Frederick Luis Aldama


On his book Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez

Cover Interview of June 09, 2009

A close-up

Your Brain on Latino Comics provides readers with an understanding of how comic books in general work to move us and to engage our critical faculties and imagination.  It also opens our eyes to how authors of Latino comic books (and comic strips by the likes of Gus Arriola and Lalo Alcaraz) choose to tell stories in any number of genres and styles: from the superheroic to the domestic, to the bitingly political and satirical.

We see in such choices also how author/artists of Latino comics overturn preconceptions of Latinos—not only as represented in mainstream DC and Marvel comics since the first appearance of Firebird (Marvel) and El Dorado (DC) in the late 1970s, but also in the sense that Latinos in comics are much more than Spanglish-speaking, taco-eating, pre-Columbian-ancestrally connected figures. Just as their creators, they represent the full and rich range of human experience and personality types. As the serialized story of La Maggie unfolds, our brain has already mapped the verbal narrator’s past-tense, first-person voice to the visual narrator’s focus on the character Maggie.  And here things begin to get interesting.  The visual narrator can describe Maggie—facial expression, gesture, behavior—in ways that emphasize or conflict with the textual—the verbal narrator’s voice.  One can depict happiness while the other describes frustration; one comfort, and the other paranoia.  In such cases, Hernandez challenges—even plays havoc with—the reader’s cognitive schemas that work to infer inner state from outward gesture, that allow one to determine a state of pleasure or contentment from a smile.

Moreover, such author/artists defy such pre-packagings of Latinos precisely because their ambition is to tell and draw the best story possible—stories that they want to be judged along with the best.  As the interviews attest, making a good comic book about Latinos is less about blood quantum than about responsibility to creating an engaging story, in form and content.

To refer to one of the interviews included in the book, when people see Frank Espinosa’s last name, they jump to the conclusion that all he knows is Latino culture.  But he insists that he also knows about Ancient Greek literature, Japanese art, and all the rest.  All the author/artists here seek to shed the straightjacket of identity politics that constrain their imagination.

All while recounting the history of how Latinos have been represented in mainstream comics, and creatively imagined by author/artists working today, Your Brain on Latino Comics also tells something about how author/artists of Latino comics infer inner states of mind, emotion and thought, from outward gesture and expression.