Photos by Angel Carreras.
WHAM! BANG! POW! Chingao!
The Latino Comics Expo returned with thunderous aplomb this past weekend in Long Beach, bringing with it more comics, creators, and fan attendance than the little-convention-that-could has seen in it’s relatively brief existence.
“I gotta say, this particular year, for me it’s been different,” said Javier Hernandez, cofounder of Latino Comics Expo (LCX), now in its seventh year. “All I’ve been doing is interviews. It’s been cool, man. From street-level guys like bloggers and the like to El Rey network and Univision, Telemundo tomorrow… it’s good. The word’s getting out.”
And the word has indeed gotten out.
This year’s convention managed a melange of artists’ and creators’ tables stretching the seams of MOLAA’s walls, mirroring Hernandez’s interviews, getting first-time creators as well as industry veterans like the legendary Hernandez Brothers (no relation) and filmmaker Alex Rivera.
So, just how did the word get out? For what some (severely ignorant people) might call a niche convention with limited appeal, perhaps a social media whiz advertised very well? Maybe canvassing neighborhoods, or, who knows, flying a blimp flashing LED lights that reads “LATINO COMICS, PLEASE COME BY!”?
For a vast majority of the artists and writers at the Latino Comic Expo, first-hand relationships with Hernandez and LCX cofounder Ricardo Padilla brought them to Long Beach for this convention. The two created the weekend-long event to spotlight Latino artists, writers, and culture, hoping to diversify a rather un-colorful comics industry.
Hernandez said he and fellow artists/writers at his expo stand out from mainstream comic publishers due to their counter-programming of sorts. Whereas mainstream companies like DC and Marvel tirelessly attempt to reinvent their characters, Hernandez and company have a fountain of perpetual ideas—their unique upbringing and backgrounds, not beholden to comic book continuity or company mandates.
“You can go to the big shows and yeah, it’s fine,” Hernandez said. “But a specialty show like this, you know what it is going in, the name is pretty simple. If you’re not interested, I guess don’t come. But look at this turnout, look at all these great folks here. Bags full of books, they want to be here.”
Drawing upon the art of hagiography, Dia de los Muertos’ sugar skull theatricality, and Aztec imagery, writers and artists at the LCX use whatever ethnic threads are unique to them to weave an amalgamation of imagery and storytelling.
Writer Eric M. Esquivel at the Latino Comics Expo.
One such writer is Eric M. Esquivel. Born in Gurnee, Illinois, Esquivel ended up in Los Angeles due to his love of Hernandez’s comic, El Muerto.
“I was in Tucson, Arizona, just writing bad Batman fan-fiction before I read El Muerto,” Esquivel said, recounting his experience. “It changed my entire life. It inspired me to write about my own experiences.”
Representation is central in Esquivel’s work, ranging from the hyper-violent Black Terror (imagine an African American version of The Punisher taking on the KKK and alt-right), to more subtle ways of showing how our differences shouldn’t cause a fissure between people, as shown in his all-ages run in Adventure Time.
Esquivel notes the difficulties of bringing his culture and experience to the stands, a battleground for diversity in which he has no intention of relenting his fight. Esquivel recounts an experience of a publisher telling him he was “too radical” for constantly pitching stories with non-white characters.
“Mind you, it wasn’t like, MEXICAN GUY, or PUERTO RICAN GAL, it was characters fighting robots and vampires, but they happened to be Latino or Hispanic, and that influences your worldview. Just like Clark Kent being Protestant in the Midwest influences his worldview or Daredevil being Irish-Catholic is very important to Daredevil.”
Esquivel states that, until recently it’s been a mark against him that he pitches Latino-centric ideas. However, with the help of conventions like LCX, “there’s whole viable connections” where editors and companies see Latinos supporting each other, enabling them to take more chances on minorities.
“I love seeing these types of shows—Latino, Black, Asian, Queer conventions,” Hernandez adds. “People think it’s not inclusive or separate, but no, it’s putting a spotlight on these cultures.”
Artist Amber Padilla at Latino Comics Expo.
Asked if the reception and ever-increasing attendance of creators and fans has surpassed Hernandez’s wildest dreams for the event, Hernandez stated he wants to go bigger. “Not to be greedy, but yeah, I want more. Bigger venue, more people, more artists, more financing—I’d LOVE to get artists from across the world, my big want is George Perez. Sergio Aragones, a lot of people on my wishlist.”
Events at this year’s expo included screenings, panels, arts and crafts, meet and greets, a food truck, and comic book superfan himself, Mayor Robert Garcia, proclaiming Sunday, November 12th Latino Comics Expo day.