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Comics: Meet the Artist
With Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos
Cartoonists -- "Baldo"

Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor

Friday, July 12, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT

Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin hosts "Baldo" cartoonists Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos.

Tobin, Cantu and Castellanos were online Friday, July 12 at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss "Baldo" and the art of cartooning.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Suzanne Tobin: Greetings, comics fans! And welcome to "Comics: Meet the Artist" with the co-creators of "Baldo," Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos. Hector is joining us from his studio office at home in Dallas. And Carlos is sitting in his home studio in West Palm Beach, Fla. Welcome, guys and thanks for joining us Live Online.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. Great to be here.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. Happy to be online.

Poolesvile, Md.: No question. Just a big I LOVE IT! A comic I feel completely identified with. You show the rest of the country the beauty of being Hispanic.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. You know that's some of the best feedback that we get from readers--that they identify with the characters. We love it when we get that sort of response.
This is Carlos. Ditto.

Harrisburg, Pa.: Do you two have a set working process? Do you bounce ideas off of each other? Do you do a strip of day, or work several strips in bunches, or what? It would be interesting to know more about the process leading to the creation of the "Baldo" we all love so much.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos, the illustrator. Basically, we just get on the phone and talk about some general ideas and some personal life stuff that might transfer into gags.
This is Hector, the writer. I generally try to get out a week's worth of strips, six dailies and one Sunday, at one time.

Washington, D.C.: Did you find it a little harder to get your strip in the paper because of its hispanic characters? Or, in these PC times, do you think a minority-central comic is easier to get published? Affirmative action for the funnies?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. Actually, it wasn't as initially hard as we thought it would be to get "Baldo" into papers. In fact, it was Universal Press Syndicate's fourth most successful launch after "For Better or For Worse," "Calvin and Hobbes," and "The Boondocks." So we got out of the gates with a bang. And it's not just because "Baldo" was a Hispanic strip. People have been submitting Hispanic-themed strips for years, if not for decades. And I think "Baldo" was the one of the first ones that had a lot of the elements that syndicates and newspapers were looking for--it was consistent, clever, well-drawn and had a very likable family. I don't think these PC times had anything to do with it. If you look at the dozen of comics in newspapers today, only a tiny percentage have minority themes.

Bethesda, Md.: Are there any places that would seriously consider the work of a 14-year-old? My son's got a certain style and has produced several strips. Are there internships? And the nervous mother in me wants to know: What are job prospects like for cartoonists these days?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. Unfortunately, there aren't as many internships available as there used to be. Producing comic strips on a daily basis requires you to work on a grueling schedule, but my advice to your 14-year-old is to practice, practice, practice. And when he gets old enough and mature enough to handle the daily responsibilities, then he can go ahead and submit to one of the syndicates.
If your child is fortunate enough to find someone who's already working in the field, who's willing to mentor him, that would be a great place to start.
When I was in college, I had an instructor who mentored me in the business of freelancing, and that's what got me started in my career.
The things I learned from him, I would have never learned in the traditional art school setting.
As for job prospects, they are good, depending on your level of creativity, what the market is looking for and your level of commitment.

Virginia: Mr. Cantu and Mr. Castellanos,

I'm just a white girl from Southern California, but I absolutely adore the "Baldo" strip because it reminds me of so many of my childhood/young adult friends from home.

I think your strip does a great job at portraying the strong family ties of a young Hispanic family, and I think Baldo and his friends are a hoot -- like so many of my classmates from not-so-long ago.

Where is "Baldo" set, and what ethnicity is the Bermudez family?

Keep up the good work!

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector, the brown boy from Texas. And I absolutely adore e-mail like yours. We try to really focus the strip on the interaction between Baldo and his dad, sister and great-aunt. Our main goal is the family interaction, and we're glad that you find that a hoot. A lot of people tell us that the characters remind us of people they knew growing up.
Carlos and I have never really discussed where Baldo is set. The family lives in a big American city. They live close to downtown. They are an urban family, but not in the heart of the city, so they're surrounded by a lot of diversity in their neighborhood.
As far as the ethnicity, we've never thought about it. I don't think most cartoonists sit down and say Charlie Brown is French, or Dilbert is Danish.
The Bermudez family is a Latino family living in the United States. I can tell you that I am Mexican American and Carlos is Cuban American and the strip takes a lot from our experiences.

