Comics: the early editorial market in Brazil (Daniel Serravalle de Sá 2008)

Comics: the early editorial market in Brazil

The existence of serialised graphic art in Brazil can be traced to the second half of the nineteenth-century when Angelo Agostini’s illustrations commenced to both instruct and entertain the native population with humorous verbal and visual texts (Lima, 1963; Agostini, 2002). The appearance of Agostini’s visual story-telling in newspapers and magazines such as O Diabo Coxo, O Cabrião, O Mosquito, Don Quixote and Revista Arlequim served as a ‘literary diet’ for a population that was still largely illiterate, but which did not have to be uninformed. The artist’s sequential stories usually occupied a page or two in these publications and the cover, in the case of magazines. These visual narratives depicted a series of self-explanatory sequential images, were often associated with short texts or dialogues. They habitually tended to socio-political commentary, deriding the costumes of the time, especially those related to the Court and their French-ised etiquette. As a mean of mass communication Agostini’s creations were an important vehicle for the making of opinions, his sequential stories purported an ideological model that was republican, abolitionist and economically liberal (Cavalcanti, 2006). One prime example of his militancy can be verified in the sequential narrative ‘As Aventuras de Nhô-Quim, ou Impressões de Uma Viagem à Corte’, which first appeared in the magazine Vida Fuminense in 1869, and ran for nine episodes of two pages each. In 1883 Agostini initiated another successful publication with a fixed character entitled ‘As Aventuras de Zé Caipora’. Although often interrupted, the series published by Revista Illustrada counts thirty-five episodes spread over a number of years. The eight-page magazine consisted of black and white, ink drawn, verbal and visual narratives and had a weekly circulation of four thousand issues (Sodré, 1977; Ribeiro, 2002). The adventures of Zé Caipora featured the first Brazilian female graphic character, the Amerindian heroine Inaiá, whose figure Cardoso acknowledges as primitively sensual and erotic (2002: 10-11). Zé Caipora stories commonly involved themes of conflict between the agricultural and the urban culture. Arguably, Zé Caipora is Agostini’s most successful character; it achieved multimedia impact in the end of the nineteenth-century inspiring a popular song and also a homonymous silent film (As Aventuras de Zé Caipora by Emílio Silva, 1909) with Antônio Serra in the lead role.

Naturally, these serialised narratives still did not have yet all the characteristics of a modern comic book. For example, elements such as speech balloons or the panel composition in tiers were features still being developed by illustrators such as Wilhelm Bush (Max und Moritz), Rudolph Töpffer (The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck), Richard Outcault (Yellow Kid) and Angelo Agostini. Moving away from the single-frame caricature into the creation of serialised narratives, these artists are considered to be precursors to the invention of a comic book language. Although born in Italy, Agostini’s professional career took place in Brazil and was dedicated to the debate of national affairs. In 1888 he naturalised Brazilian and for these reasons Agostini is known as a Brazilian artist. However, with the abolition of slavery (1888) and the advent of Republic (1889) the central issues on which the artist based his work lost a great deal of its critical edge. In spite of this, Agostini continued active for almost every illustrated magazine of the time until his death in 1910.

