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Includes Issues: Graphic Novel Adaptation of From the Barrio to the Board Room
Issue Dates: August 2010
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This post contains detailed plot discussion, but spoilers won’t hurt your enjoyment of this book.
Skip To The Verdict? »

Comics can be many things. On this website, we often focus on the fantastical. Superheroes, Secret Agents and the Supernatural. Adventure stories and the odd apocalypse.

I find value in such things – I’m a dreamer (often, in my childhood, a daydreamer), someone who likes to find life lessons in fictional stories. But not everything needs to be out of this world.

In fact, it often seems that most people are deeply affected by stories that are down to earth, close to home. Mi Barrio is such a story.

As one of the books in SmarterComics new line of educational and inspirational titles, it’s an adaptation of From The Barrio to the Board Room by Robert Renteria and Corey Michael Blake.

With my head between the brightly colored pages of my comic archives, I can’t say I noticed the original release, but it seems to be a book that’s inspired many. This comic reworks some of the story into an 80 page graphic novel.

Blake, who is also devoted to publishing and promoting the book, worked with artist Shane Clester to bring it to a graphic format. Though it is an adaptation, Renteria’s voice persists. Together this team tells his life story in a way that is simple, direct, and moving.

Robert Renteria, like so many in this country, came from a background of poverty and ignorance. His peers valued short sighted gains over education and long term goals. In specific, he came from the lower class, primarily Hispanic neighborhoods of East LA.

This book tells how he came through gang membership and flashy lifestyles and found success in the business world. As a book with an inspirational focus, the message is one of persistence and hard work. In fact, that’s Renteria’s two word motto, which he imparts to a young man near the end – Hard. Work.

Of course, real life is much more complicated than this short explanation. And any memoir will have its fair share of omission and exaggeration – such is the way of human beings and storytelling.

But while the book is fairly straightforward with an obviously streamlined message, there are still slight twists and honest admissions.

It’s acknowledged, for example, that Renteria owes much to his family and it would have been much harder for him to break from a downward spiral if he wasn’t able to move in with his Aunt and Uncle in a better neighborhood – seeing their more comfortable lifestyle inspired him. He also had parents who, however poor, still valued his personal appearance and work ethic and encouraged him to aspire to great heights.

And once he had a measure of success – in well off positions for several companies – he realized that the salesmen near him were still living badly, drinking and partying in ways that reminded him much of the friends he had previously distanced himself from.

This was satisfying to me, because just a couple pages earlier I was wondering – is that it? That’s the goal? A nice car and comfortable salary?

He does seem to have a thing about cars, mentioning them at least three times. In his flashy youth, buying one for his mother, and later when the young man he briefly mentors notices his nice ride.

It’s a little odd to see this attention when there is no mention at all of a significant other or developing his own family, something of a major life goal for myself. But Renteria brings it back home – mentioning his love of family, his desire to teach and inspire.

Certainly being an author and giving lectures is impressive, but it’s not something he does for money (devoting all his time to business would get him that easier.)

Through the story, which could risk feeling preachy or obvious, Shane Clester lends a personal feel with his artwork. Produced in black and white with grayscale toning, the book avoids a corporate feel itself. I was surprised, in fact, at how warm and human the drawings are. My major fear, upon hearing about the SmarterComics series, with their decidedly business like branding, was that they would be more akin to airplane safety instructions than lovingly crafted graphic novels.

But Clester‘s art is closest to indie journal style comics. with an emphasis on eyes, heads, facial expressions. His figures sometimes have anatomy that’s a bit strange, but I felt this made the work feel even more personal instead of distracting.

There’s a bit of stiffness, but the comic isn’t really about action anyway – Clester does a fine job keeping the eye moving between frames, making for a very readable book.

The art, like the story, is simple. This could be construed as a negative, but I don’t mean it that way.

I try to judge works on their success at accomplishing their goals – does this book do what it wants to do? Is it good at being this book? I wouldn’t judge Mi Barrio by the same standards as I would the latest Superman comic or art school experiment.

Mi Barrio is a book crafted lovingly with a specific audience in mind: disenfranchised children and undereducated people with a desire to make more from their life. Sometimes it takes a little push to get people moving, especially in a society where the average person doesn’t read a single book in a year. Releasing a story like this in comic form is an excellent idea.

It’s important that this book is straightforward and simple. Studies have shown that comics help encourage literacy among children. And literacy is a key factor in success in life, with direct correlation to income levels.

Mi Barrio hopes to be a gateway, a doorway to both the world of  comics and into one person’s success story.

It won’t inspire everyone (and sometimes a jaded critic like myself needs to step back and consider his own questioning) but it stands a good chance of helping those who need it most.

Side Note:
This print release of Mi Barrio was delivered to me with a 14.95 MSRP on the back. It’s a little oversized, but I feel that’s still a high price for an 80 page book – especially considering that the people who should read it most are the ones least likely to have that money to drop on a comic. But it’s well worth that price for inclusion in libraries, especially school libraries.

But I wanted to point out (and hence this note) that SmarterComics has made this particular release available for free in ebook form on their website! This is a great idea and I think it is their intention, if the history of the original novel holds true, to get physical copies into the right hands, MSRP aside.

4.5 out of 5. This book is a great example of how comics can be used for a purpose other than just entertainment.

