- ¡Viva la historieta! Mexican Comics, NAFTA, and the Politics of Globalization
Bruce Campbell's engaging study contends that comic books are an important cultural form through which one can chart the impact of globalization in Mexico and responses to it. Long associated with the commercial entertainment sector, comics have enjoyed broad working-class readerships in Mexico since the postrevolutionary period, but as Campbell explains, the production, content, and circulation of comics have undergone dramatic changes over the past two decades. Campbell frames his study around the political and economic transformations registered in the world of Mexican comics by two recent watersheds: ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, and the election of Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox to the presidency in 2000, which brought an end to the seven-decade-long domination of the Mexican political system by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). During these turbulent years, comic books increasingly engaged neoliberal economic reforms and their attendant cultural values of U.S.-inflected cosmopolitanism from a variety of ideological positions. While government-operated industries and services were being privatized en masse, comic books underwent a contrary movement, entering the sphere of political institutions, as both the center-right Fox administration and the center-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) utilized them to publicize policies and campaigns.
Meanwhile, commercial and countercultural comics in Mexico were also responding to the large-scale shift toward free market economics and intensified discourses of modernization heralded by NAFTA. Campbell's meticulous analyses of comics produced by many different social actors—from political parties to trade unions, community-based organizations, government agencies, large corporations, and artists' collectives—demonstrates that NAFTA-era "culturescapes" (p. 8) were being articulated in comics through plotlines about the gap between rich and poor, internal and transnational migration, narcotraffic, and scenarios of social mobility, as well as through the minutiae of formal aesthetic representation, including the depiction of racial characteristics and body types, the incorporation of slang, and the casual placement of commodities and projection of everyday desires in the comic cell's mise-en-scène. By distinguishing the critical, celebratory, and even contradictory ways in which comics articulate perspectives on neoliberalism, Campbell introduces the concept of popular sovereignty into scholarly discussions about globalization that have described its operations in top-down fashion, without acknowledging the knowledge production and political visions emanating from local cultural producers. [End Page 588]
Following a lucid introductory chapter, Campbell's eight subsequent chapters provide a panorama of contemporary Mexican comics. From the PANista and PRDista forays into the genre described above, the author turns to examine presentist irruptions in Golden Age classics, such as Gabriel Vargas's long-running La Familia Barrón, as well as experimental and provocative work produced by a generation of young graphic artists. Campbell's case studies balance formal and socio-historical analysis, offering perceptive narratological readings and a breadth of knowledge about Mexican popular culture and political movements. The interpretations are peppered with insights from Latin American cultural critics, such as Jesús Martín-Barbero, Carlos Monsiváis and Néstor García Canclini, as well as from Marxist, semiotic, and poststructuralist theory.
Campbell's overall project correlates the aesthetic registers of NAFTA-era comics with their respective ideological positions. In terms of critical values, the author tips his hand toward committed auteurism in several chapters dedicated to innovative projects that stretch the boundaries of generic formulae. Campbell's interpretations of community- and trade union-based comics, his discussion of Edgar Clement's noir fantasy, Operación Bolívar (2006), and his reading of Sebastián Carrillo's redux of the superhero narrative, El Bulbo, vindicate the artist-intellectual as memory keeper of the postcolonial longue durée, one who freely intercalates references to neoliberalism with iconography culled from the Conquest and other cataclysmic historical events. Rather than staking claims to cultural authenticity in a globalizing society, these graphic...