For the last 10 years, Ricardo Padilla has been “crying and moaning” about the state of the Latino comic scene. But after working up enough ganas, he said, he finally decided to do something about it.
That’s why he founded the first-ever Annual Latino Comics Expo, to be held May 7 and 8. Padilla and co-founder Javier Hernández grew tired of attending expos like WonderCon at the Moscone Center to see only one or two tables of Latino artists among the thousands of others. So a year ago they started brainstorming their own expo, which will come to life at the Cartoon Art Museum downtown.
“We’re not going to be an afterthought,” said Padilla. “We’re going to be the main focus.”
Padilla isn’t exactly the person you’d picture to be heading up the first Latino Comics Expo. His background is in sales, and much of his career has been spent at companies like Univision. But his lifelong goal “has always been to provide a venue for artists to show their work.” And he’s done just that by working with the Encantada Gallery of Fine Art in the Mission, where he has curated exhibits.
There is something else that drives Padilla to this line of work — comic strips were his bridge to literacy as a child.
“There are some parents that say, ‘Stop drawing. Work on math or read a book.’ And kids get spanked for being drawers.
“I want to encourage little Latin artists to dream, and draw.”
And so, in an effort to show youngsters different ways of using their creativity, Padilla has enlisted several education programs to attend the expo, among them the after-school programs of 826 Valencia and Precita Eyes.
The 12 to 15 comic artists, all of whom have agreed to participate in the event for free, hail from across the country — there are San Franciscans as well as those, like Rhode Montijo, coming from New York.
All are men, with the exception of Graciela Rodríguez, whose work focuses on Latina heroines. “That’s our only shame,” said Padilla, referring to having only one female artist in the expo. Others were invited, he said, but declined to participate.
While some works are politically charged, 80 percent are family-oriented comics, Padilla said — like El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie, by Javier Hernández.
Summerlea Kashar, the Cartoon Art Museum’s executive director, agreed to lend the gallery to the expo free of charge.
“We want to accommodate emerging artists and reach out to the community — tap into the cultural diversity of San Francisco,” she said.
Kashar also hopes to host an exhibit of Latino comics in the near future.
While the Cartoon Art Museum has been generous in its support, Padilla said the biggest challenge has been coming up with sponsors for the event.
He went after Pixar and Lucas Films, but didn’t get a response. “How many Latinos have seen ‘Star Wars’?” he asked, disappointed in the lack of sponsorship.
As a result, the event will be “puro raza style,” said Padilla: His mom will make burritos for the artists, primos will be giving people rides and his daughter will be staffing a table.
As for the pressures of the event, Padilla said he had a dream the other night in which firefighters came and told him there were too many people waiting to get in. The line outside the gallery looped around the block.
Artists will set up their own tables inside the gallery and will be selling their work, including books, posters and original prints. There will also be presentations, workshops and videos of the works that have been turned into films. Visit www.latinocomicsexpo.com for more info.