In Other Words

Graphic Borders: Latino Comic Books Past, Present, and Fu­ture,

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - edited by Fred­er­ick Luis Al­dama and Christo­pher González

Read­ing this new sur­vey of Latino comics and graphic nov­els made me re­al­ize my lapsed sta­tus as an “al­ter­natino.” My last ex­pe­ri­ence with the genre was Love and Rockets by the Her­nan­dez broth­ers (Gil­bert, Jaime, and Mario), an al­most uni­ver­sally beloved long-form comic-strip novel that rev­eled in col­laps­ing dis­tinc­tions be­tween Chi­cano fam­ily life, pulpy noir films, and what was then the un­der­ground punk cul­ture of the 1980s and ’90s.

In the two decades since, a throng of Latino artists and writ­ers have flocked to the genre to tackle se­ri­ous so­cial is­sues and flesh out visual bi­ogra­phies of His­panic icons, all while couch­ing their comic strips and graphic nov­els in­side plot­lines and char­ac­ters more out­ra­geous than any­thing dreamed up ina te­len­ov­ela. Here’s a sam­pling of some of the past decade’s of­fer­ings: In Richard Dominguez’s El Gato

Ne­gro, a trou­bled young man dons a mus­cu­lar fe­line suit to bat­tle against po­lice who mis­tak­enly think he is in league with same nar­cos whose South Texas drug syn­di­cates he ac­tu­ally in­fil­trates and de­stroys. Then there’s Erik Ro­driguez’s His­panic Bat­man, a Span­glish­s­peak­ing, bi­sex­ual Bat­man who makes passes at Erik Estrada and flirts with “a sexed-up Con­doleeza Rice cos­tumed as Cat Woman.” In Tales of the Closet, Ivan Velez Jr. draws strips to il­lu­mi­nate the com­ing-out sto­ries of teens from an ar­ray of cul­tures, races, and gen­ders. With El Muerto: The Aztec Zom­bie, Javier Her­nan­dez bor­rows freely from Haitian and Chi­cano folk­lore to il­lus­trate his tale of a su­per­nat­u­ral young man trapped be­tween earthly South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and the Aztec un­der­world of Mict­lan.

The boom in Latino comic pub­lish­ing is a match of style and form, says one of the aca­demic types in the crit­i­cal think pieces that make up this an­thol­ogy. Ralph Ro­driguez, an Amer­i­can stud­ies pro­fes­sor at Brown Univer­sity, writes that the tales of jus­tice-seek­ing su­per­nat­u­ral out­siders who dom­i­nate the comic-book genre res­onate “es­pe­cially well with Chi­cana/os, who though sub­jects of the na­tion are of­ten rep­re­sented as alien to it.” Per­haps it also helps that comics trans­late well to the web and to e-read­ers, while be­ing con­sid­er­ably less time-con­sum­ing to trans­late.

Comic panel strips have also been adapted as a strong medium for his­tory and bi­og­ra­phy, such as Wil­fred San­ti­ago’s 21: The Story of Roberto Cle­mente. An un­con­ven­tional bi­og­ra­phy of the break­through base­ball leg­end, San­ti­ago’s graphic novel veers away from the di­a­mond to ex­am­ine the devel­op­ment of Cle­mente’s char­ac­ter. Some pan­els de­scribe his strange racial odyssey, as a Puerto Ri­can of African de­scent forced to dine separately from his team­mates when they played games in the Jim Crow South. Other pan­els take full visual ad­van­tage of the comic su­per­hero trope. San­ti­ago’s il­lus­tra­tions of Cle­mente’s record-break­ing 3,000th hit feature the slug­ger’s arm trans­formed into a freshly fired can­non, his pow­er­ful hands flex­ing as hu­man eye­balls pro­trude from his fin­ger­tips.

Ilan Sta­vans, the lex­i­cog­ra­pher and Latino pop­cul­ture es­say­ist, re­veals his own per­sonal his­tory with the comic form, grow­ing up as a Jewish im­mi­grant in 1960s Mex­ico City. As a teen, he poured through his­to­ri­etas — comic pam­phlets, fre­quently philo­soph­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal in na­ture, that use Mex­i­can char­ac­ters and hero-vs.-vil­lain plots to en­ter­tain, ed­u­cate, and un­set­tle their read­ers. His­to­ri­etas have long been de­rided by Mex­ico’s in­tel­lec­tual class as crass and un­re­fined. Sta­vans’ es­say re­ha­bil­i­tates the genre and de­scribes how mod­ern-day car­toon­ists might ben­e­fit from study­ing how the genre ef­fort­lessly candy-coated de­mand­ing dis­cus­sions about Mex­i­can iden­tity and cul­ture in a sweet sheen of dime-novel drama.

In par­tic­u­lar, he re­flects on the his­to­ri­etas of Ed­uardo del Río Gar­cía, oth­er­wise known by his pen name, Rius. While Rius’ plots are pure pulp — a mes­tizo fam­ily known as Los Su­per­ma­chos bat­tle en­e­mies un­der­min­ing Mex­ico — he had deep pop­u­lar ap­peal. Ac­cord­ing to Sta­vans, nearly a quar­ter-mil­lion Mex­i­cans bought his work on a monthly ba­sis in the 1960s and ’70s. “I ... see him [Rius] as my Vir­gil in my un­der­stand­ing of a num­ber of thorny is­sues con­nected to Mex­i­can cul­ture,” Sta­vans writes. “What Rius in­tended to do, in my view, was teach his read­ers to be un­set­tled by Mex­ico’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape.”

For read­ers un­ac­cus­tomed to the aca­demic lan­guage of the pro­fes­sor-au­thored think pieces in here, the book can be a slow ex­pe­ri­ence. Those look­ing for a “more pop, less scholar” ap­proach to the genre might still go with 2009’s Your Brain on Latino Comics (Univer­sity of Texas Press), au­thored by Fred­er­ick Luis Al­dama, who co-edited this an­thol­ogy. But for those want­ing a deeper look at the wells of artis­tic styles, cul­tural trends, and his­tor­i­cal pres­sures that in­flu­ence our cur­rent crop of Latino artist-authors, this an­thol­ogy digs deep and wide.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.