Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bolvian Political Cartoons


I used the following Bolivian comic strips while teaching a Spanish class in Ohio. The high school students translated them into English with me. After translating the strips and some songs, the girls presented to the rest of the camp. The strips are by Joaquín Cuevas of Bolivia from the collection "Unoffensive".


The first strip caught their attention because it deals with something close to home.



The final comic comments on the Bolivian movie "America Visa" in which a Bolivian tries to get the proper documentation to enter the United States. The girls were surprised that it is so hard to immigrate into our country. We also translated Manu Chau's song Clandestino about a wanderer who left Africa for Europe struggling to seek work without papers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Second Page EVER

OK, here is the second page... might still need some work in terms of clarity, but I'm excited to share it. Constructive feedback welcome. Penciled and inked by the talented Laura Dattoli.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My first page ever!!!!


OK, kids. This is the moment you've all been waiting for. This is the first illustrated page of my script. It is about my grandfathers struggles in Nazi Poland (no mice though). That is him and his first family. It was illustrated by Laura Datolli, a student the workshop of La Productora in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Stay posted for more.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

4th of July

As I walked from the dorm to the park to watch fireworks, some drunk local started talking to me. He mentioned that his license was taken away.

“If you walk down the street and kill someone, what happens?”

“You go to jail.” I answered.

“But in Afghanistan, what happens?”

“They give you a medal”

“I joined the navy in 1994 and I got a medal. They gave it to me because they just changed the name. This is the longest war in history. They just keep changing the name. Persian gulf, dessert storm…”

“Why’d you join?”

“Well, I wanted to join the marines, to travel over seas.”

“Why?”

“Because I hate this place and wanted to get the heck out of here.”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Historietas

While Latin American creators of comics, which they call historietas, face the same market forces that we do here (domination by superheroes and manga), they keep producing quality art, often publishing it themselves. My encounter started in August of 2006 at a book fair in Mendoza, Argentina, where I met Cristian Mallea of La Productora, a self-publishing collective based in Buenos Aires. Cristian served as my guide to the rich world of contemporary Latin American comics. I visited La Productora’s workshop regularly and traveled with them to conventions in Uruguay and Bolivia (Viñetas de Altura), where I met cartoonists from all over Latin America.

La Productora are considered to be part of the younger generation compared to the Argentina’s classical creators (Lalia, Alberto Breccia, Oesterheld etc.). Their work appears in the newly revived Fierro magazine. Angel Mosquito, another member of La Productora and Mallea run a comics workshop for local kids and teach at the newly formed Comics Design program at the University of Palermo in Buenos Aires. La Productora’s political anthology Carne Argentina was translated into French and presented in an exhibit on Argentine comics at Angouleme, France.

My incomplete list

Bolivia

Joaquín Cuevas makes a funny political strip as well as narratively solid silent comics.

Frank Arbelo (born in Cuba)

El Marco Toxico

Argentina

Cristian Mallea

Angel Mosquito: appears on the website Historietas Reales, which showcases the work of a number of contemporary creators.

Gervasio

Thomas Desscance: Born in France. Publishes comic magazines Revista Ex Abrupto and, with others, Suda Mery K,!, which that mix European and Latin American cartoonists.

Salvador Sanz

Ernán

Peru

Jorge Perez-Ruibal has a wild and detailed style that mixes humor and vulgarity.

Mexico

Ricardo Peláez

Colombia

Joni B and Nomás are part of the team that produces the free pamphlet Robot, which includes comics and prose humor.

Uruguay

Rodulfo Santullo publishes a number of talented artists.

Guacho

Chile

As a member of Ergocomics, Cristian Reyes is a talented creator and staunch advocate for Latin American comics.

Cristiano makes autobiographical and political comic strips.

Brazil

Fabio Zimbres’s comic that I bought reads like a Brazilian James Kochalka, but he does other stuff to.

Viñetas Sueltas


Before I left Argentina a few weeks ago, I attended a comics convention in Buenos Aires. Thomas Desscance organized the event. Receiving funding from European consulates, the convention hosted guests from Spain, France and Germany. Convention panels focused on foreign as well as regional comics scenes. Local European cultural centers hosted exhibits of the visiting cartoonists work.

I sat on a panel that Cristian facilitated about comics throughout the Americas at the convention Viñetas Sueltas in Buenos Aires (pics below). I’ve met more cartoonists then I could quickly rattle off, but I’ve included a brief list below with some of my favorites (and links to their websites). As in my previous entry, I am focusing on using my blog to share Latin American comics with English-speaking readers.

The convention floor. In addition to the row of stands on the left, there was another smaller row on the other side of the room. Impressive for the event's first year.

Exhibits were prepared of the work by artists visiting from Europe, both at the convention and at separate art galleries.


The Productora table manned by Angel Mosquito and Gervasio.

Our Pan-American panel with convention coordinator Thomas Desscance on left, next to panel facilitator Cristian Mallea.


Our panel (from left to right): Joni B (Colombia), Me (USA), Rodulfo Santullo (Uruguay), Chiqui Vilca (Peru) and a cartoonist from Brazil.

The audience.


Guests gather for the farewell.