The beginning of the twentieth-century saw the creation of many publications among which can be mentioned: O Tagarela, A Avenida, O Malho, A Ilustração Brasileira, Leitura Para Todos and Careta. One of the most influential and long-lasting magazines was O Tico-Tico (1905-1957), founded by a group led by journalist Luís Bartolomeu de Souza e Silva. The publishers spotted a niche in the editorial market and decided to produce a ‘model’ magazine for the Brazilian youth. The publication was partially based on the French La Semaine de Suzette, also founded in 1905, which featured comic illustrations, a large amount of text in short features and serial novelettes. In its own way, O Tico-Tico also aimed at including an educational programme on its pages. As well as the serialised narratives its didactic agenda encompassed games, quizzes, charades, information about history, geography and scientific facts distributed in sections called ‘Lição do Vovô’ and ‘Gaiola do Tico-Tico’, for example. Printed by the group O Malho, this juvenile magazine was surprisingly released with four colour pages already in its first edition, when most magazines printing were black and white. Moreover, O Tico-Tico had an impressive initial circulation of twenty-one thousand issues, which would reach up to one hundred thousand during its best years (Vergueiro and Santos, 2005). Many illustrators who much contributed to the success of O Tico-Tico, sequential artists such as Max Yantok (Kaximbawn, Barão de Rapapé), Nuno Borges (Bolinha e Bolonha), Alfredo Storni (Zé Macaco e Faustina), Miguel Hochman (Chiquinho e Jagunço) and Luiz Sá (Réco-Réco, Bolão e Azeitona), were active not just as children illustrators and left a highly collectible work with the passing years. O Tico-Tico is regarded by some critics to be the first ever Brazilian ‘comic book’ (Vergueiro and Santos, 2005), although such nomenclature for this kind of magazine was not yet adopted. O Tico-Tico’s importance is indeed far-reaching, not only for the national editorial market, but also for the formation of twentieth-century Brazilian literary culture. Writers such as Josué Montello, Olavo Bilac, Oswaldo Orico, Coelho Neto, José Lins do Rego, Catulo da Paixão Cearense, among others, contributed for the magazine’s content and, thus, assisted in the formation of a posterior generation of writers (and confessed readers of O Tico-Tico) such as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Érico Veríssimo, Gilberto Freyre, Luís da Câmara Cascudo, Ana Maria Machado, Monteiro Lobato, Lygia Fagundes Telles and Mario Quintana, to mention a few (Moya, 1977; Vergueiro and Santos, 2005; Carvalho, 2006).

When O Tico-Tico first came out in the early twentieth-century an important sequential artist was just initiating his professional life. In many ways, J. Carlos, short for José Carlos de Brito e Cunha, would shed a new light on sequential art produced in Brazil. He instituted an extremely limpid drawing style which was considered an innovation for his artistic generation. J. Carlos worked for some of the most important magazines of the time and created many typical Rio de Janeiro characters, such as Almofadinha and Melindrosa. His visual representations are considered valuable historical material for the understanding of Brazilian identity at the time. He registered the ongoing socio-political changes and the fast-paced formation of national culture in the early republican era or Primeira República. His portrayal of the carnival, the beaches, and the current fashion provides admirable insights about the Brazilian customs of the period and how the establishing of a state of ‘Brazilianess’ was in operation. J. Carlos also worked for juvenile magazines and developed memorable characters such as Juquinha and the little girl Lamparina. The artist is also credited to have developed the character of an anthropomorphised parrot that displayed emblematic ‘Brazilian manners’. This character can be first seen on the cover of the magazine Careta from 1941 and it is said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Zé ‘Joe’ Carioca, which appeared in the film Saludos Amigos (1943) and from this time forth in many Disney’s products. J. Carlos’ encounter with Walt Disney in Brazil did not come to a further collaboration but, Zé Carioca remains in Disney’s line of characters until the present day (Lustosa, 2006).

In the 1940s the production and consumption of magazines and sequential art in Brazil augments in a significant manner, as the culmination of a process that started in the previous decade. Such transformation was largely triggered by the importing of U.S. superhero ‘comics’. Technically, these are not yet the ‘comic book’ as we know the today but the Sunday page comic strips, which according to Tom Morris ‘constitutes one of those original American art forms […] that have reached out to the world and made a distinctive impact across cultures.’ (Morris and Morris, 2005: X). Imported comics were not a novelty in Brazil, as Roberto Elísio dos Santos (2002) states O Tico-Tico had already introduced Brazilian readership to the vigorous production of North-American comics, for example, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, was first published in Brazil in 1910. Other North-American characters would be published in O Tico-Tico later on, among which can de mentioned: Bocoió (Elzie Crisler Segar’s Popeye), Gato Maluco (George Herriman’s Krazy Kat), Gato Félix (Pat Sullivan’s Felix, the cat) and Ratinho Curioso (Disney’s Mickey Mouse). However, from the 1940s, the publication of superheroes visual narratives becomes the new trend in the Brazilian editorial market and they started to occupy an eminent position in national newspapers. A mark of this process is the distinct characterization of superheroes stories and their drawing style. The former caricature and humoristic trace practiced in Brazilian juvenile magazines now competes with a more realistic drawing style originated abroad. One prime example of this new fashion in comics is Harold Foster’s Tarzan, first published in 1929 for the Metropolitan Newspaper Syndicate. Tarzan inhabits a world of fantasy that is very different from all the previously mentioned ‘comic’ characters, his action-packed adventures demand a more lifelike and dramatic representation. For the next two decades these North-American superheroes will fight enemies all over the world and will become important references during the Second World War, these years are considered the golden age of U.S. comics.

