Monday, March 11, 2013

Mônica and Superman

Brazil produces a variety of quality graphic novels, and nurtures plenty of artistic talent to export. However, visual literature has limited outlets in the country for vying against the big two who dominate the comics market in Brazil: Maurício de Souza and DC/Marvel Comics.

Having spent some time in Brazil recently, I was eager to get my hands on some new Brazilian comics. There are newsstands everywhere that were bound to have some hot new comics, I thought. As it turns out, graphic novels in Brazil are sold only in big bookstores or via the internet, with two big exceptions: the Mônica comic books and the imported superheroes of Marvel and DC. These are sold in newsstands all around the country, in every corner of every city in Brazil. No wonder Mônica and Superman became the face of comics in the country.

Mônica, the bucktoothed hothead created by Maurício de Souza in 1963, is turning 50. Maurício de Souza, a sort of a Brazilian Walt Disney, has in Mônica his Mickey Mouse, a creation who took on a life of her own, forever inserted in the collective Brazilian consciousness. The adventures of Mônica and her gang have been published continuously since its first issue in 1970 (before that, she appeared in newspaper strips.)

An offshoot from the Mônica line is the grown-up version of the character, manga style. The current issue, celebrating the book’s 50th, sees her getting married to childhood nemesis Cebolinha.

Marvel and DC comics built their stronghold in the Brazilian market in the 80s, when their comics were distributed in Brazil by giant publisher Editora Abril. Since then, Superman and all who followed have been sold in newsstands everywhere, giving easy access to everyone from children of the eighties like me to today's youth to ingest a steady diet of American superhero comics. Newspaper Folha de São Paulo put Superman on a recent front page to celebrate his 75th birthday and his being a fixture in the Brazilian comics culture for almost as long.

Graphic novels in Brazil receive the double-edged honor of being considered high art or “important literature”, which confines them to more stuffy formats and bookstores, limiting their reach and appeal. This is a shame, as some of the best comics being produced in the world right now are coming from Brazil, and the output is very diverse. As an example, Paulista twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá have become brand names in the Brazilian comics scene and also conquered the international market, working for major publishers like DC, Image and Dark Horse. Even though they are now international stars, their national output is also outstanding. They have just released a beautiful – and informative! – book for Illustrated Cities, a series of illustrated books depicting various Brazilian cities.

I was lucky enough to find a copy of O Quilombo Orum Aiê, by André Diniz (who won a best comics writer prize last year for his Morro da Favela.) This 2009 book tells the story of a ragtag group of runaway slaves looking for a quilombo (hidden communities that offered a safe house for escaped slaves, where they could live free) but also exploring ethical and philosophical issues, all amidst one of the largest slave uprisings in Brazilian history. Diniz’s art can be challenging, but it fits well the rustic tone of his tale.

And returning full circle to Maurício de Souza, the Mônica Empire has infiltrated even “serious” bookstores and graphic novels. After the success of a compilation of other artists’ interpretations of Mônica and her vast supporting cast, Maurício de Souza allowed Danilo Beyruth to transform beloved character Astronauta into a real-life version of the space explorer, resulting in a beautiful book that takes the star traveler on a cosmic and internal trip, mining the sci-fi trappings of the original material. If only titles like these were available in newsstands across the country, maybe the output of new national talent would become as prominent as Superman and Mônica.


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