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Límulus

Notes from the shadow of the Mexican pop comics

Text by Mar Gámiz

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Not many years ago, barely 50, Mexico registered an extremely high reading rate. So impressive, perhaps, as the prejudice that loomed over the reading subject: Mexican comics.

Indeed, these small format magazines that told “stories” with “characters” had been produced and distributed successfully since the 1930s, to such an extent that, the hundred thousand print run came quickly. In the 1960s, comic strips like Kalimán and Memín Pinguín were printed weekly by the millions.

It is widely recognized that comics fueled the local cinema with characters and plots, an art with which they established a perfect symbiosis because one didn’t substitute the others at that time.  It was also renowned that never before had the Mexican publishing industry received large revenues coming from an exclusively local production.

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However, for the intellectual minority, the comics of the lower class, such as La familia Burrón, the witchcraft ones (original name for Hermelinda Linda) or the ones of vengeful peasants like El Payo, amongst others, did not represent but an attack on good taste, intellect and morals, given that the explicit sexual tone was present in most stories.

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This obstinate prejudice reached the legislative fields and in 1944, the Regulations of illustrated magazines pointed out:

“Education is counteracted gravely by a series of illustrated magazines, comic strips and boards that under pretext of amenity or fun contain arguments and injuring stamps for their immorality, which separate the youthful spirit of righteous causes of education, often featuring graphic descriptions that offend modesty, decency and good habits sexually exciting youth and exposing it to the risks of an incontinent or dissolute conduct. “

In the short term, it seemed that said judgments did not affect the inexhaustible course of the comic strips, although it is true that little official and academic attention was devoted to them later on. The success of the cartoons was known by word of mouth and through the newsstands; the pepines (generic name for the popular comic strip) and the cowboy book were an important part of everyday life for the majority of Mexicans.

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However, the effect of intellectual contempt was hardly reflected on this genre, which began to decline sharply in the mid-eighties. By the 1990s, not only was the national production of comic strips rare, but the monopoly of comics was formed, or of foreign cartoon, which was about superheroes and whose acquisition was more complicated. Yet the purpose of this text isn’t to review what happened next, although it represents an interesting movement of vindication of the national comic strip as well as the authorship of the latter.

It is however, about emphasizing a rather forgotten aspect of this stage of glory of popular literature: the almost artisan production of each comic strip, that they coexisted with the overwhelming pace of publication and noisy printing machines.

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Up to four pairs of hands converged during the production of each of the boards that formed the body of the comic strips: first and foremost, the cartoonist’s who traced the figures with brushes; the second, the assistant cartoonist, who inked said figures and alternated with the artist to cut the cardboard, mark the margins and clean them; the third, the innkeeper’s, who drew landscapes or backgrounds for each board, and the fourth, the lyricist, who wrote the dialogues previously invented by the scriptwriter.

The work was colossal. Each board could take between one and two hours, not counting the time spent on documenting the images (photos, drawings from other strips, divine inspiration, etc.) and taking the originals to print.

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All this was done, despite the apparent contradiction with the colorful result, in the shadows. On one hand, the shadows of the room where they worked, almost incessantly, cartoonists, on the other, the shadows that detracted the artists’ credit for posterity who during the most important years of popular comic strip rarely received their originals back and lived in the shadow of the credit of the scriptwriter or author of the plot. Another expression of the intellectual prejudice that didn’t even correct the significance of the image to cement the consumer success.

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If Límulus found out about this process in detail it was thanks to the testimony of Fausto Buendía Vazquez, a tireless cartoonist of Azor, el primitivo, Alma Grande, various Popugráficos, Carroña para los buitres and perhaps the most famous he was a part of, El Payo, that although its first 31 numbers were drawn by Ángel Mora, the following 587 were created by Fausto.

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From left to right: Fausto Buendía Vázquez, draftsman of Payo; Guillermo Vigil, screenwriter of Payo, and Mrs. Bolaños, in charge of setting the heat.

Grandson and son of draftsmen (the figure disguised as his father was renowned in the vicious character Hermelinda Linda), Fausto Buendía Vázquez is one of the many remaining actors and silent witnesses of that time. At a time when technology takes precedence, his knowledge on techniques of editorial drawing and printing could be considered a relic or an artisanal know-how unjustly valued.

Let these words inserted on a digital platform be a sincere homage to Fausto and all those who dedicated their lives to creating these popular amusements, whose images and arguments spiced the daily lives of so many that, without a doubt, cherish them in their memory.

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Fausto Buendía in his workshop.

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