Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What's Your Story? Faculty Lecture Series

What's Your Story?
Faculty Lecture Series

Please come out and join us for our very first lecture in our inaugural faculty lecture series! This series will highlight Ohio State faculty and their research around social justice and identity. Each lecture will be complemented by a book authored, co-authored, or edited by the lecturer. The books will be distributed on a first come first served basis to students who rsvp and attend the event.

Dr. Frederick Aldama will be lecturing on Latino representation in comics. Supplementing this lecture will be his book titled "Your Brain on Latino Comics." This event is FREE and open to the public!


Time: 4:00pm

Where: Younkin Success Center Room 300
1640 Neil Ave, Columbus, OH 43210

*A limited number of books will be distributed to students on a first come, first served basis. You must present your Buck ID to receive the book.*

If you have any questions feel free to contact TJ Stewart at the Multicultural Center:
http://mcc.osu.edu <http://mcc.osu.edu>

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Frederick Luis Aldama: Latino comics explored

At some point in childhood a kid makes a choice about his comics: Is he a fan of Superman? Or does he prefer Amigoman, the Latin Avenger?

Or does he read both?

The preference is a central question asked by Frederick Luis Aldama, an English professor and author of "Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez," a book that analyzes Latino artists and their work, yet also explores why younger readers like the stories they like.

Aldama calls the early "cultivation of taste" - whether from reading children's books or comics - among one's first introductions to art and storytelling. The kids who later reach for the DC-superhero genre may neurologically seek out the thrill of escapism in leaping buildings and avoiding bullets; others, like Aldama, may be attracted to the latest issue of Gilbert Hernandez's "Love and Rockets" for its day-to-day narrative and complicated characters.

Drawing out a character's complexity and nuanced backstory has become a hallmark among Latino comic artists, Aldama said. "Even though the characters are still fighting social injustices," Aldama said, "there's a bigger range of character types and more background on each character. There's a real sense of responsibility to the cultural particulars."

When a large comic book publisher attempts to tackle those cultural particulars, it can make for clumsy handling, Aldama said. One wince-inducing flub occurred in 1981 when Marvel introduced the Latina character Firebird. The female superhero (born Bonita Juarez) from New Mexico showed up in an Incredible Hulk series and saved the day for a group of Anglo characters, Aldama noted. Firebird was accompanied by Red Wolf, the first American Indian superhero in mainstream books.

"They're asked to stand aside while the team finishes the business," Aldama said.

Since then, mainstream publishers have developed more thoughtful Latino characters, and to their credit, Aldama said, they're characters of depth and moral complexity.

Araña, a half-Puerto Rican, half-Mexican teenager, fights crime for Marvel at night but is also beset by the troubles of young adulthood. DC revived the Blue Beetle (born Jaime Reyes) who lives along the Texas-Mexico crossing and tackles the moral troubles of the border.

"You get a real sense that it's not enough to create Latino characters anymore, but there's an attempt to also make it interesting," Aldama said. "Because the younger generation today who's reading it won't settle for it."

5:30 tonight. University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. (510) 548-0585. www.universitypressbooks.com.

- Justin Berton, jberton@sfchronicle.com


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Skater extraordinaire--John Paul

John Paul from Hercules Got Word that Your Brain is only 16 bucks from the UTexas Press website and couldn't resist.
This is John Paul after skateboarding from Hercules to San Pablo--for those not in the know, that's one heck of a ride!

Thank JP for keepin' the faith

Lecture & Book Signing on Latino Comics

Vino, queso, and some Superlatinos at University Press Books Sept. 3
Time:5:00PM Thursday, September 3rd
Location:University Press Book, Berkeley, CA

“What Happened to the Vatos sin Fronteras”

Up front and center disclaimer: It’s not that I object to folks of all shades and walks of life making knowledge. Knowledge is for the taking—by all and for all. It’s just that for some doggone reason, when it comes to things Brown, we’re stepped over. A case in point: Viking’s recent publication of Willie T. Vollmann’s 1,300 page tome, Imperial—and his follow up power-House publication of photographs.

