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At the Mission Art and Comic Expo, ‘Hella Chicano Artists’ Rep a Local Scene

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Woman in black ballcap and black rimmed glasses looks up from table of illustrations and printed materials
Illustrator Abby Rocha is one of nearly 50 exhibitors at this year’s Mission Art and Comic Expo. (Courtesy MACE)

Growing up in Sonoma County during the 1990s, Oakland artist Alex Sodari often saved up to buy Dark Horse comics at the grocery store and make the trek down to San Francisco for comic conventions. “I really would not be an artist if it weren’t for comic books,” says Sodari, who went on to study illustration at California College of the Arts. But as they moved from enthusiast to creator, they noticed a lack of Latinx and Chicano artists in the mainstream comics scene.

“Who are the comics artists that are Latino that are even out there?” says Sodari. “You can count them on one hand, and then it’s like ‘take it or leave it,’ you know? If you don’t like the Hernandez brothers, then who else do you really have to read?”

Yearning to reconnect with his Mexican heritage and empower local queer and BIPOC zine and comics creators, Sodari founded the Mission Art and Comic Expo (MACE) in 2019 alongside friend and fellow illustrator Anthony James Harmer. On May 7, MACE returns with a lineup of nearly 50 confirmed exhibiting artists at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Smiling person with long dark hair, bolo tie in front of table of zines and buttons, two people in background
MACE co-founders Alex Sodari (center) and Anthony James Harmer (right) at the 2019 event. (Courtesy MACE)

A newer addition to the Bay Area indie comics sphere, MACE is inspired by longstanding events like SF Zine Fest and the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest, which have drawn in hungry crowds of art lovers since their respective foundings in 2001 and 2010. When developing MACE, Sodari wanted to create an event that retained the DIY, punk spirit of these zine fests while also highlighting Latinx and Chicano artists in the Mission who may be struggling to put their art into the world and sustain their creative endeavors.

“At this point where gentrification is really hitting the Mission hard, [with] a lot of artists having to move out of San Francisco [and] being displaced, we felt like we need to do the event to show that artists still reside in the Mission, and that this is still a place for Chicano art to flourish, despite the economic challenges,” says Sodari.

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At the first expo, the exhibition hall bustled with the excited chatter of artists and attendees discussing their love for comics. People jumped from table to table, leaving with handfuls of new zines and artwork. Older local Mission residents wandered in, curious, as they discovered pieces that held remnants of a shared home and language. This sense of intergenerational nostalgia and understanding formed a pillar for the expo as it continues to close gaps between community members of different ages and backgrounds.

Table covered in zines and prints in front of wall with artwork and event name
A display at the 2021 Mission Art and Comic Expo. (Alex Sodari)

“A big part of doing [the expo] in the Mission and at Mission Cultural Center is being able to engage with the greater Chicano community. If you saw who attended our first event, it was really all ages — people bringing their kids and then also older folks,” says Sodari. “I feel like that was really big for those groups in particular, because they were able to see like, ‘Okay, cool, the young people are still expressing themselves and taking pride in their identity.’”

As an organizer, Sodari feels hopeful for the future as MACE continues to expand. Aside from the event, they aim to create a database of Bay Area Latinx and Chicano artists and operate as a distro, purchasing and distributing works from diverse, underrepresented creators.

For Sodari, it’s not so much about building a foundation of artists — the foundation has always been there. Instead, they are focusing on uncovering the talent that already exists, and encouraging others to finally recognize it.

“The Mission holds it down. The community is still out here and showing up and doing stuff, and we want to be a part of that,” says Sodari. “I want to people to see like, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s hella Chicano artists out there, you just don’t see them.’”

The Mission Art and Comic Expo takes place at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (2868 Mission St.) on Sunday, May 7, 12–6 p.m. Admission is free. More information here.

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