I’m eager to get a better grounding on Mexican comics. That said, I’m always up for a bit of a detour. That led me to some Mexican Spider-Man. Now, this one particular issue has grabbed a lot of attention in the last few years. Welcome to El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128. Of course, the image is quite striking and has all it takes to stir up comics fans: Gwen and Peter getting married! Here are pages from inside the issue. But there’s more than meets the eye. . . .
Page 1 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128
Page 21 from El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #128
As any comics fan knows, beware of teasers. Once you read the comic, it’s clear that a wedding is not exactly the main theme here. Not at all. Spoiler alert: truth is, this is only a dream sequence cooked up by the Green Goblin, the little trickster! For more details, I must direct you to the comics sleuthing by Marvel Comics editor Tom Brevoort. If you want a more detailed account, then go see Tom.
Jose Luis Duran
Back in the early ’70s, Marvel Comics decided to kill off Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy. It sent shockwaves throughout the comics community. One Mexican comics publisher chose to do something about it. By what authority La Prensa was acting on is a mystery. Initially, La Prensa began with a licensing deal with Marvel Comics, which allowed for some additional stories from local Mexican talent. That arrangement took on a life of its own. So, the deed was done: 44 issues of an alternate Spider-Man reality, one with a very much alive Gwen Stacy! Hey, Gwen was just too popular in Mexico and Latin America for her to actually die! Marvel was unleashing the darker Bronze Age but La Prensa would hold it off, at least for a while. All 44 issues of these Mexican Spidey adventures were drawn by Jose Luis Duran.
What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico.
I have to hand it to La Prensa for going off in their own direction. They had an agreement with Marvel and they got pretty creative with it, maybe too creative, given how totally out of canon it was. Marvel officially kills off a beloved main character and La Prensa chose to simply do what they thought best. Perhaps what saved them was that they used relatively good judgement. It was tasteful storytelling and in keeping with readership demands. And Marvel didn’t seem to care. Anyway, only a few years later, La Prensa would go out of business. Now, we’re left with some somewhat strange Spider-Man stories.
El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #154
El Sorprendente Hombre Arana #163
So, now this very special run is a hot ticket with lots of speculation about what it’s worth these days, especially the issue with Peter and Gwen at the altar. According to comics collectors in the know: the low range: $2k; the mid-range: $6k; the high range: $25k. This gets my spidey-sense tingling all over!
Marriage of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy in an original story published in Mexico
Issues in this series divert from the U.S. storyline with Gwen Stacy surviving the events from The Amazing Spider-Man #121
There exists a German reprint that sells for significantly less
The more one digs into the comics medium, the more it rewards you as an immersive world of the mind. You can lose yourself in it as much as any other art form. Christopher Sperandio has taken quite a deep dive into re-working vintage public domain comics just as you would any other kind of “found art.” Check out some of his work on his Instagram. He is genuinely mesmerized by it and respectful of all the souls, many truly unsung heroes, who created the work in the first place. That said, when Sperandio hit upon a cache of original Mexican comic book pages at a public market, he knew right away that this wasn’t just another canvas upon which to recontextualize. This was something special that needed to be called attention to. Sperandio’s long and distinguished career features work that explores the interconnections between mass and museum culture. Sperandio teaches at Rice University where he specializes in working with the comics medium. He recently put together at Rice an arts lab, the Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop (CATS) and this book is part of that.
A typical copy of Micro Suspenso, #305, circa 1968, 4 1/2 x 3 inches.
A mysterious packet of ink drawings sitting in a stall in a public market in Mexico City. At that point, the fate of these drawings, half a century old, was utterly dependent upon who might take notice of them. So, it’s something of a miracle that this set of drawings would catch the interest of the most ideal buyer. This bundle of originals was created by Julio Camarena for the comic book series, Micro Suspenso. There was no cover but the comic book could be dated to circa, 1970. The story, oddly enough, is entitled, “The Last Buyer.” With Sperandio’s purchase, this little batch of comic book art had fallen into academic hands and, as it turned out, Sperandio was to be the last buyer of this work prior to his immortalizing it in this book. To add a touch of intrigue, the originals were stolen and probably destroyed.
