Comic Book Classics #3
If there was ever one comic book writer who should be a shoe-in for a Nobel Prize for Literature, it is Argentina’s Carlos Trillo. Not that I want to have a go at the Nobel’s (OK, so they never gave Jorge Luis Borges the main gong, but they can make up that insult to Argentine letters by honouring Trillo –so there!).
Trillo was born in the 1940s, Juan Domingo Perón was running the show. Bad, do you think? It’s just about to get worse. When Trillo begins to write professionally in the 60s, the political system is swinging wildly from democracy to dictatorship and back again. Political turmoil was perhaps the result of a steady economic decline. For authors it was a troubling time. Even if you could escape censorship today, that is not to say that a coup next week might look on your writing and/or politics differently. One early lesson was learning to write in censorship-proof language; a code to be deciphered by reading between the lines.
Argentina has always had amazing cartoonists and the 1960s were no exception. Trillo began his collaboration with illustrator Horacio Altuna and between they produced some truly biting political satires. One of the best is their first: Charlie Moon.
The eponymous hero of Charlie Moon is an adolescent growing up in the 1930s depression-era America. Charlie is a hobo, living by hitching rides on trains, taking short-term jobs and trying to make his way in a hostile, uncaring world. Charlie observes (usually in silence) the middle class snobbery, racism and barbarity of a society that despised its poor. On the surface, it is a devastating critique of the US and its economic system (There is some justification for this kind of a reading, given the ignoble US role in Latin American affairs). There is, however, another way of reading the text: Charlie becomes Carlos and the critique is not ostensibly about the US, but how the poor live in Argentina. Where Chekhov told writers to write about their own village to aspire to universal themes, in a dictatorship you have to use universal themes to talk about your own village. Charlie Moon is high art. Art produced under dangerous conditions.
Just how difficult the conditions were to become, was typified by the fate endured by cartoonists Hector Oesterheld and Enrique Brescia, murdered by the bloodthirsty Videla dictatorship. Many of their relatives were murdered too. Trillo had collaborated with Brescia and others. As many cartoonists, he had to find refuge in fantasy and SF to escape the censors. With Altuna he invented the doors of Mr Lopez (a humorous fantasy). And the SF cosy catastrophe, The Last Playtime.
Mr Lopez is a fat, middle aged pen-pusher who is bullied by his wife and pushed around by his boss and work colleagues. He does, however, have an escape. Every time Lopez goes into a toilet cubicle, he goes into a parallel dimension. In that parallel dimension, he will go through adventures that relate to and comment on his own experience and society’s attitudes. The Last Playtime is set in a world where all the adults in the world have died as a result of biological warfare. The children are left to sort out their own lives and soon fall into the same patterns as their elders: The children of soldiers have access to guns and can control the food supply –everyone else works for them. Eventually the biological agent wears off and some of the children become sexually mature. This maturity, which leads to love, becomes a way to liberate the young from self-imposed dictatorship.
In his latter years Trillo has seen his work translated into English. His masterwork (and for this alone he should be ‘Nobelled’) is his writing on The Big Hoax (artist: Domingo Mandrafina). It is a work that is hard to describe. It is at once a magical-realist fable, a filmic noir thriller and an evocation of Bolero music. It is the tale of Donny, a PI who gets involved with the niece of the dictator of an imaginary Latin American island. Their story is told/manipulated by the Island’s writer of radio soap operas. Its Garcia Marquez meets The Maltese Falcon. (With Robert Mitchum in a starring role). A truly amazing piece of storytelling (its sequel, The Iguana is in the shops too!).
So that’s my nomination. Did he do more fun stuff? Yeah. With the Catalan Jordi Bernet he wrote Clara De Noche (a Belle du Jour spoof) and his most recent work, Spaghetti Bros. is a fun tale of New York Italian mafiosi It’s all good stuff. Maradona may have the ‘ Hand of God’, but not the one he uses to write comic-books. Another Argie has that one..
Posted on February 17, 2010, in Comic Book Classics, Latin American Stuff and tagged Carlos Trillo, floppybootstomp compress, Horacio Altuna, The Big Hoax, The Iguana. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.