Where's Our Chicano Super Hero?
Meet Fernando Balderas Rodriguez, comic book creator and deported American
Belinda Quesada, Contributing Writer
On the heels of yet another super hero movie, Fernando Balderas Rodriguez, can't understand why Hollywood hasn't discovered his Chicano super hero.
Published on LatinoLA: June 21, 2013
This month he released his eighth comic book, "Aztec of The City, Legends Last Forever", Vol. III, issue 2, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aztec-of-the-City-Comic-Books/189033157811973, Fernando knows a thing or two about super heroes, having spent the last twenty years perfecting his Chicano super hero Tony Avalos.
Working in a comic book store as a teen, he saw the disparity in a world where no Latino super heroes existed. That's when he had an epiphany; he knew he would have to create his own Chicano super hero.
And so begins Fernando's incredible journey that reads like a documentary film waiting to be told. His is a fascinating account of immigration, imagination, bravery, and profound faith.
Born in Michoacán, Mexico, and raised in San José, (Silicon Valley), California since age four, he was a model student and athlete until his mother's untimely death during his senior year of high school. He never knew his father and as the oldest child became the father figure to his two siblings, ages seven and sixteen. Coping the best they could, it was a pretty traditional Latin family with extended family members helping out regularly.
For the next, four decades life hummed along with predictability. When son Luis was born, Fernando had already self published his first "Aztec of The City" comic book. He was a proud father and truly living his dream. Then, what happened next still baffles those close to him.
It was the early 2000's, and depressed over the break-up with Luis's mom, Fernando made a couple of foolish decisions that rocked his world forever. Arrested and incarcerated, the road back looked bleak. Unable to cope with the idea of a long trial and further incarceration, he was told he could voluntarily return to Mexico where he was from. This is known as "self-deportation." Never mind that he had only visited Mexico once when he was eight years old and couldn't speak the language as fluently as he does now.
To state that Fernando was not emotionally nor financially prepared for his 2006 self-deportation is an understatement. When you are deported to Mexico, the US authorities simply walk you to the front entrance of the Tijuana border, where you are met by a Mexican law enforcement official that receives your paper work and ushers you in, closing the US gate behind you.
There is no Welcome Wagon or courtesy shuttle waiting to whisk you elsewhere. At age forty-four and possessing only the clothes on his back and some forty US dollars to his name, his life was now in survival mode.
Devastated at having to leave behind his only heir and person he loved the most, his twelve-year old son, Luis, self-deportation also meant leaving his family, friends, coworkers, and comic book fans he wouldn't see for possibly decades. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this story is his unwavering faith in God. How against all odds, Fernando managed to make a life for himself.
I met Fernando in 1993, while working as a TV producer on a local, bilingual Latino community affairs program in San José and he was a frequent quest. His English language comic book featuring a Chicano/Latino super hero was the first of its kind and made him somewhat of a hometown celebrity.
What follows is Fernando's candid two-part interview discussing the release of his latest comic book, "Aztec of The City, Legends Last Forever", his immigration/self-deportation and what inspires him to continue to pursue his childhood dream.
Belinda Quesada (BQ): What do you think of the new Superman movie?
Fernando Balderas Rodriguez (FBR): I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. I have only seen the trailer but I'm impressed. It looks like they freshened up the story. Clark Kent saves his classmates from crash into a lake and Kevin Costner who plays the father, tells him he can't let everyone know about his powers. I liked that grapple with morality and fear. It seems to have opened up the characters a lot more and focuses more on his youth. Should be cool. I see all the super hero movies.
BQ: What inspired your Chicano/Latino Superhero comic books?
FBR: I guess it started with my love of reading comic books. And, over time I realized that there were no super heroes that looked like me or anyone in my family. And I always loved story telling; it's just in my blood.
When I was in my teens, I remember a beautiful mural painted by Jesus Helguera on the wall of a restaurant and I asked the waitress in Spanish about the guy kneeling over the fallen princess. She gave me a mini-history lesson about the Aztec Indians and Cuauhtémoc. Those images are always with me and inspired the "Aztec of The City" super heroes. As a comic book collector myself, I was also inspired by the Sims brothers from Texas. They created an African American super hero, "Brotherman", and that's when I knew we had to have our own Chicano/Latino super hero.
Over the course of each "Aztec of the City" comic book I created, I expanded my universe of heroes. In 2004, I created "Adelita, Tales of Aztlan." She was the first Latina hero on the market. During that same time, I contemplated doing a Super Latino hero, a Mexican version of Captain America. He would have limited powers and come from the streets he is trying to protect. It's a creative process that has continued to evolve.
On 5 de Mayo 1993, in San José, California, I released my first "Aztec of the City" (AOC) comic book focusing on a Chicano super hero. Thanks to the help of family and friends I self-published three thousands copies. I thought it was the first of a kind and advertised it as such. Shortly thereafter, I discovered it was not.
