With titles such as ‘Macanudo’, ‘Nippur de Lagash’, ‘Jim, Jam y El Otro’, ‘Batu’, ‘Boogie el Aceitoso’, and ‘Yo, Matias’, Argentine comics are renowned worldwide and distinguished as the best in Latin America.
After experiencing boom of popularity that began in the 1940s and lasted for more than 20 years, Argentine comics might nowadays be a little rusty around the edges but remain an undeniably good way to explore the nuances of local culture, understand sometimes-bewildering expressions of sarcasm, or perfect your Argentine slang. This week’s top 5 brings you a selection of the country’s most iconic comics.
El Eternauta, created by writer Héctor Gérman Oesterheld and illustrator Francisco Solano Lopez
This graphic novel from the 1950s is a science fiction page-turner that has become an emblem of Argentina’s history and society.
Based in Buenos Aires, the story originally centred on the plight of porteños to fight against the invasion of aliens who sought to take over the earth. The most iconic drawings feature the main character, Juan Salvo, wearing a protective suit to guard against “destructive snow”.
Buenos Aires’ streets and avenues can be recognised in combat scenes and the dialogue also comes packed with localisms. But it was the sequels that followed in the 60s and 70s, such as those jointly created by Héctor Gérman Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia, that have made El Eternauta iconic.
Under Oesterheld’s direction, the story lines of El Eternauta became increasingly political, including more and more symbolism against the military dictatorship. Whether intentional or not, it was likely his involvement in the comic, and in a biography about revolutionary leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, that led to the abduction of his four daughters and his own disappearance in 1977.
In 2009, one year before his death, supporters of former president Néstor Kirchner began circulating drawings of him dressed in Eternauta’s costume. The character, dubbed ‘Nésternauta’, was intended to present Néstor as a survivor and a fighter for both truth and freedom. You can still find his comic alter-ego spray painted in some streets of Buenos Aires.
Clemente, created by Carlos ‘Caloi’ Loiseau
The question is not “Who is Clemente?” but “What is Clemente?” And the answer is: “Nobody knows”. It seems the comic’s creator Carlos Loiseau, otherwise known as Caloi, might even be confused.
Resembling a bird without wings, arms or feathers, Clemente eats olives, drinks mate and loves football. He supports Boca Juniors, attends therapy and lusts over Mulatona, a mulatto female whose shape is sketched similar to Clemente’s, except with bigger breasts.
With strips published daily in Clarín newspaper, Clemente has become a popular voice on the hot topics of economy, politics, culture and society. One of the most loved characters in Argentine comics he has been the national mascot of Argentine teams, releasing songs for World Cup occasions as well as an album of popular football chants. With several television shows to his name, he even has his own monument in Clemente square, Adrogué, in greater Buenos Aires.
Created in 1973, Clemente is famous for two political feats: rebelling against the oppression of the military dictatorship by encouraging people to throw confetti during the World Cup games of 1978, and for having “won” the elections that took place during Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001.
Angered by the country’s political and economic situation, Argentines united in casting blank votes – an action that was labelled the ‘Clemente vote’ – with the reasoning that the comic strip character was “the only politician who won’t rob us because he doesn’t have arms”.
Patoruzú, Dante Quinterno
Patoruzú was the first comic superhero in the world. Created in 1928, he is an icon of Argentine comics, influencing the work of many artists and illustrators.
Created by Dante Quinterno, the comic strips follow the adventures of Patoruzú, a generous and strong indigenous Patagonian who fights against injustice and the outlawed. The character starts off a naive and uneducated man but evolves into an assured rancher who is both noble and virtuous.
The character of his friend, Isidoro Cañones, is intended to represent the dishonest, weaker porteño and went on to star in his own comic strips. Paturuzú himself began as a secondary character in another comic strip series called ‘Don Gil Contento’, published by the now defunct newspaper, Crítica.
Patoruzú’s notoriety was so big that, in 1945, Quinterno designed a children’s version whereby a younger indigenous male named Paturozito, interacts with a younger version of Isidoro Cañones character, Isidorito.
More intelligent and quick-witted than his older counterpart, Paturozito was granted his own show on children’s television in 1988 and, in 2004, his adventures were made into a film.
Although Patoruzú was used to convey nationalistic remarks during the country’s military dictatorship, the Argentine public continue to hold Quinterno’s work in high regard.
Mafalda, created by Joaquín Salvador Lavado (under the pseudonym of Quino)
Found in subte stations, souvenir shops and complacently sitting on a bench in San Telmo: Mafalda, the little porteña with political and social views beyond her young age, is the Coca-Cola of comic books and a national symbol of Argentina.
Appearing in the 1960s, Mafalda’s comic strips were created by graphic humourist Joaquín Salvador Lavado, under the pseudonym of Quino. Now translated into more than 30 languages, they reveal the thoughts of a progressive, idealistic middle-class girl through her interactions with family and school friends.
Mafalda’s hardworking father and stay-at-home mother represent the stereotypes of Argentine society, while others serve as worldly satire. Mafalda’s classmate, Manolito, holds capitalist views and appears in contrast to the gossip-loving personality of Susanita.
Quino introduced several other characters to serve as a humorous reflection of Argentine culture: ‘Libertad’ appears as a character outspoken against the establishment, and ‘Burocracia’ takes the form of a slow moving turtle.
Mafalda’s hatred of soup, or sopa in Spanish, was used to represent dissatisfaction with the military dictatorship in Argentina. Quino described the period as the hardest of his career due to censorship, but, nevertheless, Mafalda remained vocal on themes of repression, feminism, religion, the war in Vietnam, and other controversial topics.
Activists against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) have recently utilised Mafalda comic strips in marketing for their online campaign.
Many have commented on her importance, including Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, who said: “After reading Mafalda, I realised that what brings you closer to happiness is Quinotherapy.”
Gaturro, created by Cristian Dzwonik (under the pseudonym of Nik)
Light-hearted, often sarcastic and always funny, Gaturro is the story of a lazy cat that lives with a middle-class family and eternally pursues the love of a female cat named Agatha.
Often responsible for his owners’ misfortunes, the cartoon cat is sometimes treated as a pet but mostly as a family member. Taking on an almost human persona, Gaturro is seen going to school, where he makes up his own version of “Brutish English”, and even working in an office. His back catalogue accounts to more than 50 comic books, which are collections of either comic strips or short graphic novels.
Regularly published in La Nación magazine, Gaturro represents the voice of reason and is the most cynical character to appear in any of Nik’s political comic books. Nevertheless, children relish in his mischief and ‘Gaturro: The Film’, released throughout Latin America and Spain, was one of the most successful films in Argentina during 2010. A Gaturro themed website is also a big hit when it comes to children’s games and it’s not uncommon to see him featured in advertisements.