Jarred Luján Mezo cover art

INTERVIEW: Mezo, Crash & Troy Writer Jarred Luján on What Fuels His Stories

“Texas taught me not to trust systems of power because it has always been a weapon pointed at me and I think when you read a subtitle like Trial of Roden the concept of a system of power is staring you right in the face…”

We got a chance to sit down with busy writer, Jarred Luján, about some of the projects he’s working on, how his Texas upbringing has shaped his storytelling, and the beauty of smart-ass humor.

Mezo: Trial of Roden #1. Credit: A Wave Blue World

Multiverse of Color: With Mezo: Trial of Roden , I’ve read the first issue. You’re stepping into an already established universe. How do you and Tyler manage and balance as a duo? How do you approach moving the story forward, while being mindful of what came before?

Luján: First and foremost, it’s easy for me to jump in because I’m a fan of the series. When Tyler asked me to come on board, he sent me the first two volumes. By now, I’ve probably read them cover-to-cover about ten times. They’re really fantastic books with really brilliant character work and I was in love with several of the cast before I ever wrote a word of them. 

Beyond that, Tyler and I are good about discussing plot points and character moments that we are focused on. I think that’s a big part of what makes us work well together is that we’re both zeroed in on characters and following the story from where it emerges from them organically and we discuss it over outlines and synopsis before we get to script. 

There was obviously a little trial and error. I’ve never co-written anything before, so there was a learning curve to some extent, but I approach everything in comics as a collaboration. I walk into every scenario with Tyler open-minded because I know he loves the characters/setting/story, I know I love the characters/setting/story, and I trust him. I know when we’re going over plot points that both of us want this story to be the best it can be. With that level of collaboration, it’s very easy to work together. 

MoC: This period of time is fairly untouched in mainstream media and comics, what’s your favorite part about writing Mesoamerican stories? Any unexpected challenges?

Luján: So, my family line has proud Aztec roots. Because of that, when I’m writing stories like Mezo, it almost feels like I’m connecting myself to those roots. There’s the obvious writer freedom where you don’t really have to worry about what’s been done before because nobody really tells stories in this setting with these particular people. We really have a bit of a blank canvas that we can work within, but getting to connect with my family’s past is a huge part of why I love writing stories like this.

The reason nobody tells stories set in Mesoamerican period/settings is because there are a lot of presumptions and myths and lies about the people that created those societies. That’s a challenge unto itself. You have to overcome that hurdle and it doesn’t matter if it’s an editor or a reader, you’re going to face the challenge of getting them in the door because some of the nonsense that has been out there, regardless of whether it’s been debunked or not, is so prevalent in the way we speak about these societies that chances are the person you’re talking to has heard something negative about these people by the time you reach them. 

And that sucks, but that’s why I love Mezo. The characters are so complex and nuanced that it reflects the actual humanity in Mesoamerica rather than the “uncivilized” stereotypes that are so prevalent.

MoC: You’re proudly Mexican-American, grew up in Texas, can you talk about how that frames the story you’re trying to tell?

Luján: So, when I was a kid, I lived on the border of Mexico, right? Like, right on the border, three miles from our sister city in Mexico. Every time my family and I would go out of town, we had to cross through this Border Patrol checkpoint where men armed with guns and dogs would approach our car, search the exterior, then ask everyone in the car questions to confirm citizenship. Armed men with dogs looking for people who look like me, for people who share my culture, for people who share my ancestry.

Then, as an adult, I sat in West Texas when the electrical grid failed during the worst snowstorm in Texas’ history. A man died in his home, sitting in his recliner from the cold because his home had no power not far from where I live. My parents lost water and electricity for days. My family and I were sending messages to let each other know we were alive. It’s been four years since then, our grid still nearly fails every winter and they’re already prepping us for rolling blackouts due to the heat in August. Our elected leaders have done pretty much nothing.

I watched as a well-funded and armed-to-the-teeth set of police sat outside with bulletproof vests and helmets and big trucks while children were murdered inside of their elementary school. Our major leaders didn’t even show up for the funerals.

Texas taught me not to trust systems of power because it has always been a weapon pointed at me and I think when you read a subtitle like Trial of Roden the concept of a system of power is staring you right in the face, so Texas framed a lot of how this all unfolds. And I ain’t talking about electrical grids.

