About a week and a half ago I received an email from a student in a Jesuit High School that he had seen EL MUERTO in his Spanish 4 class. (Edited for brevity & identification privacy):
"Dear Mr. Hernandez,
I am taking an AP Spanish 4 - Conversation and Culture class at my school. As a part of the class curriculum we not only read your comics but we also watched the El Muerto movie. Personally, I found your works to be fascinating and creative. Through reading and watching your works, I don't think that I have ever had more fun learning Spanish and culture. I just wanted to contact you and Thank You for enlightening my Spanish education. I also wanted to complement you on your amazing publications.
Thank you for everything!"
He asked me if it would be at all possible to send him my autograph or something, as a way to 'Wow' his classmates. Well, I think the signed comic books and sketch I sent him should have done the trick! He wrote back extremely happy.
When I first read his letter, I realized that another student from the same class wrote me last year with the same experience. This time I asked the student if he could give me the email of his teacher. I wanted to thank her for using the film in such an interesting way, and also to ask her how she came to use the comics and film in her class.
"Thank you for the letter. I found El Muerto at a WalMart. I read the description and thought that it would be perfect for my Conversation and Culture Class, a level four senior class. Our school is a Catholic Jesuit College Preparatory all boys High School. The themes in the movie are demonstrative of the history of Catholicism in Mexico and the Southwest of The United States. Additionally it leads into a great discussion about the Aztecs and the gods, sacrifices and the power of love.
They enjoy the movie immensely and have great conversations about the characters. I play it in the fall semester as it also leads into a discussion about The Day of the Dead."
I'm really glad to hear that many of the story elements that make up the character of El Muerto can often find readers/viewers that relate to the material on a personal basis. That they get such an educational benefit out of it, besides enjoying it for it's escapism, is rewarding to me in so many ways. A Catholic High School using El Muerto in their Spanish class, dovetailing into an appreciation for the Day of the Dead? Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, as I gave Diego de La Muerte very specific characteristics that I wanted to see portrayed in a comic book hero (and if you want something done right, do it yourself!) But it's still a pretty neat thing when it happens.
Ever seen a zombie recite a rosary? No? Didn't think so! (From EL MUERTO:DEAD & CONFUSED Pt. 1)
A few years ago I read a book called 'Stealing fire from the gods', written by filmmaker James Bonnet. The book deals with how the great movie stories, (STAR WARS, JAWS, etc) all feature universal story elements that resonate with mass audiences, and how these films tie to our subconscious need for hero role models. Toward the end of the book, in his closing he wrote one line in particular that stood out to me. I don't have the book with me at the moment, but he wrote something like: "Give the world good stories, stories they need. And the world will heap upon you treasures beyond your wildest dreams".
It's unexpected emails like the ones from the students in the Spanish class, and many other instances, that make me clearly understand what Bonnet was talking about. Like the saying goes, none of us are curing cancer or ending human suffering with our works. And Lord only knows that lots of us aren't cashing huge checks on a constant basis from the creative work we do. But it's hard to beat an uplifting letter like the ones I shared here.
Although I'm still waiting for someone to write a treatise on El Muerto's advocating for Ash Wednesday!