Eventually the superhero strips start to appear with more regularity and in more quantity in Brazilian newspapers. In a little while they started appearing not only on Sunday pages but three times a week, and soon they were being offered as an independent supplement. The São Paulo based newspaper A Gazetinha (later A Gazeta Infantil) had been publishing comic strips on its pages as early as 1929, however, a watershed event in the Brazilian editorial market happens on 14th March 1934 when businessman Adolfo Aizen inaugurates a newspaper supplement, in tabloid format, which could be completely separable from the main newspaper. This publication, O Suplemento Juvenil, which came as part of Rio’s newspaper A Nação, was based on King Features Syndicate products whose distribution rights Aizen bought while travelling in the United States. As well as the new format Aizen introduced a number of characters which were successful in the U.S.: Príncipe Valente (Prince Valiant), Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Agente Secreto X-9 (Secret Agent X-9), Mandrake, Popeye, Jim das Selvas (Jungle Jim), Brick Bradford, Terry e os Piratas (Terry and the Pirates) to mention but a few. The enormous success soon led other newspapers to follow the same tabloid size of publication and printing. Each story run only a few pages and was generally part of a continued story from day to day. Other newspaper supplements such as O Globo Juvenil, O Jornalzinho and A Gazetinha now also brought on its pages comics such as Carlinhos (Little Nemo in Slumberland), Barney Baxter, O Fantasma (The Phantom), Super-homem (Superman), Tarzan and others. These superheroes comics reach a great level of popularity and to supply such public demand Brazilian supplements started publishing the visual narratives in a frantic schedule, sometimes even on a daily basis (which was possible because the supplements were composed of multiple stories by different artists). Despite the overwhelming quantity of imported visual narratives not all stories were reprints and Brazilian artists, such as Carlos Thiré, Renato Silva, Tarsila do Amaral, Péricles Andrade Maranhão, among other previously mentioned, also marked their constant presence in the supplements. Among some of the well-known national characters from this period are Nhô Totico, Garra Cinzenta, Amigo da Onça, Chiquinho, Chicote and Chicória, for example.

These newspaper supplements are modified along the years. They start to be sold independent from newspapers and to look more like the modern comic book, as it is known today. One of the problems with the newspaper system of publishing visual narratives was the serialisation of the stories. The division of a story into several episodes proved not to be always convenient for the reader. Other problems concerned a certain level of inefficiency which was perceived in relation to the tabloid format. For example, technical difficulties involving the publication of coloured stories in the newspaper which caused The Phantom’s costume (originally purple) to become red in Brazil. To overcome these disadvantages a new publication format is introduced, once again following U.S. editorial developments. Gonçalo Júnior offers an idea about the impact caused by the introduction of the new template in Brazil:

The comic book was born from a simple but revolutionary idea, both in its handling and commercial practicality. All that was necessary was to fold the tabloid in half and staple it in order to create a magazine with twice as many pages but of similar cost – it was only sometime after that a cover printed in better quality paper was adopted. (Gonçalo Júnior, 2004: 73)

