- El Eternauta, Daytripper, and Beyond by David William Foster
Graphic narratives have become a staple of US academe, mostly as an acknowledgement of millennial sensibility, in which imagery is valued as highly as—and occasionally, even more than—lettered prejudice. Within the field of Latin American cultural studies, David William Foster represents a veteran voice espousing [End Page 346] graphic narratives as cultural products of merit. Back in 1989, he published From Mafalda to Los Supermachos, one of the very first texts dealing with Latin American comics in a scholarly manner—as humor, since that is how their study was justified back then. In a way, this book is a followup, though it focuses exclusively on Argentina and Brazil.
The text is divided into two sections, each one discussing five examples of graphic novel production from each nation. Its chapters are brief, almost vignettes, an aspect contributing to its effectiveness. Foster distinguishes between comic strips and graphic novels in a manner analogous to Japanese manga and gekiga. While the term manga alludes mainly to comic books heavy on convention and with light narratives, gekiga describes works of a more serious tone and intent, engaging readers on a multiplicity of levels, employing a variety of techniques while emphasizing the relevance of authorship (illustrator and scriptwriter), more along the lines of an auteur.
The Argentine half, which introduces the book, discusses established standards of the medium, as well as some more timely examples of graphic production, including Francisco Solano López and Héctor G. Osterheld's El Eternauta, coinci-dentally released in the US in September of 2016 by Fantagraphics (though the Argentine original dates from 1957); writer Carlos Sampayo and artist José Mun˜oz's El bar de Joe, an account based in New York City stemming from the 1981 French comics scene; illustration virtuoso Alberto Breccia and scriptwriter Juan Sasturain's Perramus, one of the most in-depth meditations on dictatorship in the Southern Cone, first published in France in 1986; Sampayo and Solano López's Evaristo, an inquest on the widespread effects of corruption in Argentina, amazingly published in English in 1987, within a year of its original release by Dargaud; and, as the only woman author of this Gaucho corpus, Patricia Breccia's Sin novedad en el frente (1999).
El Eternauta is a classic of Argentine comics, Oesterheld's disappearance contributing to its mythification in a particularly Latin American form. Thus, when readers consume its androcentrism—Foster correctly points out its masculinist views—it is only appropriate that they be guided by an expert in Argentine culture. Foster's approach is prescriptive, enumerating six critical aspects, and highlighting the intricacies of Argentine Spanish and its implications in terms of gender. El bar de Joe, on the other hand, stands as his opportunity to advance a Foucaldian reading: he interprets the place as a heterotopia, explaining how in a city with a rich bar culture (as are New York City or Buenos Aires), image and narrative text often work against each other, making for a more enthralling representation of human experience than in ordinary, everyday locations. If Oesterheld is the master storyteller, Breccia is the Rembrandt of Argentine comics, celebrated for his dexterity with light and darkness. With cameos by Borges, Perramus is the [End Page 347] quintessential title on dictatorship. Foster rightly points out its graphic originality, which easily supersedes the fickle twists of its plot. It is by way of its representation of the city, its pictorial engagement with Borges's intellectual games, that Perramus theorizes about the neofascist nature of the Argentine military project. Evaristo is more prosaic, recalling Ray Chandler's Philip Marlowe. While the narrative is set between 1955 and 1966, a period lacking clear ideological definition selon Foster, the fact that it was produced during national redemocratization in the 1980s speaks volumes about its highly individualized, profoundly machista, yet morally grounded character, no longer viable after police collaboration with the terror of the late 1970s. In the case of Patricia Breccia, Foster underscores dutifully that it...