He’s one of the first syndicated Latino cartoonists in the United States and has collaborated on the award-winning film "Coco," but Lalo Alcaraz is on a different and very personal quest these days.
The Los Angeles-based political cartoonist said he “never ever” thought he would work with Republicans on “anything,” but 2020 is different.
Alcaraz, 56, recently teamed up with The Lincoln Project, the political action committee formed in 2019 and comprised of Republican strategists who have endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden and are spending millions on campaign ads supporting Biden and other Democrats in congressional races. Alcaraz’s cartoons, which run on the group’s social media sites, include a particularly prescient “Viruses for Trump” illustration depicting the president holding a rally with the virus in several battleground states.
“You know what they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend," said Alcaraz, who describes himself as the "perennial anti-Republican Chicano cartoonist."
"I’ll work with anyone I agree with," he said. "And I agree that we need to defeat Trump in November.”
As a Mexican American, Alcaraz has taken the president’s rhetoric “very personally,” saying it’s not like anything he’s ever seen before. “When he goes after Latinos, Mexicans, immigrants, I have to keep pushing back on him," Alcaraz said. "He's catering to the most racist element out there and we have to push back on that."
Like other cartoonists examining current events, Alcaraz said, he considers himself a fact-checker of sorts. For example, months ago Trump had touted closing the border because of Mexico's high number of coronavirus cases, though the U.S. had many more cases.
“So I have to point that out and push back," he said.
Alcaraz’s most recent illustrations include a commentary on the controversy around the president’s taxes, his performance during the first debate and the announcement that both Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.
As much as he says he enjoys weighing in on current events with rapid-fire illustrations, Alcaraz told NBC News that keeping up with Trump can also can be mentally exhausting.
“I would trade it all in if it would just stop. All this great material is not so great anymore, especially him declaring war on the election," Alcaraz said. For cartoonists, "it is a field day" with Trump, he said, "but I get sick of drawing him and try to draw other stuff that’s related.”
Nonetheless, he considers what he does as contributing to a greater awareness of the issues, which keeps him motivated.
“I feel a responsibility to my craft and my profession. I feel a sense of duty," he said. "Drawing a political cartoon is the same thing as putting out a positive image for a kid to see in animation.”
'Cheaper than therapy'
Political cartoons have a way of grabbing attention in ways words alone cannot, and Alcaraz said his use of sarcasm, irony and humor is a very relatable kind of language.
“It’s a way of handling these complex problems and putting them in a way you can handle,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “and it’s cheaper than therapy.”
Alcaraz recently collaborated on a book with political strategist Chuck Rocha, a senior campaign adviser to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign who is credited with mobilizing significant Latino support for Sanders in the primaries. Alcaraz drew the cover of Tío Bernie, which is about Rocha’s experience on the campaign.
"Rocha kept saying brown consultants matter and I thought, 'Wow, that’s me,'" Alcaraz said. "If you hire Latinos to message Latinos, it works."
Right now, Alcaraz said, "it’s all hands on deck on this [Biden] campaign, and get out the vote.”
From 'La Cucaracha' to 'Coco'
Alcaraz started publishing cartoons in the Washington-based Hispanic Link Weekly Report, expanding to a comic strip in LA Weekly in 1992 as "La Cucaracha." To this day, "La Cucaracha" remains the only Latino-themed syndicated daily comic strip in the United States that focuses on politics.
Alcaraz worked on the 2017 hit family film "Coco" as a cultural consultant and works on Nickelodeon’s Emmy Award-winning animated series "The Casagrandes," which was recently renewed for a third season. It depicts the adventures of a young Mexican American girl and her large extended family. The series features an all-Latino cast, a rarity in the entertainment business.
“I want to do more stories about growing up Latino: visiting the family in Mexico or coming here to visit, more stories about music, more stories about what life is like in a multigenerational family, because not everyone is lucky enough to grow up like that," he said. "It’s really satisfying to hear from parents and kids who enjoy the show.”
Alcaraz credits the ability to do this kind of programming to Ramsey Naito, Nickelodeon’s president of the animation division and one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in the entertainment industry.
“She gets it," Alcaraz said. "As a member of a minority group, she knows what it is to be from another culture and what that means and how important representation is now. She’s a living example of that.”
Alcaraz also hosts an irreverent weekly radio show, “The Pocho Hour of Power” on KPFK Radio in Los Angeles. (This reporter has participated as an informal “Washington correspondent” with straight news reporting bits.) He is working on several other projects, too, including expanding into different publishing genres.
“I need to purchase some more hands,” he joked.