Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nos Tocó Hacer Reír

I’m going to go ahead and say it. "Nos Tocó Hacer Reír" is probably the best panoramic of Argentine comics that I will ever see in my lifetime. The exhibit was the perfect combination of history, politics, and culture that exists so fluidly in Argentina. Original work by contemporary and historical comics creators was divided into three themes: “Nunca Más,” “Fundaciones, Tierra, y Urbe,” and “Dónde Está Oesterheld?”.

The exhibit “Nunca Más” dealt with a number of political themes including poverty, exploitation, and the dictatorship. The constancy of these preoccupations is seen in their occurrence throughout all eras of Argentine history from the late 1800’s to the present day. However, the thing that most caught my attention was not the content of the work, but the curation. The drawings were grouped according to both political message (i.e. hunger) and image.

For example, this series had hunger/ inflation as a theme. The transition from hunger (left) to inflation (right) is achieved through grouping together characters with open mouths.

Grenet, Julio Málaga, "El pan se fue a los nubes," 1917; Cao, José María, untitled, 1911; Venturi, Franco, "En este país todavía se come," 1969; Palacio, Lino, "La inflación," 1971

This series, in contrast, is not bonded together by a common theme, but by airplanes.

“Fundaciones, Tierra, y Urbe” (“Foundation, Land, and Metropolis”) presented various images of Argentina’s interesting history and diverse territory. The groups were more intentional, with each section bearing the name of the sort of images it contained.

“Urbe” contains images of life in a big city. Although Argentina is a relatively large country, most of the citizens live in cities. Thus, urban life is very much ingrained in the mentality and culture of the Argentines. Some of the themes presented in this show were soccer, architecture, tango, and human interactions.

The middle of the room was filled by a timeline comics. I loved looking at how the different styles developed throughout the 200 years of Argentine history. The comics shown in the Peronist Era (see below) were mostly modern comics (Dora by Ignacio Minaverry), which makes me wonder if that is the period most often recreated by contemporary authors.

“Dónde Está Oesterheld?” was the mandatory tribute to Héctor Germán Oesterheld, the father of Argentine comics murdered during the military dictatorship. We read and talk a lot about his work in the “Artes Secuenciales” class, so it was nice to see pages from some of the comics we have been examining.

I wish I could tell you all to go to “Nos Tocó Hacer Reír,” but the exhibit was taken down at the end of April. It was shown in Frankfurt last year, so hopefully it will be presented in other corners of the world. Chicago, maybe? Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Living Comics

(Here is a colorful picture of my bookshelf.)

After two months of socializing, reading comics, and generally stressing out, I have finally figured out what I am going to do for my Fulbright project. When I wrote my project proposal almost two years ago, I wanted to focus on governmental and academic support of comics and the publishing industry. After living here for two months, I can probably answer those questions with a few interviews. I have decided to focus instead on the lives of comics creators. How did they decide to create comics? How do they make a living with their work? How is the rest of their life influenced by their work? (I already have three pages of questions.) Diego talks quite often during the workshop about how he makes a living by writing comics. From the way he describes it, writing comics professionally is a constant battle to find work and create stories. Many other artists and writers are not able to survive solely on comics, and do freelance work or have day jobs. Ideally, I would interview a range of creators from the beginners in my classes to professionals. I love learning about peoples’ lives, finding patterns, and coming to conclusions. Also, apparently there has been no overall study of this sort, so it might be useful to someone.

I know people read this blog. I check my Blogger Statistics three times a day because I like to find patterns and make conclusions. (For example, I noticed that my readership doubles if I post color photos or comics.) So, readers, what do you think about this topic? What would you like to learn about comics creators?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weekend in Lobos

The banner outside the Club Social Lobense

My project is both amazing and terrifying at the same time. Amazing, because I get to study and talk about comics all the time, and terrifying, because my project requires being social. At the Fede Pazos show, for example, I went in without knowing anyone and hung out until someone started talking to me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love being social. I have no problem going somewhere and starting conversations with random people. But meeting a lot of new people at once can be extremely stressful. Sometimes this social aspect of my project made me feel so nervous that I almost wished I had a job working in a lab, like one of the other Fulbrighters. The EHH conference was a relief. As my description of the weekend shows, the people I met in Lobos were kind, funny, and interesting.

