FRISCO " At age 12, Hector Cantu's first political cartoon ran in a small town newspaper in Texas.
Now, he is the co-creator of a comic strip the decorates the pages of about 200 newspapers throughout the country, including ones in Colorado. And Friday morning, he visited Summit Middle School to talk to students about the creation of "Baldo," the first nationally-syndicated bilingual comic strip about a Latino family.
Cantu, now from Dallas, is the fourth speaker in the Frisco Speaker Series, a partnership between the Summit School District, Town of Frisco and Family and Intercultural Resource Center, that is part of the county's Community Integration Plan.
He has spoken at universities and schools throughout the states and is also the editorial director at Heritage Auction Galleries.
Laughter comes when something happens that wasn't expected, so "as a writer it is our job to surprise you," said Cantu as he explained the process of creating a comic strip to the middle school students.
But today, while comics are often designed for laughs, they are more than that, he said. They've been advancing as an art form and expanding to tackle social issues and make readers think, he continued.
For his scripts, Cantu uses his childhood, life experiences, observations and news as sources of ideas, and some of the elements included are stereotypes, immigrants, death and traditions.
Cartooning is all about stereotypes, Cantu said. It involves picking out something extreme to give the characters' personalities.
Baldo is a 15-year-old, who like boys his age, is into cars and girls. His little sister, Gracie, is 8 and is determined, powerful and intelligent, and has "Chica Power!" Sergio or Papi is their traditional father, and Tia Carmen is the older aunt who adds flavor and comedy.
"These are the characters I have fun with everyday," Cantu said.
Cantu, who studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and spent time working throughout the country as a reporter, first came up with Baldo about 10 years ago.
As he began Baldo, he called his artist friend in West Palm Beach, Fla., Carlos Castellanos, with the idea and talked to him about illustrating. From there, the characters began to take shape " or a few shapes " before they became the well-known ones they appear as today.
The strip debuted in April 2000, and now, in addition to the comic strip, Baldo stars in a book and may soon have his own cartoon television show.
Often times, people ask Cantu about how to create a successful comic, particularly because a couple hundred comic strips are run in newspapers compared to the 1,000s of people interested in creating them.
"It's kind of like the lottery," he said, adding that coming up with a new and different idea as well as having a passion for the work is essential.
After captivating the students during the morning presentation in the auditorium, Cantu spent the afternoon visiting classes. Then, in the evening he gave a presentation to the community and was available to sign books.
The idea behind the speaker series is to bring in positive role models, emphasizing the importance of being part of the human community and breaking down cultural barriers. This is the third year and the next speaker may be in the spring, said Julie Fishman, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and REACH coordinator.
"We are a lucky beneficiary with this marvelous partnerships that brings in wonderful speakers," Fishman said.