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O Magazine

Stolen cartoons

A dimensional
house party

In his novel Jardines de Kensigton, Rodrigo Fresán had a happy illumination: he thought that the spirit of the sixties was compressed on the legendary cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, that Beatles album that somehow represented a leap of collective consciousness and became an open door to future possibilities, taking as its starting point a selective repertoire of affinities with past transgressions, contempt and Dionysian undercurrents. On the cover, more than sixty characters crowd together –among them, the Beatles themselves, doubled as their then current image and their past image– making up an impossible group portrait that challenges the viewer to establish connections and readings: an image that could be the perfect raw material for several thesis or a stimulus to devote a whole life to building never ending footnotes. Rodrigo Fresán associated the multi-coloured reunion with the idea of a party: a chaotic –or only apparently so– meeting of identities summoned in the name of pleasure and joy. Jardines de Kensington distils the secret energy of that homage designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth in a series of overwhelming pages –twelve, no more no less– in which the assistants to legendary Neverland parties, the childhood home of Peter Hook, a mixture between Peter Pan and Captain Hook who stars this story about immaturity as the land of freedom, but also as a pathological place.

The year after the publication of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Blake Edwards had an idea that foretold Fresan’s epiphany in Jardines de Kensigton: another way of representing the spirit of the sixties was the disjointed, chaotic and never ending party portrayed in The Party, the film in which Peter Sellers plays an ultra-lounge echo of Monsieur Hulot and which, as it couldn’t be otherwise, had a poster designed by Jack Davis, a titan of MAD magazine, in which the genius of Harvey Kurtzman already announced, since 1952, the coming of the delirious, ridiculous, and crammed celebration of pleasure of the sixties –the decade in which that new comicalness conceived by the author of Hey Look! really adjusted to the collective sensitivity– through a visual language that found its star expressive resource on the long shot vignette full of characters in either contracted or else happy collision. Should we take the argument further back, one could even reach the conclusion that the sixties had been already sketched on the famous Marx Brothers cabin scene of A Night at the Opera. However strange it might sound, neither Groucho nor any of his brothers appear on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, where we can distinguish the silhouettes of other masters of comedy such as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, W. C. Fields and Lenny Bruce. Several years later, Enrique Ventura and Miguel Ángel Nieto, on one of the pages of their series Grouñidos en el desierto, had the idea of re-writing a version of the legendary cabin scene using a multiplied Groucho as the only and multiple presence of that human hotchpotch: at the end of the story, Groucho complained to the authors, who granted him the only lubricious relief of substituting the many Grouchos for multiple versions of the same curvy girl with a Playmate profile: Hugh Heffner’s Playboy was born, like MAD, in the fifties, but it was also a sort of consumerist/carnal utopia that came to announce something from the future: in this case, a type of –not all– standardised and glossy sixties sexuality. That decade closed several circles: Heffner and Kurtzman would seal their symbolic marriage through voluptuous Little Annie Fanny, the mega-playmate conceived by the cartoonist who essentially inhabited a never-ending universe of hyper-real long shot cartoons where the characters showed their flesh to celebrate, and at the same time contemplate with cynicism, that times were changing.

Jordi Costa

The truth is that all that MAD meant, all that MAD contributed to my cartoon sensitivity, came to me from somewhere else. I would take a while to discover Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis and Mort Drucker, but I didn’t need them (all that much) because, at the moment, I had Ventura y Nieto, and they weren’t an imperfect, optimistic and derivate version of the former, but rather, to me –and to many–, they were a more than perfect, closer, daring and absolutely free version of all that and much more. One had the impression that, back then, Spain was living in the past: the sixties arrived, to put it somehow, in the seventies (at least, certain things from the sixties; when it comes to cartoons, I mean). It was in 1970, when Trinca magazine appeared, defended by the regime, conceived to teach its youths, but transformed, from within, by the talents recruited to work on it into a space of acceleration, formal renovation and a certain ethical contempt. Born in 66, when Trinca came out I was too young, but I could find bounded numbers and, above all, its many albums on the sale sections of department stores when I was old enough to, at least, feel somewhat curious about them. It was in that context that I found my MAD before I ever knew MAD existed: I’m talking about the series ¡Es que van como locos! by Ventura y Nieto, which for me meant the discovery of a tone, of a world (or a way of looking at the world) and, without even suspecting it back then, of a pure, festive and shiny postmodernism.

¡Es que van como locos! was the expression an old lady uttered on each of the episodes: she was the only leitmotiv of a series that lived off parodic deformation and irreverent crossing of popular mythologies. Somehow, the old lady represented ancient things, and the chaotic scenarios in which she appeared stood for anything new or the (delirious) entropy of anything new. This stolen cartoon is taken from the story ¡¡Los Marcianos invadían la Tierra!! included on the album ¡Es que van como locos! published by Editorial Doncel on their Colección Trinca in September 1970. It shows a man wearing a beret riding his donkey who, after having drunk too much wine, witnesses the arrival of Martians on the Earth, a serious event that entails the intervention of ground, sea and air army forces, illustrated by this cartoon in which we can discover some cinephiliac signs (The Longest Day, Kelly’s Heroes, How I Won the War, Patton), references to the wider cartoon world (Snoopy, Tanguy and Laverdure) and several gestures oriented to reinforce a sort of endogamy of Trinca mythology (Haxtur, Kronan, Los Guerrilleros). However, this cartoon also has, like Sgt Pepper’s cover, something of an uncanny dimensional gate, because, if it was drawn in 1970, what is that character looking like Moses doing at the bottom right-hand side corner of the image? Is that not the Canterville ghost of Arranz, who wouldn’t start appearing on the pages of Trinca until several years later? And, besides, how can it be possible, back then, for Ventura y Nieto to be able to predict their professional future? Isn’t that gorilla back there their King Tongo, which wouldn’t start being published until 1973? And isn’t that Groucho, in fact, the same Groucho that wasn’t featured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s but would find his definitive home on the Grouñidos en el desierto series which wouldn’t be born until 1979? I even think I can see Diego Valor amongst the crowd (although I’m probably mistaken), the legendary character that Ventura brought back to life in one of his most recent –and excellent, but, alas, ephimeral due to market pressures– works. But let’s take our eyes off it for a while, because we risk being trapped inside it forever… Although that wouldn’t be so bad a plan!.