Note: This article originally appeared on columbusalive.com. All credit goes to Erica Thompson
On Sept. 30, Marvel’s “Luke Cage” series, featuring an African-American lead character and a predominantly black cast, premiered on Netflix. The subsequent server crash on Oct. 1 was widely attributed to a flood of eager viewers, many of whom binge-watched the entire season that weekend.
The highly praised show — debuting on the heels of Marvel’s introduction of the “Black Panther” superhero into the Marvel cinematic universe last spring – is a step toward inclusion in the world of mainstream comics. But considering that Cage is still a minority among an abundance of white comic-book characters — and that there are complaints on social media about “Luke Cage” being “too black” — there is still a lot of progress to be made.
“There’s been an engine behind a whiteness in comics … that’s been pushing all the other stuff to the edges,” said Dr. Frederick Luis Aldama, who teaches film, comics and Latino pop culture courses at OSU. “Our [Latino and African-American] communities are creating and have been for a long time."
To bring awareness to these creators, Aldama, along with Latino Comics Expo Founder Ricardo Padilla and John Jennings, an African-American artist and professor, founded “Sol-Con: The Brown and Black Comix Expo” in 2015. The free event features a slew of local and national Latino and African-American creators, who showcase their work, participate in workshops and sit on academic panels.
“Basically, it’s a way to combat symbolic annihilation, which is erasure through omission,” Jennings said. “It’s a way to empower people who haven’t been able to see themselves in mainstream comics and media.”
This year Sol-Con takes place at OSU’s Hale Hall on Friday, Oct. 14, and at the Columbus Metropolitan Library Downtown on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 15 and 16, in partnership with Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. Attendees can expect a variety of genres, formats and styles from the approximately 22 artists.
“They are creating these really vital, kinetic African-American or Latino superheroes,” Aldama said. “But then there are others that are working to use the visual and verbal craft of comics to tell everyday heroic stories.”
According to Aldama, the stories are “as exploratory as the mind is infinite,” but “grounded in concerns that we experience as Latinos and African-Americans in this country, things like discrimination, lack of access to education, racism, homophobia [and] sexism.”
“I feel like it’s a great showcase for Latino and African-American work and it’s nice to have it all in one place,” said Columbus-based storyboard artist Rafael Rosado, who will participate in the event. “It’s work that you can’t really get at your local comic book store.”
Rosado will also host a DIY digital animation workshop for students, who will be bused in from K-12 schools throughout Columbus with help from OSU. He hopes the kids will learn that “you don’t have to wait for the big publishers to tell stories about the Latino experience or the African-American experience, [but] that you have the resources and the outlets now to go out and make your own.”
Other youth workshop topics include digital painting and comic book creation, DIY storytelling and zines and creating comic strips.
Adults can look forward to thought-provoking panels, such as “Carving Out Expo and Indie-Con Spaces” (“What it means to actually put together an independent comic-con,” Aldama said) and “Scholars & Artists Unite: Afro-Latinx Futurism” (“How we’re imagining ourselves tomorrow in comics”).
There will also be “talk backs” with Keith Knight, Lalo Alcaraz and Hector Rodriguez, who will discuss their work in comics and beyond.
All panels — and the entire Sol-Con expo — will also emphasize “the significant production and shaping of comics by women of color,” Aldama said.
Sol-Con is the only convention in the U.S. that brings Latino and African-American comic book talent together, Aldama said. Not only is it a national milestone, but it’s helping to unite Columbus communities Aldama believes are divided.
“There’s a lot of common ground even though we have differences in our culture and our experiences,” he said.
And though Sol-Con may take place in California every other year going forward — Jennings and Padilla are based there — the event is helping to shine a light on marginalized groups in Columbus.
“We’re making this laser-focused effort to tell the world that we are a diverse city, we have creators that are grown from that diverse city and that they need to be recognized just as much as anybody else,” Aldama said.