High-fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien created an impressive and expansive world of hobbits, orcs, and men, but one thing didn’t quite add up for historian Thomas Delfi. “Gandalf enjoys a pipe, smoking Hobbit’s [Pipe-weed], a stand-in for tobacco,” he told me over email. “In the Lord of the Rings lore, J.R.R. Tolkien created analogies for European, Asian, and African cultures, but left out any analogy for Latin American culture. It was a small thing, but it academically puzzled me as tobacco is a product of Mesoamerican culture, but we had no analogy in this incredible piece of popular fiction.”
“We had no analogy in this incredible piece of popular fiction.”
This minor observation motivated the 26-year-old to find spaces where Latinx and geek culture intersected. He learned of a large community of fans, creators, and cosplayers. But he also realized that regardless of our increased visibility in both the mainstream and on the fringes, some gaps remained. So now, the New York-born Puerto Rican is working to bring Nerdtino Expo – which he’s billing as the largest East Coast comic book convention for the Latinx community – to fruition in Philadelphia.
Delfi’s a lifelong fan of everything geek, and it’d almost be impossible for him to not be. In 1992 – when he was a toddler – his mother took him to see Batman Returns. During the childhood years he vividly remembers, he became drawn by Power Rangers, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and more comic book movies. By the early aughts, there was no turning back for him. “When I moved to Pennsylvania, [I] frequented local comic book shops,” he added. “The love has only grown, and I’ve been in the convention scene since 2012.”
The last four years have seen him grow from fan to curator. “Whenever I asked my friends where the Latinx fans and creators were, I was met with shrugged shoulders,” he said. “As I dug deeper and deeper, I found a deep and rich history of Latinx creators in comic books, literature, film, television in a diversity of genres, as well as a large community of Latinx fans and cosplayers that were disconnected. So I created the Nerdtino community to both bring fans together and promote creators. I specifically had the idea for the Nerdtino Expo when I saw not only a great number of African-American comic book and science-fiction conventions, but a new generation of diversity focused conventions, like the Latino Comics Expo of California and Sol Con of Ohio.”
We’ve come a long way from the days when Bill Mantlo and artist George Pérez first us introduced us to White Tiger – a Puerto Rican character recognized as the first mainstream Latino comic superhero. White Tiger made his debut in a December 1975 issue of Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. The 80s and 90s ushered in a wave of independent and alternative Latino comic book creators – with the Hernández brothers (Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario) leading the way with their seminal Love and Rockets comic book. In 1981, the brothers first published Love and Rockets, which told the story of Latinos, punks, and queer characters living in the fictional towns of Palomar, Mexico and Hoppers, California. For los Hermanos Hernández, this comic book allowed them to represent the world they lived in.
“It was wanting to tell personal stories, so it was basically our upbringing, and then also, ‘Hey, this stuff’s not in comics,” Jaime told the AV Club. “Let’s show them our version. We’re from Southern California, and all they’re seeing is one side of it. They’re seeing the beach and stuff like that. ‘Well, let’s show them this side of it. Let’s show them how punk is from my personal stance. Let’s show them how being a Mexican in Southern California is.’”
Fast forward to the present, and more Latino characters have filled out the comic book world. Marvel and DC Comics have brought us half Latino, half African American Miles Morales, queer Latina America Chávez, and Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes. Even with a signal boost from two comic book giants, Delfi saw how the Latino comic book world could improve. “There had never been a Latinx focused comic book convention on the East Coast despite the huge Latinx population and nearby Latinx creators in New York City,” he said. “So, I decided to fill the gap and bring the community together.”
With a small team of less than 10, he’s making Nerdtino Expo possible. Organizers hope to attract at least 400 to 600 attendees. As they take on this ambitious undertaking, organizers are looking for guests – who work in comic books, cosplay, video games, literature (those who work in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror) – to fill out the main roster. The group is open to working with a wide variety of talent, because at the end of the day, they want to serve as a bridge between the past, present, and future of the Latino comic book world. And they’re not limiting the definition of Latino to just those with ties to Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking countries. Nerdtino Expo is an inclusive place that welcomes people with roots anywhere in the western hemisphere.
Nerdtino Expo wants to serve as a bridge between the past, present, and future of the Latino comic book world.
“Our hope with Nerdtino Expo is not only to highlight the history and contributions of prominent Latinx creators in comic book industry, but create promotional spaces for independent writers and artists,” Delfi added. “Most importantly, we want this event to be not only entertaining but education and engaging. If you have something to teach or a subject you’re passionate about that you try to interpret through your work, the Nerdtino Expo can be your platform. Additionally, our plan is to have Nerdtino Expo be not only a traditional comic book convention, but a networking opportunity for Latinx creators and a space to foster great collaboration and support.”
Nerdtino Expo is tentatively scheduled for November 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you’re a creator or cosplayer who wishes to participate in Nerdtino, contact Thomas Delfi at [email protected]. You can also follow Nerdtino’s Facebook page for updates.