Friday night was sort of a bummer. I arrived at 4 pm and had to leave at 9:30pm because returning to Buenos Aires was cheaper than renting a hotel room. Laura refused to let me do that on Saturday and so I agreed to stay with one of the invitees. The one highlight of Friday night (besides the actual event) was that I got to meet Gustavo Sala and Lucas Varela, two comics creators that I have been reading (and have been continually disturbed by) since coming to Argentina in 2008. Varela, although claiming an affinity with Paolo Pinocchio, seemed to be a nice, relaxed guy. Sala was entertaining and seemed to have a lot in common with his comics. I was so sad when I had to leave, but knew I was coming back on Saturday.

I arrived at 4pm on Saturday, a few hours before the conference started, to meet up with Rosty (a friend from Laura’s seminar) and Paz (Rosty’s friend), two of the few fans that had arrived from Buenos Aires. We took the mandatory visit to Juan Peron’s childhood home and walked around a bit. Eventually, we wandered over to the Sociedad Española and I ran into Fran López, comics creator, rapper, and the only person I talked to at Fede Pazos show. We mosied on over to the Club Social Lobense for the round table discussions. (I’ll write about that part of the weekend in a later post.)

After the conferences, a few of the artists signed books and drew pictures. I hung out and ate fruit with Paz while Rosty walked around greeting artists. He had been after a drawing by Eduardo Risso for months, but Risso had refused every time. And with reason, Risso is meticulous. After conceding to Rosty’s request, Risso first sketched with pencil, then traced with pen, and finally filled in the shadows, taking at least fifteen minutes.

Meeting Risso was exciting. Before coming to Argentina, I read the work of two Argentine artists: Quino and Risso. Risso is the artist of 100 Bullets and is probably the only person I can mention in the United States who will make comic fanatics jealous. So, goaded by Laura, I finally asked Risso to draw me a picture of an evil character. Risso drew with such precision that everyone had left for dinner before he finished.

I was allowed into post-conference gala dinner because the cartoonist Eduardo Maicas confused/sweet talked the doorman into letting me into the building. The dinner was a monthly community fundraiser hosted in the main room of Ayuda a la Familia y al Niño’s boarding school. I was lucky enough to sit next to Sala and Maicas, and across from Noe and his wife. Throughout the night, children begging for drawings accosted these three artists and I got to see their creation process. Sala had been drawing pictures of a woman licking her own breast, so when a pigtailed muchkin approached him with a notepad, I was a bit apprehensive. He drew a cat jumping on a trampoline. *whew*

At the end of the night, we finally got around to the topic of where I was going to spend the night. It was decided, seemingly randomly, that I was going to stay at a cabin in the middle of nowhere with six men that I had just met: Federico Reggiani, Angel Mosquito, Fran López, Fabian Zalazar, Max Aguierre, and Hernán Cañellas. I was not afraid in the slightest (uncharacteristically) mainly because these men thought I was terrified and tried to calm me by repeatedly telling me not to be frightened. If I felt any apprehension spending the night with six random men, it disappeared completely when we got to the cabin and played…dominoes. The least scary game. Ever. And at the end of the night, they ended up giving me an entire room to myself.

The next morning was so relaxing, I’ve decided to become an Argentine artist in my next lifetime. They hung out, talked about cars (a conversation I could follow only because they inserted funny anecdotes), and made an amazing asado. One of the most interesting parts of my stay was the discussion we had about comics. We had to name our top five comics and then suffer the ridicule or approval of the others. Maus and Corto Maltes were two of the most popular choices. Being in a group of people where the participants can even name five comics is a rarity in my life, so hearing a lively debate about the merits of certain comics was like being in heaven.

During the day, I talked with Federico Reggiani and Angel Mosquito about “Tristeza,” a comic they are currently publishing in Fierro. “Tristeza” is about a world where a disease that causes people to become sad has decimated the population. Years later, the survivors have formed a semi-stable society. I am fascinated by the way that Reggiani and Mosquito imagine the details of the daily life of the survivors. The TV is a cardboard frame with drawn-on dials. Condoms have expired, making sex an obvious risk for pregnancy. Children from the neighborhood create the newspaper’s cartoons. Most of the post-apocalyptic comics I’ve read touch very little on how people would actually live, instead focusing on fighting, gore, or interpersonal power plays.

