Daniel Irizarri is drawing the current Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth miniseries for IDW Publishing, but where he's drawing it wouldn't be called "blessed" right now.
Daniel Irizarri lives (and works) in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico - and is one of the 3.4m Puerto Ricans still reeling from the the damages of Hurricane Maria back on September 20. The artist has been without power for the past 26 days, but has continued to work on the final two issues of his Judge Dredd issues by candlelight and battery power obtained by traveling to less devestated areas.
Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth #6 came out October 4, and #7 remains on track for November 8 release with Irizarri drawing it. Newsarama spoke to the artist to learn more about the situation from the context of a working comics creator, how the digital artist adapted to his situation, and what comics fans and the casual public should know from his first-hand perspective.
Newsarama: Daniel, explain to people where you are in Puerto Rico.
Daniel Irizarri: I live in Mayagüez which is the biggest city on the west coast of the island. I spent a lot of the first weeks in bunkered down in Aguada with my friends, more to the north of the west coast.
Nrama: When did conditions begin to deteriorate?
Irizarri: Once it was Wednesday, the day of the storm, around 1am a lot of the island lost communication. There are people who never lost signal in the San Juan metro area but the rest of the island was in a complete communications black out. A lot of us were still hoping to get one more call out, to calm our relatives in the states, to let them know we loved them.
I was fortunate to have spent the hurricane under a cement roof in an area that wasn't in danger of flooding but millions of other Puerto Ricans were not. The force of the winds and the amount of rain that fell on the island displaced hundreds of thousands in the center of the island and left hundreds of thousands more out of reach of aid.
Without communication, a lot of the authorities in the streets were going in blind into roads that had been blocked off by fallen trees and powerlines. Three weeks in and political mismanagement (federal and local) has made the situation progress much slower than a lot of people expected, so there has been an added sense of desperation among the people in those still in disaster areas that feel like they've been abandoned by everyone.
Editor' Note: Here is a video Irizarri provided to Newsarama of his neighborhood.
Nrama: How long have you been without power now?
Irizarri: Three weeks now. There are areas of Mayagüez that are starting to get power, the center of town, the hospitals, the local businesses. There are areas in Ponce that have power, and San Juan's power situation seems to be improving.
Even counting those three cities, there's still a high percentage of people without power. Some have made due with generators but that put a lot more pressure on gas stations and created its own shortage in the first two weeks after Maria, and even generators became a bit of a dangerous commodity in an island that’s still mostly in the dark.
Nrama: When did water come back on?
Irizarri: I have had water for a week now, thankfully. It’s been pretty consistent which is more than I can say for other people's service. There's still a lot of places without water, or places where the service was reestablished and then went out and hasn't come back.
There's a lot of anxiousness over the quality of the water and the hygiene situation, and it stems from that lack of consistent water service.
Nrama: Through this all you're still attempting to work on your Judge Dredd series. Can you tell us how you're accomplishing that?
Irizarri: I was bracing for impact about a week prior to Maria and the realization that I may be without power for weeks, so ahead of time I prepped a page template that I could consistently reproduce on a 9x12 art pad.
My work flow had been almost completely digital for the past couple of years, so making the transition back to paper was going to be a challenge, but my style is very close to what traditional black and white inks look like.
I sketched layouts and pencils in the daylight but now I have a battery powered lamp that has been helping me put in some time in the evenings, and the pages that I've been working on have actually been turning out really well! White-out has been my savior throughout it all.
Nrama: How has IDW been through this ordeal?
Irizarri: I can't speak for IDW as a whole, but the Judge Dredd crew has been incredibly supportive. My editor Denton Tipton was checking in to see how I could get my payment for previous issues and after seeing that I was capable of working, made arrangements to give me the time to finish issue #8, the finale of the series. Ulises Fariñas has also checked in, shared as many links as he could and put a real spotlight on the island's situation. Erick Freitas and Ryan Hill have also been very cool and understanding of what we went through down here on the island.
Nrama: For comics fans reading this wondering how they can help Puerto Rico, what do you recommend?
Irizarri: I think the most critical thing they can do is call their local senators and congressmen and ask for a repeal of the Jones Act which is putting a stranglehold on the help that gets to the island. It states that only American ships with American captains can bring cargo on to the island, which most of the time doubles the cost of all essential products we need to survive.
It was waived for a mere 10 days and since it was put back in motion, there's been talks of potential food shortages. If congress doesn't do something about the Jones Act, we're looking at a potential food crisis.
Nrama: What would you like to tell comic fans?
Irizarri: I'd just like to tell them to be understanding. That it’s easier to be cynical or jaded, or mostly interested in the next big Hollywood franchise movie, but that real empathy for your fellow man is hard. That Puerto Ricans are American citizens and we're not looking for handouts, don't fall for the narratives the current administration is creating. There are still so many people that need the help.