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Reviewed by:
  • Comics and Memory in Latin America ed. by Jorge Catalá Carrasco, Paulo Drinot, and James Scorer
  • Phillip Penix-Tadsen
jorge catalá carrasco, paulo drinot, and james scorer, editors. Comics and Memory in Latin America. U of Pittsburgh P, 2017, 262 pp.

How have comic strips, political cartoons, graphic novels, comic books and educational illustrations contributed to the formation of collective memory in Latin America, and what mechanisms do these media employ to renegotiate the meaning of shared histories in the region? Following the work of memory studies scholars like Alison Landsberg, the contributors to Comics and Memory in Latin America argue that comics, like other technologies of mass culture, are works of "prosthetic memory" that can "function as a prosthesis between an individual and a historical narrative about the past," serving as a catalyst for the reconstruction and resignification of the past from the viewpoint of the present (35). The anthology shows that in diverse cases from across Latin America, comics serve—in the words of contributor Cynthia Milton—as "unofficial modes of truth telling" that run parallel to "official" discourses of historical memory such [End Page 199] as those produced by truth and reconciliation commissions as well as government-sponsored monuments and memory sites (14). In their introduction, editors Jorge Catalá Carrasco, Paulo Drinot and James Scorer declare the anthology's objective of "establishing a dialogue between the fields of comics and memory studies in the Latin American context" and offer a helpful overview of both memory studies scholarship and regional comics history (23). The range of primary works and critical approaches incorporated into this collection mirrors the diverse spectrum of formats and contexts for comics' production and consumption in Latin America, with chapters examining 1) the socio-cultural impact of major national comic strip characters such as Argentina's Mafalda, Brazil's Mônica, Chile's Condorito, Cuba's Elpidio Valdés and El Cuy of Peru; 2) revolutionary and leftist uses of comics as a form of historical and political discourse in the Cuban revolution, the Montoneros guerrilla movement in Argentina, Salvador Allende's Chile and Sandinista Nicaragua; and 3) the use of graphic novels as devices of prosthetic memory, connecting readers to significant moments in national history and milestones in cultural identity.

In their introduction as well as in the contributions selected for this anthology, the editors make a clear case for the distinctive role comics and graphic novels have played in the creation of collective memory in Latin America. This is why it is somewhat puzzling when, early in the introduction, the editors explain that the "development of Latin American comics does not differ significantly in format, structure, development, and periodization from its European or North American counterparts" (5). Indeed, this claim is called into question by the detailed and specific history of comics and graphic novels in Latin America that follows, which highlights the ways these media developed uniquely in the region relative to global norms. For example, "Mexican comic artists began to target adult readers some forty years before their counterparts in Europe" (10); early Latin American comic artists used the medium to reach an audience "with high levels of illiteracy across the region" who "used visual imagery to participate in social and political life" to a degree that is distinct from the North American or European contexts (6); and during the latter half of the twentieth century, comics in Latin America were deeply affected by both the ideological impulse of the Cuban revolution and the rise of right-wing military dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s (8–10). The military dictatorships, on one hand, brought about the disappearance or exile of several leading comic artists and, on the other hand, inspired creators to use the medium either as a tool for the dissemination of revolutionary ideology or "a sphere where activities and interests otherwise repressed by military rule—especially sex, drugs, dress, music, and other forms of counterculture—could be celebrated" and "dictatorships and the legacy of trauma" could be explored (15). All of this adds up to a convincing account of just what makes the production and consumption of comics so unique in the Latin American contexts examined in...


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pp. 199-202
Launched on MUSE
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