Vienna, Va.: Will Baldo ever go on TV?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. Univision has ordered 13 episodes of a animated "Baldo" series that we hope will air this fall. They haven't announced a time or schedule, so let's all keep our fingers crossed. It's also being produced in both Spanish and English, just as our strip is distributed.
So maybe it could find a home on an English speaking network as well.

Gaithersburg, Md.: What is it like to see your work in the paper?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. When the strip first came out in April, 2000, it was really weird to see the comic on the page in my hometown paper, the Dallas Morning News, with all these other great comics I've been reading for years. Below us was "Sally Forth," caddy corner was "Foxtrot," "For Better or For Worse" was off to the left.
It was a very strange, joyous experience to see that.

Rockville, Md.: What inspired you guys to become cartoonist?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. What inspired me to become a cartoonist was cartoon drawings that my dad used to do for me when I was a kid. So he's really the one that lit the spark. He used to spend a lot of time with me doodling little characters.
The first time I remember consciously wanting to be a cartoonist was when I was seven years old, and it was the first time I can remember watching "Bewitched" on TV. And watching Darrin Stevens working from home sitting behind his big drawing table and doing layouts and having a really fun time at home. So I just figured that was the coolest job on the planet. And I thought it would be really great to be able to do that (minus the part where he marries the witch--I didn't do that!)

Hyattsville, Md.: I cried when the kids finally asked their father why he never talks about their deceased mom. It was a really sensitive way to approach a tough issue. The father is so great.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. We had been dealing with how to bring up the subject of the mother's whereabouts ever since the strip launched. We'd get lots of e-mails asking "Where's the mom? What happened to the Mom?" so we felt it was time to deal with what was going on.
Creatively, we deliberately delayed dealing with the Mom, by putting her on the back burner. We incorporated our approach into dealing with Mom into the way Dad dealt with Mom, which was basically trying to bury his loss. It was something that the Dad wasn't too open to talking about. It was something he wanted to shun, and we sort of built that feeling into the strip.
When we finally dealt the issue the week after Mother's Day this year, the response from readers was amazing, and a lot of them said that their family had done the same thing. Readers felt that a loved one's memory should not be ignored, and that that doesn't make the pain any easier to bear.
Apparently, that whole storyline did strike a chord. We tried to handle it as delicately as we could, and the readers let us know they thought we did a pretty good job of it.

Bethesda, Md.: What kind of balance do you try to achieve in your portrayal of Hispanics (or Mexican-American, as that's what Baldo seems to be)? On the one hand, you've used several strips to point out ridiculous misconceptions or assumptions non-Hispanics have about them. But in others, you seem to perpetuate others (like Tia Carmen's shrine). What's the difference between "endorsing" a stereotype and claiming back one's cultural heritage?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. This is a real good question. What we try to do is portray our experience in as realistic and as comical a fashion as possible. We don't see Tia Carmen's shrine as perpetuating a stereotype. My aunt and grandmother both have shrines.
This is Hector. My mom has a shrine and she would be insulted if I told her that was a stereotype.
This is Carlos again. These are real situations in the way Hector and I grew up. For me, what a stereotype is, in a TV show, where you have a cast of white characters, and the one Hispanic or black is a gang member.
What we try to do is depict Hispanics in a very real way, showing both the positive and negative aspects. We've created a family that's very loving and supportive, so we don't feel we're endorsing stereotypes in any way.
This is Hector. In fact, we try really hard to stay away from stereotypes. The fact is, your characters have to enjoy doing something. I guess we could have Baldo be an avid hot air ballooning fan, or he could like nice custom cars, which he does in the strip. Now Baldo liking low-rider cars is not a stereotype, it's what millions of kids, of all races, are doing.

Mt. Rainier, Md.: I'm one of your (many, I'm sure) non-Hispanic fans. I'm crazy about Tia Carmen and Graciella, especially though the dad is great and Baldo is cool (though not as cool as he wishes). You have created a really positive wonderful funny world with your strip - thanks!

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. Thanks for the kind comments. We have all kinds of fans and we get e-mail from all kinds of people, not just Latinos. We try to create characters that are lovable and that are funny and that will make the readers want to know about what's going on in their lives, and it's great for you to let us know we're doing our job.

Washington, D.C.: How much inspiration for the strips do you get from your own families? I got such a kick out of a strip where the tia, I think, was lighting candles for something. It so reminded me of the shrines latina mothers, my own included, often put in their homes.

Also kudos on the one about the fast food place with ridiculous names for the Mexican-type foods (fajitaco, enchurrito, etc.) That drives me nuts too, and the strip had me rolling!

