After a six-week run in San Francisco’s Shelton Theater theater in 2019, Gardena-born playwright Daniel Medina took his play about two friends navigating through the tough world of drugs, addiction and crime from the stage to the pages of a comic book and into prisons.
Medina’s doing it with the help of a famous actor who knows a little something about that world with the goal of helping people caught in the cycle of addiction, especially those behind bars. Which is why Medina donated more than 1,000 copies of the first issue to various California adult prisons and youth detention facilities.
“I hope that it would give them just a little bit of hope. Because when you’re incarcerated that’s what you have the least of, is hope,” said Medina, the creator of “Below Sycamore,” a new comic series based on his play of the same name and a storyline which includes a character inspired by prolific actor Danny Trejo, who appears on the cover of the first issue.
“He’s like a prophet, he’s a homeless prophet,” Median said of Trejo’s character, who appears as a shaman of sorts named Mikey. And like the actor, who was a drug counselor before becoming famous, Mikey tries to help those in need by providing the right advice just at the right time.
The first issue of the comic book was released on Nov. 15 and tells the story of JD and Chucho, two best friends in the fictional town of Sycamore, which is based on Gardena, who grow up surrounded by drugs.
JD wants to follow in his father’s criminal footsteps while Chucho, who is dealing with a drug-addicted mother, just wants to make some fast money and impress his friend JD as the two are hounded by drug dealers and corrupt police officers.
“The comic series is about the parasitic and demonic nature of addiction seen through the eyes of these two best friends growing up this cycle of addiction and violence,” he said.
The second issue will be released April 2.
Medina, a recovering drug and alcohol addict who has been sober since 2016, based some of the stories in the series on things that either happened to him or his friends while growing up in Gardena.
While there is a lot of dark subject matter in the comic book, ultimately this series is about hope since the characters eventually seek to escape their violent word, Medina said.
Trejo licensed his name and likeness for the comic series but he is not involved with the writing or any of the creative process in the series, Medina said. Also on the cover is Latin-American rapper Mr. Criminal, whose character is a ruthless crime boss.
But Trejo, who was in and out of prison for about a decade before changing his life to become a counselor talking to others about the dangers of crime and drugs.
About 500 copies of the comic book were donated to San Quentin State Prison, one of the places where Trejo did time.
And Medina said Trejo’s background helped inspire the character’s mission.
“He feels strongly about the strength of addiction. It’s a monster, it destroys people,” Medina said, referring to Trejo.
For more information, visit belowsycamore.com.
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