Kick out the Jams: An Interview with Punk Taco’s Adam & Makana Wallenta
Do you like music? Do you like space? Do you like intergalactic punk bands traveling across the galaxy to spread a message of love, acceptance and kinship while standing up for people and fighting for all things good in the universe?
If you do, and especially if you have kids, then Punk Taco‘s for you! The book is an all-ages romp that combines fun sci-fi, heartfelt messages about emotional growth and acceptance and a big dose of fun – and nachos. Don’t forget the nachos.
Creators: Adam & Makana Wallenta
Art: Adam & Makana Wallenta & Gabriel Mayorga
Colors: Lea Jean Badelles
Letters: Adam Wallenta
We recently spoke with Adam and Makana about Punk Taco volume 1 (available now) and volume 2 (on Kickstarter), and talked about the genesis for the character, the message and what it’s like collaborating as father and son. We also got a sneak peak at volume 2 that’s as chock full of fun, colorful and imaginative art as the first installment, so read on!
Thanks so much for your time. Adam, what inspired you and Makana to turn Punk Taco into a full-fledged comic?
We were hanging out and playing, and I mentioned I had this name for a character I wanted to create. Makana thought it was a great name and he started coming up with all of these far-out ideas. Just like that, he started building this world and we were going back and forth and it was a really positive, creative energy. I was hanging out with my son (who was 5 at the time) creating a universe of characters, like I imagined Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had, and I knew that I wanted to keep it going and build something that we could share together. Time goes by really quick, and when you have kids it feels like it goes by even quicker. When sometimes more than half that time is spent working, it’s important to make sure the time spent together is quality. I figured if I could share my work with my son, it would make it a lot more fun for me, and I wouldn’t feel so guilty being in the studio all the time. The idea was we could share our creative energy and hopefully build a strong bond.
That’s lovely! What’s your creative process like with Makana? Do you sit down together and flesh everything out at once, or does it come over time?
For the first book, it happened very naturally. As I mentioned, we were just playing when we initially started talking and coming up with ideas. I then took those notes and organized the structure of the story and discussed it with Makana. He would then give me the thumbs up or down and make more suggestions. When it came to the dialogue I would write out what I thought would work based on the personalities we created and then read it back to him. If he liked it or if it got a laugh we would keep it. If not, he would tell me what they should be saying, and I would use what he thought was best. For the second book we took a lot of unused original ideas and built upon them, but we actually planned it out a little more.
Similarly, what’s your process like with Gabriel [Mayorga] and Lea Jean [Badelles]?
Working with them has been a pleasure. I start by doing rough layouts for the plot and script and send them over to Gabriel who does thumbnails and elaborates on my sketches. We go back and forth quite a bit, and I help him refine them whenever needed. Then we go into full pencils and I ink everything. For the colors, I initially sent Lea a rough palette of what I wanted for the colors and did some flats but then I let her run wild with it and bring everything to life with amazing color. It’s been a great back and forth collaboration with all.
There are some very nice Kirby-esque touches to the art in Punk Taco, and the book’s style is both accessible for kids and fun for adults. Did you set out to create a book both parents and kids could enjoy?
Absolutely. Since I was working with Makana on this, I knew I wanted it to be a book that both parents and kids can enjoy, but also accessible and fun for adults that don’t have kids. It starts with the kids though, and ultimately Makana had to enjoy it. We didn’t want it to be a book that was disposable as kids got older. We wanted it to be something that they could grow with and keep and reread over and over.
When I was a kid reading comics they didn’t dumb things down. They used big words and told stories with big ideas and mind-expanding concepts. I didn’t always understand it, but it sparked my imagination and curiosity and made me want to research and learn what I didn’t know. The best ones are still enjoyable to this day. These kinds of stories inspired me and I wanted to try and create that kind of reading experience for others. Kids are really smart, and if you write a smart story for them and don’t treat them like they don’t know anything, they will embrace it.
Makana, how’d you come up for the ideas for characters like Punk Taco and King Boogar? Also, who came first?
Punk Taco came first. My dad had the name already and I thought it was really funny so I just started to imagine what he would be like. I came up with King Boogar because I thought it would be funny to have a taco and a cheeseburger battle. I wanted him to have a French-fry Mohawk and have the French fries come alive, but we didn’t do that in Volume 1.
Punk Taco has such a positive message of love and acceptance, as well as learning how to process negative emotions. How much of that message comes from you, Adam, and how much comes from Makana?
All of those themes/concepts/messages are how my wife and I try and raise our children, so they are part of who we are. Love, kindness, acceptance and doing the right thing no matter how tough it is are just part of our daily lives as we do our best to raise two kids in this crazy world.
When we created PUNK TACO, I wanted to capture a moment in time with my son. He was between 5-6 and at a very sweet and silly age, but kids are constantly evolving emotionally, so we wanted to let young readers know that it’s ok to have all of these emotions. Makana has so much love in him, so it was a natural inspiration that helped fuel the entire story. I took those emotions and organized them in a way that allowed us to tell a structured story.
Makana, I really like the book’s message of love, and learning to be ok with feeling angry or sad or scared. What would you like people to learn from Punk Taco?
I’d like kids and adults to know that it is ok to be yourself and that we are all awesome and unique. I’d also like people to know that life isn’t always easy and sometimes you have to fight for what is right, like Punk Taco or Captain America.
Adam, we saw Punk Taco reunite a family, power an alien race’s spaceships, crush an intergalactic tyrant and make some killer nachos in our first adventure. What’s in store for Punk Taco and his crew in volume 2?
Punk Taco and his friends are intergalactic superstars, and on top of all that they just saved the galaxy from an evil tyrant. They’re heroes! That will inflate even the most humble taco’s ego. They are feeling pretty confident about themselves now, but at the end of Volume 1 they are pulled through an interdimensional wormhole.
When they come out on the other side they start to realize how small they are in the universe and realize that all living things are connected and important to each other. They are going to go up against a giant so large that it doesn’t even acknowledge their existence at first and they have to find a way to stop it from destroying a planet it only sees as an economic resource, not a living entity that flourishes with life.
Are you working with the same creative team?
Yes. Everyone is back and working hard.
Are you and Makana planning any other collaborations or comic adventures in the future?
Absolutely. Right now we have three volumes of PUNK TACO planned out. After that, we have several other projects with new characters he wants to work on. Makana is constantly creating new characters and stories – as am I – so we hope to pitch some projects to other publishers.
Makana, have you shared this book with your friends or teachers at school?
Yes, I have. It’s my friend Alexios’s favorite book. Today I even handed out PUNK TACO bookmarks to my entire grade. We’ve also donated copies for school charities and our local libraries.
What cool things are we going to see Punk Taco do in volume 2?
He’s going to battle a humongous alien. And we are introducing Meat-Werewolves. It’s a bit scarier than Volume 1 and the most dangerous characters are the ones you least expect. There’s also a really cool mech battle!
And the most important questions: Makana, if you could be anyone in the Punk Taco universe, who would you be and why?
I would want to be Punk Taco because he’s really cool and is a famous musician. He’s also kind and tough at the same time, like a superhero.
Adam, if Punk Taco was in a classic punk or alternative band, which one would he be in, and why?
Probably The Clash or Bad Religion because their music was aggressive but liberal and political and touched on a lot of social issues (equal rights, humanitarianism) and was outspoken against racism, but even when addressing serious issues they seemed to provide hope and inspiration, not negativity.