by Bob Calhoun
It’s a small room in the back of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, but every spot on its three wooden benches is taken, with an overflow crowd standing along the back wall. In the front row, a father sits with his nine-year-old son. The son is holding his very own signed copy of an “El Muerto” comic. Javier Hernandez, the creator of El Muerto the Aztec Zombie, is sitting on a folding chair no more than four feet away.
Hernandez is also the organizer of this event, the third annual Latino Comics Expo, as well as the moderator of the “DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Comics Roundtable” that kicks off day two of this micro comic con. On the five chairs to the right of Hernandez sits a good cross-section of the Latino comics community, and all of them have had to deal with the ins and outs of self-publishing.
Rafael Navarro has done storyboards for animated Batman and Spider-Man shows, but orders his own print runs of his “Sonambulo” comics, while Jaime Crespo worked a saddle stapler to put together his latest issue of “Tortilla.” Univision may be drawing higher ratings than NBC these days, but with the exception of Robert Rodriguez and the “Machete” franchise, Hollywood prefers its Mayans and luchadores to be filtered through the likes of Mel Gibson and Jack Black. For Latinos to create their own comic books and superheroes, they have to do it themselves.
“I did come from the punk days in the late 70s/early 80s, (but) DIY is way older than that,” Crespo explains. “DIY goes back to cavemen. It goes back to people building stuff because they had to do it themselves.”
Crespo has landed publishing deals in the past, but prefers cranking out his own comics.
“I’d work three or four months on a comic book, send it out to my publisher, it would almost sell out, and then maybe like two months later, I’d get like a check for $90.”
But all the tales of distribution woes and having to sell your comics in local liquor stores have proven to be more of an inspiration than anything else. Daniel Parada, a young artist from San Francisco, caught the DIY panel at the first Latino Comics Expo, and that encouraged him to put out his own comic.
“I was kind of on the fence about that (self-publishing),” Parada recalls. “I wanted to make my own comic, but I didn’t know if wanted to attempt to send it to some comic book company or do it myself.”
After attending the panel he decided to become his own comic book company because he liked the idea of having “total freedom” to pursue a comic that is “based on cultures that aren’t represented that often.” The result is “Zotz: Serpent and the Shield,” which takes place in an alternate yet still bloody (and surprisingly sexy) history of Meso-America where the Spaniards are defeated by Mayans who learn how to produce their own firearms. Like the older artists on the panel, Parada had to be creative in finding avenues to show his work. He held his book release at a restaurant a few blocks from his house.
Parada thinks its only a matter of time before Latino artists are able to present their own stories to a wider American or global audience.
“My family came from El Salvador, but a lot of the things that I’m researching are things that they didn’t know about their own culture, their own history,” Parada says. “I think it’s up to us to tell these stories if no one else is going to.”
As for the Latino Comics Expo itself, it maybe be small, but it’s expanding. Javier Hernandez is taking his convention down to Los Angeles on August 17-18 at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif.
“It’s been crazy trying to get two shows running back-to-back,” Hernandez says during a later interview, “but I didn’t want to pass up getting an LA show up and running.”
And the aspiring artists like Daniel Parada and maybe that nine-year-old boy in the front row are why Hernandez hopes to produce even more Latino Comics Expos some day in cities such as Austin, Miami and possibly Mexico City.
“We want to inspire people to get out there and make their own books if that’s what they want to do.”
Bob Calhoun is the author of “Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor,” available from Obscuria Press on June 18th. You can follow him on Twitter at @bob_calhoun.