BOOKS: 'THE REALM'
Ricardo Lira Acuña's first illustrated novel combines fantastical Mexican folkloric traditions with the American pulp graphic genre for a visually-stunning and suspenseful read.

A thief searching for buried gold must overcome his greed in order to escape from a Mexican ghost town.

THE REALM is a suspenseful 82-page graphic novel chock-full of stunning black & white illustrations that evokes a strong and palpable sense of nostalgia that crosses the borders of both golden eras of American and Mexican comic book landscapes and creates a new hybrid.

In the novel we follow Juan Caballero, a man who doesn't believe in "leyendas" - only what he can hold in his hand - until he is approached by an old archaeologist with a rare map that could lead to a fortune in Spanish gold said to be hidden in the mythical town of El Reino (The Realm). There's only one problem: legend has it that those brave or foolish enough to venture there are never seen again.

The brainchild of filmmaker-turned-author Ricardo Lira Acuña, the idea for the illustrated novel grew out of a frustration of getting his screenplay of the same name into the right hands. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to consider alternative ways to get his property 'seen' - and that notion led to an epiphany: he would adapt the project's script into an illustrated comic book. With that kernel in mind, he knew he was on to something and dove into it with a reinvigorated passion.

"As a kid, I couldn't afford comic books," says Acuña. "Instead, I would steal a look at my mother's Mexican photo novelas and semanales (weekly pulp fiction). It wasn't until film school that I started reading graphic novels, in particular Neil Gaiman's Sandman series and Maus [Art Spiegelman]. As I struggled to get THE REALM produced as a film, it dawned on me that the graphic novel would be the perfect vehicle to show producers my vision. Also, the graphic novel would serve as a calling card as more and more comic books and graphic novels become source material for movies."




Ricardo was raised on the border city of Nogales in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, in a family of modest means. The son of a migrant laborer who lived in a mobile home, he grew up listening to town elders and relatives share short stories grounded in both local legends and age-old Mexican folklore at family gatherings. He also became an avid fan of Rod Serling's American TV series The Twilight Zone. Thus he got equal doses of ancient superstitious wives-tales and modern, fantastical, supernatural tableaux. He would later come across Carlos Castaneda (considered an "anthropologist of the soul") and his controversial novel 'The teachings of Don Juan' - about a Yaqui Indian "diablero" and black sorcery in Mexico, another source of creative inspiration.

Ricardo Lira AcuñaTHE REALM is as gritty as the red clay that surrounded the author during childhood. Drawing on his Mexican oral storytelling traditions, Acuña blends his narrative with a dash of 1940s noir camp - complimented by Timmons' stark, greyscale images - that might as well have been taken directly from his childhood memories of watching Serling's groundbreaking series. To some degree, THE REALM is a chilling morality parable about the choices we are willing to make in order to attain the things we desire by stepping well beyond the fringes of what we actually need, often crossing over into the dark and cold unknown.

“On the surface," he continues. "THE REALM is a treasure hunt ghost story. But there are layers, metaphors and commentary about Chicano/Mexican history and politics, and the philosophical underpinning for existential horror. If all you want is a quick escape or bedtime story, it's there. If you want to dig deeper, it's there, too.”

In 2012 Ricardo launched a successful crowd-funding campaign on the popular Kickstarter platform from October 9th through November 4th (fittingly spanning both Día de Los Muertos and Halloween) and exceeded his goal of $5,000. He matched that figure with another 5K to cover the costs associated with the dozens of illustrations needed to flesh out the book, its layout and design, and subsequent printing.
But that was just the beginning.

THE REALM - Script to Graphic Novel

In order to find the perfect collaborator for his illustrations, Acuña turned to comic book creator Stephen L. Stern who runs the resource Storyboard Graphic Novels, a service that helps adapt screenplays into graphic novel form. He was connected with Stan Timmons, a highly respected artist with a long list of comic book experience under his belt. But scoring a world-class illustrator was only half the battle, he still needed to adapt the story from one form to another - a task he found both challenging and enlightening. To accomplish this, he had to distill his project's story down to its very essence. This phase, he notes, helped to reveal any fat buried in his source material - the screenplay - a beneficial side-effect of the arduous and time-consuming process.

THE REALM is a perfect example of an astute filmmaker carefully exploring the various opportunities available in order to take a property-in-development beyond the traditional four-walling paradigm so that the story has a chance to be heard and seen beyond the originally intended medium.

Ricardo Lira Acuña's first illustrated novel combines fantastical Mexican folkloric traditionswith the American pulp graphic genre for a visually-stunning and suspensefulread.



THE REALM is available for sale in hard-copy form (Magazine Sized Trade Paperback) for $9.99 (plus S&H) at IndyPlanet. The tome is also available as an e-book for $2.99 via iTunes for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, as well as on Kindle and Nook e-readers.




Category: Comics & Graphic Novels
ISBN-13: 9781106926968
Rating: M (Mature)
Publisher: Pichin Publications

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Edwin Pagán, LH

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