Venezuelan comic books find their place on the web

By 31 December, 2010

The comic in Venezuela is one of the genres that is generally underrated and ironically, treasured within the country’s culture. The artists who associate themselves with the expression of the comic and its way of illustrating ideas quickly and amusingly work more on the net than among publishers. In fact, much of the author’s struggle from the new fans of the comic in Venezuela is based on claiming a definite and visible place where they express numerous ideas of the world, particularly the urban world.

Groups like Cómics Mitos Urbanos (Urban Myths Comics) and Blogzup have places on the net in order to gather works and release them. Among the different followers, opinions, publications and impressions in this far-reaching world, a standard is common: the genre of the comic in Venezuela searches for and deserves attention, curiosity and appreciation.

Within the funny style and tradition which identifies itself easily with the Venezuelan personality, comic book artists like Jorge Blanco, Pedro Leon Zapata and his disciple Rayma are present, living through works of art which are extremely visible in Caracas and various publications.

The nostalgic collective blog Cuando era chamo (When I was a kid) recalls Jorge Blanco’s “El Naufrago” (”The Castaway”):

The Castaway comic strip told us in a single image, without words, about the life of the solitary character through prolonging his stay on the deserted island. It’s creator Jorge Blanco, born in 1945, has developed a successful career as a designer, humorist, cartoonist, illustrator ans sculptor, receiving significant recognition in his own country and internationally. As well as creating el Naufrago, he designed the corporate image of the Children’s Museum in Caracas.

On Zapata, the blog El Venezolano es… (The Venezuelan is…) says,

As if his constant artistic discourse and his whimsical way of giving his opinion through his sketches and brushstrokes is not enough, Pedro Leon Zapata is the creator of “Conductores de Venezuela” (”Drivers of Venezuela”), a gigantic ceramic mural more than 1500 sq metres in size, which decorates part of the north perimeter of the Central University of Venezuela in the city of Caracas.

“Drivers of Venezuela” mural (photo by ruurmo)

However, these figures of bitter and humorous criticism find themselves at the start, and the continuation of a line of artists who disappear and appear in the Venezuelan newspapers. Those silent, but present veterans, emphasise the ideas of the people in the strips from Omar Cruz, popular for almost two decades through his comic strip “El Ranchito” (”The Little Hut”). This representation is the artist’s most recognised work and it usually found itself in the weekly magazine El Camaleon (The Chameleon), together with other signs of biting criticism to the governments that preceeded Hugo Chavez.

According to the introductory words of the artist in his book:

El Ranchito always needs something, to fit in the pipes, to check the roof, put up a wall… it is in times of presidential campaigns that a hope comes to us… but the only thing that it leaves us is our hut papered with the posters and the promises of the candidates who never returned to the hill. A character called “Mi Negra” accompanies the voice that speaks from the little hut, that companion who motivates us to carry on fighting and who encourages us, saying to us: “Don’t worry, some day we will change”.

A video on Youtube shows Omar Cruz working on his character, on the basic ideals of one of his heroes: ethics, morals, strength, values, one’s country, courage, loyalty.

On the opposite side of the story and across the internet, Planeta Venezuela Cómics tries to see the vision “of the right side of the story.” In its provocative presentation, the author says:

A page with highly right-wing content, which can be offensive to left-wing audiences. It recommends DISCRETION IN READING IT. This means that if you are of left-wing idiotology and you don’t like that which is published on my page, you can exercise either of these two rights: To make like an ostrich, that is to say, to pass by my page and to find yourself one with content more appropriate to your interests, and the other, to comment and look like an idiot, which you exercise BRILLIANTLY.

Also under the political tone of the opposition, with touches of humour and about daily life, you can find Garabatos from Henry Casanova, illustrator and graphic designer..

Another wave arrives pushed by new artists and their vision of the urban oral tradition. Comics Mitos Urbanos is the sign of these phenomena through characters of importance, connected by the legendary and mythical fascination of the oral tradition of the region. On the blog that gathers all the work:

…One considers the study of characters who have been classified as myths or oral stories of great potential so imaginative, as from an investigation of the context, with the purpose of contributing with the study of the imaginary, and oral stories emerged in Venezuela. We are trying to create a connection with memory and potential characters of our own context.

The project considers the development of anti-heroic figures. ‘Machera’, for example, is a miraculous soul of local spiritualism (linked to Santeria) and one of the figures who stands out the most on the blog. Also called the Saint Malando (a Venezuelan word for criminal) the cult of Machera is collected in the activities that they carry out around the development of the character in the world of comic strips. Blogzup reviews the publication:

In general it is interesting enough reading, its about a character, half reality and half legend, of which you don’t know much and of which you have only heard because of this publication. Machera was a criminal who had a habit of helping people in his village, they remember him through actions such as robbing pharmacies in order to give medicine to the poor. After a violent death at the hands of the law, his fame wasn’t over but growing until it turned into legend, many people ask his spirit for favours and miracles.

Another project on the mythological and the fantastical continues on the blog by Mr Rogger, under the name of Venezuela Fantástica:

A large-scale project which comprises the areas of illustration, graphic animation, music and interactivity for the realisation of a multimedia interactive game based on the historic and mythical aspects of Venezuelan folklore. The purpose of said game is to incorporate this pedagogicaly thematic subject matter in the field of entertainment.

The world of comic strips and pictures seeks to construct symbols for an identity that wants to see itself as its own and diverse. The new comic also combines itself with the new Venezuelan aesthetic wave which shows its racially mixed nature in works that point to recreating local knowledge and wit in different colours and in more dynamic ways. It remains however the great question about the vision of the past, ever changing, and like this the mystery of the human dimension of the heroes of Venezuela and the struggles through which the comic genre overcomes the limitations of the ingratitude of the Venezuelan publishing world.

Article originally published on Global Voices

[cartoon at top of the page is from Jorge Blanco’s El Naufrago]

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