Felicidades y muy buena suerte!

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. We tap into our own family experiences quite a bit. Thank you so much for your support. We're glad that you're enjoying our efforts.

Tyson's Corner, Va.: Were you ever influenced by the great strip Gordo, possibly the first comic with Hispanic characters?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. We actually did a week of tribute strips where Gordo appeared last November in "Baldo." It was the 60th anniversary of when "Gordo" had first appeared in newspapers. So "Gordo" beats us by a longshot as being the first Latino strip in newspapers.
We certainly admire what Gus Arriola did when he launched the strip and the nearly four decades that he ran the strip. He taught a lot of people a lot of things about Latino culture through his comic strip and hopefully we can do the same thing with "Baldo."
But the influence stops at tawkeeng like dees with a heavy accent. By the end of the strip Gordo had really evolved and gotten away from that.

Gee....: I was positive that the Bermudez family was Cuban, and now I'm not sure why. Funny, but Cuba really comes through.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. It's funny because the strip speaks to different readers differently. We've had Cuban readers write to us and say "This Cuban family is just like us." We've had Puerto Ricans writing and thinking the Bermudez family is Puerto Rican, and so on and so on.
To me, personally, it's the biggest joy to have people from different Hispanic backgrounds perceive the Bermudez family as sharing their own ethnicity.
Because that's exactly what Hector and I strive for.

Harrisburg, Pa.: Your strip is very entertaining. How did you pick your characters: are they based on actual people or perhaps configurations of various people you know? If so, what has been the reaction of these people to their portrayals?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. No, the characters are not based on real people. When the idea for "Baldo" first came about, we basically wanted to create a strip about what we knew best. What it boiled down to was a Latino teenage boy growing up in the United States.
Carlos and I certainly could have created another cat strip or an ostrich strip, but for us this seemed to make the most sense. When we decided it would be a young boy, it was just natural that he would have a sister and a father, and instead of a grandmother, we decided to go for a great aunt living with them. Even though they're not based on any people in particular, I think we take a lot from our life experiences.
Just like Carlos, people come up to me and say "Oh, you based the father character on your dad, he looks just like him." But Carlos, who draws the strip, has never even seen my dad. People see themselves and their loved ones in the characters regardless, and that's what we want.

Rockville, Md.: Would it be possible to draw one of the female characters so she's not bald and you can see her eyes? As she's drawn now, she looks like a space alien and it's just gross -- not funny. Also, most people out there don't know Spanish and don't have any idea what "tia" or any of the other Spanish words in the strip are. Yes, yes, Spanish is one of the most common languages in the world, etc., but this is the U.S., most of us speak English, and everyone I talk to who reads the strip continually doesn't get the Spanish references. Thus the strip is rendered unreadable! It would be nice to have a clearer explanation, perhaps, when Spanish references are thrown in. Also, why is the father made out to be such an idiot? All of these aspects, together, combine to make the strip difficult to read, enjoy or understand.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. Gracias. We're glad you're reading Baldo.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Have you ever gotten angry letters regarding any of your strips?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. See question above.

Poolesville, Md.: Baldo on TV... how cool is that! I bet Nickelodeon would be a good home for the English version. Have you tried selling it to them?

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: We really can't say a whole lot more than we already have about the animated "Baldo." The network is in charge of where the show will air, but feel free to write Univision.

Washington, D.C.: I just took a look through your archives. The more I read, the more I saw so much of my family and my culture in your comic strip. It is fantastic. Thanks for such an honest, funny and touching comic strip!
By the way, I absolutely love Tia Carmen, in her I see my mom, her friends and so many of the Latina women I saw growing up!

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. We got a lot of mail from people who love Tia Carmen, she's such a wacky, zany, lovable character. Thanks for taking the time to write.

For the Post: It would be way cool to get the Spanish strip in the Post.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Hector. I'd like for the Post to print loteria cards in their Sunday paper, but I don't think that's gonna happen. You can see the Spanish strip online at www.ucomics.com.

Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos: This is Carlos. I see our visa cards have expired and I hear a loud knock on the door, so I've gotta run. Seriously, it's always nice to get feedback from such a diverse group of readers.
This is Hector. Adios.

Suzanne Tobin: Thanks, guys, you were magnifico. I hope all the people who joined us today will come back in two weeks when our guest will be Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert." But I'm going to have to do the chat at a different time, because my son's in the national soccer championships at noon that day. (Go Bethesda Alliance!) So keep an eye out on the Live Online schedule for the time!

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