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Latino Comic Expo Seeks to Reach Underserved Youth Through Art and Literature

The big “10 years -10Anos” poster is done by L.A. artist, Rhode Montijo, published author of “Cloud Boy.” His work, the “Halloween Kid” is on display at this year’s Latino Comic Expo at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach this weekend.

By Laurie Hanson

April 29, 2002~Culture and art come to life at the 10th annual Latino Comic Expo this weekend at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach.

Opening ceremonies for this national premier convention will be at noon on Saturday complete with live entertainment throughout the weekend, as the Expo is held both Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“We hope to reach audiences of underserved, young communities of color that need to be [greater] exposed to museums and literature,” said Latino Comics Expo Executive Director Robert Padilla, who has been working the expo for the last 10 years. He and Javier Hernandez co-founded it in 2011. Their mission today remains as always – to provide a platform for Latino voices in the fields of comics and graphic novels, as well as related art forms such as zines, animation, film literature and others.

“Our children need to see themselves in the visual narrative of their times, as well as in the literature,” he said. “It’s so important for young people to read and become literate. We suffer from high dropout rates…seeing themselves in the stories helps.” 

“Our goal is to shine a light on this amazing artistic movement, so people can glance into our artistic movement and realize that comics…[like] most American art forms …is one that we love and treasure in our Latino/a communities as well,” Padilla explained. 

“Our works appeal to all ages and demographics…we are the nation’s largest gathering of Latino/a comic book creators and animators,” he added. “Our Expo imparts hope that our creativity and imagination are important. We can be the ‘content providers of the 21st century’…The talent is there…The Latino Comics Expo proves it!”

Padilla’s motivation for having the show included frustration at not having good comics alternatives for his own small kids and being tired of other ‘Comic Con’ type events refusing to invite him.

“That’s when we decided to ‘do it ourselves,'” Padilla said.   

At the Expo, the artists are the vendors displaying and selling their works in a positive and educational environment that focuses a lot on the Latino/Latina community, its culture, and its folk traditions, including those of the Aztec/Mayan cultures, Lucha Libre, and more. The event includes panels, vendors, live music, and movie screenings. 

The exhibitor hall will feature a variety of panels and a chalk art kids workshop. Award-winning artists attending include Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez, winners of the Eisner Award who are celebrating 40 years of creating the Classic Comix Series, “Love and Rockets.” Also attending is Hollywood film director Jorge Gutierrez, who directed “Book of Life,” and is just coming off his successful animated series, “Maya and the Three,” out of Mexico City. Others include Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez creators of “Love & Rockets,” from Oxnard, Jesse Hernandez with “Urban Aztec,” and Phoenix with “Latina Superheroes.” 

Beginning with its first event at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, the Expo has traveled to San Jose, Modesto and Brownsville, Texas. This year, they welcome Bobby Hernandez as a co-director of the Latino Comics Expo. 

“This is our 5th Expo at MOLAA, since 2016,” Padilla added. “We were invited by [MOLAA] Education Director Gabriela Martinez, who saw the creativity, uniqueness and the positivity of comic book art and animation.”

“As part of MOLAA’s 25th-anniversary year-long celebrations and the Latino Comics Expo 10th anniversary, we are very excited to host the event once more,” said MOLAA Vice President of Museum Content and Programming Solimar Salas. “After a virtual collaboration on 2020 and 2021, this year’s event will be onsite at MOLAA.”

The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) opened to the public in 1996. MOLAA’s mission is to expand knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American and Latino art through its collection, groundbreaking exhibitions, stimulating educational programs, and engaging cultural events. It is a pioneering exclusive museum that features Latino/a/x and Latin American works of art from throughout the country.

“[Our] mission to represent all of Latin America, and the Latinos/a/x individuals in the United States,” she said. “We aim to provide a space for all Latin American and Latino/a/x artists.”

Currently, the museum highlights rotating exhibitions what allow them to present part of their permanent collection as well as individual and those of collective artists in their gallery. Their current exhibitions include “DREAM TEAM,” by Crack Rodriguez, “The Persistence of the Body,” and “Abstract Art Beyond the Frame” which opens along with an artist in residence exhibition of Pablo Rasgado’s “Time-Based,” on Saturday, May 1.

Like other museums, MOLAA continued onward during the pandemic. They strengthened their online presence with virtual exhibitions and ample virtual sessions. As a result, they decided to incorporate these online alternatives as part of their regular interpretive program to increase their reach to a wider audience, according to Salas.

“The in-person experience has been greatly received by our visitors and with the new exhibitions being opened, we welcome a new season at MOLAA,” she added.

Both personal and online tours of their exhibitions are offered. Virtual tours are free of charge. Through their YouTube Channel, viewers can access their archived interpretive programming. These include their online cultural festivals like the Afro Latino Festival and the curatorial initiative MOLAA Zoom Project where the museum’s chief curator interviews artists for an in-depth view of their works and trajectory.

Looking forward, MOLAA will continue to celebrate its 25th anniversary until Oct. 15, 2022, when celebrations culminate with their Annual Gala. Their long-term goals include working towards steady growth and strengthening of their collection, while implementing exhibitions and programming where diversity and representation play an important part, according to Salas. There is no doubt that the Latino Comic Expo falls into this overall vision.

“MOLAA will continue to work towards being a strong part of the Long Beach community and increase our impact worldwide,” Salsas said.

Entrance to the Latino Comic Expo is included in the MOLAA admission fee on Saturday and will be free to the public on Sunday. There is a $15 parking fee for onsite parking. MOLAA is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue in Long Beach. Museum tour requests and scheduling options are available by emailing MOLAA at [email protected]. For more information about the museum, please visit online at www.molaa.org