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date: 10 July 2020

Political Historietas and Graphic Humor in Argentina

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.

The Spanish word “historietas,” like the English word “comics,” refers to a broad and heterogeneous body of work. A comic strip, a comic series, and a graphic novel are obviously not the same thing. One term can hide genres as diverse as gag cartoons, caricatures, illustrations, figurative narration, and narrative figuration. While comic strips and historietas often share a metonymic perspective, they represent two distinct practices. Comic strips published in newspapers and magazines are part of a hybrid genre similar to cartoons and historietas. Comic strips and cartoons both feature stand-alone stories. Comic strips and historietas both present their plots in a sequential graphic narrative. Historietas differ from comic strips and cartoons by appearing in adventure magazines, graphic novels, and serials that vary in content and publication format, each adhering to its own production conditions and genre rules.

Graphic humor in Argentina has historically been tied to the political and economic elite. Even so, graphic humorists were able to surreptitiously convey subversive messages through their drawings and words. To work in the professional print industry has long been defined as having one foot in media business and the other in public interest. Due to the types of publications featuring historietas, their circulation, and their readership, historieta artists (historietistas) enjoyed a comparatively greater degree of autonomy in communicating social and political criticism. For graphic humor, its comedy or realism is connected to the type of commentary that appears in the opinion page of the daily news. Such is the case with magazines like Tía Vicenta, Humor Registrado, Satiricón, and Hortensia. The central characteristics of political humor link a historieta to the social and cultural conventions of its time. Graphic humor can be read in light of the ways it is unavoidably intertextual and metacommunicational, conditioned by existing discourse.

Starting in the 1960s, realist and adventure historietas cultivated stylistic voics in tune with emerging forms of reflexive irony and the historieta’s unique visual properties. Playful experimentation in the textual and graphic dimensions of the historieta resulted in strongly political tales with elements of novelty and improvisation. Historietas written by Héctor Oesterheld and drawn by Alberto Breccia are paradigmatic of this tension between historietas and politics. Their narrative and aesthetic innovations highlight how historietas can be organized as ideological discourse, intervening alongside popular culture in the debates and dilemmas of the time.