Julio Camarena is plucked from obscurity and joins the world of academia.
And so Julio Camarena, an obscure Mexican cartoonist, finds his work the subject of an academic study. Well, that’s just the beginning. As I mentioned, Sperandio has a working method that involves linking popular media to museum culture. And that is precisely what this purchase of drawings set into motion. We come back to the idea of a playground for the mind. When you stop and think about it, comic books (particularly strange and offbeat comic books) and museums, are both prime venues for some deep thinking, the stuff that dreams are made of! Sperandio developed his project step by step, bringing together the people and resources he needed under the CATS arts lab. In time, he had what was needed for an installation as well as a book.
From the pages of a comic book…
…to the gallery walls of a museum.
As a work of comics, “The Last Buyer” is more than just competent; it’s a guilty pleasure in the best sense. Right away, I was intrigued by the characters and their hint of Mod style sense. And who doesn’t like a good horror story about a possessed car? I’m Mexican-American, and I do read Spanish but not without some effort. I mean, the words don’t just jump out at me as they do in a work of comics in English. That sense of words jumping out is magical and it’s not happening when I’ve got a work of comics in Spanish. For the Camarena stash to fully function as a work of comics for a now predominantly English-speaking audience, the darn thing would need to be properly translated within the comic itself with the Spanish text replaced by English. There are notes at the back of the book with an English translation but that’s just not the same. That said, it’s a fun read. It is masterfully worked out, especially considering the tiny format that was common for these “micro-comics,” pocket-sized comics meant to be read on the way to work or in some less than rarefied environment. That said, of course, this set of drawings has totally become a creature of rarefied environments.
Page excerpt from “The Last Buyer.”
So, what’s so special about this stash of original comic book art that has been taken out of its natural habitat, as it were, and placed under a microscope? First, it’s a learning opportunity, right? Sperandio gets to share some of the history of Mexican comics and he even, early on, gets a chance to demonstrate how unfairly maligned the comics medium has been. His quote from 1999 by noted art critic Rosalind Krauss is priceless. When asked at a public lecture at Princeton University for her opinion on the comics medium, Krauss said the form was “unredeemable.” Ouch! Well, that was over twenty years ago and, I dare say, the general sentiment has changed. As for this stash of Mexican comics in particular, Sperandio is making the case that, yes, this little bundle of obscure comics is a historic and artistic artifact. And, while the originals are now gone forever, the originals had been properly digitized and so can now live on in print, as they were always intended to do. Sperandio, “the last buyer,” managed to pass on a little treasure to all sorts of future buyers, those who buy into the comic medium’s hard-won fight for credibility.
Where all this gets most interesting is in tracking down the one and only Julio Camarena, the cartoonist behind these mysterious comics. Camarena is given his due. He is not presented as some exotic but as the creative professional he was, part of a tradition, part of history. This is the moment when, if you were binge-watching on Netflix, the payoff is finally delivered. Sperandio has gotten to comment on Camarena. A contemporary cartoonist has provided his observations. And a professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature has held court– and even quoted a scholarly report that concludes Mexico and Japan are the world’s only true comic book cultures. All very interesting but now Camarena speaks about Camarena! And, like any long-awaited moment, it’s a little poignant and also a little anticlimactic. Camarena loved his work, has no regrets, and has little patience with looking back. He was interviewed a couple of years ago by Mexican cartoonist Augusto Mora. It’s a wonderful exchange between the two creatives. Camarena sounds to be very savvy about the comics market. He simply doesn’t take himself too seriously or put his work upon a pedestal. He makes a comment towards the end that he regrets that Mexican publishers began to dabble in cheesecake pin-up comics in an attempt to boost sales. That went against their core family audience and so it was no surprise to Camarena when that phase of comics tanked. Ironically, the only photos of Camarena have him showing some of his pin-up work. It’s actually rendered quite well, in a classic tradition but, apparently, he didn’t have his heart in it. No, his heart was in the work he was a part of for most of his life, stories that enthralled readers across a wide spectrum. It was a magical time, a time for all kinds of stories whether historic, romantic, adventurous, or even supernatural.
