Argentina has one of the most important comic traditions internationally. The figures and writers are as iconic as compare with those produced in New York and Paris in the 1930’s.According to OscarMasotta, comics began in Argentina during the early national period(19thC.) as single-panel political satire drawings on “hojasvolantes”, eventually moving to magazines and then newspapers which “facilitated a more stable contact between artists and public” (Lahistorietaenelmundomoderno141)The first Argentine comic books (TitBisand PBT) appeared in 1904-1905. Newspaper strips appeared later withViruta y Chicharrón(1912,)byManuel Redondo.El negro Raúl(1916),Las diabluras de Tijereta(1918) andLas aventuras de don Pancho Talero(1922) de Arturo Lantén (Lanteri).Lanteriwasthefirstcomicartisttoachievenationalrecognition.
Masottaargues that comics developed in three distinct genres:Historietasdeaventuras: “Adventure comics”, generallyscifi or police serials which had the most in common North American comic books of the 1930s (i.e. Superman) though without the “imperialist ideology” of those. (ex.ElEternautaby HectorOsterheld)Historietashumoristicas: “Humor comics” which focused on “metaphysical humor” “sociological commentary” and “liberal/humanist ideology” (Ex.MafaldabyQuino)Historietasfocloricas: “folk comics” focused on history(FuerteArgentinobyValterCiocco)
Comics and Politics
In his studyLahistorietasen elmundomoderno. OscarMasottadefends the comic genre against detractors both on the left and right. Leftists such as VictoriaOcampoaccused them as being reactionary and ahistorical, while those on the right feared their corrupting influence on youth.Unlikepainting, which enjoys a certain “innocence of nature”, comics are tied to story. Stories inwhichthecharacterslive“un momentopreciso de la historia, que lleva una vidaparticular, consus rasgosde carácter, y situado, en lamayor partede los casos, en el interior de un determinadogrupo social.” (9)Comics are also a singularly modern phenomenon, linked to the evolution of print-media and mass forms of communication as well (Masotta10).
The Golden Age
The 1950’s is considered the “golden age” of Argentine comics.The country experienced a publishing boom in 1953, in which “Argentine books and publications were export goods” (Torres 5) and the country produced 51 million copies with an average print run of 11,000.At the same time an influx of European immigrants following the war in Europe brought in a variety of new popular cultural expressions.
During this period, the comic genre fully established itself both through the medium of newspapers and through the creation of genre specific magazines.In the 1950’s satire and comic magazines emerged, includingTiaVicentaby Juan CarlosColombres(Landru)Hora Cero andFronteraby Hector GermanOsterheldandMisterixpublished by Editorial Abril.These comics frequently combined humor/scifi with social commentary, occasionally arousing the ire of political figures who were targeted by the comic artists. (TiaVicentawas shut down by the government in 1966)
A group of Italian artists called the “Venice Group” also formed in Argentina at this time. The group consisted ofMario Faustinelli, Hugo Pratt, Ivo Pavone, and DinoBattaglia. They would go on to support and influence key comic artists of the period such as Solano Lopez and Alberto Breccia.This period also saw the introduction of iconic figures of the humor genre: Caloi (Carlos Loiseau) and Quino (Joaquin Salvador Lavado)
Comics and Politics
In his studyLahistorietasen elmundomoderno. OscarMasottadefends the comic genre against detractors both on the left and right. Leftists such as VictoriaOcampoaccused them as being reactionary and ahistorical, while those on the right feared their corrupting influence on youth.Unlikepainting, which enjoys a certain “innocence of nature”, comics are tied to story. Stories in whichquethecharacterslive“un momentopreciso de la historia, que lleva una vidaparticular, consus rasgosde carácter, y situado, en lamayor partede los casos, en el interior de un determinadogrupo social.” (9)Comics are also a singularly modern phenomenon, linked to the evolution of print-media and mass forms of communication as well (Masotta10).
Comics Before and During the Dirty War
The genre experienced a slump in the late sixties and picked up again in the 1970’s.Torres suggests that comics didn’t receive that much censorial scrutiny during the 1976-1983 regime.Citing the “Banade” (Development Bank) archives which contain records of the regime’s communiques on culture, Torres finds only one memo referring to comic book writers in the entire eight year period.Torres argues that this was due to the “marginal” position of comics as well as their dissociation with the realms of education.Cases where comic artists were scrutinized or disappeared (Osterheld) had more to do with political involvements, almost nothing related to content of works.
Originally intended as a graphic ad to run in the newspaperClarinin 1962.Picked up by the magazinePrimeraPlanain 1963 the comic would continue to run until 1974.Strongly influenced by the “Child-centric” worldview of Charles Schultz’sPeanuts.Comic features a precocious, highly intelligent six year old (Mafalda)of liberal sensibilities, parents, and classmates.
