Media @ McGill

Exotic Affections, Totalitarism and Cartooning in Latin American Comics: 1930-1975

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Itzayana Gutiérrez Arillo


My doctoral project’s aim is to distinguish the formation, evolution and circulation of archetypical racial representations, pictorial and narrative structures that gave autonomy to the language of comics in Latin America between 1930 and 1975. In this golden era, comics in their different formats evoked and organized unruly affections and desires that were distributed transnationally and had cross-border effects around [racialized] exotic types and the graphic representation of violence.

The attractive visual language of Latino comics modernized colonial types from the visual culture of the political philosophy of castes; the racial hierarchy system that converged in Spanish colonial America, along with a class system. Using optical innovations from pictorial vanguards, cinematography, photography, and the flashy techniques of advertising and typography, comics were one of the agents that facilitated the visual composition of the Latin American modern landscape, which altered both rural and urban spaces.

Ranging from utopian imperialisms exercised on preindustrial lands of exuberant nature, to futurist fantasies where machines control human relations and passions, to the naturalization of domestic violence as a comic resource, a variety of mainly [white] super-men constructed their dominance over “colourful” primitive beings, children and women alike created in the image of African, Indigenous, and Asian American racial types.

Thus, the language of the exotic spoke on the level of individual perceptions to legitimize domestic and transnational imperialisms and their logic of war, the politics of memory, and post-colonial affective orders.

Inside these logics, my PhD research project explores the condensation, dispersion and concentration of the visually exotic and its affective charges through the work of cartoonists, writers and publicists in mass communication media promoted in mid-twentieth century Latin America. It specifically considers comics printed in Mexico but following the Mexican market means following Caribbean, North American, South American and European patterns of commercialization and cultural imperialism.

The Media@McGill Graduate Research Fellowships for Continuing Doctoral Students funds will be used to prepare the first chapter of my dissertation that will use original archival research that I’ve done in Mexico City and Los Angeles funded with Media@McGill Travel Award and the Graduate Mobility Award of the Faculty of Arts.

The title of this first chapter is Modelling Indoors: Interior and Domestic Spaces in Comic and offers a fast track look over representations of domestic spaces in Latin American comics. My focus is the domestic representations that are more contentious and fragile inside the universe of comics. In other words, I will spend less time analyzing the comfortable, tidy, middle and upper class houses that are overrepresented in the comic universe and have concentrated most of the attention of the field research. At the same time, its cushioned lines and careless bodies will be a necessary contrast for the displaying and de-codifying of domestic spaces charged with danger.

But the objective of this chapter is not only to contrast the comfortable and the endangered domestic spaces, or even to alter the proportion in which one dominates over the other. Following critical approaches from diverse scholars in the fields of Cultural History, Communication Studies and Art History, the set of cushioned lines of middle class domestic spaces represented inside the comic universe is treated as a source of softened flows of violence, dominance and totalitarism, and not as naïf matter.