From the original Captain America covers illustrated by Puerto Rican artist Antonio Alejandro “Xela” Schomburg to the character animation of Charlie Brown by Mexican American José “Bill” Meléndez, Latinos have a firm foothold in the origins of comics and geek culture.
However, these communities have been historically excluded from the events, narratives, and successes surrounding mainstream pop culture even recently, while at the same time, there’s a push to increase the diversity of representation and inclusivity in comics.
The result: Latinos are telling their own stories and creating their own heroes and being showcased at events that honor the work of people of color, women, and LGBTQ artists.
In Philly, we have Nerdtino Expo, a daylong convention Saturday in the heart of El Barrio (11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600 N. Fifth St.) that aims to showcase the work of Latino comics, and the event serves the entire East Coast.
Thomas Delfi, executive director for Nerdtino Entertainment Studios and founder of Nerdtino Expo, said the third annual event is an opportunity to reflect the Latin American craft in comics, while creating a space that’s more accessible than, say, a more expensive Comic-Con, or a non-mainstream event on another coast.
The full-time museologist said his part-time passion project will this year host 30 exhibitors, vendors, panelists, and artists from places including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the Midwest, Virginia, and California. Delfi said the convention has social media followers from as far away as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and South America.
We talked to Delfi about what’s new at this year’s expo.
How did the expo come to be?
As a member of the geek community, I questioned the Latin presence in geek culture in the U.S. when working for other conventions ... Latin America has always been a creator for the community but has been somewhat absorbed into different social groups: African American, LGBTQ+, and others. I started to do research, found that others also were asking the same questions, with most comic book conventions for Latinos happening on the West Coast. So, I went to social media to find convention-goers, writers, creators, and ask if they felt enthusiasm in having our own geek Latinx space. We started to move forward with the convention a year before the first expo in August 2016.
Why pick Philadelphia to host?
Philadelphia has a significant and growing Latinx population. And it made sense to do it where people are at or can easily get to, somewhere that feels more accessible than New York City, and to take on the challenge of putting Philly on the map as a kid-friendly place.
Why make it an East Coast effort and not something for a smaller market?
We are often seen as newcomers or nothing special. Latinx are seen as niche or small. So, we are here to say that we’ve been here from the beginning, to create awareness of this craft, and that we will be respected for that. It’s such a privilege to build something that resonates with all these folks.
What excites you about this year’s expo?
This is the biggest convention to prepare: Edgardo Miranda-Rodríguez, Marvel Entertainment comic writer and creator of the Latina superhero La Borinqueña, is coming back; voice actress Cristina “Vee” Valenzuela is coming from the West Coast after being chosen to redub Sailor Mars for the Sailor Moon anime; and Master Daniel Pesina, who was the capture model for Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero, and Reptile from Mortal Kombat, will be sharing their work and experience. We will also be screening footage from the documentary Latinx Superheros in Mainstream Media and have an exclusive look at Netflix’s series Sies Manos.
The expo is being promoted in both English and Spanish. Why in both languages?
It’s in both languages to make sure that this show is accessible to all the people of this community. It’s the biggest moneymaking industry in modern history: comics, video games, movies, entertainment as a whole, and there are more Latin Americans involved in this industry than those you see on the surface. So, we have a translator in the show, because they all need to be part of a space that creates and cultivates their history, if we really want to reflect the presence of Latinx from the get-go.
For more information, go to Nerdtino.com. Tickets can be purchased online in advance for $20 or at the door for $25. Children 12 and younger are free with a paying adult, and students can buy tickets at a reduced rate.