In 1972, the first Mexican American comic book super hero was created/self published by the Honorable Judge Margarito C. Garza (now deceased), 148th District Court Judge and former Assistant District Attorney of Corpus Christi, Texas. Judge Garza created the first known Latino character, Relampago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margarito_C._Garza
When I decided on a hero, my first choice was the Aztec Indian because it's so popular in Mexican history. I thought that "Aztec of The 'City", was a perfect, generic name.
At first, my Aztec hero would fly like Superman and spoke English. But after feedback from my family/friends & fans, I decided to drastically change the characters and story lines from the first volume drawn by my brother and myself. Volume II, and the subsequent three issues, were drawn by artist Kasey Quevedo and sold nationwide. Next, artist Ernie Polo of Mountain View, CA, was responsible for Volume III, issue 1. The reading level also changed from elementary school age in the first two volumes, to college-level. This was a conscience effort to create collectible comics.
BQ: Why use the term Chicano vs. Latino?
FBR: I decided to use the word Chicano instead of Latino because the term Chicano has its origins in California, where I'm from and spent my whole life. It refers to Mexican-Americans born in the USA whose parents or grandparents emigrated from Mexico. That's me. It was important for me to portray my characters and super heroes as real people who face real problems that Chicano's face everyday.
BQ: Your comic book reflects your love of San José, Why?
FBR: I love San José. It's my hometown. It's where I grew up and my son was born. In comic books they always chose a fictitious town or city, i.e., Batman chose Gotham City, etc. Mine is real. I graduated from San José High (Academy) and San José City College. I'm proud to be from San José.
BQ: Where's our Chicano/Latino Super Hero movie?
FBR: Great question. Yes, some fans wonder why Hollywood hasn't jumped all over the concept and characters and taken them to the big screen. I am ever hopeful that my time will come. I do see a day when children of all races will buy Aztec of the City/Super Chicano action figures, coloring books, posters, lunch boxes and t-shirts. The multi-million dollar film business has captivated the audience with a variety of successful Super Hero action films. It's about time we had an AOC Chicano/Latino super hero.
BQ: Reaction from fans?
FBR: There are a small group of passionate fans that love the fact there is a super hero who represents our values, cultural traditions and understands that being Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Nahuatl, and/or Latino. There are a fortunate few that actually have one or all of the first comic book volumes. They are very rare, near impossible to find and of course now a collector's item. Early on, some recognized what a special thing this was going to become.
BQ: What has this meant for you?
FBR: It's been very gratifying to experience the evolution of my heroes and follow my dreams even during the most difficult times. I'm grateful to God that he has kept me alive to see this dream come true and more importantly, for my son Luis to have this legacy.
BQ: What is the average age of your readers?
FBR: It really varies. I've seen all ages gravitate to the comic books over the years. I'm just happy they're reading my books. It's a positive thing. You gotta read to know what's going on. For some kids, it's less intimating and more entertaining. For some, it's the first thing they ever read. For others, they spot the uniqueness and see the long-term value of this niche market.
BQ: What percentage does the comic book market occupy?
FBR: I have never found exact numbers for comic books vs. magazines. In 2012, the nationwide comic book store revenues topped over 40 billion dollars a year. http://www.comichron.com. That's a hell-of-a-lot of money by anyone's standards. My sense is comic books probably occupy less than ten percent of the print market.
BQ: What comic books do you follow?
FBR: I used to follow the new Daredevil series written by Brian Michael Bendis, because the art work by Alex Maleev is just so incredibly awesome. Being in Mexico has made it difficult to keep up.
BQ: Any Competition? I understand there is another Chicano/Latino comic book super hero on the scene?
FBR: The truth is that the real creators of these super heroes are featured in Ohio State University Professor Frederick Luis Aldama's book, ''Your Brain On Latino Comics". I am proud to say that Professor Aldama contacted me in Mexico and interviewed me for his book. The Chicano Latino comic book world is pretty tight and we all know each other and support each other's work.
There are two new guys from the Los Angeles area who are nothing more than copycat, rip offs. They are trying to capitalize on my Intellectual Property. They have simply ignored the Cease and Desist request choosing instead to move forward with their so-called Lobo/Aztec hero comic book, as if they're not doing anything wrong. Sad to say that this might ultimately lead to civil litigation in order to have a judge and a courtroom mete out justice and determine damages, if any. They feel pretty strongly that they are not doing anything wrong. I feel vehemently stronger that indeed, they most certainly are.
BQ: What do you tell others about the comic book business?
FBR: I try to be very encouraging and I have a lot of experience having had to go to through different printers, graphic artists, etc. I encourage them to read as many comic books as they can. And I also tell them the harsh reality and explain the business end; not just the creative end.
