The Co(s)mic Race: Blackface in Comics South of the Border (Part II)

Posted by on February 26th, 2011 at 5:47 AM

As I was writing my column on black face in Latin American comics last week, I came upon some old copies of another historieta on the street that prominently featured black characters, called Fuego, produced by the same publishing house as Memín.

Fuego is essentially the story of the Haitian Revolution told in the broad narrative strokes of melodrama, drawn somewhat mimetically in a shiny, round sepia, now dulled in yellowing pages, nearly thirty years since its release.  Fuego – perhaps referring to the burning passion that haunts its characters –  was a spin-off of the extremely popular melodrama historieta Lágrimas y Risas.

The protagonist of Fuego is Henri Christophe key leader in Haiti´s revolutionary war, who fought alongside Toussaint Louvuture, before he elected himself king of Haiti in 1804.  Christophe is the opposite of Memín: tall, muscular and driven.   The series that follows Henri Christophe’s various love affairs demonstrates that semi-realistic depictions were not only  possible but ubiquotous.

Early in the series Henri falls in love with a white woman named Lucía, while also maintaining relations with his former black lover María Luisa.  The result is an interracial love triangle.  In one of the issues I bought, Henri hears drums that tell him that his María Luisa has just had a child.  As a result Lucía stops talking to him, although she too ends up pregnant and has a child.

In the meantime on the island, revolution leads slaves to poison their masters, steal their clothes and arm themselves. Some eat and drink orgiastically, while others reprimand them for violating God´s rules.  The French meanwhile shell the island, march on it, but are defeated, all of this between steamy scenes and heated dialogue.  It really is fuego.

As in some issues of Lágrimas y Risas, these stories read like excuses to feature relationships perhaps too taboo for TV.  As in soap operas, or telenovelas, there is no nudity, but sex is implied, even drawn. What I find interesting here is that unlike other adapted historietas, like Rubi – that became a hit TV series – Fuego could never made it to the screen for its black protagonists.  Black protagonists simply weren´t seen in the Latin American telenovelas of the 1980s.  In other words, comics allowed for much more freedom than other mainstream medias.  The historietas are almost marginal.  (Although I should add Fuego, appears to have been ¨inspired¨ by the mini-series Roots, that was broadcast all over Latin America.)

Well, I bought a few old issues partly out of curiousity. On the inside cover page I discovered that Fuego was created by none other than Guillermo de la Parra – that is, Vargas Dulche´s (the creator of Memín) husband – and their son!  So is this coincidence that the creator of the nearly alien figure of Memín was married to the creator of a comic about the Haitian revolution?  Well they published all sorts of things, from historietas to the somewhat more adult fotonovelas.  What does strike me as strange however is that their son, Manelick, wasa one-year-old when these comics were printed.  So are they just being cute?  Why bother putting his name on it?  The comic empire was to have its heir?  (He became a very successful musician instead.)

According to one source Fuego reached over 900 volumes and then, without further notice, disappeared.  Another says that the series ended prematurely after three years in its 147th edition with this page:

The epitaph reads: “His only weakness was the tremendous love he felt for Lucía, beautiful blond, that was once his master but ended up bearing his child.¨

Then they thank the readers for their three years of dedication and recommend picking up other historietas from the same company.

The revolution will be serialized, then abruptly end.

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