Aldama, Frederick Luis. Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Ariola to Los Bros Hernandez.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Pozzi-Harris, Ana
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Fall-Winter, 2010 Source Volume: 85 Source Issue: 3-4
Topic: NamedWork: Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Ariola to Los Bros Hernandez (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Aldama, Frederick Luis
Accession Number: 247971692
Full Text: Aldama, Frederick Luis. Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Ariola to Los Bros Hernandez. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009. viii + 331 pages. Paper, $24.95.

Your Brain on Latino Comics is a valuable introduction to the analysis of comics, with a focus on those created by Latino writers and oriented toward both a Latino and non-Latino audience. The book is divided into three distinct sections. The first part provides an overview of Latino comics and of the scholarship that has addressed them to date. The second part discusses analytical strategies for comics as a whole, using Latino examples. The last part is a collection of twenty-one interviews of Latino comic artists conducted by the author. These interviews constitute the book's most relevant contribution to the scholarship on Latino comics.

The artist or author interview is at the core of social sciences and humanities research, yet Aldama's initiative to publish such a large collection of statements suggests that the real-life experiences of comic book authors has not been a priority in previous studies on the topic. In fact, his literature review indicates that scholars have typically focused on the politics of representation of Latinos in comics (by Latino writers or otherwise), and on the hypothetical experiences of Latino readers. These interviews are bound to prompt a new set of questions and to dispel certain assumptions. We learn, for example, that most Latino comic writers admired mainstream comic superheroes like Superman, the Fantastic Four, or Batman; that Frank Espinosa, the Cuban author of Rocketo, held his first job at Walt Disney Studios and was later art director of the consumer products division at Warner Brothers; and, that many artists make aesthetic choices, like doing black-and-white drawings, purely out of financial need. Contrary to expectation, we also learn that some Latino authors avoid political themes altogether (e.g., Gus Ariola), and that many (e.g., Jonathan and Joshua Luna, or Bobby Rubio) do not believe that their ethnicity affected their experiences in the profession. These interviews provide great insight into the processes involved in comic book making, on the distinct activities of writing and drawing comic books, on the marketing strategies of comic book authors, and on their negotiations with syndicates and animation studios. Aldama tends to ask similar (though not identical) questions to each author, so the comparative information offers an interesting cross section of experiences and opinions. These published interviews will furnish future researchers with valuable primary source material on a little-studied topic.

Aside from these interviews, Aldama discusses how comics as a medium deserve a unique set of analytical tools. He believes that other disciplines' approaches--those used in visual art or film, for example--cannot account for the unique characteristics of comics, particularly the relationship between textual information, visual information, and the overall narrative intention. With this in mind, the second part of this book enumerates the set of problems that specifically pertain to the creation of comics. Following the example of Patrick Hogan in The Mind and Its Stories (2003), Aldama introduces a cognitive and emotional approach to the study of comic books and strips. He explains that Latino comic "author-artists" work within the three narrative prototypes identified by Hogan--tragicomedy, heroic tragicomedy, and sacrificial tragicomedy and that their narratives tap on the brain's emotional wiring. Accordingly, Latino comics are engaging and ultimately successful when readers identify with the fictional characters and their stories. This analytical section constitutes a good introduction to the issues involved in creating and reading comics, but it is somewhat disappointing because it reads more like commentary rather than in-depth analysis. Aldama chooses to comment lightly on too many examples rather than focus on a few case studies. It is often difficult to clarify or verify Aldama's commentary against the actual example he is addressing because the illustrated comics, when provided, are not clearly marked or documented.

One important feature of this work worth noting is Aldama's understanding of the "Latino" contribution to comics and to culture as a whole. Since he argues that Latino comic writers work within universal narrative prototypes which are built in the structure of the brain, his argument avoids the dilemma about the original contribution (or the relative lack of it) of a marginal cultural product, and about its relation to mainstream culture. Aldama suggests that Latino writers use the same narrative prototypes as other marginal non-Latino or mainstream writers because such prototypes are universal. The use of Latino superheroes or main characters, the linguistic nuances, and Latino political issues (e.g., immigration law) provide cultural specificity to Latino comics, but Aldama argues (and several comic book writers support his claim in the interviews) that any contemporary audience of any culture can identify with the struggles and emotions of Latino comic characters. Many writers also maintain that their comics are successful because they treat issues that are sufficiently engaging to a culturally-diverse audience, not just to the growing Latino audience in the United States. Aldama's approach, then, bypasses the questions scholars typically ask when assessing the value of a cultural contribution, namely, those of cultural and historical specificity, of influence, and of appropriation. While Aldama's argument will merit a closer look in future scholarship, his universalist perspective opens the door for a critical reevaluation of non-mainstream comics.

Ana Pozzi-Harris, PhD

Instructor of Art History

North Georgia College & State University

Dahlonega, Georgia
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