Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fernando Balderas Rodriguez speaks about his character and copyright infringement case..

Can you give me a little background about yourself?

I grew up in San Jose, CA. When I was 12, I was hired by Frank Scadina to work at his downtown Collector’s Corner comic book shop as a cashier/clerk. One time, we had Bob Wilkins of Creature Features TV show at our store, and it was jam packed the whole day. From my two years working there, I built my $29,000 comic book collection of Silver Age Marvel. In 8th grade, I made the honor roll. At San Jose high school, I was the school's newspaper editor and qualified for state as the San Francisco Bay Area's mile and two-mile track champion. I ran Cross Country and track at San Jose City College, where I obtained my A.A. in Art. I also ran for the San Jose State track club before moving on to coach at my alma mater SJHS, where we were back to back Bay area Division IV state qualifying champions in 1990-1991. One day in 1992, while I happened to be buying some Marvel and independent titles at Brian’s Books comic book store in Santa Clara, CA, I noticed there were no Latino heroes, then I grew frustrated as to why I hadn't noticed that at 12 years old, in high school, or college and went home and created Aztec of the City, which made it's debut Cinco de Mayo, 1993 

What is your artistic background?

 I used to draw here and there as a kid; tracing Marvel heroes until I got good enough to draw them from memory. It was mostly Spider-Man and some Bruce Lee.

In junior high, they used to put one page stories I had written on the wall of the principal's/attendance office. I was editor-in-chief with the high school bi-monthly paper; sometimes I drew editorial cartoons. I have always excelled as a creative writer. Getting creative or factual things down on paper is my strong suit.

I see that you worked with your brother on the first few issues of Aztec of the City, so was he a co-creator, or were you the sole creator of the book?

 I thought it would look good in the media if it were two brothers doing the book and invited him to help me draw the other half of the book. I was influenced by the three Simms brothers in Texas, who produced their very own 32-page black and white independent series, Brotherman. I have been the sole proprietor since April 1993 and have worked with artists Kasey Quevedo, Gene Poonyo, Ernie Polo and most recently, Jaime Nava Pastrana in self-publishing, the independent, small press, and Aztec of the City.

Seeing as you’ve been in the industry for over 20 years, and knowing your influence in the marketplace as being a Latino creator, my question is was it hard to get where you are today?

As soon as I saw the void, I worked fast to create Aztec of the City, drawing 50% of it myself, then hiring the few passionately true artists that were willing to work for next to nothing in making it happen. When I met Jeff Smith  at a 1993 summer Santa Cruz comic book workshop sponsored by Joe Ferrera at his spacious, Atlantis Fantasy World comic book shop, he showed me his Bone characters when he was on issue # 4 and pointed out he had no advertisers, no bar code, and his books were distributed nationwide. Jeff really educated me about the business end of the industry that day. In that first year, I drove to Oakland, Gilroy, Watsonville, Salinas, San Francisco, Newark, Fremont, Berkeley, West Hollywood, East LA, Bellflower, and South Gate getting the word out and selling them direct. It was tough, but the positive local support was tremendous. Being interviewed by Aldama for his book was an honor to be recognized second or third among the 11 Latino comic book pioneers like Ivan Velez, Dominguez, Navarro, Saldaña, Hernandez...etc.
Did you deal with any discrimination from other artistic peers? How has the landscape of comics changed during your time?

At the very first 1994 APE Con in San Jose, I met LA's Carlos Saldaña of El Burrito fame and Lalo Alcaraz with his La Cucaracha strip when we were all just starting out. In 1995 at Comic Con, we all had tables together, side by side in the small press area, and were calling it Chicano Row. LA's Rafael Ravarro (Sonambulo), Carlos Saldaña (Burrito) Jose Martinez (The Chosen) and Javier Hernandez (El Muerto) were there. Richard Dominguez of Texas (El Gato Negro) was directly next to us. It was at that time when DC approached me about their cautionary concerns over Aztek, which I had no qualms with because they were two totally separate entities.
Afterwards at a Mexican Restaurant across the street from Comic Con, we all created a fraternity, a brotherhood, called The Professional Amigos of Comic Art Society (PACAS). The changes I've seen are that most of the DC, Marvel, Image, material is somewhat stagnant, and the industry could use something fresh and interesting from the pool of independent titles. Big indie favorites of mine that garnered major success were The Crow and Kick Ass.

