Vanguardia y humorismo gráfico: La Guerra Civil Española (1936-1939) y la Revolución Cubana (1959-1961) by Jorge L Catalá-Carrasco
Vanguardia y humorismo gráfico analyzes the evolution of graphic humor from the 1930s to 1960s, focusing on the comic strip in magazines belonging to the Republican and Nationalist blocs in Spain as well as on those published during the Cuban revolutionary regime. [End Page 146]
Divided into three sections, the first part explores the correlation between humor and the avant-garde both in Spain and Cuba. Chapter 1 examines the rise of Spanish vanguardism and its intrinsic relationship to humor by effectively discerning their similar traits, namely, distancing effect and subversive character. Catalá-Carrasco supports his argumentation by mainly referring to Ortega y Gasset's concept of dehumanized art and Ramón Gómez de la Serna's definition of humor in "Gravedad e importancia del humorismo" (1930). Other literary and philosophical theories brought into play belong to Pío Baroja, Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud, all of whom further the idea of humor as an intellectual and destabilizing phenomenon. Chapter 2 connects humor and vanguardism in Cuba by looking into choteo as a cartoonish expression rooted in the burlesque and the stereotypical association of black Cubans with roguery. Catalá-Carrasco provides insight into choteo by referring to the observations of Jorge Mañach, José Antonio Saco and Antonio Poveda as essential to understand the cartoonish production in magazines ranging from Bohemia and Social to Carteles.
The second part examines the graphic production of humor during the Spanish Civil War. Chapter 3 espouses the popularization of comic strips with the control of media in the Republican and National blocs during the Spanish Civil War. A variety of artistic manifestations are considered: the war albums of vicente Martín's Dibujos de Guerra and Ramón Puyol's production in Frente Rojo; the caricature and graphic humor of Luis Bagaría and Alfonso Rodríguez Castelao in La Vanguardia along with Antonio de Lara (known as Tono) and Miguel de Mihura in Ametralladora; the aleluyas of Manuel del Arco Álvarez for La Hora; and comic strips such as "Las aventuras del Cornejo", illustrated by José Bardasano Baos. Chapter 4 examines the press on the trenches through a series of comic magazines published during the Spanish Civil War. Catalá-Carrasco successfully distinguishes between the activist humor practiced by those magazines produced in the Republican bloc and the dehumanized and apolitical wit attributed to the Nationalist printed press. Noteworthy of Republican magazines are No Veas, Traca and L'Esquella de la Torratxa, which typically animalize the enemy while creating anti-role models such as Tomás Porto's idle soldier known as Canuto. Regarding the Nationalist bloc, La Ametralladora is representative of Miguel Mihura and Tono's comic strips, which, according to Catalá-Carrasco, respond to a type of humor based on the subversion of conventional and logical paradigms (142). Chapter 5 pays attention to post-war humorous production in La Codorniz once La Ametralladora was closed down after the war. Mihura's intention was to create a magazine that eschewed present-day conflicts in favor of exploiting the creative potential of imagination that undermined any conventionalism. In addition, La Codorniz was famous for incorporating the voices of American comic artists, among whom William Steig, Peter Arno, Gluyas Williams, James Thurber and Saul Steinberg were notorious.
The third part looks into the role of the Cuban comic strip with regards to the interconnection of vanguardism and militancy in the Cuban Revolution. Chapter 6 explores the evolution of the press in Cuba by firstly addressing practices of bribery and the allocation of special advantages to media executives during Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship. Legal magazines criticized the disinformation of official [End Page 147] media, Zig-Zag and El Cubano Libre being the maximum exponents. Meanwhile, Mella, an illustration of clandestine press, satirized Batista's dictatorship. Once Fidel Castro took power, the media served to educate an illiterate and economically deprived population, although they were eventually controlled by the state. Chapter 7 focuses on El Pitirre as a publication that exhibits the treatment of humorousness for revolutionary purposes and, conversely, the innovative uses of humor as decisive for an artistic revolution in Cuba. Rafael Luis Fornés Collado reached his peak with "Sabino" and "vitelio", protagonists of comic strips that revealed the unpredictability of everyday experiences and the incomprehensibility of life itself. On another note, Sergio Ruiz's skillful collage practices reveal a critical comment on the Revolution, whereas Roberto Hernández Guerrero concerns himself with the violation of the law, racist attitudes and the use of drugs. Chapter 8 concludes with the closing down of El Pitirre and references to magazines produced in the 1960s, namely Palante y Palante and Revolution. According to Catalá-Carrasco, this magazine was not in the service of the regime, since it did not offer answers to concrete problems, but rather questions and existential dilemmas (268). It was, therefore, logical that other periodicals such as Palante y Palante and Revolution gained ground. Oftentimes their columns criticized the negative vision of Cuba that American comics offered to the public.
Despite editing errors in the titles of some chapters, this work provides groundbreaking information that advances research in the comic strip. Catalá-Carrasco reveals a deep knowledge of Spanish and Cuban vanguardism and its relationship with graphic humor. This exhaustive transatlantic study enables insight into the usage of humor for political purposes during the Spanish Civil War and the Cuban Revolution as well as the times that preceded and followed these armed conflicts. In addition to thorough archival research of magazines, the author draws on literary, theoretical and critical sources that provide an overarching view of comic practices and their political implications, including the visualization of some of the stories. Therefore, Catalá-Carrasco's work will be of interest for established scholars and graduate students belonging to a variety of disciplines such as history, literature, visual studies and art history.