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Comics and Graphic Novels for Latinx Cultural Heritage Month
Posted on September 22, 2021
by Eric S
While comics have always maintained a large Latinx readership, the books themselves have been slow to reflect this in their characters and creators—especially with mainstream superhero comics. Although the industry has a long way to go in terms of representation, some exciting strides have been made in recent years to give greater voice to Latinx perspectives and highlight talented writers and artists who contribute to this ever-more-diverse medium.
With hit movies like Into the Spider-Verse showcasing Miles Morales (an Afro-Latinx Spider-Man), and newer comic characters such as Jaime Reyes (The Blue Beetle), America Chavez (Miss America), and Anya Corazon (Spider-Girl), pop culture has started to embrace Latinx characters in some interesting ways. Events such as The Latino Comics Expo in California and the Texas Latino Comic Con bring further visibility to readers, artists, and writers who bring their creativity to the industry and allow it to thrive. While most of these comic book and graphic novel selections contain Latinx characters, they were also chosen to reflect the diversity of work produced by Latinx artists—aesthetically and thematically—from the indie comics underground to the pages of Marvel and DC. Of course, this is just a small sampling of works by some of comics’ biggest names and promising up-and-comers.
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Having drawn nearly every major character in both Marvel and DC’s vast stable, George Pérez’s influence on the superhero genre is incalculable. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, he began his career with Marvel in the mid-1970s, eventually becoming a regular penciler on the magazine Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, for which he co-created White Tiger—the very first Puerto Rican superhero. Pérez ultimately worked his way up to The Avengers, a book he would return to several times over the years. With writer Marv Wolfman, Pérez would leave an everlasting mark on the industry with 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, a miniseries that brought the concept of the comic book multiverse to a mainstream audience and continues to inform DC’s stories to this day. However, Pérez and Wolfman’s much more personal, character-driven run on The New Teen Titans is what I find myself coming back to most often. If you love Teen Titans Go! or the live-action Titans show, check out this classic collection and see where it all started.
While Love and Rockets is a permanent fixture of the 1980s underground comic book canon, you don’t have to be cooler-than-thou to fall in love with this masterpiece by Los Bros Hernandez. Drawing on their love of old superhero comics as well the California punk scene, brothers Gilbert and Jaime channel their Mexican American upbringing into characters who grow in relatable, humorous, and often heartbreaking ways over the span of their decades-long journeys. If you’ve ever doubted the ability of characters on a comic page to address real-life struggles and emotions, Love and Rockets may be the book to change your mind.
For a quick introduction to the sheer amount of diversity reflected in comics by Latinx creators, this massive collection is a must-read. Corresponding to an exhibit of the same name, co-curated by Aldama at Ohio State’s s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Tales from La Vida showcases works that find humor and pathos in multilingualism, gender identity, and the complexities of the Latinx experience.
The daughter of Chilean and Afro-Brazilian parents, Natacha Bustos has become somewhat of a superstar artist on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. With a manga-inspired style, Bustos brings a sense of energy and excitement to this modern-day response to Jack Kirby’s over-the-top cult favorite series, Devil Dinosaur. The story involves nine-year-old Lunella Lafayette (the smartest person in the world) and her giant reptilian friend, a relentlessly likable odd couple that finds itself thrown into the superhero adventures of the Marvel Universe. Bustos’ contributions to the medium also extend outside the comic book page. As a member of Colectiva de Autora de Comic, which seeks to bring greater visibility to women in the male-dominated industry of comics, Bustos will be an artist to watch as mainstream superhero books look to embrace more diverse voices.
Bringing a uniquely Brazilian perspective to Daytripper, twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá craft a comic that is nonetheless universal in its reflections on mortality and the big cosmic questions we all ask ourselves. Each issue looks at a different yet significant moment in the life of protagonist Brás de Oliva Domingos’, but ends with his death. What results is a highly thoughtful, inventive exploration of mortality that revels in hope and possibility, but also acknowledges how life can bring a sense of loss and despair. If Daytripper seems too heavy to make it to your reading pile, Bá’s art superbly brings to life the superhero/sci-fi excitement of Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy.
A true cartoonist’s cartoonist in the tradition of Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, and Alex Toth, the Spanish-Argentine penciler José Luis García-López embodies clarity of storytelling. Still contributing to the medium well into his 70s, García-López is perhaps most recognized for his DC comics work of the 1970s. His crisp lines and bold, iconic designs made him the perfect choice to create the in-house DC Comics Style Guide (Google it—it’s a delight), which was used for marketing, licensing, and reference for other artists. 1980s and ‘90s kids have likely seen his work countless times on DC merchandise. While I’d also recommend the somewhat bizarre Batman Vs. The Incredible Hulk from 1981, it’s hard to beat García-López’s take on the Man of Steel.
Puerto Rico Strong: A Comics Anthology Supporting Puerto Rico Disaster Relief and Recovery
Informed by the disastrous effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Puerto Rico Strong is more than a mere “benefit comic.” With over 40 stories centering on the multifaced nature of Puerto Rican culture, this anthology looks at experiences on the main island of Puerto Rico and its smaller islands. Individuals struggling to find a sense of identity in the States are also featured.
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