Inverna Lockpez's Cuba: Remembering a Revolution
Inverna Lockpez left her native Cuba in the late 1960s to seek a new beginning in America. Now a widely respected artist, she has crafted the story of her life in her homeland in Cuba: My Revolution, a semiautobiographical tale of what it was like to be a woman in Castro’s Cuba in the 1960s. The book, now out from Vertigo, is a fascinating exploration of art, politics, family, rebellion, and optimism. We talked about it with Lockpez.
Was it difficult to bring this tale to life in comic form?
I am a visual artist, a painter. Since I think in shapes and forms, the graphic novel was a natural development and I knew that Dean Haspiel was a very skillful illustrator. Once we started the project, I found the collaboration with him and Joan Hilty, my wonderful editor, and Jose Villarubia, the colorist, who is another painter, to be difficult, challenging, and rewarding.
You have waited a long time to tell this story. What made now the right time to tell it?
This narrative has been the backdrop of my life and has resonated throughout my art career. I had grown exasperated listening to individuals in this country and around the world who still believe, after 51 years, that Cuba is a country in the process of becoming a utopia.
What convinced you to do this story in graphic-novel form?
I have known Dean Haspiel for years. He has listened to many of my stories and one day he told me I had to write them down and that if I did, he would illustrate them. I had also read his recent graphic novel The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and the candor of the writer inspired me to recount the sequence of events of my last years in Cuba.
How did you feel Haspiel did capturing your real Cuban experience?
We know and respect each other’s work, although at the beginning, I was apprehensive. As a painter, I make all the decisions. When I encounter a pictorial problem, I have to solve it myself. So I had doubts about how our collaboration was going to work. We fought and argued, and at the end, the collaboration was very inspirational.
Dean re-created the Cuban experience through my bombardment of references for every page exceptionally well. I have a passion for detail and we had the task of representing a historical era accurately. I don’t know if you realize that during the six years that the novel takes place Cuba comes into a revolution, goes through the Bay of Pigs battle, later the missile crisis, and at the end, the death of President Kennedy.
The story is fictional but based on your real life. What is the major way Cuba: My Revolution differs from real life?
All the events are real, but some of the characters are composites of the different friends I had. The story only touches on a couple of tragic events. The reality was bigger than the story. Every Cuban family has a story of horror and hope.
You were very young at the time of the revolution. Do you look back now and almost wonder who that person was? Do you feel connected to that young person so full of ideals?
Because I detest injustice and the abuse of power, that person will be with me until the end of my life. I believe I can make a difference. Life presents us with situations in which we can become givers instead of takers. Anyone can make a difference by rising to the occasion.
What made Castro so appealing to so many people in the late 50s? Was there ever a sense that he would truly deliver Cuba to its potential?
If a tall, bearded guerillero, fighting in the mountains, suddenly appears on the horizon and talks about the injustices of the world and promises to have new elections, to erase poverty and to provide free education, you would go for it if you are young and idealistic. The majority of the Latin American and European intellectuals from the left converged on Cuba all at once to support the revolution. Even the Cubans in exile because of Batista’s regime returned wanting to build a new Cuba.
The potential for a better Cuba existed at the very beginning. Revolutions, by nature, destroy preexisting political structures but executing your ideas and building a new country without abusing your power is quite a difficult task.
Even now, with so many Cubans living in America, do you feel Americans truly understand Cuba and its situation?
No, they don’t. Nor do the Europeans or the rest of the world. For many individuals, Fidel was the one who stood up to the Americans. They have no idea at what cost, nor that the people of Cuba eat cut glass every day and that all their constitutional rights are gone—while outsiders come and party on the island.
Have you been back to Cuba?
No. I have many friends who return constantly to visit their families. Others are curious and still others take advantage of the cultural exchange.
Would you like to work on a graphic novel again?
If I had three more years to spare out of my life, I would.