The guests from Galicia, Spain: Brais Rodriguez (left) and Ablerto Vazquez.


Enjoying the exhibit of Peruvian artist Jorge Perez-Ruibal (bottom left).

A traditional locro at Mosquito's house to celebrate the Argentine national holiday


Thursday, June 26, 2008

The First Chilean Graphic Novel




Here is one gem that I found at convention Viñetas Sueltas in Buenos Aires in May. Published in 2007, Road Story is a comics adaptation of a short story by Chilean Alberto Fuguet (whose accomplishments include translations into several languages and one movie). As in David Mazzuchelli’s adaptation of City of Glass, cartoonist Gonzalo Martínez uses the unique language of comics to build upon an already rich work of prose. While collections of serialized political or humorous comics are common in Chile, it is less usual to publish a longer narrative story, in this case 127 pages.

A paragraph from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road including the line “I didn’t know who I was” introduces the story opposite the splash page. While Kerouac transformed travel into a lifelong journey of searching for "It" or finding Enlightenment, this adventure is a road trip with which middle-class Americans may be more familiar (though both trips certainly share the virtue of being doused with more than enough booze). As the opening line states: "Simon feels that all this is a parenthesis. Parentheses are like boomerangs, he believes. They even look like them. They enter your life suddenly and cut off your past from your present with a clean precise blow."

Subtly using characters' experiences to hint at a broader social context, Road Story is a telling window into both the pan-American dream and its dark side. After a failed marriage, protagonist Simon sold his business and left his home in Chile. Retracing a path that Fuguet once traveled himself, Simon drives around the American Southwest and dips into Mexico. As seen below (click to enlarge), using awkward camera angles that don't reveal the character’s face, Simon contemplates his accomplishments. A book he edited for his father's company is tossed aside amid a bottle of Gatorade, a symbol of American consumption familiar in South America. (Before I cheaply inserted English text using Paint, captions had typed letters while world and thought balloons were hand-lettered.)

Similar to Jason Lutes, Martínez subtly creates a sad, yet endearing tone and enriches the story with visual motifs that illustrate the character’s inner struggles. For example, Simon's changes in hair style reflect his fumbling self-image. In the flashback below, thawing frost on a windshield serves as a metaphor for his growing awareness that his wife Natalia was cheating on him.

While Jessica Abel’s La Perdida reveals the misguided entry into Latin America of a half-Mexican girl born in the United States, Road Story (the original title of the Spanish-language comic) shows how oddly comfortable a Chilean is in the United States. Indeed, Simon thinks that the United States colonized his subconscious.

The story works because of poignant prose narration complimented by austere drawings. There are also a number of moments, like the illustrations at right and below of how Simon met and married Natalia years earlier, in which images alone communicate key developments.









As Simon travels, Road Story concisely takes the reader through a process of healing, a very human process with painfully real moments, expressed in ways that are both blunt and naked while also subtle and understated. While wandering, Simon links up with a Bolivian woman, Adriana, who was “made in the USA”. The relationship between Simon and Ariadna develops infused with uttered clichés and made-up identities. A scene in which Simon is rudely awakened by the suicide of a hotel neighbor eerily foreshadows a later scene in which Adriana nearly drinks herself to death.

The art is straight-forward and utilitarian, if at times uninteresting. By the end of the story, the reader may tire of looking at Simon's frowning mug. The entire work stays true to the mood of parenthesis. Ultimately, Simon closes the parenthesis. But does he really acknowledging the cause of his problems? While Road Story critiques consumerist culture, it is the nuanced perspective of someone ingrained in it, enjoying its benefits.

Compared to its neighbor’s, Chile is a country who has historically had closer economic and political relations with the United States and it is a place with a substantial middle and upper class. In 1988, when the pro-capitalist CIA-backed dictator Pinochet allowed elections for the first time since his coup in 1973, he narrowly lost, winning 44% of the vote. By contrast, the Argentine dictators only received about 10% of the votes when they tried to continue their rule once elections were held. Chile is a country that deals with the complicated legacy of economic "success". Were it to be translated in English, Road Story would be a fascinating treatment of familiar issues with the twist of the perspective of the developing world.

For the first 10 pages translated into English, check out: http://wordswithoutborders.org/graphic-lit/from-road-story/

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unanswered Questions

It is time we consider some of the underling questions that the media conveniently hasn’t addressed during this election cycle. We must remember that we don’t live under a regime where top offices are stolen by shrewd political manipulation. We live in a republic, where the presidency goes to the leader who wins the hearts and minds of voters. In an environment of free speech, statesmen compete to sell their intellectual treatises to the public.

I mean, voters actually spend money on politicians’ books! Nonetheless, while we listen to sound bites touting the great differences between candidates and search the candidates' memoirs for evidence, we should also remember the ways in which our options are defined and limited. While Obama became a millionaire with Dreams from my Father, McCain revealed his views with Faith of my Fathers. They both wrote about their fathers!! What about their mothers? And let’s face it. Is there really that much of a difference between dreams and faith?











