Latin American comic industry marked by social, political issues

The Latin American comic strip industry is different from its U.S. and European counterparts because of its influence by political and social issues, a local comic strip creator recently told Latin Business Daily.

“Comic producers in the Caribbean and in Latin America have always contributed to the social discussion,” Lorenzo Ortiz, the Latin American creator of a comic strip character named Roald Pennington, said by telephone from Puerto Rico.

In Europe and especially in the U.S., there historically has been a bigger emphasis on characters who have special powers, but that's not the case in Latin America. 

For example, Condorito, a classic character created in Chile by the late Rene Rios, known as “Pepo," has been published for decades across the region. It shows the “poor as the hero," Ortiz said. Mafalda, another classic from Argentina by Joaquin Lavado, who is known as “Quino," also shows concerns of the working-class people.

There is a connection between film and comics, Ortiz said. In the U.S., The Walt Disney Companies bought Marvel Comics in 2009. Many of the comic characters known in Latin America are part of the production of  Marvel and DC Comics, either in the original comic strip versions or later film productions.

Most Latin American comic creations, with few exceptions, are still a niche market and production here has not reached the levels seen in countries such as France, where they are considered an elaborate art.

Huge comic fairs, which are held annually in cities such as San Diego, California and New York, New York, do not exist in Latin America, Ortiz said.

“Latin American comic creators who have success go to U.S. conventions to show their art, and then they can be hired by bigger companies in the industry from the U.S.,” Ortiz said. 

They end up working on characters who are not their creations, but that way they can afford to live off their comic strip work, he said.

Being an independent comic artist is also much harder in Latin America than in Europe, where there is usually significant government support for authors.

Specialized magazines such as Heavy Metal in the U.S. or Metal Hurling in France, which have shown the work of talented comic book artists, do not exist in Latin America, Ortiz added.

In Latin America, the comic strip work is the result of, for the most part, “an artist's love for what he does” and sacrifice, he said.

Many Latin publishers who decide to print comic strips also are doing it for the most part for the love of art or to continue a family tradition that perhaps started with a grandfather owning a print shop, Ortiz added.

Those print shops, specialized bookstores and digital publications have been an alternative for Latin American comic strip creators such as Ortiz.

The Treacherous Mind of Roald Pennington, a single-panel comic published digitally that describes a character that can travel through time and consciences, has more than 550 editions published. Ortiz also recently completed an animated film version of The Little Prince.

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