MoC: In the beginning of Mezo: Trial of Roden #1, there was some political scheming happening at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve, are you drawing parallels between the “systems of power” you mentioned growing up observing and the ones that enabled the Rupture? How does that thread continue in Trial of Roden?

Luján: This one is tricky because I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m gonna be a little ambiguous responding to this. I think what we’re tackling is larger than political corruption, I think we’re asking who these systems of power were DESIGNED to serve. 

Is it corruption if everything is working the way it was intended? What we see at the beginning is an obvious scheme, but I encourage readers to zero in on the consequences of the scheming. The actions at the beginning of #1 are a glimpse into the larger structures of power that define the book across all three volumes.

MoC: I love the colorful designs of the Empress and Kyma’s people. How much of that is pulled from history and how much of it is the creative teams’ take on that period?

Luján: I mean, first and foremost, so much of it is pulled from history! Of the few Mesoamerican time pieces that do exist, many of them are dark and grey and bland, but the Mesoamerican people were so colorful! Turquoise, jade, bright feathers, you name it, they loved color and their cities (yes, cities) reflected that.

With that being said, it still comes down to Val and Gab and Tomi to draw and color those pages. They took history and they brought it to  life on the page. Each one of them is a monster of talent and I am so grateful to have them on this project.

MoC: Roden’s trial and Kyma’s revenge, what can you tease ahead of issue 3 coming out?

Luján: Roden is about to get a very emotional lesson on the consequences of compassion in issue 3. We’re going to start seeing the dam break here. And Kyma? I love Kyma. She’s scheming. I don’t want to give anything away with Kyma, so I’m not going to say much, but she has one of my favorite moments in the entire series in issue #5 of this volume. The path to that really starts in #3!

MoC: I spoke with Kameron White about y’all’s Hardware story in the New Talent Showcase: The Milestone Initiative. How was that experience for you and is there something from that that you still hold onto?

Luján: The entire Milestone Initiative was a great experience and I’m grateful for it. In terms of things I still hold on to, I’m still pretty good friends with everyone from the Initiative and that alone would have been worth it.  Aside from that, I really do think the entire experience made me a better writer. It made me look at how I approach writing differently—it gave me tips and tricks that can make me a more efficient and skillful writer. Beyond that, it also just made me want to push myself even further.

Also, Kameron White is a one-of-a-kind artist, a gem of a human being, and I’m so proud of everything he has accomplished post-Initiative. The City of Houston made June 22nd Kameron White Day and one day I gotta make it out there to celebrate. The Hardware story will be a big deal to me for the rest of my life if only because I made it with Kam.

MoC: Crash & Troy, the Meryl Streep detail, the beefy boy, the Texas line, “death to the colonist dogs!” This book is FUNNY. Where does that ironic humor come from and how do you balance it so the heavier, more serious moments aren’t overshadowed?

Luján: First off, thank you so much! I think the irony comes mostly from my family. My mom notoriously calls us a “family full of smart asses,” so I think that’s probably where it started to develop. 

I think when people are writing humor, they focus too much on trying to fill the page with punchlines. The reason jokes are funny is because the punchline isn’t expected—if you keep making your set up obvious, nobody is going to dig it. I think that’s why I like writing humor in a narrative form. I always find it’s better to write a character that is funny for their personality/ineptitude/whatever then develop the jokes from their run through the plot. 

And when you don’t load your pages with punchlines and set ups, but do it in organic ways that are funny, you find that you have plenty of room to spare for your characters to change and grow without losing what makes them funny. 

MoC: Some of the fight scenes and the way the characters interacted gave me Dragon Ball Z vibes, was there any anime that inspired you and Kyler in Crash & Troy?

Luján: I’m pretty sure this question just made Kyler’s year because he is a GIANT DBZ nerd. I like Dragon Ball Z too, don’t get me wrong, but Kyler worships at its altar. Before I wrote some of the action sequences, I texted Kyler for his favorite fights from Dragon Ball Z and wrote it from there, so I actually think that you picking that up rules.

I love the way DBZ handled fights. They were big, dramatic, and tense…all while being absolutely badass. It is a huge influence in how I script fights and I’m pretty sure Kyler was howling while he drew them. Crash & Troy fights are off the chain.

Check out Mezo: Trial of Roden #1-2, published by A Wave Blue World, before #3 drops on Wednesday, July 10. You can also read the rest of Luján’s works here.