Earlier this month on ComiXology Originals, writer Rafael Scavone along with the talented Rafael Albuquerque and Roger Cruz released a new series called Red Tag. This series centers around friends Lis/Lisa, Lu/Luciana and Leco/Leandro who take it upon themselves to stand up to the injustice and abuse they see on their streets. It explores life in Brazil as well as the world of Pixo, a Brazilian Graffiti art and has been 8 years in the making. Recently, we were fortunate enough to get a few moments with Rafael to discuss in detail the series and what he, Albuquerque and Cruz based the series on and what they hope to communicate with it.
Source of Red Tag
GVN: Thank you once again for sharing some of your time, Rafael. We last talked when you were doing your Hailstone series for ComiXology. Your latest effort is a book with fellow Brazilians Rafael Albuquerque and Roger Cruz called Red Tag. Talk about a book that jumps feet first into the fire. It grabs you right from the start. How did this book come about and how long was it in the works?
RS: Red Tag’s first insights came to us eight years ago. Only some aspects of the initial idea stood to the final version. The main one is the setting: São Paulo. Not only because of its megalopolis aesthetic, but also because I see São Paulo as a sort of test tube of Brazil’s future in a lot of aspects. From the social to the economics, from the culture to the counterculture. It’s a place where one can find comfy fancy high tech flats in the same neighborhood where others barely have huts made of cardboards for shelter. São Paulo is a place where you can enjoy the best haute cuisine in the World less than a kilometer away from people starving, struggling to have something for dinner. So, contrast was the other aspect of our initial idea. But I must admit that initial idea was very basic.
It consisted just on placing a silver spoon character outside his bubble and making him realize the absurd contrasts in that society. This idea development stayed on a hiato for two years until we got back to our notes and realized it wouldn’t work. At that time the Pixo got into scene and we decided our characters would be connected to this form of art – mostly because it’s natural, it’s a trademark of São Paulo, as chaotic and fascinating as the city itself is. The more I researched about Pixo, the more I saw it as an artistic language of brave artists who dare to take high risks for it, to leave their signature or spread a message.
Then, in 2018, something terrible happened in Brazil. On March 14th, Marielle Franco – a leftwing Brazilian politician – and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were brutally killed in Rio de Janeiro. They were shot dead by hitmen while leaving a work meeting. Marielle was a talented politician, a lesbian black woman from a poor community in Rio. She was a symbol of hope, tolerance and justice, and she had a brilliant trajectory ahead of her. I have no doubt she would certainly have pushed for deep and important changes. But she was cowardly hindered from her beautiful and crucial future story – and all of us, Brazilians, were too. This tragedy revealed to me how fast the democracy was spiraling down in Brazil, with Bolsonaro’s far-right politics as a synthesis of it – and in that same year he would unfortunately end up winning the presidential election.
Politics in Brazil is far from a fair game. Assassination of rising figures is not an exception at all: an average of 30 elected representatives are murdered each year. These crimes very often go unpunished with the help of law agents and justice servants that also enjoy benefits if “their” candidate wins over others. This reality shock about our fragile democracy was the last piece missing from our story. From that moment onwards it became clear to me that Red Tag should become a crime thriller inside Brazil’s heavy political atmosphere and how this violence can be traced back to our country’s dictatorial past. With those elements in mind, the story sort of wrote itself out.
GVN: You had a long list of material that you drew inspiration from for Red Tag with one of the most prevalent being the documentary Pixo. What was it about that story that motivated you in this new project?
RS: The documentary shows the roots of it, some of the artists that spearheaded it and also how part of the society – not surprisingly the most conservative one – reacted to it in all sorts of manners. From violence to legal persecution and even jail. So I think what motivated me most was a question it left loose in my head after the first time I saw the documentary: why do those glyphs and letters, which most people complain about and can’t even read or decipher, cause so much heat?
When I lived in São Paulo, a decade ago, I remembered some cry out debate going on questioning if Pixo – the art, not the documentary – was a real form of art. If it was beautiful or ugly and even if it should stay illegal or not. All bullshit questions, in my opinion.