This forest of paper follows Willie’s odyssey as he moves back and forth along the California/Baja border. He thrills voyeuristically while peeking through its rusted gloryholes.
He waxes lyrical on Brown Buffalos on both sides of the iron wall struggling to survive. Drips that pale-skin guilt all over those uncountable souls who grab and claw across hell with the promise of stinking greenbacks. Snap shoots away at the life that the rotten-to-the core capitalism lays to waste; those with arms wrenched backward forced out of dire economic need to unclutch from loved ones only to end up buried in a field of clotted dirt and with a cross: “No Identificado”.
Aesthetics aside—I mean the guy’s not exactly getting contracts for his looks—this is no fault to the author here.
It seems he’s done his homework. During the 12 years it took him to experience and write (oh, and photograph) the Brown borderlands, he seems to have left no stone unturned: he’s licked toxic salt-water lakes and irrigation ditches; Brown-faced to infiltrate maquiladoras.
Maybe he’s in the limelight because people can pronounce Vollmann better than, I don’t know, Rodriguez, Grijalva, or Urrea. Say with me: "Oo-Ray-ah"—how hard can it be?

Think back to when Luis Alberto Urrea published his first-hand research of living in the dumps in Tijuana .
Across the Wire picked up the “New York Times Notable Book” but do you think he made a full spread in the New York Times? Not. Spread across today’s Arts section: “William T. Vollmann: An Author Without Borders.” Where do we sign up for his passport?
I mention Urrea ("Oo-Ray-ah") but he’s hit the mainstream media jackpot relatively speaking. Think of all that research by Brown scholars that serve up knowledge our history, politics, culture. Wouldn’t it be nice to see names cranking out on mainstream media ticker-tapes such as:
“ARTURO ALDAMA” (Disrupting Savagism)


“Guisela Latorre” (Walls of Empowerment)

“Marcial Gonzalez” (Chicano Novels)

Vollmann’s not the only one willing to go that extra mile for knowledge about our world. We’re curious as all hell and a few of us, even, are able to spend the necessary time to research and write to get the word out. While those border-patrollers on the payroll of Bertelsmann Inc. like the Vollmanns of the world, we seem forever doomed to mark the earth: no-identificados.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Order from UT Press Direct--Only 16 Bucks!


Friday, July 24, 2009

Gidget, the Yo Quiero Taco Bell Chihuahua died of a stroke today!

Gidget, the Yo Quiero Taco Bell Chihuahua died of a stroke today, but the “hallucination of the Mexican”, as my number one carnal Bill Nericcio calls it in Tex{t}-Mex, is very alive and kicking.

Spin a radio dial, flick on a t.v. remote, pony-up for a summer blockbuster, scope a billboard, chomp a (Mc)Chipotle burrito, anywhere in the US and more than likely you'll either hear, see, taste, and/or smell Brownness. With 35 million plus potential Latino consumers out there (that's the official census), this pre-packaging of all that is Brown in America isn't all that surprising.
Now this massive Browning process doesn't spring from corporate p.c. benevolence. Let's not kid ourselves. We know how capitalism works. With dollar profiteering as the bottom line, Browning to diversify and complicate ethnic and racial yesteryear's cardboard cut-outs doesn't make first place on CEO agendas.

It's usually the opposite--even in today's day and age. So we're blitzed with a "Run for the Border" ad campaign and a Spanglish accented Chihuahua barking up a ¡Yo Quiero Taco Bell!

On network t.v., we're served up healthy helpings of hot and bothered Latinas whose only agency plays out in the bedroom and in getting that open credit at Saks. I think here of Tejana actress Eva Longoria transplanting her soap-star melodramatic skills onto her gold-digging, sexed-up character, Gabrielle Solis, in Desperate Housewives.

Careful to temper such hypersexualized figurations, in recent episodes producers have reverted back to the Brown-Mammy type, casting her pre-pubescent daughter with the rotund Madison De La Garza. There's also the dominatrix (very vanilla) styled Sofia Reyes (Salma Hayek) in Ugly Betty.

And when Latinas appear with more on their minds than Prada and bubble baths, they're asexual and more than ready to serve: the beautiful and smart America Ferrara made into wide-eyed for the American Pie, frumpy ("ugly") Betty Suarez.

