Across America, there’s widespread unrest and growing racial tensions. On the morning of August 2, 1942, the body of José Gallardo Díaz is discovered unconscious and dying on a road near a swimming hole in Commerce, CA. Diaz dies in Los Angeles County General Hospital, without making a statement or even regaining consciousness. Despite the fact that the cause of his death is never determined and there’s insufficient evidence, 17 Mexican-American youths are arrested. On January 13, 1943, twelve of the defendants in what the tabloids called the “Sleepy Lagoon murder” are convicted of second-degree murder. They are sentenced to serve time in San Quentin Prison.
The Sleepy Lagoon murder provides the backdrop for Latinx Cartoonist Marco Finnegan’s dynamic new YA graphic novel Lizard in a Zoot Suit, his first full length work as a writer/artist, in which history, race, class, and science fiction collide in unexpected ways. The all new, original graphic novel is set in LA’s Chavez Ravine neighborhood, two decades before the neighborhood was torn down to make way for Dodger Stadium. In June, 1943, long simmering tensions between the Chicano community and white servicemen led to the Zoot Suit Riots, fueled by months of fear and tension following the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial.
“A YA book shouldn’t pander to its audience,” says Finnegan. “I use authentic language and scenarios to keep one foot grounded in the reality of the riots. I started writing Lizard in a Zoot Suit after rewatching Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit play and the film of LA Confidential. I realized that the Zoot Suit itself is such a huge part of pop culture, but little is said about who the Zoot Suiters were and, besides the play, there weren’t any other stories about these kids and their lives. I decided that I didn’t want to do a nonfiction book that would read like a history book. I love genre pieces, so I decided to add some sci-fi to the mix and the story came together.”
In Lizard in a Zoot Suit, twin sisters Flaca and Cuata have a problem. It’s bigger than being grounded by their strict mother. It’s bigger than tensions with the soldiers stationed nearby. And it’s shaped like a five-foot-tall lizard. When this lost member of an unknown underground species needs help, the sisters must scramble to keep their new friend away from a corrupt military scientist―but they’ll do it in style.
Born in El Paso, Texas, Marco Finnegan and his mother moved to Southern California in the early 1980’s. Today, he, his wife, and their four children live in Temecula, CA. Finnegan’s story is inspired, in large part, by his desire to tell a YA story that represents his and his family’s lives, in the ways that the blockbuster stories of his youth did not. “What drives me as a storyteller is imagining a future, where Latinx kids see their lives represented in comics, films, and TV shows.”
With striking two-color artwork and snappy dialogue, Marco Finnegan’s full length graphic novel debut re-imagines a notorious event in LA’s history to deliver a timely story about race and social unrest. Lizard in a Zoot Suit combines the sci-fi-fueled social relevance of The Shape of Water with the charm of Raina Telemanger’s Sisters to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.
Lizard in a Zoot Suit will be published August 4, 2020 by Graphic Universe™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing.