Monday, June 30, 2008


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


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

Frank Arbelo (born in Cuba)

El Marco Toxico


Cristian Mallea

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


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



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


Ricardo Peláez


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


Rodulfo Santullo publishes a number of talented artists.



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.


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:

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.