The Latino Comics Expo, coming to the Modesto Junior College West Campus on March 15-16, isn’t just another comic-con (not that there’s anything wrong with those), MJC instructor Theresa Rojas said.
The importance of the San Francisco-based expo, which was founded in 2011 and is making its first visit to Modesto, is that it highlights Latino creators and Latino-friendly content, said Rojas, who is the event’s site director and teaches literature, creative writing, comparative media and more.
These creators see the value of connecting with readers who aren’t used to seeing themselves in comics. And the expo, which will feature scores of exhibitors, workshops, panels and more, is a huge opportunity for members of the Latino community to see themselves reflected in print and digital works, Rojas said.
“I think Latinx (a gender-neutral term sometimes used instead of Latino or Latina) creators are one the best-kept secrets in country,” she said, “and part of my mission is to get these works more accessible not just to my students but to everyone.”
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There is a large and growing number of Latino comics titles on the market, she said, but often buyers can get them only at conventions. Rojas, an artist and writer herself, said she advocates that more creators build websites and market themselves.
Expo co-founder Ricardo Padilla said his event, now in its eighth year, is the nation’s largest gathering of Latino comic artists and writers. Previous shows have been in locations including the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum, San Jose State University and the Long Beach Museum of Latin American Art.
Of the MJC expo, he told The Bee, “We have kids workshops, professional panels and comic-book artists and vendors from all over the U.S. and Latin American. Special guests such as Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez of ‘Love and Rockets’ and David Gonzalez , creator of ‘Homies,’ will be in attendance.”
The Associated Students of Modesto Junior College approved funding for the expo, which is free and open to the general public. Friday’s panel discussions will include “Spotlight on Jaime Hernandez,” “Latina Power!” and a conversation on creating lucha libre comics.
The Saturday schedule includes spotlights on David Gonzales and Gilbert Hernandez, a discussion on creating children’s books and comics and a zine making workshop with Cathy Camper, creator of “Lowriders in Space,” and Isabel Ann Castro, creator of “St. Sucia.” There also will be a low-rider car show and photography exhibit.
The panels, workshops, speakers and exhibitors at the expo show the breadth of Latino comics creations, Rojas said. “We have everything from children’s literature, fundamental storytelling, to incredibly sophisticated storytelling going on.”
Among the expo participants is a friend and professor from The Ohio State University, where Rojas earned her doctorate in English. Frederick Luis Aldama is the author or editor of dozens of books, including “Tales From la Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology.” Rojas is among the contributors, with a piece titled “Melva,” a tribute to a Chabot College counselor who inspired her to attend UC Berkeley.
Rojas was a first-generation college student with no role models in her life, she said. Were it not for the counselor’s hounding encouragement, said Rojas, who earned who BA in English from Cal, she doesn’t know where she would have wound up.
Now, Rojas is doing the inspiring, and Latino comics are a key tool in her teaching, especially in her composition courses. “Before I had Dr. Theresa Rojas’ class, I didn’t even know Latino comics was a thing,” student Lucero Vargas-Mendoza said Thursday. “Previously, maybe six, seven months ago, I would look at moments in my life and be like, ‘This is an amazing cartoon moment, like this would be hilarious.’ If it weren’t for me taking her class, I wouldn’t have found my voice.”
Vargas-Mendoza writes poetry, is building on her storytelling and is learning to illustrate. She wants to create a chapbook — a small paperback booklet, typically containing poems or fiction — with illustrations.
“Knocking on her door knocked into a huge, different world for me,” Vargas-Mendoza said. The expo is a big deal for her, she said, where’s she’s eager to meet artists, talk with them about their stories and ask a lot of questions.
Her students are amazing, Rojas said, and so many, like Vargas-Mendoza, are learning about all the opportunities the world has to offer. She loves that she’s able to teach them about all the possibilities in the world of creating and reading comics, she said.
The art form uses a lot of brainpower, the instructor said. The interdependence of words and images “lights up different parts of your brain,” she said. “Students start to feel smarter, and that’s so important, because so many have never been told that they’re smart and that their scholarship matters.”
Latino Comics Expo
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, March 15, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 16
Where: Mary Stuart Rogers Student Center on the Modesto Junior College West Campus, 2201 Blue Gum Ave.
Admission: Free. Parking on campus also is free for the two-day event.
Info: Contact the Student Development and Campus Life office at 209-575-6700. Stay updated at www.facebook.com/LatinoComicsExpo, where posts have included the schedules for each day.