One of the most vocal supporters of Puerto Rican comics creators.
It’s hard to pin down the exact moment I met Miguel Ángel Sanjurjo, ‘Guelo’ to his friends. It’s hard because he was so imbedded in Puerto Rico’s indie comics scene, so present, that it feels like he was always there. Like I’ve always known he was there. This might be the best way to describe Sanjurjo’s place in our comics community: a constant supporting presence that is impossible to separate from the very idea of comics itself in the island.
Simply put, Sanjurjo was a loud, in your face creative force, and he wanted you to make comics.
News of Sanjurjo’s passing reached his fans and friends on February 15th, 2022. His domestic partner Carmen A. Gagot Vélez posted the announcement on social media, briefly commenting on Sanjurjo’s recent health struggles.
Sanjurjo cemented his comics legacy with the wildly popular Jíbaro Samurai, a series he published under his own imprint called Algaro Comics. The first issue of the comic came out in 2007 and it ran for more than 10 years in a kind of interconnected anthology format that featured self-contained stories about Goyo Gotay, a Puerto Rican samurai who fought evil in feudal Japan. The character wore classic samurai robes, but he used a machete for as his katana and his head wear was uniquely Puerto Rican: a wide straw hat known as a ‘pava’ (that can also be described as an inverted Chinese coolie or bamboo weave hat).
Sanjurjo enjoyed injecting Puerto Rican phrases and words into his story, making his version of feudal Japan feel very criollo (uniquely Puerto Rican). Whenever Goyo would unleash one of his signature attacks, for example, he’d scream “Yuca Slash!,” referencing a type of food readers would immediately recognize as their own.
Goyo was accompanied by a martial arts-trained goat called Mofinga (a play on the word ‘mofongo,’ another staple of Puerto Rican cuisine that’s based on green plantains). Together they’d go on to fight the likes of Dracula or aid in the misadventures of Don Quijote and other pop culture figures. Sanjurjo often resorted to literature to find characters that would put Goyo’s skills to the test while also enrichening the world he was sworn to protect.
Each Jíbaro Samurai story tried to outdo the previous one, with alien invasions and literary icons coming at Goyo from all sides. Being a particularly self-aware type of story, not a single page was without some comedic element adding to the flavor. In fact, it’s what kept the action fast, kinetic, and explosive. It was apparent that Sanjurjo’s art style in Jíbaro Samurai took inspiration from the classic cartoon Samurai Jack and it did capture that show’s spirit in terms of action. The story, its humor and its heart, though, was all Sanjurjo’s.
In addition to this comic, Sanjurjo also worked on individual art pieces that featured experimental geometric shaping not unlike that seen in stained glass art. Well-known fictional characters and popular Puerto Rican figures and symbols were among his most impressive, although his abstract sci-fi/fantasy pieces carried a sense of strange wonder that made them a treat to dissect.
I had the opportunity to interview Sanjurjo as part of my Puerto Rico Comic Con ’19 coverage for Comics Beat, an event he never missed out on (having one of the most eclectic booths on the floor each year). He offered one of the smartest and most practical pieces of advice for new comic book creators I’ve heard: put your work out there but never forget to socialize, and make sure you produce as many one-shots as you can when starting out.
Sanjurjo was adamant on the importance of showing up to conventions, on the necessary task of talking to people and offering help in the community-building process. On top of that, in terms of self-publishing, he always said it’s better to offer self-contained stories that showcase your ability to tell a story from beginning to end rather than starting a series you might not be able to continue later on, for whatever reason.
It’s advice I’ve repeatedly offered whenever talking to creators at indie conventions, always citing the man that came up with it. That desire to create comics and build a community of creators was always at the forefront for Sanjurjo, and he carried himself in accordance with that vision.
Sanjurjo was a towering figure that embodied the kind of knowledge and authority we should all aspire to project, the welcoming and collaborative kind that’s as invested in creating culture as it is in building strong and lasting connections. Puerto Rico’s comic book community loses one of its loudest and most supportive voices in Sanjurjo, and that loss will be felt, but the work he put out and the advice he gave will stick around. That’s the thing with giants, they leave quite the footprint behind.
Descansa en paz, Guelo.
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