I’m not sure the book will actually make you smarter (how do we measure such things?) but I can tell you that it’s had me thinking a lot over the past couple days.

It may not impress some Sequential Art and Graphic Novel aficionados, but in the right hands Mi Barrio will be a very powerful tool for the betterment of the next generation.

Essential Continuity:
This book is self contained.

Read first:
No prior reading required.

Read next:
It might inspire you to read the original novel, From the Barrio to the Board Room, which is, of course, also available in a Spanish adaption.

I’ll also be reviewing some more of SmarterComics upcoming releases soon.

If this has whetted your appetite and you’d like to check out some more memoir/journal style comics, Maus, a story of a holocaust survivor, is of course the standard that everything in this genre is measured against.

I also think Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, is well worth reading.

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19 Comments Post New »

  1. Dirt55 wrote on at January 21, 2011 9:25 pm:

    Fantastic review! Reviews like this are the kind that make me afraid of writing my own. Very indepth and thought provoking. I loved the last four paragraphs especially. I am also VERY excited to read a Maus review. I don’t know why since I know I should have bought it years ago, I just have never got around to it. I always hear that and “Blanket” are good ones to pickup. I welcome the opportunity to branch out my knowledge of graphic novels.


    Ian replied on January 21st, 2011 at 9:33 pm:

    I understand. I had similar second guessings about my own qualifications to judge the works of others. In the end, I just went for it and have been keeping at it – like anything, I think it gets easier in time and you gain confidence through feedback. For example, it’s very motivating that you’ve been reading and commenting on each one. If even one person is benefiting from my viewpoint, then it’s a conversation and is worthwhile :D

    I’m still a little apprehensive about approaching the absolute classics. So many pages have been written on Maus, for example, that it’s very intimidating to try and approach.

    I’ll have to get over it eventually, as I’ll at least be hitting Batman: Year One and similar mainstream classics as I work through the DC Reading Order.


    Dirt55 replied on January 21st, 2011 at 9:41 pm:

    Yeah, I was hoping that my comments were more helpful and less annoying. I just figured that if you guys put work into it, and I read it, I might as well show my appreciation for it.


    Ian replied on January 21st, 2011 at 9:55 pm:

    And that, in turn, is much appreciated! :D


    Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 7:51 am:

    Yeah I would agree with Ian that they are very much appreciated.

    Writing is very scary, I’m a physicist so I never write anything and always doing maths instead, but it has become fun. Ian also gave me plenty of pointers and kind words when I submitted reviews that have helped.

    Looking through your collection there are a few books I’ve not got in there and have been interested in, Blue Beetle to name one, and I always love to read reviews on series I haven’t got.

    If you are really apprehensive about reviewing something then start with something minor, such as JLA vs. Predator, you might fidn it less daunting starting on something like that.


    Dirt55 replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 11:20 am:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I was flirting with the idea of attempting to write a review for the first Secret Six book on my next week off. Blue Beetle would be a good start as well. I figure it’s probably better to start at the beginning of a series instead of expecting someone to jump in mid way based on a review.


    Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 12:50 pm:

    Out of interest which secret six book? because they had the crossover, then the limited and then the on-going. Just wondering as they are one group I’ve toyed with writing a review for and want to avoid working on the same one.


    Dirt55 replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 2:33 pm:

    I was thinking of doing Six Degrees of Seperation. The first book just following Villans United. It seems like a good point to start even if you haven’t read Villans United. Let me know if you do it though so we don’t do the same review. (Oh geez…what am I getting myself into!)


    Simon replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 3:16 pm:

    Yeah like Ian said go for it; I was looking at doing Villians United anyway, as it’s one of the few Infinite Crisis tie-ins that can stand on it’s own.


    Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 7:27 pm:

    haha, if you start and lose interest, no worries. Of course, if you find yourself addicted, that’s great too!


    Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 1:28 pm:

    You should! I help edit and get images for all the reviews, so all you really have to do is come with an opinion. If you forget to mention the artist’s name or something silly like that, it’s easy to fix. It’s just good to have diversity of viewpoints on a site like this.

    A vol. 1 is definitely ideal, though sometimes there is a good starting point halfway through a trade series. Rare though, especially for modern books.


    Dirt55 replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 2:36 pm:

    It’s nice that you do so much work even on the reviews done by other. That’s a nice way to ease into reviewing. I have an unhealthy love for Elseworld tales. I also have Fables Vol 1-14 plus 1001 Nights of Snowfall so those are some that I could think about maybe reviewing after I get them back from my brother.


    Ian replied on January 22nd, 2011 at 7:28 pm:

    yeah it’s a significant time investment, but it’s fun too. It’s like having a really detailed reading journal. I’m really looking forward to sitting down a few years from now and being able to see what I finished reading around that day for the years previous.

    It would be cool to have a Fables Vol. 1 review. Obviously it’s a big series, but it seems relatively consistent in quality so I’m not as concerned with all the books as I am hoping to get more Marvel, DC, and original graphic novel reviews on the site.


  2. Vicky wrote on at January 23, 2011 11:44 am:

    Great comic for children & adults alike. I’ve enjoyed it so much, that I had donated a copy to 2 schools (so far). I want kids & adults to know that there is hope for their future. NEVER GIVE UP!


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