Each of the characters represents a certain dimension of Argentine society.Mafalda’sparents are a typical bourgeois/middle class family. Mother is a housewife, Father is a horticulturalist.Friends include Felipe—a dreamer who dislikes school and is scared of girls,Manolito– agallego, son of Spanish Immigrants who own a store, loves capitalism,Susanita—a girly girl who loves boys, romance and gossip, and Libertad –a brusque girl with radical social views.
Created by CarlosLoiseau(Caloi) in 1973. Comic published daily in the NewspaperClarinup until the artist’s death in 2012.“Clemente” is an bird-like creature with an oversized head, tiny legs and no arms. Loves soccer, is a fan of the Boca Juniors, drinks Mate and loves women, (Mulatona)Clemente often makes “innocent” observations and inferences to the political situation in Argentina including during the regime. A television spot featuring Clemente was cancelled in 1982 for this reason.At the world-cup match in 1978, Clemente opposed the dictatorship by encouraging spectators to throw confetti in the stadium, an Argentine tradition at soccer matches which the dictatorship tried to discourage.
Laspuertitasdel Sr. Lopez
Written by CarlosTrillowith drawings byHoracioAltunain 1979. Associated with the magazines HumorRegistradoandPendulo.Series describes a meek character who ends up in another dimension every time he goes to the toilet. Usually in hiding from society.“Humiliated and with no voice, a witness of repression and abuse, manipulated and with no way out, Lopez is less than a tepid consciousness. “ JuanSasturain(“Cerramelapuerta, Lopez)
Adventure Comics: ElEternauta
Created by Hector GermanOsterheldand drawn by Solano Lopez between 1957-1959, a second version was created in 1969 for the magazineGenteand a Part II was created in 1976 for the magazineSkorpio.Each re-creation increased in political content and asOsterheldbecame more involved with theMontoneros.The story begins with an apocalyptic event, a “poisonous snowfall” that kills off a majority of the population of Buenos Aires. The main character Juan Salvo eventually discovers the snowfall as the product of an alien invasion. Survivors gather to resist a series of invaders. A series of events leads to a rift in the space time continuum which causes Salvo and his family to enter different timelines.Osterheld, along with his two daughters went into hiding during the creation of the secondEternauta. EventuallyOsterheldwas disappeared by the regime in 1977,
Created by JuanZanotto(drawings) and RicardoBarrieroforSkorpioMagazine in 1979.LikeEternauta, the plot features apostapocalypticBuenos Aires, destroyed by war and ruled by a regime.The title character is a (very chesty) insurgent who leads an armed rebellion against a regime imposed by Alien invaders.The comic features veiled references to outlawed political ideas and figures. The astronaut who helps the rebellion is named “Ernesto Medina” (Reference toCheGuevara) upon whose death the insurgents chant “Victoria!”. There are also intertextual references toOsterheldand ElEternauta
EditorialUrracawas founded in 1978 by humorist AndresCasicolias a publishing house for the comic genre. Invited other well known comic artists to contribute.Urracawould sponsor comics with more vigorous political content includingHumorRegistrado, ElPenduloandSuperhumorHumorRegistradoin1980 would become bolder in its political content. The magazine featured political satire, comics, articles and journalism and often featured cover art mocking members of the junta.
The financial success of HumorRegistradowould lead to the creation ofElPendulo,(primarilyscifi content) andSuperhumor(humor and satire)Humor comics featured in the first issues ofElPendulofeature more direct references to the dictatorship such asLosViajesdel Marco Monoabout a monkey who travels to “ciudadfeliz” in which society is paralyzed under the rule of a “tyrant” andGeneral Gori deBosquiviawhich would feature depictions of torture.Superhumorwould eventually come to focus entirely on the humor comic genre. After the restoration of democracy the magazineFierrowould take its place.
Questions for discussion:Describe your relationship with comics? Are you a fan/reader of them? Which comics do you read? Do you prefer the adventure genre or the humor genre and why?What is your view of comics as art? In what way does the debate around graphic arts resemble that around popular culture as a whole?Which of the Argentine comics we examined did you find most interesting? Why?How would you describe the view of childhood presented byMafalda?How would you characterize the relationship between Science Fiction and Society (for example, ElEternautaand Barbara)? In what ways is sci-fi more able to reflect on social problems/crises?Certain comics like Clemente, Laspuertitasand to some degreeMafaldaare strongly character driven. How do these “Character comics” also incorporate social critique into their work?How do you think social unrest in Argentina (both during the Dirty War and prior to it) influence the comic genre?