Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Latino Book & Family Festival at Cal State LA

This past weekend, Oct 9 & 10, I was an exhibitor and speaker at the Latino Book & Family Festival held at Cal State Los Angeles.

I hadn't attended the Festival as an exhibitor for about 8 or 9 years, so it was really nice to be back. I've previously written about a few events leading up to the Festival, but actually participating in it proved to be a real experience that I'm glad to have had. A few years previously we actually screened EL MUERTO on the same campus during the REEL RASQUACHE FILM FESTIVAL.

The organizers had mentioned beforehand that this was the largest gathering of Latino authors in the history of the United States, so being a part of a special event like that is an opportunity to partake of. There was no shortage of attendees either, looking to meet favorite authors and discover new material to read.

For me, this was the best of both worlds. I had numerous people tell me that they had some of my earlier comics or had even seen the EL MUERTO movie, but I also had plenty of folks discovering me for the first time. It was really nice to see lots of parents bringing their children to the event, as that's such an important group to inspire and instill some literary aspirations into. A lot of the parents asked about advice for their kids regarding cartooning and art. Sales, I'm happy to say, were very brisk at times, with comics, buttons and DVDs making their way to new readers. Talked to numerous educators and librarians as well, so the networking aspect of this type of show was in full force.

I was on a panel Saturday afternoon with several other cartoonists, where we talked about everything from distributing our works, to what it takes to get one's voice out there. 
(photo from the collection of Philip Victor)

From L to R: Me, Dani Dixon, writer & publisher of '13', Rafael Navarro, creator of SONAMBULO, Lalo Alcaraz creator of LA CUCARACHA and Philip Victor, writer and publisher of JAGUAR SPIRIT. There was a real good turnout for the panel, with some of the questions specifically aimed at self-publishing. People want to get their personal voices heard in the comics world, which is something so many of us strive to encourage people to do.

Later that evening we all attended the Dinner with the Authors gala. Lalo actually MC'd the event, with the remaining four of us cartoonists meeting up at the same table. At one point during the evening, Lalo pointed to our table, mentioning his 'cartoonist friends'. Even Edward James Olmos, founder of the Festival, pointed us out. In a room full of authors and novelists, it was nice being pointed out as the sole cartoonists in the room!

There was about an hour or so of music and folkloric dancers while we enjoyed our food. Definitely a different feel to the usual comic book conventions I attend! Honestly, I had such a great time that evening. Over the past 13 years or so that I've been publishing my comics, I've attended numerous events. But this evening, with it's celebration of Latino American voices in the arts, and the music and dancing, gave me a reaffirmation of my perspective as an artist. Providing an artistic point of view, fueled in part through my Mexican-American identity, makes me grateful to be able to do what I choose to do.
Dani Dixon and me with Festival founder Edward James Olmos. Edward's dedication to Latino literacy is so deep and sincere he inspires me every time I hear him address the cause.

Me and dinner MC/cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz. I've known Lalo for some 10 years or so, and in fact he's always been a supporter of my work. One year he wrote about me in his LA Weekly column he used to write, and I've been on his radio show, The Pocho Hour of Power, a couple of times.

Rafael Navarro, creator of Sonambulo. Me and Raf have been in this self-publishing game since the late 90s, and it's been one hell of a long, winding mindtrip since! This was actually the first time in several years that he and I actually shared a booth at a convention, and it felt like 'the good ol' days'. With our two characters, a masked Mexican wrestler and an Aztec zombie, we have a very particular niche corner of Mexican folklore and pop culture covered. And of course, our two-man rapport we have with the fans always means our booth is hopping with chit chat and drawings galore.

 Sunday was a full day for us, and in fact I only had a couple of chances to walk about the rest of the Festival. Here's my friend Joe Cepeda signing some of his children's books he's illustrated at the Luna Sol Books booth:

Stopping by our booth was Manual Ramos, an author who was here from Denver to speak on a panel:
Manuel is a lawyer, and among the books he's written are some crime stories featuring his detective Luis Montez. He picked up a copy of El Muerto, for which I was happy to sign to him.

One thing I kept thinking to myself all weekend was: "Why the heck has it taken me so long to get back to the Latino Book Festival?". I am definitely going to add this event to my yearly must-do shows. It's far to rewarding to me in many ways, and also it was announced that Cal State LA has committed to becoming the permanent home for the Festival, so it's a short drive to attend to.

My thanks to Reyna Grande, the Program Director, and to Philip Victor, for telling Reyna about me in the first place. As part of the Latino Book & Family Festival's commitment to serving their community, I'll be giving a free reading/drawing demonstration at the Pan American Bank in East LA on Dec. 4 at 12 noon.

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