Pixo as an Art
It seems they’re just an artifice to avoid the real concern in the heads of those who fight against a form of art. Because, if a pixo tag isn’t too different from a graffiti, which is legal in Brazil, why is pixo still illegal? It seems the real problem isn’t aesthetic, the problem is the pixadores, the artists. Where do they come from? And what social class they represent? Pixo is a social phenomenon in a long cultural war being fought through building’s walls, as if they’re pages of a big book being written.
One side leaves their art as tags and messages, occupying that space that is denied to them otherwise. And then comes the other side, as censors, trying to stop it, painting over, erasing it, chasing the artists and so on. But as a form of art Pixo is unstoppable. Pixadores aren’t going to disappear and of course they’ll win this fight in the long run. No one can stop art – or protest. And the tags they leave on the walls are also part of their identity.
GVN: The young people in the story are very brave, perhaps foolishly so. But their hearts are in the right place for the most part. Was this an important part of the story going in?
RS: Yes, it is. The intent with Red Tag was also to show its unusual heroes as good folks, people like us, who you can hangout with and chat about all sorts of subjects, from things that bring you joy in life, to the injustices we see happening in the day to day. Unfortunately, due to what I mentioned in the previous question, there’s great prejudice against pixadores in Brazil, with people tending to see them as delinquents who mess up walls and must be punished. So this is why the protagonists of Red Tag are pixadores and they’re sweet, great friends and have a sense of justice that, deep inside, I bet most of us agree with.
GVN: You are working with another of my favorites in writer/artist Rafael Albuquerque on Red Tag. When it comes to story creation, how does that collaboration work? Did you work closely with one another, or did you each put down how you envisioned the story developing and then compare notes?
RS: Rafa Albuquerque and I are old pals and we’ve been teaming up a lot in the last years. We used to share a studio too, which makes it even easier to collaborate when creating a story. Red Tag was slowly cooked in this “method”: brainstorming, noting, leaving it fermenting until we could go back to it and tweak or add a piece that was missing… until we got it all shaped to pitch forward. After we had it greenlighted, I got the scripting duties – and can’t deny I had loads of fun writing it.
GVN: You have teamed with talented artist Roger Cruz on Red Tag. Was Roger always your first choice for the book and did his excellent work inspire any changes in the story as you progressed?
RS: Yes, Roger was definitely our first choice for Red Tag! I’ve always been a huge fan of his art. In fact, I have been following Roger’s work since I was a kid. He was one of the first Brazilian artists to work for the US market and it happens he’s also one of the coolest people in the business.
So, many years ago I had the chance to edit a collection of his creator owned comic, Xampu (you can find it on ComiXology too). The series consists of three comic books filled with short stories with a bunch of young friends, fans of music, in a 1990s’ São Paulo. If you check the pages of Xampu it’s easy to realize that Roger is the definitive artist to represent São Paulo. He knows the town, its characters, its mood, it’s all natural to him. I find it unique. We didn’t need to change anything in the story to fit Roger’s work. In fact, visually speaking, Xampu is a sort of a beacon to us on how to depict São Paulo in the coolest way.
GVN: Thank you so much for talking to us for a bit. If Issue One is any indication, Red Tag is going to be a must-read book. Before I let you go, do you have any other projects that you want or can talk about?
RS: Thank you for the excellent questions! I really appreciated it. I’ve been working on some new comics by now, most of them creator owned stories. There’s also a comic of a well-known character coming up. But you know how these announcements work, so I’m afraid I can’t say more by now. But you’ll hear about it soon 🙂
The first issue of Red Tag is available now with issue two coming available April 5th from ComiXology Originals.
Senior Writer at GeekVibesNation – I am a 50 something child of the 70’s who admits to being a Star Trek/Star Wars/Comic Book junkie who once dove head first over a cliff (Ok, it was a small hill) to try to rescue his Fantastic Four comic from a watery grave. I am married to a lovely woman who is as crazy as I am and the proud parent of a 18 year old boy with autism. My wife and son are my real heroes.