When you hear the word comic, what do you think? For most people, the answer is superheroes.

And for good reason.  Every year seems to bring more superhero tales from comics to the silver screen – and to wider audiences.

Comic Cons are proof of that. Visit the Boston Comic Con this weekend, and you’re likely to see several hundred fans (and maybe a few celebrities) cosplaying as Batman and Captain America.  

But the world of comics does offer more than origin stories and epic battles. Just ask Dave Ortega:

“Right now, I’m working on a series about my 101-year-old grandmother, or abuela…she has a fascinating story.”

Ortega is a Somerville-based comics artist. He’s taught comics at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and recently had a life-size comic exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Now, he’s working on serializing his grandmother’s stories of growing up in the middle of the Mexican Revolution and the immigrating to the United States in 1925 – and he’s not the only one focusing on different narratives.

“I think it's in our human DNA to want to tell stories this way.”

“Somerville’s kind of exploding with comic artists,” Ortega says, pointing to independent artists like  Liz Prince Jef Czekaj, and  Raul Gonzalez

He says the growing awareness of this talent in the community has also led to events like the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, or MICE, an annual event that began in 2010 and is being held in October this year.

Those kinds of expos are a little different than comic cons, Ortega says, which tend to focus on fan culture, and, of course, the superhero genre.

Comics are a “bit factionalized in that way, which is a little unfortunate. Somebody who's into superheroes is probably never going to read my very personal work,” Ortega laughs.

Some praise the huge superhero franchises in recent years drawing people to comics, but others say they’re leading to less creativity and contributing to a sense of fatigue about the whole genre.

Ortega sees both sides. On one hand, “how many times can you depend on the ubermensch of the world to drop in and save us?”

But, he says, the appeal is also very human. “There’s an almost religious aspect to it, you know? We’re constantly looking to better ourselves and these superheroes kind of represent the best of us.”

That human factor is also what draws people to comics as a form of storytelling, Ortega says – it’s the perfect marriage of words and images. “I think it's in our human DNA to want to tell stories this way.”


You can find more of Ortega's work at  drawdavedraw.com.