Cartoonist Julio Camarena
So, did Sperandio’s examination of the Camarena stash of drawings stretch and pull it well past anyone’s intended purpose? Okay, sure, but it was all worth it! Indeed, this book is a ticket to play in the playground of the mind. Seriously, this is a most welcome addition to comics scholarship in general–and Mexican comics in particular. We can already find a number of books that gravitate to pretty familiar subjects like Los Bros Hernandez. Sperandio goes further and provides us with some much needed insight into the roots of Mexican comics and culture. This quirky book is a wonderful exploration of many things, not the least of which is the playground of the mind.
I have interviewed Steve Lafler and I’m letting that sink in. The man is a walking encyclopedia of experiences and knowledge. I do hope we can chat again sometime. For a first interview, we covered a lot of ground. I was intrigued and delighted and I’m sure you will be too with this most provocative cartoonist.
Steve Lafler is a very cool cat–and, as promised, we’re about to take a deep dive into all things Lafler. Long before Zoom interviews, I’ve been taking notes and chatting with a good many talented folks. I think we cartoonists, at least a certain subgroup, are compelled to express ourselves in numerous ways. You’ll find, for instance, that comics and journalism have been entwined since the American colonies. In Mr. Lafler’s case, he has devoted a lot of energy in two directions, the love of comics and the love of music. In my interview, I try to focus on how Lafler has lovingly included music, especially jazz, into his comics.
1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona is Lafler’s latest title and we enjoy talking about it. The subtext is pretty much in the forefront: our main character, Ramon, seems to be most happy when he gets to be Ramona. Or, if not most happy, then it’s definitely a sweet joy to dress up and be a woman for the night. That said, the comics pretty much speak for themselves. Lafler, himself, has provided a few clues over the years that he enjoys indulging in some gender-bending dressing up. One must follow their muse! I think, with 1956: Sweet Sweet Little Ramona, Lafler beautifully expresses that most basic and primal human need to be true to one’s self.
Max in America: Into the Land of Trump by Henry Chamberlain
There’s not a moment to lose. I’m getting fired up and ready to go sell some books. Hey there, friends, consider getting a copy of Max in America: Into the Land of Trump, available at Amazon or ask me directly or go to my blog’s store. I’d love to know what you think and don’t be shy about reviewing it at Amazon too! But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what author Stacey E. Bryan has to say over at her blog…
The biggest fear for many, apart from death, is a fear of rejection! Well, I say, Fugetaboutit! In fact, if you’re in New York City, I encourage you to consider doing what I did: go up and do an open mic at a comedy club! Yes, that is what I did as part of an Airbnb experience, “Learn Stand-up with a Comedian,” hosted by Rishi and John, both NYC-based comedians there to show you around the NYC comedy scene. You can certainly just observe but I felt I was ready to jump in and go on stage.
New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world–and that definitely includes comedy. Within the closely knit area of Greenwich Village, are a number of comedy clubs all with their own energy and history. And, at the epicenter is the Comedy Cellar where on any given night you might get to see such legends as Amy Schumer and Jerry Seinfeld. With the help of my mentor for the evening, comedian John Kim, I got quite an immersive experience. I learned a lot and was fueled with plenty of inspiration which made going up on stage for open mic all the easier. And what a stage! I couldn’t have asked for a better venue for a first-timer, The Lantern Comedy Club!
The Lantern Comedy Club
The great challenge is in confronting any doubts: Is the material good enough? Am I good enough? Yes, trust me, you’re more than worthy to go up on stage and just give it a try. More than likely, or let’s say it’s just about a guarantee, any misgivings will melt away once you start. Something will trigger in your brain: Go! Okay, here’s the next hook! Stop, try to pause. Go! Add this. Don’t say that just yet..okay, say it now.
