Zero Hour

Posted by on July 18th, 2010 at 5:59 PM


The argentinian version Superman, Superhombre.


In order to even start figuring out which, how and by whom comics are created and consumed in Argentina -an important and representative market that can show many (not all) of the Dos & Donts of the comic book scene in Latin America- you must first, at least if you lived all your life in America, do what every megalomaniacal-republican-baldy serial villain has ever wished for in his franchised life: kill Superman! That’s it! Wipe that Kryptonian out-of-this-world flavored do-gooder from your comic hard drive! Sure, Grant Morrison’s favorite pop-toy has done nothing wrong and, before you say you want a revolution, don’t turn this into a Che Guevara guerrilla scheme against the “Truth, Justice and the American Way” bumper sticker. You need to erase Siegel and Shuster’s man in tights and all of his superfriends for one simple reason: Argentina is not a genre-driven market. And even though it was for certain lapses, when genre walked the Argentinean editorial ground, it was never carried in the arms of vigilantes that evolved from status quo defenders to Happy Meal myths for grownups.

You must imagine a world, a third-world world, where Superman, although being a six-figure franchise and still the most recognizable trademark in human history (obviously! It’s Argentina not Krypton!), has never ruled the market. A country where a vast -and to a certain point parallel to America- development of comic book history has never been tainted by both of the avatars of the genre: the made for stealing the kids’ pocket change stigma and the direct market sales policy (or was it police?). But what might sound as a fascinating parallel world to those non-lovers of superheroes, who have lived their life pushing the Delete button on the World Greatest Comics magazines, might probably be surprised of how relevant and true (believer) is this affirmation made by Brian Doherty in the essay “Is the superhero Invulnerable?” (part of the Best American Comics Criticism anthology edited by Ben Schwartz and published by Fantagraphics): “Far from choking off the vitality of the comic book, superheroes might be precisely that which has kept the form alive, albeit on a smaller scale than decades ago. Look at the fate of another form of pop entertaiment that, along with comics, had a huge following in the 1940s: radio drama. There was no unique thing that it provided better than any other art form, and it died.”


Sonoman, the Oswal`s Argentinian superhero.


Not that ultrapop superheroes would have saved the day if given a try in what today is the harsh state -but still in a merging point- of Argentinean comics. In fact, having lived and read comics in another country since forever, you soon realize that no matter if you’re the last fanboy on earth or the Fantagraphics poster boy, superheroes are and can only be an American splendor. But Argentina, where international and local superheroes are an exception (Sonoman, drawn by the increible Oswal, being our top gun in that area), can show that the lack of superheroes not necessarily creates a better ground to an alternative comic scene. And I’m using the word alternative not in a “non-mainstream” way but in its global meaning: an alternative. Syndicated comics (such thing doesn’t exist here: every newspaper has its own comics), romance, adventure, humor, autobiographical, pirate, horror, funny animals, erotic, whatever works.

So here we are, in our Kirby nightmare: no country for men in tights. When Spiderman didn’t even know that Da’ Ditko would one day fight against Ma’Lee, when Zap! electrified the world in weird places, Argentina was struggling with a new dawn of comics that waved goodbye to our so-called Classic Age. An age marked mostly by the adventure magazine called Hora Cero (in fact, Argentina’s Comic Book Day is celebrated on the September 4, to commemorate the publication of Hora Cero). But before dropping names –there is plenty of time for that- let’s get back to our Earth-2 fantasy. Remember? No superheroes. “Sure, I can live with them paramilitary demigods, I’m no Simpsons Comic Book Guy.” So, all perched up, you enter a regular Barnes and Noble-like store in Argentina. Tons of books. A common landscape of trade paperbacks. With intrigue, you’re staring at a shelf in which the wagnerian guys that use their underwear over their clothes are a minority. What marvelous twilight-dimension choices may I find in this far, far away editorial plane of existence?

A cover from the popular adventure anthology Hora Cero.

There are two possibilities. The first one and the most common: “So, you mean there’s no comic-book section. Wha.. What comic do I want? I just want to look around…What do you mean you have a few in the Humor section?” That means that –luckily- from Seth (imported from Spain, never published in Argentina) to, obviously, our classic and bestselling Mafalda (our most popular strip, done by Quino. Matthias Wivel wrote an article about it), these books are in the most remote corner of the store and next to paperbacks like “The 100 Best Jokes About Spanish People” or “One Thousand Puzzles”. The second option is that they have a Comic Book section, but they’re badly -if not miserably- managed. It’s difficult to find a bookstore or even a comic store that has every book published in Argentina (for example, in the first  semester of 2010, the amount of published books and magazines is of about 45 titles ). And that situation, where asking for Maüs is like asking for Henry Darger’s originals at a Deli or a Manara tale in a McDonald’s, is quite a problem. A super-problem indeed, one that comprises a lot of the Nemeses that what used to be an industry has suffered. Or created itself. For example: the decreasing lack of interest from major publishing houses in comics (Random House Mondadori publishes about four cartoonist’s works per year), the very high cost of printing and the strange and palpable –yet not invincible- apathy of the non-readers and part of the press (this last item becoming less and less an issue in time). Those items are important, but you might also want to add the following: First of all, the privative cost of imported comics -DC, Marvel, Fantagraphics, Top Self, French comics published in Spain. In order to know how much they cost, you need to multiply the cover price by five. This makes it impossible to have access to the already few imported comics. Also, we have the absence of serious comic-book journalism, the legion of mistreated comic-book artists and the increasingly threatening danger of losing a hundred years of Argentinean comic-book history because of the practically nonexistent reissues and digitalization of classic material.

What’s wrong with this picture? It kinda of gives a dark zeigeist vibe, don’t it? What, me worry? Actually, we’re living some kind of Second Coming in Argentina: there are, literally, hundreds of amazing cartoonists (good cartoonists, people who know the medium, who are no longer attached to the genres, that are trying new things –genre included… weird, huh?-) and all that sad vignette present is changing (lurking away would be a bit too much, but it’s a nice time to read comics in Argentina). We are sure that with Argentinean comics you can never be too sure. And that, true believers is, as always, more of a superpower than a kryptonite.

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