Comic Book Classics -8- Santos

 El Santo Vs Tetona Mendoza (Jis & Trino)

 Mexico has always played its part in the underground comic’s scene and its own indigenous comic book culture (inventors, so they say, of the photo-novel). Free from the neanderthal Comics Code Authority (but not their own Education Ministry) they carved their own particular furrow under the radar of the Anglo industry (Sergio Aragonés being the honourable exception).

 

Fast forward to the 1980s, a decade where the Mexican Comic-book industry is in meltdown and the press is being assailed by economic crises. One newspaper, the left-leaning La Jornada decides to take on this situation; advertising revenue falling, rapidly declining readership, particularly among young people, a stagnant, old-fashioned newspaper industry. They decideto take a gamble. At a stroke La Jornada killed off the traditional Sunday ‘funny pages’, up to now filled with syndicated cartoons from abroad. Gone were the twee, badly translated US strips (Hagar the Horrible, The Wizard of Id, Peanuts, Blondie, Garfield). In their place arose Histerietas: a 6-page weekly showcase for rude, noxious, prurient Mexican underground comix.

 

It is hard to imagine now the influence that this weekly supplement had. The strips chosen were dripping with attitude, swearing, blasphemy, sex and disrespect for authority. In a society with very traditional norms of behaviour (particularly in the press), it revolutionized attitudes and (as the editors hoped) sold by the bucket load. Santos ran to three best-selling anthologies, lasted for over a decade and was even mooted as a major animation series.

 The star turn in the Histerietas stable, was an experimental narrative cooked up by two cartoonists from Guadalajara; Jose Ignacio Solorzano (Jis) and Jose Trinidad Camacho (Trino). Their page-long strip El Santos Vs Tetona Mendoza soon acquired a cult following. At the heart of the strip is the protagonist/hero, Santos; a disrespectful parody of the famous (in Mexico) 1960s wrestler, El Santo. From the outset, this appropriation of a popular icon and its transformation into a comedic character laid down a marker. A line in the sand for a new generation ready to overthrow previous sacred cows. Either that or they found something really funny about the overblown, macho superhero of previous generations. The new Santos by contrast, is a whining childish figure who is totally besotted by the female wrestler, Tetona Mendoza (tit-woman Mendoza).

Here be Santos

And here be his beloved, Tetona Mendoza

The structure of the strip is particularly interesting. The (full) page is usually divided into two sections. The first is given over to a formulaic narrative that begins with a stock phrase: “One day Santos was…”. Whatever Santos is doing (playing with his Barbie dolls, trying to develop telepathy or writing his memoirs), he is interrupted by El Cabo (a police constable) who brings a problem to his attention. Santos and Cabo then set out to solve the problem. And fail. Each of the artists, Jis or Trino, may write the strip up to a certain point, leaving the other to develop the storyline from where the other left off, usually in a totally different direction. This rather chaotic element to the story structure is reinforced in the second half of the strip.

The second half of Santos is devoted to a number of one-off single-panel gags dealing (tangentially in some cases) with the subjects tackled in the first half of the strip. These are also written alternatively by Jis and Trino. The last of these is always the Epilogue, which tries to bring the whole narrative together. The strip also boasts a huge cast of characters (Peyote the assassin, Godzilla, the devil Zepeda, the Gutierrez piglets, Red Riding Hood, the Sahuayo zombies, Susi San Ramon, Lupe the Siren… I could go on).

El Santo (left) and Blue Demon in one of his 60s/70s film roles

I love this strip (and have immortalized it in academia -vol 25,2006), because it did what the best of underground culture does. It gave a voice to youth who were struggling in a world with few opportunities. It gave them something to call their own within a media landscape that did little but alienate and repel them (if you’ve ever watched Mexican TV you’ll know what I mean). It is also incredibly funny, fresh and original in its execution and style. It might not be the greatest artwork in the world, you might not be able to understand a word of the layered, dense Mexican vernacular, but it lightened the load for a generation of Mexicans. Pure joy wrapped in printer’s ink.

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About floppybootstomp

Lecturer, teacher, writer and traveller all perfectly good nouns aren't they? Do they have anything to do with me? Ask the taxman.

Posted on July 4, 2010, in Comic Book Classics, Latin American Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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