As a small independent publisher, advertising and distribution is always a challenge and finding the funding sources are a grind but, necessary. One great thing that I learned was the importance of placing a bar code sticker on our comic books. This new issue of "AOC Legends Last Forever, Vol III, issue 2", has the bar code insignia on the cover and will allow us to sell on Amazon, etc. For this run, we printed 3,000 copies. I anticipate selling them fairly successfully. With the money made, it will allow us to print our next issue and stay on a quarterly distribution schedule for 2013-2014. Of course the ultimate goal is to have comic books available monthly, just like Marvel and DC comic books. It just takes perseverance day by day and never giving up on your dream.
BQ: What's the Mexican comic book market like?
FBR: Mexico is not as big on comic books. They are just not as interested in comic books. In the US, you'll find six-to-ten comic book stores in every city. There are only six in all of Mexico. There is not a whole lot of money in comic books here. Novelas yes. In Japan, you can read comic books while you are waiting for your meal. They are very popular in Japan.
BQ: Tell us about your new Christian comic book?
FBR: When my son was 12 years old, I wanted to create a religious comic book super hero that reflected parables in the bible as a way for him to learn and remember the bible. I came up with Cruz, a Christian Warrior. He has long hair and carries a staff and controls the elements. I'm not afraid to talk about God or anything in the Bible. I believe in Jesus Christ and I believe in God. I have read the bible from Genesis to Revelations, front to back, probably thirty times. This new comic book has quoted scripture.
In the next issue, AOC volume III, issue 3, artist Casey Quevedo, is drawing a six-page feature introducing the new Christian super hero character, Cruz. This is traditional in most comic books to introduce a new character embedded in an issue. In the future, I hope to create a thirty-two page, black and white graphic novel in paperback. And, in the Christian comic book world, they have awards and I have good chance to compete.
BQ: How do you stay inspired?
FBR: Well, everything interests me. I've been a good storyteller for a vey long time. As a kid, whether I was at school or wherever, I was always inspired to tell stories. To me, comic books are like a film on paper with visuals and stories connecting. I'm excited to see it grow every year. However, perhaps the most important aspect is connecting to people and telling our story.
BQ: Any video for AOC comic books?
FBR: This is a very popular question. Yes, we have two AOC videos. Thanks to Marko Psenicek, Barbara Rodriguez, and Richard Loretto, who have posted them on You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw8-BPg_XN8. who love AOC comic books and want to support me. Together, we developed a script and they volunteered to star in the vignettes. I am grateful for their support. Via Skype, I see the production in real time, give feedback, and approve content. The video is shot in San José, using real landmarks based on my comic book stories. It's been really cool to direct from Skype and witness the Chicano Super Hero come to life. They are doing a really great job.
BQ: Is there a future AOC movie?
FBR: Surprisingly no. I do hope Hollywood takes notice and it becomes a major motion picture and reaches a broader audience. Reaching people in Japan and Europe, all over. Did you know that the Low rider magazine is really big in Japan? The Japanese love Western culture just like in America a lot of people like Anime (a form of Japanese animation). Having a film would allow me to tell more stories and I have six or seven comic books to offer. Unique Chicano comic books filled with cultural pride. I will never give up on my dream.
BQ: What are you currently working on?
FBR: Right now, I'm busy putting together Aztec of the City Vol. III, issue, 3 ''Year of the Dragon.'' This will feature a nineteen-page Aztec story line artistically drawn by Cabo San Lucas, artist and neighbor, Jaime Nava Pastrana. In addition, I am also very excited about the six-page mini-story of "Mestízo," the first Mexican hero who is a character born of an Aztec mother and a Spaniard father. There will be classic struggles with racial hatred and prejudice everywhere he goes because of his dark skin and blue eyes. Very relevant to current day politics.
BQ: Future goals?
FBR: Well, I've talked to a national comic book distributor and they didn't really see a future for my comic books in their demographic markets. I am never deterred by a "no". I've faced adversity all my life. I will try Amazon and EBay next. My Publicist, Adriana Garcia Cabrerra, firstname.lastname@example.org , has made sales through her library contacts, so we're very hopeful. Soon all library patrons might have an opportunity to check out an AOC comic book. The best way for everyone to stay in touch is through Facebook. I'm on Facebook a lot and announce all updates and discuss fun stuff like the graphics, possible story ideas, launch dates, future publication and distribution details too. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aztec-of-the-City-Comic-Books/189033157811973 I want to thank everyone for their support. We couldn't do this without you.
NEXT: Part 2, Fernando B. Rodriguez, Chicano Super Hero and The Deported America. Learn how Fernando survived and thrived in Mexico.
Aztec of the City Comic Books
Fernando Balderas Rodriguez on Facebook
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