what it offers is the chance to pre-order a copy of the book. This isn’t a donation. We have everything in place to create a book that we hope will make a dent in the comics industry with our unique voices. It will show the majors that we shouldn’t be ignored simply because we’re not “connected.”

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More importantly, I think a lot of Latino artists can relate. It is not easy to break into the entertainment industry without these relationships and connections. Nepotism still rules. I don’t have an uncle or dad running a studio or working in comics. Truth be told, there aren’t enough Latinos in the industry at all, which explains why stereotype-driven crap like Devious Maids gets renewed on TV. To me, this is about more than being Latino. It’s about being an underrepresented voice. We are a majority – plain and simple. I know this is a project that several minority groups will resonate with, but it needs traction to move forward. That translates to money. The bottom line is we will continue working on this project with our without Kickstarter support, but with it, we can prevent anyone from jacking the idea. It’s out there now, so the faster we finish, the better shot we have at making a big splash this year. I have big plans for this imaginary world that transcends comics and a clear message I’d like to send the gatekeepers.

There you have it, folks. I don’t know about you, but I am sold. Go over to Kickstarter and stand behind one of our own. Not just because he’s Latino, but because this is excellent and promising work. Follow this link and contribute to the cause: Alt Control Delete.

Take a few seconds to check out the video.

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