The borderland becomes comic book fantasy as gunslingers and vampires stalk the high desert

(Courtesy of Jaime Portillo)

(Courtesy of Jaime Portillo)

EL PASO – The blazing sun was so hot here Saturday that the mean old Texas gunslinger Dallas Stoudenmire could have strutted right out of pages of the western comic book Hell Paso into the desert morning in a barrage of gunfire.

But the scoundrel stayed pressed into the pages of the colorful comic written by Jaime Portillo, which tells the adventures of the Old West marshal who lived in El Paso in 1891. Instead of outlaws and gunslingers the streets of Hell Paso teemed with comic book enthusiast anxious to meet their favorite comic book celebrities.

The El Paso Comic Convention helped network local artists to the national comic book community. Such was the case for Portillo, author of other comic books such as Gabriel (2004), The Railroad Killer (2009).

El Paso born and bred, Portillo enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Washington, D.C. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2002 and is currently earning a master’s degree from UTEP, while also working on his comic book series, Hell Paso.

Portillo’s first comic titled “Gabriel” tells an alternate version of the events that took place in Juárez, in which several women were found murdered. Rather than an anonymous killer, the murderer in Portillo’s story is a vampire who preys on women in Juárez. This story received positive feedback.

Jaime Portillo signing copies of "Hell Paso" at EPCON 2011. (Christian Guerrero/Borderzine.com)

Jaime Portillo signing copies of "Hell Paso" at EPCON 2011. (Christian Guerrero/Borderzine.com)

“They invited me for the ComiCon, I got a lot of positive reviews from [news] outlets, and I was kinda surprised that they liked it, especially for the first one. I was surprised how many people were interested in buying the comic,” Portillo said.

Other comics like “The Railroad Killer” depict life in the borderland and reflects his horror stories that surround the historic railroad tracks in El Paso. A comic that was based on scary stories he and his friend would tell while listening to the ghostly howl of an oncoming train. Portillo explained that he and his friend would scare each other by saying that a murderer roamed these railroad tracks, a thought that would send them running towards the lights.

While ghouls, vampires and gunslingers occupy the pages of Portillo’s comics, other El Pasoans praise the stylized depiction of the Sun City.

Jose Rodriguez who attended the same high school as Portillo was spotted buying his former classmate’s comic books. Rodriguez was delighted by the content.

Alessandro Esparza chooses the beauty of Mexican culture for his comic books. (Christian Guerrero/Borderzine.com)

Alessandro Esparza chooses the beauty of Mexican culture for his comic books. (Christian Guerrero/Borderzine.com)

“I just like the premise behind it, you know. It’s local and when you are seeing the art you are like “Oh! It’s El Paso. El Paso doesn’t get a lot of good publicity and these books are based on things that happened,” Rodriguez said.

Portillo is working on ideas in for a comic book on the drug war in Juárez but he said his main concern now is to finish his master’s degree.

While Portillo has a particular view of the violence that plagues Juárez, artists like Alessandro Esparza abstain from using or mentioning it in his comics.

“The violence in Juárez is there. You know about it. But I want to show people the beauty of Mexican culture” said Esparza as he showed off one of his comic books depicting anthropomorphic cactus. “I put a lot of symbolism in my art. That’s my way of showing that Mexican artists can portray something beautiful about our culture.”

Esparza and Portillo portray the events and culture that surround the borderland differently but both artists use comic books as an expressive medium to tell a story. Whether it’s filled with vampires and gunslingers or filled with surreal depictions of southwest culture, both artists give us an enthralling glimpse into their world.

As Austin K. Debouden, a west El Paso comic-book fan said, “Comics are more than about telling a story. It’s opening a whole new view of story telling.”

Comic fanatics wait in line for this year's El Paso Comic Con. (Jesus Garcia/Borderzine.com)

Comic fanatics wait in line for this year's El Paso Comic Con. (Jesus Garcia/Borderzine.com)

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