“El Muerto” character by Javier Hernandez. (Courtesy Javier Hernandez)

The co-founder of the Latino Comics Expo promotes artists to explore their culture in comics

Javier Hernandez has been living in a world of super heroes and monsters ever since he was a boy growing up in East LA.

“I always credit my older brother, Albert,” says the now 47-year-old. “When I was 8 or 9, he gave me a whole box of comics — ‘Spiderman,’ ‘The Fantastic Four’ — all the good stuff. After I read them over and over, I started to buy my own. I picked out a bunch of 25-cent comics in the 70’s. Then I started drawing like he did. He would draw ball players, and I would draw super heroes or monsters. I loved monsters, I still do.”

Besides being a full-time cartoonist and teacher, Hernandez is the co-founder and creative director of the 3rd Annual Latino Comics Expo, which is taking place at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco this June 1 and 2, and he’s excited to be bringing an even bigger Expo to LA this coming August 17 and 18.

“When Ricardo Padilla and I first started the Expo, we weren’t sure just how big the demand would be for a comic convention focusing on Latino creators and subject matter,” says Hernandez. “But the response from attendees, as well as the artists, has been an enthusiastic affirmation of our dream.”

Approximately 300 people of all ages come to the Expo to see what kind of art Latinos are making, as well as to partake in panels and workshops on how to self-publish, or learn about Latinas in comics, like Liz Mayorga, for example.

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“My long-term dream is to start taking these Expos across the country — to NY, Chicago, Texas — and eventually establish a Latino Comics Museum,” says the Mexican-American artist. “You have a lot of Latino Americans working at Marvel Comics, but in the independent circuit, a lot of us will create characters based on our culture.”

He says “El Muerto” — one of his most-well-known skeleton characters — was adapted into an independent film in 2007, and the main character, “El Muerto,” played by Wilmer Valderrama, is based on the Aztec culture.

“I don’t see it as ‘dark’ or ‘gory,’ I grew up watching the ‘Addams Family and ‘Dracula,’ says Hernandez, who thinks there’s something very appealing about monsters and the afterlife. “The way the ancient civilizations looked at death was just another aspect of life. I like to explore the quirky side of things.”

A lot of times, he takes inspiration from his cultural background, and he says that is important. Hernandez himself was raised biculturally.

“I would be watching ‘Speed Racer’ or ‘Spider Man,” but I’d also be watching Lucha Libre,” says Hernandez. “My dad would be playing Vicente Fernandez, and my brother would be playing The Beatles and The Doors. When I decided I wanted to make my own comics, I immediately thought I wanted something to do with Aztec mythology…and people respond to it,” he says.

And at the Latino Comics Expo, everyone is invited.

“You don’t have to be Latino, but the work has to be Latino-themed,” says Hernandez, whose latest comic book, “Dead Dinosaurio,” came out last fall, but will be new at the Expo. “It takes place during the conquest of Mexico. The city is being destroyed and conquered, and an Aztec boy finds a dinosaur, and he tries to fight back with the T-Rex. They don’t win, because of the way history went, but they go on to be calacas.”

He explains it’s a way of making depressing history a little more bearable and colorful.

“As an artist, I love creating my own characters and creating stories and telling stories,” says Hernandez, who doesn’t have kids of his own but teaches comic storytelling to children between ages 8 and 10 in local community centers. “It’s a magical mixture of words and stories, and I love creating stories in that format.”

He says he still draws his cartoons by hand with ink brush pens, and then he scans them into the computer, colors the artwork with Photoshop, and writes the text in Illustrator.

“At the end of the day, whatever you use, you have to be a good story teller,” says Hernandez. “You have ideas in your head, and you just want to get them out to the world.”

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