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Baldo co-creator big hit at Lyceum Series

By APRILL BRANDON
Oct. 7, 2010 at 5:07 a.m.

Hector Cantu, the co-creator of Baldo, talks about how he created the characters for the comic strip from people he knew. Cantu was the speaker for the Victoria College Lyceum Series on Thursday.

UPCOMING LYCEUM SPEAKERS:Nov. 16: Writer/journalist Pete Earley, author of the 2006 book "Crazy: A Father's Search through America's Mental Health Madness"

March 30: Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times best-selling author of the memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love," which was turned into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

April 28: Jim Morris, the inspiration for the Disney movie "The Rookie" starring Dennis Quaid, and who was a rookie for a major league baseball team at the age of 35.

He may be a great writer and cartoonist, but judging by the reactions Thursday at the Victoria College Lyceum Series, Hector Cantu may have missed his calling as a stand-up comedian.

The co-creator of the nationally syndicated comic "Baldo" had the audience in stitches as he shared his stories of growing up, how Baldo came to be and how he deals with hate mail.

One of the biggest influences in Cantu's life happened after his family moved to Crystal City when he was 10 and at the height of the Chicano Power Movement, he said. Being surrounded by all these characters and powerful people, Cantu's childhood heroes included Cesar Chavez and Spiderman, the latter of whom had "a more colorful costume."

"It was also at this time that I was reading comics like crazy and Mad Magazine, which I never put down. I remember my dad would tell me 'Come on, we're going to the Chicano Power Rally,' and I'd say 'Again, Dad?' So I'd bring the magazine with me and read it while I was there," Cantu said as he mimed reading while half-heartedly pumping his fist and chanting. "And then there was the time Cesar Chavez was in Crystal City and didn't have a place to sleep. My dad offered him my bed, and the part I remember is being pissed some man kicked me out of my bed. Sure, it was Cesar Chavez, but I didn't care. I still had to sleep on the couch."

Cantu added that one of the things his childhood heroes, which also included Spy vs. Spy creator Antonio Prohias, taught him was to set your own destiny and that you have to decide what you want to do and not let anyone else decide.

Eventually, Cantu followed his own heart and became a journalist.

"Although I was writing non-fiction, I always kept my eye on the comics. The guys on the comics page always seemed to have a lot more fun," he said.

It was after moving to California in the late '90s and meeting Carlos Castellanos that the two came up with Baldo, the first nationally syndicated comic strip featuring a Latino-American family. Cantu added that some of the things that make Baldo different from other comic strips is that he gleans storylines from current news stories, e-mails from readers and his own life experiences, as well as making use of playful language.

"I play with language a lot. For example, in one comic I used the word 'impalated,' which is a trancelike state induced by the sight of a '64 Chevy Impala," he said.

Of course, Cantu isn't afraid to take on more serious topics. When high schools across the country were having walkouts to protest immigration laws, Cantu did a comic in which the same thing happened at Baldo's high school.

"I got tons of e-mail on that one, most of it telling me to go back to Mexico," he added.

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