This is a guest post by Joanna Page, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre of Latin American Studies.
The graphic novel has been enjoying a boom in many regions of the world, and is increasingly finding a serious, adult readership. Following on from Art Spiegelman’s renowned Maus (1980-1991), which demonstrated as never before the potential in graphic fiction for the treatment of important political themes, writers such as Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Chris Ware and Alison Bechtel have found the graphic novel to be a very effective medium to reflect on contemporary topics from war and religion to social isolation and sexuality.
The graphic novel is also flourishing across Latin America, producing texts that are very sophisticated, both in their conceptual and philosophical interventions and in their innovative experimentation with graphic fiction as a medium. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico are emerging as the most important centres of graphic fiction today, but other significant contributions are being made by scriptwriters and artists based in Uruguay, Bolivia and Colombia, in particular. These graphic novels are often successful – where other texts and artforms have not been in Latin America – in bridging popular and elite culture.
Many graphic novels in Latin America present a critique of modernity, denouncing the economic inequalities, the social exclusions and the environmental damage brought about by the developed world’s continued reliance on exploitative, imperialist practices. While contemporary graphic novels from Europe and North America show a predilection for realism, journalism and autobiography, in Latin America the dominant genre is science fiction. These texts are often concerned with exploring the relationship between humans and technology, together with forms of posthuman existence. Images and discourses related to cybernetics are often suggestively combined with indigenous mythologies in order to challenge modernity’s supposed ‘disenchantment of the world’ and European chronologies of technology.
The visually stunning E-Dem (Montes Lynch, 2012), part of the UL’s collection (see S950.b.201.1580), explores the relationship between authoritarian politics, religion, rationalism and technology, with one part of the narrative set during Pinochet’s regime. Policía del Karma (Baradit and Cáceres, 2011) fuses advanced cybernetics with the low-tech, anti-establishment aesthetics associated with punk. It delivers a critique of the social impact of technology in a world in which corruption is rife and there are no clear hierarchies of power, and in which cyborgs join low-life misfits and drug-users roaming the sleazy streets of the city. This is not a typical representation of cyberspace, in which robotics replaces human labour and virtuality appears to dispense with biological needs and limitations. Here, humans are bodily enmeshed in the system, playing key roles as cogs, modems and conduits, grotesquely enhanced by the graphic novel’s typical emphasis on embodied experience and materiality.
The UL also possesses a good number of earlier serial comics which have been published as books, including several written by H. G. Oesterheld, Argentina’s most celebrated graphic fiction scriptwriter. These include El Eternauta (1957-59; 1976-77), perhaps the most famous of all Latin American comics series, whose narrative of extraterrestrial invasion captured the fear of civil war that loomed in Argentina during the mid-1950s and resonated darkly with the political violence of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
The UL’s new acquisitions in this field are of great importance in assisting research and teaching on the Latin American graphic novel in the university. Students taking the MPhil module on Latin American Film and Visual Arts are being introduced to some of the key contemporary texts from Chile, and a number of them go on to write essays on related topics. The first book-length study of graphic novels in Latin America, due to be published next year, has been co-written by two researchers, one a current and the other a past lecturer at the University. It is hoped that the UL’s collection will facilitate and inspire future research on this very rich body of work.
Guest author: Joanna Page.