The guys, as we all know, aren't given much more play on their leash. Latinos are either psychotic (and usually psychotic and queer together), perennially turned on, underhanded, harmful, and deceitful, and/or buffoonish. On the network (and now syndicated), for instance, in The 70s Show, we have Miami-born Colombian/Venezuelan, Wilmer Valderama, cast not as a Latino (as if there weren't any in the mid-West in the '70s), but as "Fez" the generic Brown (Persian?) foreign exchange student. As second-fiddle to the clean cut, chisel featured white guys (including the character played by ex-model Ashton Kutcher), he gets the giggles with his malapropistic bumbles.
And, you might recall NBC's flash-in-the-pan Kingpin where Latinos are either shooting each other, doing and/or pushing drugs, or feeding human appendages to pet tigers. What were the producers thinking when they had Jacob Vargas (Michoacan, Mexican) play the role of Ernesto--a wildly irrational and glaringly crass, gold-medallion and cowboy-hat wearing, whip-carrying, man-child who lives lavishly in a Liberace-styled garish mansion; his hot tempered flashes and violent acts (he feeds a DEA's body parts to his pet tiger, for instance) are seemingly calmed only by the paternal embrace of the clean-cut (and Caucasian featured), Ivy League educated Miguel Cadena (played by Colombian/Puerto Rican Yancey Arias); unlike Ernesto's crass kingpin ways, Miguel uses more "respectable", corporate savvy means to infiltrate new drug markets. (Notably, to garner maximum profits, NBC-owned Telemundo dubbed the series into Spanish.)

Before I continue, let me step down off my academic high horse a minute. I watch these shows--some more than others. For all its clichés and stereotypes, a show like Kingpin or Desperate Housewives satisfies, to a certain extent, my craving for fiction. And I laugh, too--at some more than others. And, while I'm not going to forgive by cleverly reading between the lines, a character like Longoria's Solis actually has a certain refreshing clarity about the economics of sex: she's not at all romantically deluded about what the coupling sex-for-money contract means in the marriage institution. When (ugly) Betty wears that poncho to the Christmas party, the t.v. mise-en-scene clearly asks us to read this with a good deal of irony. And, while I don't laugh or even find interesting The '70s Show, there's some prime-time like "The George Lopez Show" that can be pretty funny; his Latino-directed stand-ups are, of course, even more fun. I don't know any Chicanos who don't laugh with Cartoon Network's Minoriteam and the creating of the character Richard Escartin, a.k.a El Jefe (Mexican mixed with 1/8th Viking) who wears a ten-gallon cowboy hat/sombrero and uses the deadly super-weapon, the Leafblower 3000 to battle villains.
But I haven't finished, yet, with being up on that high horse. I mentioned network t.v., but of course, the Silver Screen also cranks out Latino cut-outs. It has Eva Longoria, increasingly omnipresent, playing a nagging, upwardly mobile Chicana, Sylvia, in David Ayer's Harsh Times. She wants her hubby, Mike Alonzo (played by Freddy Rodriguez), to grow up and get a job, instead of hanging out with reprobate, Jim Luther Davis (played by Christian Bale).

In the grand tradition of the Silver Screen, the film invests the Anglo character with psychological complexity and charisma and gives the Mexican/Chicano guy a need-to-be-guided sidekick sensibility; the Chicana, Sylvia, is given throw-away lines like "grow-up" and positioned as homosocial threat. Here, too, Ayer pulls out of that old bag of tricks, a romanticizing of Mexico and its women (Jim's love-interest enchants him with folkloric riddles) as innocent, untouched, and dreamily utopic. Hollywood, even in this day and age, still goes for the Brown-face--if it'll insure better box office returns.
In Jared Hess's Nacho Libre, Jack Black plays the Mexican priest by day luchador ("Nacho") by night; Browned up and spilling his lines in a truncated Spanglish, certainly brought in dollars: its opening weekend tallied 30-plus million bucks.
Around the same time, but in a much more metaphysically serious vein, Darrin Aronofsky's The Fountain hit the big screens. Here, we have yet another unreeling of Anglo fantasy make-believe: modern-day oncologist, Tommy (Hugh Jackman) morphs into X-Box super-humanly fit Spanish conquistador, Tomas Creo, who is attacked by a marauding, tattooed to the nines, dagger wielding Mayan high priest.
Not one to short change the details, Aronofsky spent part of his thirty-plus million dollar budget to capture that authentic Mayan feel by transporting Mayan peoples to Montreal as extras on the set. The film's end tells all: Tommy/Tomas reaches some sort of Nirvanic bliss, Yoga lotus positioned in his New Age styled biospheric spacecraft, he's enveloped in a blinding white light.

Don't ask.