Look at the two illustrations. Both heroes are thinking
of their Aztec hero coming to life? The poses are similar
aren't they? What do you think?
 Let’s cover your feelings over this whole ordeal with the people that have infringed on your copyright and continue to ignore your claims. What are you going to do? 

You know, when I first heard about it and saw for myself what was going on and what they were doing, I got in immediate contact with four friends and sought their advice on how to proceed. They each said to send them a friendly message explaining what my concerns were of the severe copyright infringement of my Aztec of the City intellectual property, but after viewing their YouTube video, I decided to counter punch hard and hope when the dust settled, they would cease and desist. My friend in the bay area, reminded me that where he's from, ''We don't run from a fight, we run to the fight.'' So, I'm taking that approach.

You see someone already put them on notice
that the character existed? Mmm!
What do you think?
Under their YouTube video trailer, which has 8,254 views, there are not 6,000 comments or even 60 for that matter, there are 12. A simple dozen. And the very first comment--of only the 12 mind you--that they have ever received after uploading their video, is by ''someguy988''; who states very simply but clearly, ''that character already exist''.  They have been very diligent on their social media sites to delete every comment regarding this matter, but thank the good Lord, they can't delete any comment on youtube; especially the damage sign warning from ''someguy988'' telling them 5 years ago that Aztec of the City already existed.

It would be easy for me, as it was for a certain commissioner of Gotham City, to walk over to the red phone hotline and contact the business attorney who helped register my copyright in 1993 and decide on a unique, distinct, one-of a-kind business name like El Salto Comics, to put on her cape and commence to ''lawyering'' (as the Clampetts would say). They have yet to print one comic book and if they proceed with this one, they fall into the copyright infringement realm that completely favors all the evidence on record of my intellectual property that is Aztec of the City.

 The DC Superman vs. Shazam is the precedent they fall under, when one reads the disclaimer at the bottom inside page of every comic book since time eternal, ''All characters featured in this magazine and the distinct likeness thereof are trademarks, copyright Fernando B. Rodriguez.” How DC has not sounded the alarm on their Lobo thing is beyond me. The fact I'm a small independent publisher isn't going to make a bit of a difference to a civil court judge and jury that will see and weigh a verdict on the preponderance of the evidence.

 In a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving facts and claims asserted in the complaint, and believe me, we'll present enough testimony and exhibits dating back to 1993. I mean, where have these guys been? They certainly are not mentioned in Professor Aldama's book. Whatever excuses or song and dance they make about not contacting me may be their ultimate undoing because we're all grown men and I'm willing to bend, but not break. They can clean this up and make changes accordingly. Some of us create and others copy. I mean, don't get me wrong, one of my great influences is the Sub-Mariner; but my hero doesn't live underwater and look exactly like Namor, Prince of Atlantis.

Jake Estrada

About the writer:
Jake Estrada has been publishing his own comics since 2005. His first comic, Bocas, centered on a Hispanic character, and there are six books in that series. His other books include Estrada Media Serials 1, Estrada Media Serials 2, Bridgeton Nights, You Cannot Silence Me: The Unauthorized Pedro Albizu Campos Story, Tainos, Motorist vs. Bocas 1, Motorist vs. Bocas 2, The Human Virus, and Screw Phillips. Other books are currently in the production stage and are scheduled to be released in 2013.


  1. Jose' Roberto MesarinaMay 2, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    With more and more obvious mounting proof to discredit the "Lobo" creators, they (Lobo) continue to remain silent and hope this will go away. Also, I, and I am sure many other curious people, and fans who are leaving their comments asking about the copyright infringements are either having their comments, deleted, or blocked by whoever is in charge of Latino Beatz, and the Legend of Lobo fan page on facebook. Keeping the public and their circle of Lobo fans blind to the copyright infringement topic is to me, their form of self guilt and incrimination to what they are doing. Not only infringing on Mr. Baldera's creative property, but having lied to the comic book fans who purchased their Legend of Lobo book, and to all those who have already made monetary contributions in way of donations. If you are reading this,anyone from the Legend of Lobo creative team, or anyone over at Latino Beatz, When will you come forward with some honest answers? If not to Mr. Balderas, how about to all the people who are asking questions, the fans, the people who have had their comments deleted or blocked in an attempt to keep everyone in the dark with the hopes that you meet your expected monetary goal for your Lobo project? Anyone?