At the end of the day, they drove me back to Lobos so I could attend the closing of the conference. We stopped at Juan Peron’s childhood home to walk around and take pictures of Peron’s family relics. The guys left and as I wandered around the town, I realized Lobos is extremely boring when you are not hanging out with people. And so I took the next bus back to Buenos Aires.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Minute Reviews

A few weeks ago, I was talking to Avery and he said he wanted to know more about Argentine comics. Well, I hate leaving my blog empty while working on longer posts*, so I’ve decided to do something new: minute reviews. I will take two comics and write about them over a period of five minutes. Usually, it takes me a really long time to write anything, so having a set time limit will ensure that I actually reach my weekly posting goal. Sounds like a good plan, right?

Ordinario by Gustavo Sala

Published by Llantodelmudo in 2010

I bought this book in the Centro while going comics shopping with Jeremy, one of my friends from Escuela Argentina de la Historieta. After spending all my lunch money on comics, I took the Subte and just had to read Sala’s tales of gross perversion right then. Luckily, I got a seat and began reading…only to be glared at by the old lady next to me who was able to see the page. Why was she looking at me with such a cara de culo? Well, Sala’s self-contained cartoons are based on gross, but often-hilarious sexual humor. He plays with words and Argentine phrases. And I am proud to say I understood about 89.5% of his jokes. To see more of his work, check out his blog.

Divito/Lino Palacio: Leyendas del comic argentino

Published by Nueva Biblioteca Clarín de la Historieta

The book is made up of different characters, drawings, and storylines written by Divito and Lino Palacio. Because most of the comics were drawn in the 40’s I understand very little of the humor or don’t find it funny. My two favorites are “Oscar, Dientes de Leche” and “Doña Tremebunda.” Oscar is an adorable, cowardly lion that loves milk! He chases after it, steals it, and when he finally gets it is so happy he has little hearts floating above his head. Anyway, it is a really adorable comic. Doña Tremebunda is a sassy woman that gets what she wants. When her date can’t find the tickets for a theater event, she turns him upside-down, emptying his pockets to help him find the tickets more quickly. To silence a whistler, she sticks a carrot in his pursed lips. When a truck accidentally splashes her on the street, she runs after it, climbs on it, and punches the driver in the face. I think I like her so much because she sort of reminds me of myself…always trying to find a solution to a problem, even if it means being a bit aggressive.

An original "Oscar, Dientes de Leche" print from Todo Colección, an online auction site.
Also, Oscar gets killed all the time in the cartoons.

A cartoon of Doña Tremebunda being a badass.

*I am, I promise, working on a post about the rest of my trip to Lobos, but I had amnesia for the past week and forgot everything. And then I reunited with a twin that was stolen at birth by an evil maid and… I can’t think of any more soap opera plot points. But really, it is almost done. I just need to work out a few details and then I will post it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ehh: Audience

Lobos is a small town in the provinces of Buenos Aires, birthplace of Juan Peron, and capital of ice cream. It is also a pretty random place for a comics convention. Although located only an hour and a half outside of Buenos Aires, Lobos is a prohibitively hard location to visit. Cheap, local busses stretch the ride out to 4 hours, while smaller, private busses are expensive. Most of the people that came to the convention were invited guests, locals, and a scattering of fans. To my knowledge, I was one of the few fans that managed to arrive from Buenos Aires and the only international visitor. The artists and writers that attended were either hosted by the city of Lobos or came to support their friends.

The citizens of Lobos made up the majority of the attendees. The talks were filled with an eclectic mix of children, sullen teenagers, families, and the elderly. I think many of the locals attended the conference not because of any sort of fanatical devotion to comics, but because it was a big event in a small town. Families with children were quite common at every talk. Rosty, a friend from Laura’s “Artes Secuenciales” class, pointed out a mother nonchalantly handing her son copies of El Asco by Diego Agrimbau and Estupefacto by Lucas Varela. If you look back a few posts, you might remember that these authors produce comics with very adult themes. Very adult themes. Shocked, I wondered out loud why, exactly a mother would think that was appropriate reading material for a child. Rosty reminded me that most adults think comics are primarily for children, and she probably had no idea what she had just bought for her son. But, as one panelist pointed out, getting children interested in comics (in whatever way possible) is beneficial because they are all potential future readers. In that sense, listening to the panelists speak and reading their work might be the beginning of a lifetime of readership.

