Mafalda the “anarchist”: For Quino (1932-2020)

The rigid, the ready—made, the mechanical, in contrast with the supple, the ever-changing and the living, absentmindedness in contrast with attention, in a word, automatism in contrast with free activity, such are the defects that laughter singles out and would fain correct.

Henri Bergson, Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic

While little known outside of the world’s Hispanic cultural-geographical spaces, Quino’s comic strip character “Mafalda” was a lesson in rebelliousness throughout the 1960s and early 70s in Latin America and beyond. Ironic, sardonic, questioning, disobedient, Mafalda upended the hierarchy of ages, challenged the authorities of the family and adults, crossed the divide between public and private, and mocked and cried the tragedies of her time. She was for many young people (and not only) a taste of “anarchy”.

“Quino” (Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón) died last September 30th. From the seemingly endless collection of his drawings and sketches, we celebrate his work with a modest selection of Mafalda strips and more … sharing his, our, laughter.

Mafalda is not just a comic book character; she is perhaps the character of the seventies in Argentine society. If, when trying to define her, the adjective “rebellious” has been used, it has not been by homogenising herself in the fashion of anti-conformism at all costs: Mafalda is truly an angry heroine who rejects the world as it is. To understand her, it is convenient to draw a parallel with another great character whose influence is not alien: Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is North American, Mafalda South American. Charlie Brown belongs to a prosperous country, to an opulent society in which he desperately tries to integrate himself, begging for solidarity and happiness; Mafalda belongs to a country dense with social contrasts, which despite everything would like to integrate her and make her happy, but she refuses and rejects all offers. Charlie Brown lives in a childlike universe of his own, from which adults are rigorously excluded (with the exception that children aspire to become adults); Mafalda lives in a continuous dialogue with the adult world, a world that she does not esteem, respect, that she renders hostile to her, that she humiliates and rejects, claiming her right to remain a child who does not want to take over a universe adulterated by her parents. Charlie Brown has evidently read the Freudian revisionists, and is searching for a lost harmony; Mafalda, in all probability, will have read Che. In reality, Mafalda has very confused ideas about politics, she cannot understand what is happening in Vietnam, she does not know why the poor exist, she does not trust the State and is worried about the presence of the Chinese. There is only one thing she clearly knows: she is not satisfied. She is surrounded by a small court of much more “one-dimensional” characters: Manolito, an integrated altar boy of neighborhood capitalism, who knows with total certainty that the primary value in this world is money; Felipe, quiet dreamer; Susanita, beatifically ill with a maternal spirit, drugged by petty bourgeois dreams. And then Mafalda’s parents, who, as if it were not hard enough for them how to accept the daily routine (resorting to the pharmaceutical palliative of “Nervocalm”), are burdened, in addition, with the tremendous fate of having to take care of the Rebel. Mafalda’s universe is that of a Latin America in its most advanced metropolitan areas; but it is in general, from many points of view, a Latin universe and this makes Mafalda much more understandable to us than so many characters in American comics. Furthermore, Mafalda is, in the last analysis, a “hero of our time”, and this should not be thought of as an exaggerated definition for the character of paper and ink that Quino offers us. Nobody today denies that the comic (when it reaches levels of quality) is a testimony of the social moment: and in Mafalda, the tendencies of a restless youth are reflected, which assume the paradoxical aspect of a childish opposition, of a psychological eczema in reaction to the mass media, of a moral urticaria produced by the logic of the geo-political blocks, of an intellectual asthma caused by atomic fungi. Since our children are preparing to be – by our choice – a multitude of Mafaldas, it seems prudent to treat Mafalda with the respect that a royal character deserves.

Umberto Eco

Quino is a classic who was ahead of his time, by addressing the transcendent in the everyday, to unveil and reveal to us the great drama of modern man’s consciousness, who has to compete to earn a living and, at the same time, to cope with existence having immediate information about the tragedies that move us and the disasters that surround us. Mafalda is Quino’s conscience and therefore ours. For this reason, of all the explanations that I have heard or read about Mafalda, that of Julio Cortázar …, “What I think of Mafalda is not important. What is important is what Mafalda thinks of me”, seems to me without a doubt the most accurate. It is she who explains the lasting success and permanent youth of that Mafalda who looked at the world with the astonishment of the child and the thought of the adult, and who was also the critical conscience of her time and continues to be of ours.


Video: Buscando a Quino

Quino’s website can be found here. Obituaries: Kaos en la red, Público, El Salto.

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