For co-founder and co-organizer Hector Rodriguez, the most stunning part of the inaugural 2017 Texas Latino Comic Con was that it hadn’t happened sooner.
The convention, which took place Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center, was one of the first gatherings of its kind in the state of Texas: a space where comic and superhero fans, specifically Latinos, could come out to share their work and creative passions with the greater community. In an effort to further make the event accessible to wider audiences, entry was free.
Citing gatherings such as the Latino Comics Expo in Long Beach, Calif., and Sol-Con: The Brown and Black Comics Expo in Columbus, Ohio, Rodriguez said that Texas was long overdue for a comic convention of its own.
“I would say this was a necessity. There’s a need for representation, especially with the Latino population growing so fast in Texas,” said Rodriguez. “Our community needs somewhere that is safe to enjoy and have this comic book experience.”
An artist himself, Rodriguez grew up in the border town of Eagle Pass, his childhood filled with comic books and superheroes. His love for comics eventually led him to create El Peso Hero, a vigilante who patrols the U.S.-Mexico border and fights against cartels, human trafficking, political corruption and other social issues.
“[In comics], you’re able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes — that’s why it’s very important to tell our stories,” said Rodriguez. “Our tagline is, ‘Our stories matter' at Texas Latino Comic Con, and it’s something that everybody else needs to know.”
The stories are most definitely there. As if underscoring Rodriguez's words, upon entering the Latino Cultural Center guests were greeted by a wall-length grid display of comic book artist Sam de la Rosa’s greatest hits.
De la Rosa, a native of San Antonio whose career spans over 30 years, has been published by comic juggernauts Marvel and D.C., among others. Many of the panels hanging behind him include iconic comic book figures such as Superman, Batman, Venom and Carnage.
And, of course, then there's Spider-Man.
“It’s always been Spider-Man,” he said, when asked who his favorite superhero is. “It’s a character I picked up in the '60s, buying the books for 12 cents apiece.”
Spidey introduced de la Rosa to what would become a lifelong love for everything comics.
“I really, really enjoyed the stories and the characters and the colorful costumes and powers, so I just started drawing him when I was a little kid,” de la Rosa said.
He noted how the Texas Latino Comic Con was a way to connect established Latino artists to comic fans who could one day follow their lead. De la Rosa advised that with passion, perseverance and professionalism, young Latinos can reach their own creative goals, and perhaps even surpass them — the convention was proof of that.
“I’m Latino, and this just shows that hey, we can accomplish some stuff, you know?” he said.
De la Rosa’s origin story echoed that of many who attended the comic con. The turnout, which included fans, illustrators, writers, performers and cosplayers (attendees dressed up as their favorite fictional characters), captured a community positioned at the intersection of fandom, art and culture.
“You can mix your culture in with the stuff you love,” said Stephanie Longoria, an Arlington-based designer who specializes in reinterpreting Latino cultural iconography — calaveras, luchadores, the Virgen de Guadalupe, Frida Kahlo — with a bright, colorful Sanrio-inspired stylistic twist.
Her first project was a take on the Cucuy, a bogeyman prominent in Latin American folklore. Cucuy mythos is notorious for making the rounds at campfires and late bedtimes, spooking kids as a “monster under the bed” figure. But instead of retelling the original story, Longoria designed a cute, comedic comic strip featuring the Cucuy as more afraid of the kids than they were of it.
“It was inspired by my kids, and it look off from there,” she said of her comics. “There are just so many ways to be an artist.”
This mantra rings just as true for Eliamaria Crawford, who helped organize the convention and set up a booth to showcase her studios, Elia In A Box Studios. Decked out in a folklorico-inspired Wonder Woman costume, Crawford showed off the artwork she specializes in: stick figures and comics with a dry sense of humor.
She discovered the world of web comics after her friends introduced her to it, and she’s been hooked ever since. But she quickly saw just how male-dominated the comic book industry is. For Latinas, she admitted, it’s particularly difficult.
“Just getting the respect as a woman and getting the respect as a Latina, it makes it double-time hard,” Crawford said. “But that just makes me work double-time harder.”
The turnout came as a bit of a pleasant surprise to Crawford. She pointed out how most of the people at the convention were just from Dallas. It didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of other major cities like San Antonio, Austin and Houston.
“Imagine all of us all over,” she said. “It’s a growing industry and we’re here.”
The convention didn’t limit itself to people solely focused on making comic books. Gonzalo Alvarez works in illustration and game design. He designed a video game called Borders, an 8-bit adventure that puts players in the shoes of a person from Mexico trying to cross over safely to America.
Players have to avoid border agents who are on the hunt for anyone crossing over and take cover in bushes to avoid their presence. They also have to find water scattered throughout the map or the character will die of dehydration. The skeletons of other players who have died are littered across the map to represent the real lives lost on the trip.
“It was actually inspired by my dad, who crossed the border 20 years ago and encountered a skeleton on the way,” Alvarez said.
He said the convention gave the Latino community of creators within the comic book world a place to show off its work. He came because he hadn’t been to a convention where people get to show their culture, and he wanted to be a part of that.
“I think this is extremely important,” he said. “Not only for us as a community, but people who don’t know about our community. Because now they can come here and learn all about it.”
That connection to community wasn’t lost on Erika Garcia and her young son, Isaac Coronado. Coronado came decked out in a full Spider-Man costume, even if he was too little to walk through the crowd without his mom.
Garcia doesn’t speak Spanish, and neither does her son. She said that creates a bit of a disconnect for them culturally. That’s one of the reasons she found it important to bring him to this year’s event.
“I thought it’d be nice to bring him here and get him into the other side of things,” Garcia said.