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Latino Artists Highlight Culture Through Comic Books

BY KATE SHEEHY -- As more Latino youth come of age in the United States, they are looking for superheroes who reflect their cultural heritage. The expanding art scene of Latino comic book artists is evident at events such as last month’s Latino Comics Expo at San Francisco’s Cartoon Museum.

PRI The World’s Monica Campbell recently spoke with several young Latino artists who are conjuring up figures from Latin pop culture and legends to create superheroes in their stories. There’s Sonámbulo, a Mexican wrestler-turned-private-eye, the Preying Aztec Mantis, and Crying Macho Man.

Gilbert Hernandez is one of the pioneers of Latino comic book artists.

Hernandez currently lives in Las Vegas and was recently on KNPR’s State of Nevada to discuss his new book “Marble Season.” It's semi-autobiographical about his childhood growing up in the racially diverse, agricultural community of Oxnard, Calif., in the 1960s. One of the characters in the book, Junior, is chastised for liking a white girl.

“My little group of friends, we didn’t care if you liked a white girl, an Asian girl, a Black girl, it didn’t matter. But you would often hear from other people, say you had a crush on a little blonde girl with freckles, and they’d say ‘You like a white girl?’ There’s a period in our lives as kids where we don’t care what color people are, we don’t care what culture they’re from. We just like them,” Hernandez said.

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 “Marble Season” is Gilbert’s first attempt at a comic book for kids. Hernandez and his brothers Jaime and Mario are known as Los Bros Hernandez. They made a name for themselves in the early 1980s with their original comic series “Love and Rockets.” The series was groundbreaking for its time and addresses issues of race and prejudice. Characters in the books are biracial, black, Latino and gay.

“Comic books have a freedom … anything that you really want to say that’s truthful; you can still do in comics because there’s not a big media conglomerate controlling that. You can just really connect to people as people,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez says he’s worried comics may get swept under the rug by technology. Yet the turnout at comic expos like the one in San Francisco suggests, for now, it is a living means of expression for new artists.