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Tony Sandoval‘s heartfelt, affecting and personal graphic novel Rendez-Vous in Phoenix couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. It’s his story of his attempt to illegally cross the border from Mexico into the United States, and in a time where politicians of all stripes have become obsessed with “illegals” and immigration and nationalism, it’s more vital than ever to be reminded that each one of these so-called 11 million are people, with hopes and dreams. Sandoval’s work is a personal and emotional book about what leads to the decision to embark upon a perilous journey into another country, both what you leave behind and what you hope for the future.
Sandoval is a name that may not be that familiar to American audiences, but a his last two projects (“Doomboy” and “A Glance Backward”) have been nominated for back-to-back Eisner Awards. Now living and working primarily in Europe, he’s become renowned as a world-class talent. And Rendez-Vous in Phoenix confirms his reputation as an artist. The novel follows Tony as he decides to leave Mexico to live in Portland with his American girlfriend, and the dangers, frustrations and lessons he learns through numerous attempts to cross the border illegally into America. Confronted by “coyotes” both good and bad, immigration officers, bandits and fellow migrants, the reader is always rooted in the dreams of Tony. He wants only two things, to be with the woman he loves and to become a comic book artist. Both things are frankly impossible to achieve in his Mexican home.
The art on the book has a strong “underground comix” feel, which is completely appropriate for the story. The characters all have tremendous individuality and quirks, from a bald border guard to the avuncular coyote who shepherds them across the desert. Sandoval’s style gives the book more of a cartoonist vibe than mainstream comics usually offer, but that injects so much warmth into the story, bringing the characters alive in a way that a more realistic style wouldn’t achieve.
Rendez-Vous in Phoenix doesn’t try to intellectually justify Tony’s decision to cross, but wisely keeps the story rooted in the personal. The narrative is well-structured and lean, packed with a tense atmosphere that emphasizes the dangers to Tony without sensationalizing them. It’s hard to make something feel both fraught with peril and mundane, but Sandoval manages that here. By keeping us firmly inside Tony’s head throughout, the book transcends being a “message piece” about border-crossing, and instead retains the feel of a personal story about the will to forge a better life for yourself no matter what. In this age of Trump demonizing those coming here from Mexico and elsewhere, we need a book like this to remind us that each of those 11 million people has a story, and the vast majority of them stem from a desire to simply work hard and improve their lives and the lives of their families. This book doesn’t ask for your sympathy, but it gets it by simply presenting Tony’s journey, and that simple approach is what makes for great art. 9/10.
Rendez-Vous in Phoenix will be released Oct. 12, 2016.