Even if you’ve never been to South of the Border, the place has probably made an impression if you’ve ever driven south on Interstate 95 through North Carolina. The venerable amusement park on I-95 just across the South Carolina state line has some of the most memorably garish day-glow billboard advertisements you’ll ever see.
That was the inspiration for a new comic by local writer Zack Smith, a South of the Border parody called “Sombrero World,” which is rolling out in two installments. Part one will be in KaBOOM! Studio’s “Regular Show” #3, tentatively scheduled for release this month, with part two following in issue #4.
Smith grew up in Raleigh and graduated from Broughton High in 1998, going on to N.C. State. He had plenty of South of the Border memories to draw on, although his earliest childhood experience with the place was unsuccessfully begging his parents to stop there. During high school, he stopped in for a visit that lasted all of 32 minutes before he fled. But Smith finally put in a bit more time there on a spring-break beach trip during college.
“It’s a hard place to describe to someone who’s not been there, this faux-Mexican tourist trap with all manner of really bad, cheap, awful items,” Smith said. “When I went during college, we wandered through different cheap-trinket places. For reasons I do not comprehend, the detail that stuck with me was the broken jukebox in the ice cream shop with all country-western Christmas songs.”
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South of the Border seemed like the perfect place to parody in a comic book, so Smith sold a pitch to do one using characters from the Emmy-winning Cartoon Network series “Regular Show.” Starring Mordecai and Rigby, a blue jay and raccoon, “Regular Show” chronicles their misadventures in surreal fashion.
For “Sombrero World,” Smith collaborated with Brad McGinty, a Minneapolis-based cartoon artist. Smith wrote the script and described what each panel should show, and McGinty did the artwork – toning down some of the stereotypical aspects of the real South of the Border. The real place’s “Pedro” mascot has been turned into “Poncho,” a sombrero-wearing monster who looks like a cross between a lumberjack and surfer.
“You try to be careful with making fun of something like South of the Border, because you run the risk of being offensive on any number of levels,” Smith said.
“Sombrero World” is one of a number of comics that Smith has coming out this year, including a story based on another Cartoon Network series, “Adventure Time.” But first, Smith is thinking that he should properly commemorate the publication of “Sombrero World.”
“Having done the story, I’m curious to go back down to South of the Border again,” he said. “Maybe pop some champagne. I’m not really in the mood to make a pilgrimage, but it does feel like something I need to do.”