As in anything, you get what you bring to something. I’ve been working on a particular character and his story arc for quite some time. I decided to put together a comedy bit and featured Maximo Viaje, a guy form Mexico City who has somehow stumbled upon a journey of self-discovery in the U.S. even though he entered the country illegally. For Max, that’s just a small problem in a much bigger picture. Okay, so this is a fictional character that I’m bringing to life on stage. Now, for all you fellow writers, tell me: Wouldn’t this be a very useful exercise for you? Check it out:
You get into a frame a mind and, yes, your mind is a beautiful thing and it’s in it to win it. Thanks to my beautiful mind and to such an insightful and inspirational guidance from John Kim, I did more than just get through my set. I really learned and grew from the experience. And, just like hitting the gym, you know when you’re in the zone and you know you want to get back to it again and again.
Peter Kuper is one of the great cartoonists and any book by him is a treat. In this case, you have a highly creative individual out and about for two years in a most stimulating environment, Mexico, specifically in Oaxaca. What could be better than his sketchbook journal of his two years there? The paperback version of his “Diario de Oaxaca” recently came out from PM Press.
Pages from “Diario de Oaxaca” by Peter Kuper
Kuper follows his heart and stream of thought to deliver page after page of enchanting work. He has a special multi-colored pencil that he uses. The lead in the pencil is made up of various colors. That allows much greater spontaneity as he can instantly shift the pencil to get a different color and then another and so on. He seems to have most fun with creating work that has that look of being on the fly–but can also be a mix of a long day, or night, of contemplation.
The sense of excitement and discovery is palpable. In a similar quick manner, he jots down numerous observations in prose as well. The joie de vivre takes a decidedly sober tone as Kuper finds himself covering a fight between strikers and government troops that left more than 20 people dead, including American journalist Brad Will. The end result is that Kuper manages to capture both the light and the dark of Oaxaca in an extarordinary collection of dispatches.
“Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico” is a 208-page paperback with full color artwork throughout. For more details, visit PM Press right here.
Book Giveaway: Be sure to visit tomorrow when the Comics Grinder Winter Giveaway kicks off. Among the items that will be available will be a copy of “Diario de Oaxaca.”
A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.
Edited by Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the goal of the book is to put a face to a crisis. Written and drawn by Jon Sack, you have here a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. And the art adds to the immediacy of each story.
Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro
There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.
If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for not understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.
In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz
“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.
“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.
There are all sorts of horror to consume and a Mike Mignola horror comic book is one of the best across any form. And then you bring to that one the horror canon’s greatest, Frankenstein, and it sets up something worthy of taking notice. This is not, say Frankenstein vs. Superman or Spider-Man, as much fun as that can be. No, this runs much deeper as you have two distinct visions in horror coming together that have exceptional qualities that naturally fit together. It’s more akin to Boris Karloff bringing his unique sensibility to the character of Frankenstein’s monster. But let’s jump in and check this out.
First of all, I love the fact that this Frankenstein is not just about long stares and grunts. The guy can actually hold a conversation. And I’m intrigued by the additional bolts. He has two big bolts where his nipples should be. Is this for when he needs a really special electrical jolt? I’m just saying. So, this Frankenstein fits right into the quirky, dark, deadpan, and offbeat humor that is the universe of Mike Mignola. And what does the big buy have to say for himself? Basically, he’s not too happy. He’s feeling very regretful for what might have been as he wanders in search of greater meaning. Yeow, that’s more Mignola-speak coming out of the iconic monster than any fan has a right to hope for. So, for you newcomers, this is what to expect: a Frankenstein who is more freaky, intellectual, and downright moody.
This first issue, written by Mignola, drawn by Ben Stenbeck, and colored by Dave Stewart is a knock-out. Now, your hardcore Mignola fans can tell you about the roots to this story. They’ll direct you to that time when Mike Mignola’s celebrated character, Hellboy, got into the ring and actually fought Frankenstein in Mexico in 1956. Yes, Mexico in 1956! Mexico! 1956! You see, another wonderful trait in any Mignola story is the seemingly random pairing of an exotic locale with an obscure date. Why Mexico? Why 1956? It just is what it is. And it’s fun. Here’s the deal, way back when Hellboy fought Frankenstein, nobody knew for sure that it was indeed Frankenstein. But now we know that, yes, it is.