  2. Just by advertising it, they set themselves up for claims violations, though it's going to be hard to prove with just some pictures and videos.

    That being said, I'm not sure why the people responsible for the Lobo comic would ever wish to speak with anyone on this site, as it seems clear they've already been found guilty by the writer of both these articles.

    It seems like a lot of hoopla about a title I would have never heard about if this site hadn't just ran two articles on it.

  3. Jose, I hope eventually i can talk with team Lobo and ask them these questions directly they are entitled to their day, and to show me some evidence that this Tina Pierce had told me they had to prove they held a claim to their work. Each side can be fairly represented. Thanks for the response.

  4. Nick,In fact it's my third article.

    Sure yes I find their activities very questionable but are they guilty? I can't say that with 100% certainty. Maybe they never knew the comic existed, maybe there is more than meets the eye, but please know I am not certain anyone is guilty. I am just looking at the entire issue as I see how it stands now, and things are shady at best, but I'm no lawyer.

    There is team Lobo's truth and Team Aztec's truth, and somewhere in the middle lies the real truth. Ultimately this will go to court, and it will be for a judge to decide who did what, and who did wrong and that will be the truth. It may seem like a fruitless effort man, but apparently it is important enough for both parties. Because one is trying to raise funds for a movie/comic and the other side has invested over 20 years of his time into the project and has to defend his IP. In the end I thought it was an interesting topic, liked the subject matter and felt it was important enough, and still do.

    Thanks for your comment, and I enjoy the conversation.


  5. Jose' Roberto MesarinaMay 2, 2013 at 8:59 PM

    Jake. I agree with your comment reply to,Nick Ahlhelm. I too would like to know the entire truth and hear BOTH sides. But one side refuses to speak and even though Nick sounds as if he's trying to downplay Aztec's Copyright Infringement claims in your articles, 3 of them, I also wanted to know why comments are being blocked or deleted by the Latino Beatz site. I know my comment didn't say anything threatening or offensive. My comment asked, wasn't this done as Aztec of the City already? That was more of a question and not a comment by the way. Anyway, A simple reply like "No" or " I don't think so" or any reply would've been sufficient.I'm sure there were also lots more comments in a question form rather than a comment form that were also deleted. Neither I, or anyone visiting that link will ever know for sure. This leads me to believe that either that site is owned and or operated by team lobos close friends. This is not a third world country where the accused are just plain guilty, this is the good ol' U.S.A. were everyone is innocent until PROVEN guilty. The Lobo people have every chance to and opportunity to defend themselves and their property. But they won't do that. Even if they just commented something like " At this moment, we are not going to be answering any questions on copyright infringement questions." But no. Absolutely nothing. This only makes people, besides myself start to believe that infact there is something shady going on. Also, Nick, it's more than just two pics. I am assuming you have not read any isses or know anything about the story of Aztec of the city so I will educate you on the story. Aztec of the City is about an Aztec, a real Aztec from History, not a guy dressed up as an Aztec, fighting crime in the Barrio in Modern Day L.A. , The Legend of Lobo is about an Aztec Who fights crime in the barrio in Modern Day L.A. then there are also identical or near identical panels of the comic. Only 2 images have been posted so far as examples. Sure Team Lobo doesn't have to post their claimed Copyrights, but they did say they have them predating Mr. Baldera's own copyrights. So they put it out there and even though they don't have to produce anything for the social media or web surfers, they put the heat on themselves by making that declaration. And lastly, besides all of this, I too question why D.C. Comics hasn't jumped on these guys for using the character name of "Lobo"? Maybe D.C. Comics doesn't know about this yet? Or maybe they do and the Lobo guys have also received a cease and Desist from them as well. I wonder if Jake could look into that too.