But all cynicism aside, in every election, we have the moral responsibility of ignoring hangups based on idealistic fantasies (dreams and faith, you might say) and choosing the best of all options. Nonetheless, I think we need to ask: is America ready for a Hawaiian president? I mean, I know our nation has come a long way since the 50th state was added to the Union in 1959 and I have no doubt in my mind that Americans born outside of the continental US are just as American as everyone else, but there are a lot of ignorant people in this country. And those ignorant people may ask: what next? A Puerto Rican president? Representatives from every country disproportionately influenced by the American government?


Do you really think continental Americans will let an islander win? Hawaii is pretty far into the Pacific, much closer to Asia then the rest of the United States and much of Hawaii claims Asian descent. But most importantly, what will happen when people actually start looking at Hawaii’s state flag and realize that it contains the union jack? We all remember what happened in Georgia. Do Hawaiians secretly maintain allegiance to the British Empire? That empire expanded until the sun didn't set on the land it controlled...and look at it today. Might that be a bad example?

If we elect someone more representative of the world than of the Brady Bunch, we may risk losing our belief of having ended history and having achieved the purest, more perfect socio-political system. We may have to acknowledge that everybody isn’t the same and that the whole world no longer wishes they could be like us.










As we move forward during this historic moment, we must be sure that we press politicians to address the real issues at play and we must not get wrapped up in petty politics and cheap sensational news coverage.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why Obama?

The last eight years have been a dark time in the United States. George W. Bush used protecting heterosexual marriage and abortion as rallying cries to prove his “values” while giving tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class. Basically, he used rhetoric of discrimination to gain support from a minority of politically active conservative Christians. After the 9-11 attacks, he extended his divisive policies to a global level. His administration used faulty information to win domestic support for poorly planned invasions with unrealistic proposed goals. Furthermore, it did this undiplomatically against the United Nations, with only a handful of supporters in the world community.


Now, life is economically harder for most Americans while we waste tax dollars on military engagements that do nothing but increase resentment for the United States and further threaten our security. For a moment in 2004, it seemed like Americans might get excited about John Kerry. For many people, it was enough that he was not Bush. Other’s needed something more. Bush’s greatest legacy may be causing so much disappointment that he opens the door to fundamental leap in progress in the history of the nation.


If we want to restore the middle class, we need a Democrat in the White House. Americans already began to realize the failure of Republican leadership when they elected a Democratic congress in 2006. We need to take it further to see the full fruition of that process. Only the Democrats propose a tax plan that respects the poor and the middle class. Only the Democrats propose health care reform that could improve the quality of life of millions. Only the Democrats recognize the contribution that immigrants make to the United States.


The Democrats did better on the economy and on foreign policy before Bush and there is reason to believe that Hillary could usher a return to previous success. The Clintons have been hardened by years of fighting for things that have benefited many Americans. Nonetheless, getting that far in politics comes at a price. Politicians in the system owe their status to powerful moneyed interests. Furthermore, on foreign policy, Hillary does not represent a strong enough break with Bush. She supported the invasion in Iraq. She supported the drive to label the Revolutionary Guard of Iran a terrorist organization and she called Barak Obama naïve for suggesting that he would just talk with our enemies. Yes Hillary has experience, but what is the value of experience in a flawed system? What is the value of experience if she hasn’t fully used it to break from the past?


Obama’s charismatic speech at the 2004 Democratic convention catapulted him to notoriety and made his candidacy possible without the dirtying process of a slow rise through the American political system. The movement arising in his support represents a real opportunity for positive change. One thing that conservatives are right about is that government cannot fix everything and the vitality of society is measured by the voluntary, active participation of citizens in public life. Obama got his start working on the streets of Chicago and his message continues to be one not only of presidential promises, but of a call to action. Reminding us of historical leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, he is succeeding. Early in the campaign, Democrats raised more than Republicans for the first time and Obama raised more than Hillary. Furthermore, he did so piecing together small contributions that rivaled Hillary’s weathered machine. He is also partially responsible for record turnout at Democratic primaries in which he has received the support of both Democrats and independents. He is inspiring people to get involved who never before believed that they had a voice.


Finally, Obama offers a vision of America’s role in the world that best promotes national and global security. With Bush’s overly simplistic ‘us vs. them’ rhetoric, flagrant unilateralism and two invasions that have destabilized dangerous regions in the world, he fed into the hands of U.S. critics like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not only was Bush unwilling to practice diplomacy, he was not capable of seeing the world from another perspective. He led our government and people down a disastrous path of myopia. When Bush proposed creating a Palestinian state, nobody could believe that Bush would do anything but harm another nation for our own perceived benefit. Barack Obama lived in a foreign nation. Like many Americans, he has family from other nations. His love of this country is based on direct knowledge of alternatives and of this nation’s unique opportunities. He is someone who could realistically find common ground with foreign leaders and find workable cooperative solutions to problems like terrorism, global warming and globalization.


We are at a unique point in our history. America’s actions have fostered dangerous resentment around the world. We cannot continue to favor special interests at the expense of most Americans. We cannot continue a short-sighted policy of paranoia, arrogance and aggression. We need to have the moral courage to take responsibility for our actions, return to the inclusive ideals of our nation and take action for change. Barack Obama is the best candidate to lead that process.