From his one-man shop in Austin (Super Mercado Films), Houston native Yehudi Mercado turns out animated and live short films for grown-ups, with topics ranging from a behind-the-scenes take on the porn industry to a job interview from hell—literally.
His latest project is a semi-autobiographical three-volume graphic novel called Buffalo Speedway about a pizza delivery guy in Houston during a perfect storm of events one day in 1994—Game 5 of the Houston Rockets' NBA Finals series with the New York Knicks, World Cup soccer and O.J. Simpson and his white Bronco in a low-speed car chase with police.
It's still in the works, but after seeing a clip online, CultureMap talked to Mercado about Houston, animation, that one crazy, historic day and more.
Q: Where did the idea for the graphic novel come from?
A: Buffalo Speedway started with a screenplay. It was in the back of my mind since 1994 when all these things happened and I was delivering pizza for Pizza Hut. So I wrote a screenplay and it won second place in the Final Draft's Big Break screenwriting competition. So then the goal was to turn it into a film. We actually had a lot of interest from producers, but there was a lot of push back on keeping the protagonist black. I had some people tell me the screenplay would have more potential if I made him white. But to me it's really important to the plot for him to be black, so the goal changed to making an independent film, starting with a graphic novel.
Q: What kind of graphic novels do you read?
A: I read a lot of them. But I'm not into the superhero stuff. I really like Scott Pilgrim, The Goon, Hellboy. Hellboy is really as far as I'll go towards the superhero stuff.
Q: How did you get into animation? What other projects have you been involved in?
A: I grew up drawing and illustrating—for Buffalo Speedway I did all my own inking and everything—and I was working in video games and that took me more to illustration. The thing I've done that's gotten the most attention probably is Porn Editor. This long-time editor for Hustler contacted me and wanted to make something about his wacky life in the industry. It ended in the top five at a short film festival, and got the attention of HBO, and aired on there. My mom is really embarrassed about it.
Q: What's your favorite thing about Buffalo Speedway?
A: I love how everyone remembers where they were that day. Plus at the beginning of every chapter there's a playlist of songs from that time to get more of the overall experience. And Houston is kinda underrepresented in pop culture. The only movie we have is Reality Bites, and that was 1994 as well. Maybe those were the glory years and we didn't even know it.
Q: You mentioned you grew up in the Willowbrook/1960 area. Why set it on Buffalo Speedway?
A: I always thought Buffalo Speedway was the coolest name for a street in Houston. Even when I was in high school, I would tell my friends I was going to make a movie called Buffalo Speedway.