Edel Rodriguez’s first graphic novel tells his remarkable life story

Best known for his provocative anti-Trump images, Worm details Rodriguez’s journey from Cold War Cuba to becoming one of the most prominent political artists of the last decade

Since carving out a career in illustration, Edel Rodriguez’s instantly recognisable work has graced the covers of magazines such as the New Yorker, featured in the collections of institutions like the Smithsonian in Washington DC, and led to him working with brands ranging from Pepsi to Playboy.

Roughly a decade in the making, the Cuban artist’s debut graphic novel, Worm, tells the humbler story of a childhood spent in Cold War Cuba. Born in Havana in 1971, his goal was to portray a reality of Cuban life that people across the globe don’t often see.

Cuban insurrection, 1959

“We were living in a country disconnected from the rest of the world, like an island prison. We’d been told what to believe and what to think and had never been anywhere else to see for ourselves,” he writes.

Eventually, in 1980, Fidel Castro passed a law which allowed everyone who wanted to leave the country to emigrate. Rodriguez’s family were one of those who made the journey on a rickety shrimping boat bound for Florida, becoming ‘worms’, as Castro described them.

The memoir also traces the origin and evolution of Rodriguez’s own artistic practice. He studied painting first at the Pratt Institute and later Hunter College in New York City. Today, he makes everything from sculptures to installations, graphics, posters, and paintings out of his New York studio.

The artist’s now iconic anti-Trump work, which he first started making during the American presidential primary season in 2016, also features heavily in the book. “Many things about him reminded me of a totalitarian,” he writes.

Worm cover

Rodriguez began to post illustrations on social media almost daily in response to Trump’s statements, before one day receiving a call from Time magazine. His resulting series of covers are regarded as some of the most provocative of the last decade.

At its heart, Worms is a testament to the power of political art, echoing Rodriguez’s words from his 2018 interview with CR: “I think the work I do is creating a record for the future. Even if things don’t go our way politically, there will be people in the future who look back and at least know that there was an opposition and will know what we believed.”

Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson; @edelrodriguezstudio