Latino Comics Expo Spotlights Art and Graphic Novels From Chicano Self-Publishers

LCX Navarro

Rafael Navarro talks to attendees at his Latino Comics Expo table. Photos by Gisela Merino.

Rafael Navarro decided to accessorize his suit with a Panchito Pistoles pin this past Saturday. The sombrero-wearing rooster from Disney’s The Three Caballeros was worn as a badge of pride as Navarro sat confidently among his stacks of luchador comics.

“Masked Mexican wrestler comic books…they’re old hat in Mexico, but there was nothing like that here in America at the time,” Navarro said, recalling the lack of Latin culture in comics 15 years ago, when he began self-publishing the adventure of an ex-luchador turned paranormal investigator,  Sonamblo.

But Sonamblo was not alone this weekend. Over three dozen exhibitors, many of them Latino, displayed their work at the 2013 Latino Comics Expo, a two-day event held this year at the Museum of Latin American Art.

On either side of Navarro’s table were fellow lucha-inspired creators. From the rows upon rows of comics and related merchandise to children scampering through the crowds of comic book fans and curious passer-bys, the MOLAA’s Balboa Studio teemed with Latino comics pride. 

LCX Parada“With so many Latino creators out there and so many people doing Latino themed comics, I thought it would be a good idea to provide kind of a one-stop shopping experience,” said Co-Founder and Creative Director of LCX, Javier Hernandez. Hernandez and Ricardo Padilla founded LCX in 2011 as an annual Latin experience event, beginning in the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, CA.

Alex Olivas, co-creator of Tzolken Media expressed at the “DIY Comics” panel that large comic book conglomerates such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics have stagnated the industry by catering exclusively to middle-aged white males. It was a marketing strategy that forced many producers to turn to do-it-yourself methods of printing Latino-themed comics.

In his 20 years of self publishing, Carlos Saldaña, creator of Chicano comic Burrito Jack-of-all-Trades, had witnessed Latino creators fumble with publishers because their product was not deemed marketable. Today, Latino culture has come to grace comic book shelves more commonly than in the past, a trend Saldaña attributes partially to the popularity of online distribution. “You don’t have to be at the mercy of distributors,” he said.

Comics were not the only form of art exuding Hispanic culture at LCX. Children’s books with Dia de los Muertos-inspired characters were displayed across a small bookcase of Spanish-language literature.

A screening of The Jim Lujan Cartoon Show was also scheduled for 2PM said attendee Michele Aufrichtig, watching the time carefully. Although she is not Latino, she was intrigued by the event because Latino art has influenced her son’s graffitti art.

One exhibitor was there not only to display his brand of vinyl toys, but to support his family. Three Coconut Money Brand Director Edgar Pasten promoted a campaign to help Olvera Street merchants, such as his in-laws, fund cultural events.

LCX Abrera

Javier Hernandez (left) and Jose Cabrera (right)

Not far from the homemade jewelry, the posters and the Aztec and Mayan-inspired comics was Captain America, patrolling with his mysterious sunglass-wearing associates. The Marvel superhero represented the U.S. Department of Illegal Superheroes. The fictitious organization places superheroes such as Superman and Thor, who entered the United States without proper authorization, under strict scrutiny, satirizing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Sheila Kono, who had only happened upon the expo from following the mobile food truck El Burger Luchador, was struck by the cultural passion of the event.

“Being Japanese, they’re certain stereotypes people think of,” Kono said. “People assume I’m from Japan… I was born in Torrance, raised in Carson. It’s the same sort of thing in the Latino community… People assume you’re not from here.”

Although the comic book industry faces a difficult future, Olivas believes now is the perfect time for new ideas. He calls a return to the “old-school” way of reaching out to children, of target untapped or forgotten demographics.

“In this room is the most valuable intellectual property in the next 10 years,” said Olivas. 

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