Each talk was attended by a smattering of teenagers. They mostly hung out in the back and tried to look cool, but you could see that a few of them were really interested in the topics. An art class from a local high school visited a Q&A session made up of Diego Agrimbau, Gustavo Sala, and Lucas Varela. The teacher excitedly asked the panel what sort of career her students might be able to pursue in the arts. Their suggestion: If you want to make money, don’t go into comics. Although this is a depressing truth, just learning that writing and drawing comics is an actual profession is sort of revolutionary. I read comics in high school, but didn't know how they were made until college.

So why, exactly, is something like audience composition interesting? I want to know who the target audience is for these events, the potential for generating new readers and sustaining old ones, and perceptions of comics held by the mainstream. At this conference I was a mere observer, but at Crack Bang Boom and Viñetas Serias I might conduct an informal survey.

Overall, the turnout was not disappointing. The auditorium was filled during the round table discussions and there were always people looking at the comics exhibit in the Casa Española. As long as this conference keeps hosting such famous and important comics creators, I think this event’s reputation will grow and more people will come. Once, of course, they figure out how to get to Lobos.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Encuentro Nacional del Humor y la Historieta

I came across an announcement about the “Encuentro Nacional del Humor y la Historieta” (EHH) in some small corner of the online comics universe. Although it was the fourth EHH, there was no information on the Internet about the first three. In Lobos, I learned that the conference was revived after thirty years of indefinite suspension. The transformation that occurred in the gap years was featured in the wide range of guests— Horacio Altuna, Lucas Varela, Diego Agrimbau, Noe, Gustavo Sala, and many more. Some of the guests had attended the first conferences, while others had been children at the time. This combination of past and present was fascinating. What better place to learn about the trajectory of Argentine comics than a meeting of creators from different eras?

The conference consisted of a small exhibition in the Sociedad Española and a few round table discussions at the Club Social Lobense. I wish I could provide a broad summary of the events, but I am just to focus on a few small aspects that I found interesting. In the next few blog posts, I will write about the audience for the conference, who I met, and the talks. So stay tuned, dear readers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


When I tell people that I have a Fulbright grant to study comics, they often ask me what my major was. Literature? Studio Art? Film, maybe? Anything that pertains to graphic novels at all? Nope. I majored in Economics.

I chose to major in Economics a day before I arrived at Smith College as a first year (Smith College is a women’s school, so we are “first years” instead of freshmen). I was under the assumption all the other first years would have a prospective major picked out, and I didn’t want to be the only one that was undecided. So I flipped through the course catalogue and chose economics based off a few interesting classes…and my desire to change the world. As a starry-eyed idealist, I wanted a major that was useful and that I could use to help people. Perhaps this idealism arose from Mountains Beyond Mountains, required reading for orientation that told the life story of a doctor that provides medical care for the impoverished. I was not nearly selfless enough to become a doctor, so I chose economics. Whatever the reason, I signed up for “Introduction to Macroeconomics” my first semester, loved it, and then stuck with the major.

So back to my original story. After five years, I am no longer as naïve as I once was. Economics may be used for evil (ex: 2008) as well as good. And I am studying comics in Argentina instead of joining the Peace Corps (not like that was ever really a plan). So…my major was basically useless, right?

Completely and totally wrong. My study of economics gave me a perspective I can use to analyze the world around me. Take, for example, comics. A few days ago, I went into La Revisteria, a comic book store that mainly sells international comics. As I looked at the books, I began thinking about the importation costs, international vs. Argentine publishing companies, affordability (super expensive!) and intended consumers, the impact of the exchange rate, etc. In terms of my project, these thoughts are useful. I plan to interview Argentine comic book publishers, importers, and translators about these topics.

And as I was looking at these comics, thinking about economics, my mind also shifted to another, all too common line of thought: my future. I want to keep on studying comics, but I also love economics. Is there some sort of career that would allow me to do both? Can I invent ecomiconomics?