Back in 2010, comics creator Javier Hernandez was walking around San Francisco with his friend Ricardo Padilla when he had an idea: Why don't they build a comics convention focusing on the works of Latino artists and writers? Hernandez, best known for his comic El Muerto, had been working independently since the late 1990s. He could make that happen. A year later, the first Latino Comics Expo took place at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. It was a hit that eventually moved to Southern California and into Long Beach's Museum of Latin American Art. On Nov. 11 and 12, Latino Comics Expo returns for its annual event with guests Los Bros Hernandez (of Love and Rockets fame), director Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer), graphic novelist Cathy Camper (Lowriders in Space) and many more.
Latino Comics Expo isn't the only such event in the country. Last summer, Texas Latino Comic-Con launched in Dallas. Later this month, the East Coast will get its first Latinx comic convention when Nerdtino opens in Philadelphia. Hernandez points out that there are also conventions dedicated to comics specifically from black and Native American artists. All that points to the diversity within the comic book world that goes beyond what you see in big-budget superhero movies.
Hernandez, who is based in Whittier, recalls his introduction to comics as a child in the 1970s. His brother had passed along a stack of DC and Marvel titles his way. “Of course, when I got done reading that stack over and over, I made my way over to the local 7-Eleven and started buying my own comics,” he says in a phone interview. One of the comics he remembers reading as a child was Marvel's White Tiger, which followed a superhero who was Puerto Rican. The character's co-creator and artist was George Perez, famed today for his work on series like Wonder Woman and Teen Titans.
Eventually, Hernandez gravitated toward making comics himself. In 1998, he released El Muerto. “I decided to self-publish because I didn't want to work for a mainstream company. I wasn't looking to be the 100th artist on Thor. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not what I wanted to do,” he says. “I wanted to do my own stories and I wanted to do stories from my perspective as a Mexican-American. I wanted to delve into Mexican culture.”
When he began working on El Muerto, though, he noticed something else: “I started noticing self-publishing Latinos making comics, where now it wasn't just they were working on Spider-Man or Daredevil, but they're creating characters that represent them as Mexican-Americans or Latinos or what have you, giving it a cultural twist.” He found artists like Carlos Saldaña, from Los Angeles, who created the comic Burrito, Texas-based Richard Dominguez of El Gato Negro and Laura Molina of Jaguar. Hernandez himself had drew upon Aztec mythology and Day of the Dead for El Muerto.
Hernandez has had success with El Muerto, which was adapted into a movie back in 2007. “It's a long, winding and difficult road, self-publishing, because one of the main things is that you're paying for your own printing and marketing and conventioneering,” he says. “Having done it for almost 20 years now, I don't see any other way for me to do it. I love doing my own work at my own pace and putting it out on my own.” Currently, he's finishing work on Daze of the Dead, a retelling of El Muerto's origin story that is due to hit local shops soon.
It's the indie comics spirit that Hernandez brings to Latino Comics Expo. In addition to co-founding the event, he's the creative director of the convention, bringing together artists and organizing the panel discussions. This year, he notes that Latino Comics Expo, fans of Love and Rockets will get a special treat with appearances from all three of the brothers behind the series, Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez. He speaks with excitement in his voice when he talks about the talent heading to this year's event. Cathy Camper, from Lowriders in Space, will be on hand to teach a workshop on making mini-comics. Isabel Castro and Natasha Hernandez, from Texas, are coming with their zine St. Sucia. Jean Marie Munson and Melina Chavarria, the duo behind the comic book The Magic Glasses, will be among the panelists as well. Their own comic centers around a Latina from Compton. “It's a book made for young girls of color,” Hernandez says. “That's a long way from Iron Man comics.” Moreover, there will be podcasters, like the Comadres y Comics team, on hand and illustrators who don't work on comics. “I'm looking to create a very rich experience for us, but also for the fans, the attendees,” Hernandez says.
Hernandez also stresses that anyone can attend Latino Comics Expo. That's a question he's been asked before. “We assembled the Latino creators, or Latino content, at the expo,” he explains, “but everybody should come.”
Latino Comics Expo, Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; Sat.-Sun., Nov. 11-12, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; $10, $7 students. latinocomicsexpo.com.