Elvira Carrizal-Dukes and Ronnie Dukes create the world they want to see, literally. Their graphic novel company, Dukes Comics combines Elvira’s writing skills and Ronnie’s art skills to share borderland culture with the world.
“We’re trying to portray El Paso more as a metropolis with urban people and urban aesthetics. We’re not a sleepy desert town,” Elvira Carrizal-Dukes said. “Fort Bliss here in El Paso brings a lot of diversity and a lot of different worldviews. We wanted to make that perspective, but especially from a female Chicana perspective which you hardly see.”
Their first work, A.W.O.L. Ausente Sin Permiso is about military soldier Cruz Ochoa receiving orders to go to Korea when she receives an ominous message about her brother being kidnapped and his impending murder. Instead of going on her mission, she goes AWOL to rescue him.
Themes in this book surround the military, immigration and sticking to your family values – all themes that the Dukes thought that borderland residents could relate to.
“We’re trying to appeal to a diverse range of young people. We want them to see brown and black bodies throughout our book. People who are intelligent and strong,” Elvira Carrizal-Dukes said. “We also are trying to paint this new way of living that we feel is how we want to change our society.”
This change that they wish to see in society is shown in different aspects of the book. The characters they write are BIPOC characters who are science, technology, engineering and mathematics experts. They’re brave and aren’t afraid to go against the grain if it’s for the benefit of their communities. They normalize bilingualism, a common skill with many borderland residents.
The worlds in the graphic novels are also glimpses of what could be in the future. While some ideas are pure imagination– like flying cars that don’t use gas or oil or a high speed train that runs along I-10 to cut down on emissions – others are based on things that could come to El Paso, like the plans for a large park that would cover part of I-10 by downtown.
“I want people to be excited for the future. I’ve visited multiple city planning meetings that are for 20 to 30 years into the future and added them into the book. That’s a legit future of El Paso,” Ronnie Dukes said. “I want people to be amazed at some of the technology and think ‘that’s practical.’ I want the world to create solutions.”
Married couple and business partners, Elvira Carrizal-Dukes and Ronnie Dukes didn’t always dream of creating graphic novels. Elvira is skilled in many fronts with degrees in Rhetoric and Composition, Film, Arts, Chicano studies and Theatre arts. She’s always been a writer with a dream to turn her screenplays into films. When she’s not writing, she teaches Chicano Cinema at UTEP.
Ronnie Dukes is a long-time artist with a degree in computer animation. Comic books have been a love of his since he was young. His story began when he was discovered by a professor at Columbia while street-vending his art. He had many art shows before realizing that the best way to show off his skills through comics and graphic novels.
AWOL was originally a screenplay turned film, but it didn’t reach its full potential due to issues securing locations to film. Instead of putting it on the back burner, Ronnie Dukes suggested they turn it into a comic. Everything seemed to fall into place after that.
The English edition of A.W.O.L. was released in 2016. Two years later, they printed the Japanese edition of AWOL and presented it at Tokyo Comic con in 2018. The Spanish edition followed soon after, premiering virtually at MexAmeriCon in 2020, during the pandemic.
“We wanted our work to be global because we’re showing El Paso and this area in a way that no one else has ever done before,” Ronnie Dukes said. “Whenever you look at movies or things like that, El Paso is very much a desert town and this is our way of showing a different side.”
Their newest work, released in 2023 in English, is called Daizee and The Dukes. It’s about main character Daizee and her family, the Dukes, and how they buck the status quo by making vehicles and cleaning the environment to create a better community. They’re labeled as deviants, but in their eyes, it’s worth it to make a better tomorrow.
“We want to create positive stories, that feature positive deviance, which is going against the status quo in order to change your community even though the powers that be might consider you outlaws or deviants,” Elivra Carrizal-Dukes said. “In order to create change, you gotta do it.”
Outside of their graphic novels, Ronnie and Elvira create change by participating in something called graphic outreach. Graphic outreach is the creation of illustrated narratives about medical information to give to people to better help them to understand how to take care of themselves.
Examples of their graphic outreach include a collaboration with the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo to create a comic teaching young children about Covid-19. While the Pueblo had the content for the comic, Dukes Comics included relevant activities for the kids to do like designing their own face mask.
“Our experience creating a comic with Dukes Comics was rewarding. The kids were astonished to see their portrayal or relatives in the comic,” Anna Silvas, director of department of Tribal Empowerment said. “Our department was very fortunate to have worked with Dukes comics.”
They also worked with the Alzheimer’s association West Texas chapter to create art to help those with Alzheimer’s and their caretakers to learn how to relax their bodies and minds. They’re currently working on a joint research project with UTEP and Texas Tech called The Use of Educational Comics to Increase Dementia Awareness and Promote Brain Health Among Hispanic Women and Family Caregivers on the U.S.-Mexico Border. The project’s goals are to provide workshops for caregivers and Latinas to teach about health behaviors, strategies for stress management and promote brain health.
Their other outreach includes weekly illustration classes for kids at the El Paso Art Museum.
“Dukes comics is trying to create a blueprint for the future. That’s one of the main things, we want to create inspiration, we want to create ideas and things like that that will survive on as a legacy,” Ronnie Dukes said.