There was an expressive resource in Dr. Slump that I really loved: sometimes, the drawing lines describing Senbei Norimaki, the mad scientist who created Arale, the charismatic girl-robot starring this manga, mutated from the soft and rounded stylization characterising the inhabitants of the idyllic and also delirious Penguin Village into a stout realistic stroke. The transformation took place at those moments in which the character, a ridiculous short and plumpy guy, perceived himself as the hero of an epic life that, in fact, only existed in the subjective space of his own self-perception. Senbei Norimaki conceptualised himself as a gallant every time he was in front of Midori Yamabuki, the girl of his dreams, but reality ended up imposing itself, making him slip on the banana of his own self-deception. While watching, enraptured, this animated series adapting the cartoon by Akira Toriyama, broadcast by Catalan TV, I didn’t remember that, somewhere in my mind, I had already stocked in my mind the memory of a similar resource.
What the appearance of El Habichuelo supposed for my generation has already been described on these pages. And that resource, that precursor of the Norimaki Self-deceptive Effect, could be found there, precisely on the page that closed its first special issue, also known as Especial TBO nº 11, and published, at a price of 50 pesetas, in 1978. The idea that closed that revolutionary publication couldn’t be luckier: the perversion/homage of one of the masthead’s greatest identity signs, la Familia Ulises, in a sort of pseudo-exquisite corpse that united the young habichuelista revolutionaries with the glorious old school team, that is, Buigas, Estivill y Viña. I call it ‘pseudo-exquisite corpse’ because, if on the graphic side there collaborated several authors, still everything was based on a script by veteran Carlos Bech, who was sixty-four back then, an age which didn’t prevent him from, in that brief one-page and seventeen-cartoon fiction, describing very sharply the problems arisen from the clash between those middle-class characters with a modernism that was undecipherable for parents and grandma. That Ulises family adventure was entitled Tarde catastrófica [A Catastrophic Afternoon], and it showed them having to attend a party organised at the home of the father’s boss. On their way there, the Ulises stumbled into a modern painter the aspect of whom made them wonder about gender identities and whose work incited delicate reflections on the limits of art. The painter reacted badly, confronting Don Ulises, who finally arrived at the house of Mr. Mordancio, his boss, a bit distressed. At the end of the story, poor Ulises ends up discovering that the avant-garde street artist is no less than the rebel son of director Mordancio. A disappointment very typical of the stories starred by the family group created by Benejam, but which here was inserted on the dialectic between tradition and modernism that the page turned into a fascinating visual spectacle thanks to the idea of giving each cartoon to a different artist, combining the pleasures of recognition (before classic strokes) and surprise (before modern and ground-breaking strokes).
On this golden page, which could be the object of a whole PhD thesis, TBO historical names such as Blanco, Arturo Moreno, Pañella, Cubero and Sabatés appeared side by side with masters of neo-psychedelic cartoons and members of El Habichuelo as Esegé, Paco Mir, Sirvent and Tha. This Stolen Cartoon is the third on the page and was drawn by Tha, an author I discovered on El Habichuelo but who would later on, once he had left the magazine and had started working as a tandem with his brother TP. Bigart, become an essential reference point of my post-teenage readings, with works as great as Absurdus Delirium. On the cartoon, Don Ulises and his wife appear drawn in a realistic line, coinciding with the moment in which the characters think they’re doing things right –that is, when, like future Senbei Norimaki, they think they are more worthy of an academic stroke than a round and soft stylization–. Don Ulises ignored his wife’s protocols and bought a present for the ‘kid’ of the house. At the moment, none of them can calibrate the measure of their self-deception. The Meccano set will only be the anticipation of a chain of humiliations that will end with the appearance of the avant-garde aggressor in the host’s home space. Don Ulises buys an inadequate present because he misinterpreted the age of his superior’s son, without knowing that the receiver of such present would become, after a few minutes, his unexpected nemesis. The most beautiful and paradoxical thing is that this synthetic Tractatus in cartoon form on the dialectics between Tradition and Modernism became possible through an unrepeatable concord between venerable TBO-ists and barbarian habichuelistas. Tarde catastrófica was a We’re the World, We’re the Children avant la lettre, a pure exercise of brotherhood turned into art.