In Mexico and other Latin American countries, reading comic books and comic strips has long been an accepted form of entertainment and even a potential mode of cultural and political learning and transgression. In Mexico in the early 21st century the socially and politically critical comic books of Gabriel Vargas Bernal (La familia Burrón) and the work of Eduardo del Río, or Rius (Los supermachos, Los agachados), are still read by college kids and adults. In the United States, comic books generally have had a more troubled history. Their consumption had long been considered a childish activity. The growth of the alternative comics scene in the 1970s and 1980s and the success of the nonserialized, longer graphic novel in the 1990s changed this. These developments led to a mushrooming of English-language comics by and about Latinos and Latinas in the United States and the appearance of Latin American authors and artists (e.g., the Argentinean Carlos Trillo and the Brazilians Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá) producing and distributing English-language comics. As a storytelling medium, the comic is especially attractive to Latinos and Latinas. Comic books cost little to make. They offer the possibility of a grassroots-style distribution on the Internet and by word of mouth, for instance. For audiences, comic book consumption can take place in short bursts and in between other leisure activities and work. US Latino comic book practitioners include Frank Espinosa, Los Bros Hernandez (Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, and Mario Hernandez), Rafael Navarro, Ivan Velez Jr., Rhode Montijo, Wilfred Santiago, Fernando Rodriguez, Jaime Crespo, Jose Cabrera, Hector Cantú, Richard Dominguez, Carlos Saldaña, Anthony Oropeza, Ilan Stavans, Joe Quesada, and Erik Rodriguez. Although US Latina comic book authors and artists have traditionally been fewer, the early 21st century has seen more and more making comics, including Graciela Rodriguez, Iverna Lockpez, Gregory Roberts, Liz Mayorga, Isis Rodriguez, Gabrielle Gamboa, and Alana Macías.
Although there is a long history of studies that consider comics by and about those south of the US-Mexico border, in the early 21st century the study of US Latino comics is a burgeoning field of inquiry among scholars, educators, and librarians. The first decade of the 21st century saw a rapidly growing interest in the study of US Latino comics in terms of understanding both how Latinos and Latinas have been represented in comics and how comics are made and consumed by Latinos and Latinas and by audiences generally. Aldama 2009 is the first book-length study on the subject. Aldama’s book aims to archive the history of comics by and about Latinos and Latinas; offer a theory for their analysis; and make heard, through interviews, the actual voices of the many Latino and Latina authors and artists practicing in the early 21st century. Since the book’s publication and as a direct response to it, the annual Latino Comics Expo is held in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition to the growing literature on Latino comics in the United States are those works that have focused on comic books and strips in Mexico and Latin America, such as Campbell 2009 and Hinds and Tatum 1992 on Mexican comics, Foster 1989 on Mexican and Argentinean comics largely, and Merino 2003 on comics in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba. There has also been an increasing presence of dedicated academic symposia on the topic of Latino and Latin American comics in university settings, such as Stanford University and Ohio State University. Moreover, US Latino comics have become more prevalent in elementary through graduate school curricula, and doctoral students are writing dissertations on them. Cornog and Raiteri 2008 considers the importance of Latino comics in US libraries in light of changing demographics in the United States.
Aldama, Frederick Luis. Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez. Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Culture. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.
Aldama provides a historical context for the representation of Latinos and Latinas in mainstream and alternative comics, a theoretical model for approaching Latino comics, and interviews with the practitioners of Latino comics in the early 21st century.
Campbell, Bruce. ¡Viva la historieta! Mexican Comics, NAFTA, and the Politics of Globalization. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
Campbell’s nine chapters variously examine sociopolitically oriented Mexican comics, such as those of Rius, published in the era of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and global capitalism. Campbell also discusses how such comics shaped public opinion of Mexican politics during the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Cornog, Martha, and Steve Raiteri. “Graphic Novels: ¿Hablas cómics?.” Library Journal 133 (2008): 55–56.
Cornog and Raiteri consider a variety of Latino comics in English and Spanish and their importance in terms of reaching library patrons.
Foster, David William. From Mafalda to Los supermachos: Latin American Graphic Humor as Popular Culture. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1989.
Foster analyzes how a variety of vital and original comics create meaning, exploring Quino’s Mafalda, Guillermo Saccamanno (author) and Patricia Breccia’s (artist) Sol de noche (Sun of night), Carlos Trillo (author) and Horacio Altuna’s (artist) Las puertitas del Sr. Lopez (The little doors of Mr. Lopez), and Rius’s Supermachos, among others.
Hinds, Harold E., Jr., and Charles M. Tatum. Not Just for Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s. Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.
Hinds and Tatum look at the historical context in which Mexican comics, including most significantly the best-selling superhero comic Kalimán, have been read by adults without any stigma and propose a model for analyzing these works that seeks to enrich our sense of them as unique and actively interfacing with US culture (e.g., Batman and Superman) and not as subordinate to and co-opted by a US cultural imperialism.
Merino, Ana. El cómic hispánico. Signo e imagen. Madrid: Cátedra, 2003.
Merino archives then analyzes Spanish-language comics from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba. Her work not only records otherwise lost comics from the Cuban archives but also presents an interpretative method that demonstrates how such comics offer forms of resistance to US imperialist cultural policies and elitist cultural attitudes in their own countries.
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