REVIEW: Female Force: Selena is a Heartbreaker, But Not For The Reasons You Think

A portrait of brown-skinned, latina singer Selena, whose jet black hair is in a long ponytail which swirls over her right shoulder. She is singing with a microphone in her hand, and she wears a black bra with rhinestones on it and a pair of black pants with a brass belt. The background is a fractal shot of bars of red and yellow and pink light, like stained glass

I have mixed feelings about this comic book take on the life of the tragically slain Tejano singer Selena. Adults may be a bit appalled by its narrative choices; younger readers, however, might learn something new.

Female Force: Selena

Michael L. Frizell (Writer); Benjamin Gilbert (Letters); Ramon Salas (Art and Cover)
Tidal Wave Productions
August 3, 2021

A portrait of brown-skinned, latina singer Selena, whose jet black hair is in a long ponytail which swirls over her right shoulder. She is singing with a microphone in her hand, and she wears a black bra with rhinestones on it and a pair of black pants with a brass belt. The background is a fractal shot of bars of red and yellow and pink light, like stained glass

Disclosure – I am Latina, and when I was 15, Selena Quintanilla-Perez was like a secular saint to me. Her murder was an incomparable tragedy which I haven’t really gotten over. To probe the backstory of this artist and produce a comic book from the triumphant and yet tragic life she led is a delicate matter. Female Force: Selena is a hair gauche in representing the Tejano singer’s murder, but it manages to make the reader think and feel about the way she grasped that brass ring and dared to live. Adolescents might find the volume more enlightening than I did.

The story of Selena’s life wraps around an old folktale about how Tejano and Conjunto music came to marry. It’s a bloody tale involving a stand-off and a gunfight, but little Selena is eager for her father, Abraham, to tell it anyway. The Quintanillas are a family band traveling through Texas, looking for a big break but only playing weddings and mall openings. Abraham has a feeling that his trio of spirited and talented kids are the answer to his quest to be part of the music business – especially the rawly gifted little Selena. As time goes on, the young girl grows up and forges her destiny and takes a strong hand in creating her own public look and image.

Ramon Salas' panel art for Female Force: Selena C 2021 TidalWave Productions

All of the pertinent facts related to her life are reviewed. Selena spoke English primarily, and Spanish was a second language that proved difficult to learn (she sang the language phonetically and mainly used the music to influence her phrasing, via interviews and the comic’s text). It also explores her interest in fashion, her love-at-first-sight-union with Chris Perez, and her fight to be taken seriously as an emerging artist by the record industry. Just how Selena managed to go from being rejected from label after label isn’t covered by the book.

We skim over her success and slam face-first into her father being questioned by the Corpus Christi PD in April 1995. The book flashes back to Selena’s murder, playing it out on the page. We’re told that she came to that motel room on that fateful day because her murderer (Abraham strongly and emphatically tells the investigator not to mention the woman by name, and she is not – she doesn’t deserve the recognition) lied to her. She informed Selena that she had been raped, but it was all a cover for an embezzlement scam.

I would have much, much rather we lingered on Selena’s successes instead of witnessing her brutal, pointless killing after pages of her climbing a proverbial glass mountain. That she was killed at such a young age was horrible enough. To linger over it instead of taking us to the set of her first music video, an awards ceremony, or even the opening of her Texas boutique, feels like a disservice to what she accomplished.

And yet the book earns its ending, in which Abraham sings to his daughter back in the 1970s over scenes of her funeral, and the very tiny Selena divines that the best thing one can do is forgive.

The art is so cheerfully attractive, as if aimed at children who will be too young to read about the singer’s exploits. It has a round, balloony feel to it, sort of like Playskool figures. The singer is recognizable, and the lettering work by Benjamin Gilbert stands out as a bold highlight.

Female Force: Selena is a difficult book to recommend. Fans of Selena will be heartbroken to once again confront their idol’s death. Young children will be given information they won’t be able to process without help. For teenagers and older adolescents, however, it may feel familiar, and even teach them something important about Selena’s legacy.

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