UT-Austin alum releases collection of comics that touches on identity, family, talking cats

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of José Alaniz

The Rio Grande Valley, inclusivity and a talking cat named Seymour all have one thing in common: They’re all essential elements of UT alumnus José Alaniz’s latest comic book series, “The Phantom Zone and Other Stories: Comics and Prose.” 

“The Phantom Zone” includes a collection of stories Alaniz has written throughout his life that shed light on disability representation and his identity as a Mexican American. 

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Alaniz’s fascination with comics began when he received his first comic book from his mother at 6 years old. Since then, he said comics have been a central part of his growth as a reader, writer and artist. 

“Almost as early as I started reading comics, I started making comics,” said Alaniz, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Washington-Seattle.  

Alaniz left home to attend UT and joined the comics department of The Daily Texan in 1992. There, he found a way to express himself through his work and created the first series of “The Phantom Zone,” which included 100 illustrated comic strips based on his own experiences adjusting to life away from the Rio Grande Valley.

“It’s about being lost, disoriented and trying to find the meaning in life,” Alaniz said. “That’s why it’s called ‘The Phantom Zone.’ You’re kind of in this zone of indeterminacy and uncertainty, and trying to find a moral compass.” 

The most recent series begins with the adventures of main character Chip González, based on Alaniz, and his talking cat, Seymour, after he returns home to the Rio Grande Valley from Austin. Alaniz includes details such as the heart-wrenching guilt of leaving home for college, Spanglish family conversations and one-sided breakups. 

The collection of comics goes on to include short stories, both in Spanish and English, and has garnered praise from individuals in the Latinx community for its inclusivity and accurate representation of the community. 

“Those strips really kind of reveal what it means for Latinos to be in a college space and kind of dealing with class issues, ethnic and race issues, even issues of sexuality,” Frederick Luis Aldama said. 

An English professor at Ohio State University, Aldama became familiar with Alaniz’s work after seeing his comics presented at Aldama’s annual community expo and student symposium. Aldama, a comic fanatic himself, said the two met online and have supported each other ever since. 

“These stories, like José's, provide the complexity of our identities and our experiences that we really need to be out there that we're hungry for, but that will also help the world see that we're not just these essentialized stereotypes,” Aldama said. 

Another supporter of Alaniz’s work is Raúl Martínez Jr., a reference librarian at Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg, Texas. While reviewing the book for his Instagram page, he said he was pleasantly surprised to see some of the Rio Grande Valley’s landmarks included in the illustrations, such as the now-demolished Edinburg Public Library and the Citrus Theater. 

“I appreciate seeing, especially on the comic book cover, the demolished landmarks in the city of Edinburg,” Martinez. “I loved seeing that bit of history represented.” 

Alaniz said he wants to continue to create stories others can relate to and see themselves in. 

“When you put it on paper and express it, other people can read it and see it. And you come to realize that your experience is kind of universal,” Alaniz said. 

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to include the full name of Frederick Luis Aldama. The Daily Texan regrets this error.