Marisa Garcia presented her smiling, beautiful and curvy heroines at the Expo.

Crystal Gonzalez says that when people see her comic books, they often assume a man created them.

“From an early age, I would draw imaginary that is considered not female,” Gonzalez said, referring to the dark, disturbing and mutilated creatures that she would cast in horrific, profane and sometimes uncomfortable stories. “[People think] it’s OK if you’re a boy, but not as a girl.”

The San Francisco-based cartoonist made her comment during a panel called “Latina Power” during the Latino Comics Expo, which was held beginning June.

Also on the panel was Stockton-based artist Marisa Garcia, who designs smiling and beautiful Disneyesque women—except that instead of perfect figures and impossible proportions, the women Garcia creates have curvy hips and thighs, and big breasts. She and her husband Jose own Chunky Girl Comics, a small, independent organization. He draws and she is the creative mind behind the stories and the characters.

Right now, they are working on an anti-bullying children’s book illustrated by their daughter Olivia Garcia. And they are having their first stories transformed into a cartoon.

“I met my husband, who was into traditional comic books, and I started noticing that any of the characters looked like me,” said Garcia, who is big and curvy like the characters of her stories. “I don’t know who has the shape of Wonder Woman! And I can kick some butts too, I’d be stronger than the skinny ones,” she joked.

Ricardo Padilla, co-founder of the Expo, invited Crystal Gonzalez, Marisa Garcia, Gabrielle Gamboa, and Mission artist Liz Mayorga to discuss gender issues in the comic book industry. Padilla said the comic book world can be a very macho place. “It’s a male-dominated industry, or profession,” he said, where these women “have a unique voice.”

Before the panel, Mayorga said there are more well-known male artists in part because men still get published more often than women. “I know a lot of female cartoonist that are outstanding but they are self-publishers. When it comes to publishing [by publishing houses] it’s only a handful,” she said.

Even so, women are making graphic stories, Mayorga said. They are just harder to find outside the independent circuit.

“A lot of the people in zine festivals are women. In Comic-Con, mostly men” Mayorga said. At the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con — the largest in the U.S. – of  64 official guest artists, only seven were women.

Mission artist Liz Mayorga.

Mayorga, who just received her master’s degree from the California College of the Arts, said female artists are under-represented throughout the art world. “I always think of museums and the difference between the number of females portrayed in the pieces and the female artists,” she said. “So yes, there is a difference.”

But it’s not just men who don’t support women, Marisa Garcia said. It’s women too.

“I sometimes get the dirtiest looks from women when they see my work,” Garcia said about her curvy, overweight heroines. “It took me some time to accept that it wasn’t personal, and that maybe not everyone feels as comfortable with their bodies as I do,” she said.

Crystal Gonzalez said as a Latina, she faces cultural stereotypes too. “I identify myself as Latina, but when people ask me if my work is in Spanish, or if the main character is Hispanic, or if it’s about my heritage, I say, ‘No,’” she said.

Gabrielle Gamboa drawing during the event.

At the Expo, Gonzalez displayed the second issue of her series “In The Dark,” a “humorous and satirical story that looks at religions and customs through the eyes of the demons in Hell,” as she describes it. Definitely not much to do with her Latino heritage, although at the same time the panelists agreed that there are certain elements in their culture that influence their work, even if it’s in subtle ways or in the aesthetics.

For Liz Mayorga the influence is apparent in such stories as “Inked,” where she explores her experience revisiting Mexico as a tattooed woman, as well as in publications where there is no connection at first sight, like Monstrous Love Stories, which takes graphic elements directly inspired by Mexican iconography.

This year’s Comic Book Expo featured again the work of male and female artists. Javier Hernandez, Jaime Crespo, Jose Cabrera, and Mission artist Daniel Parada were among the 18 creators who showed their latest books and zines.

Men and women of all ages visited the event, chatted to the cartoonists and got acquainted with Latino comic art. As women like Gonzalez, Garcia, Gamboa and Mayorga make their art and voices heard, it may be that the age of a male-dominated comic book world is coming to an end.

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Marta came from Zaragoza, Spain to master her English but everyone she speaks to wants to practice Spanish. After just a few months in the Mission, she already feels at home. In her free time she can be found reading books, watching movies, roller skating or just enjoying a good meal, an interesting conversation or a sunny walk around the neighborhood.

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