Of course, nothing comes close to Mel Gibson's condescending, sophomoric, and racist Apocalypto--a film that, among other things, overtly celebrates the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, collapses about a century and a half of Mayan history into a day in the life of (Jaguar Paw), and, depicts Mayan society as (human) hemoglobin lusty, and not as the sophisticated agricultural (traces of their incredible and extensive irrigation systems can be seen from satellites) society.

And, if you thought it was just the whites churning out the primitivist schlock, think again. In Babel Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu reveals an unabashed Anglophilia: the white middle class American characters (played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are bathed in a radiant luminescence--halo-like, at one point--and the Brown characters (Mexican and Moroccan) a flattened light at best.

Think of the lighting in the sequence when John Smith (Pitt) carries his wounded wife (Blanchett) from village hut to Red Cross helicopter (that la pieta comes to mind isn't incidental, Gonzalez Iñárritu had the crew take this shot 30-plus times) in contrast with the majority of shadowed and flat lighting that follows the Mexican nanny/maid, Amelia (he requested that actress Adriana Barraza put on 30 pounds to look more the part) whose irrational "incompetence" leads to the near death of the golden niños in a US/Mexico arid no-man's land.

I was asked in a recent radio-show interview (MARFA www.marfapublicradio.org.) if there were any Latino superheroes in films today. With the exception of Bryan Cox’s adaptation of Javier Hernandez’s comic book, El Muerto with Valderama playing the Latino superhero, I had to answer with a definitive, NO.

While Latino comic book authors are tearing it up with their resplendent array of Latino characters (superhero or otherwise), we are still haunted by a rather slim portfolio of iconographic imagery in the cultural mainstream: the nagged-to-the-bone, ESL stuttering Ricky Ricardo's (Mike Alonzo), lascivious, comical arriba-arriba Speedy's (Jack Black in Frito-Bandito Brown face), blood thirsty savage, irrational man-child (Ernesto), the hypersexualized dark and dangerous (Soderbergh's casting of Benjamin Bratt as cartel kingpin, Juan Obregon, in Traffic), and the effeminate and/or psychopathic queer (the assassin, Francisco Flores, in Traffic); media conglomerates still get a lot of play out of those age-old stereotypes of Latinas as either child-bearing hipped virgins (America Ferrara as Betty Suarez), money-grubbing whores (Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solis), or too-well fed mammy-types (De La Garza and Barraza as Amelia).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

San Pablo Califas Fans

The Your-Brain-on-Latino-Comics Crew
Making it Real

No only are these guys fantastically cool, down with comics and neuroscience, but they make a kick-ass Chai-Latte!

Rhode Montijo's dishing out some of his trademark touch-the-kid-soul comics:  http://skeletown.com/

Finally, just a reminder that you can find my latest mini comic online for free here!:


Who needs words when you've got  Rhode's masterful eye getting head-body proportions and gesture so right that you feel the meaning of the character and scene. It gets me every time. . .

He'll be at Comic Con 2009 with other Latino author-artist compadres like Rafael Navarro (Sonambulo), Jaime "Jimmy" Portillo (Gabriel), Carlos Saldaña (Burrito). . .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interview with Rorotoko


From the very get-go when I conceived of the book, I felt a strong impulse to join critical analysis together with a polyphony of actual author/artists of Latino comics speaking about the craft. As a result, I was able to interview author/artists such as Laura Molina, Rafael Navarro, Roberta Gregory, Frank Espinosa, and Los Bros Hernandez, to name a few. Read on at http://www.rorotoko.com

Cutting-edge Intellectual Nonfiction through In-depth Author Interviews

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wexner Center Bookstore Reading/Signing

Thanks to Matt Reber, Manager of the Wexner Center Bookstore here in Columbus,
we had a nice turn out for the reading/signing of Your Brain on Latino Comics.
Saw some familiar and new faces--and we all had a nice discussion of Latino comics specifically and comics generally.
What can I say, Wexner Center Bookstore rocks: the space, all the Criterion Collection films for sale, comic books and graphic novels, cool greeting cards, Apple computers. . .
The downside: there was some kind of social function/open bar in the Cafe right across the way, so it was hard for people in the backrows to hear me.
Here's the podcast, nontheless:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hot off the Press! "Your Brain on Latino Comics"

Aldama's Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez is the first book-length that puts the spotlight on Latino comic books. It explores mainstream comic book representations of Latino superheroes from the late 1970s till today and Latino author/artists working today (the book includes 21 interviews with such authors) as well as probes the rich and complex ways in which such Latino artists affect the cognitive and emotional responses of readers.