So, again, I ask you, why Mexico in 1956? Well, it’s actually a pretty cool backdrop. Not only do you have the pairing of Mignola and Frankenstein but you can also add to the mix all the magical and spooky Aztec tradition and, to top it off, you have the overall crazy that was the ’50s. Imagine a Day of the Dead celebration times one hundred. Because that’s what it would have been like in Mexico in 1956. So, all this is very geeky fun and yet another fitting tribute to one of the greatest characters in horror for all time, our pal, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein Underground #1 will be published by Dark Horse Comics on March 18, 2015. For more details, visit our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.
“Giant” is not quite as spectacular as “Gone with the Wind,” but it certainly holds its own. Both are colossal movies in star power, production, and size. “Giant,” however, is in a class all its own as it addresses head-on the curious relationship between the United States and Mexico and beyond. It is a powerful indictment on intolerance, expressed boldly and with audacity. And in 1956!
YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE.
The whole movie can be boiled down to one scene. In fact, the movie could very well have been made simply for the sake of this one scene. You may know it, or know of it. It’s easy to do a quick search and watch the clip on YouTube. But, like most things in life, we gain from digging deeper. You simply must see the whole movie to appreciate its significance. Like I say, this movie came out in 1956. We Americans still have much to learn, as a whole country, don’t we? Some people think all we need to do is build a wall.
HOLD ON THERE!
By the time we get to that momentous confrontation in a modest roadside diner, the main character of Jordan “Bick” Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) has grown by leaps and bounds as a human being. The suggestion is that so could America, as a whole, and anywhere else there is ignorance and hatred. It was there then. It is here now. We just pretend it doesn’t exist, at least too many of us do. That’s what Bick did. He never acknowledged, let alone cared about, all the Mexican people around him. He was the patriarch of a cattle empire in Texas. That’s all that mattered. Even if Mexicans worked on his ranch and cared for his children, as far as he was concerned, they didn’t really exist. So, if any harm came to them, that wasn’t his problem.
WE HAVE US A FIGHT!
Some people assume all is well with the world as long as they are doing well. They cannot, will not, see beyond what they consider to be important. Maybe it’s a sewing circle, or collecting recipes, or a family pet. In the case of Bick, all that mattered was the family estate of Reata. In Edna Ferber’s novel, faithfully brought to the screen by George Stevens, we find in “Giant” the sweeping epic story of Texas. We follow the Benedict family from about 1930 to 1950 and see how Bick reacts to the great transition from a focus on cattle to a focus on oil. The fate of the Mexican population seems lost in the shuffle but it is always referred to, demanding some kind of answer.
THE FACE OF A NEW AMERICA.
By the time we reach that moment of truth in that diner, Bick must act instead of just react. The precision drumbeat has begun to the rousing tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” on the jukebox just as Bick and his family walk in. The signal is clear, we have something big that’s about to happen. Bick’s eyes have been opened to the world. He can empathize. His own son is married to a Mexican. And they have a beautiful child, Bick’s grandson. When the family arrives at the diner, the diner’s owner is prepared to throw them out but hesitates. He barks an insult and cowardly walks away. A few minutes later, a serious confrontation is inevitable.
In just a few moments, Bick witnesses the diner’s owner manhandle a Mexican family that had just arrived. Bick is now in a position, in his mind and heart, to take a stand. As the music on the jukebox swells, Bick and the owner engage in a fight. First words, then fists, and then total mayhem. It’s the most direct and honest thing that Bick has ever done in his whole life and, to think it possible, in the defense of the Mexicans. While in may seem amazingly sophisticated and enlightened for such a major motion picture to have been made at that time, it really is not too much to ask. The tide was slowly turning towards social change. The general public, whether or not they admit so in public, know right from wrong. In fact, “Giant,” is a widely acknowledged icon. Like its name implies, it is too big to ignore and too big to dismiss.