To a certain extent, as the critic acknowledges, the comic book model is a return to the magazine format, which never really ceased to exist. However, as it was mentioned before, for some critics the invention of the comic book in Brazil preceded this period. In the book entitled O Tico-Tico: centenário da primeira revista de quadrinhos do Brasil (O Tico-Tico: centennial of the first Brazilian comic book), Vergueiro and Santos affirm that the ‘comic book’ was already produced in Brazil since the publication of O Tico-Tico. The authors defend that O Tico-Tico already had all the formal attributes which characterise comic books, such as speech balloons, illustration within frames and organisation in tiers, cloud frames to represent dream or imagination, specific typographical symbols to represent snoring or cursing, among other features. On the other hand, Gonçalo Júnior understands the comic book per se a form closely associated with North-American editorial products and, for the most part, visual stories which involves superheroes or adventure narratives. In his book A Guerra dos Gibis (The comic book wars), Gonçalo Júnior delineates his conception of comic book. His definition of comic book has for template the celebrated publication Gibi Mensal (1939), a publication linked to the magazine O Globo. Printed by Roberto Marinho’s Rio Gráfica, Gibi Mensal was the first magazine in Brazil to publish a story with O Tocha Humana (The Human Torch) followed by complete stories with Capitão América (Captain Marvel). The publication set the smaller size format for this kind of publication and such was the success of Gibi Mensal that to this day in Brazil the word ‘gibi’ can be used as a synonym to designate comic books. A discussion which involves the opposition of Brazilian terms (revista infantil, revista ilustrada, tiras cômicas, história em quadrinhos, gibi) versus a definitions of terms which originate in the English language (Sundays, comic strips, comic strips magazines, comic books) and other technical features is in order.

In the 1940s the comic book reached its highest level of popularity and publications such as O Cômico, Guri, Mirim sextaferino, Correio Universal, Lobinho, Sesino, Vida Juvenil, Biriba were further examples of comics of large circulation which have a historical significance in Brazil. In 1945, Adolfo Aizen, having ceased the publication of Suplemento, founds Editoral Brasil América (Ebal)a future great publishing house dedicated to comic books. Its first publication was fittingly called O Heroi (sic - no diacritical mark). The work developed at Ebal exercised a strong influence on subsequent generations of editors, artists and readers. Aizen’s Ebal contributed enormously for the stabilisation of a culture of comic book appreciation and readership in Brazil. As the decade ends there are now in Brazil a number of artists schooled in the language and techniques of serial-art and comic books. Some of the most talented names from this period are Monteiro Filho, Fernando Diaz da Silva, Jayme Cortez Martins, Reinaldo de Oliveira, Álvaro de Moya, Syllas Roberg and Miguel Penteado, to mention but a few. In the 1950s, some of these artists migrate to different sectors such as publicity, cartoons, television, painting, book illustration, teaching, and areas more closely related to the editorial market, not always with success. But, one name worth mentioning is José Lanzellotti’s, a former illustrator who participated in the brothers Villas-Boas anthropological expeditions into the north and northeast of Brazil. Afterwards Lanzelloti would work for the production team in the film O Cangaçeiro (Lima Barreto, 1953), his previous research on cangaçeiros (Brazilian cowboys-cum-banditti) supported him in the creation of the outfits and accessories used by the characters. The bigger, more exuberant and allegorical hats seen in the film is his work which, although not verisimilar, is justified in the superior ‘plastic’ effect they resulted. Lanzelloti’s touch can be verified by contrasting photographs of real cangaçeiros with the ones in Lima Barreto’s film and the elaborated drawings the artist made for his Brazilian folkloric collection printed by Editora Três.

A discussion about the formation and development of the Brazilian editorial market can not ignore the cultural invasion of Latin America by the United States via the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’. At a time when international conflicts were beginning to rise once again, the United States wished to have good relations with southern countries in the American continent, and this policy was to some extent intended to garner Latin American support. Created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 this foreign policy of administration renounced military intervention and invested in other methods to consolidate its influence over Latin America. Among other strategies the proposition of ‘Pan-Americanism’ involved support for dedicated local leaders, the training of national guards, economic and cultural penetration, bank loans, financial supervision, and political subversion.

This scenario which persisted in 1930s and 1940s should be kept in mind as the historical background of a larger process of political and cultural domination enforced on Brazil and other Latin American countries. The main characteristic of this process of penetration of undeveloped economies by the U.S. political and economic apparatus was felt in the extractive, commercial, manufacturing and financial sectors. The political and economical realities of dependency that was created conditioned the very nature of Brazilian cultural production. Looking at a specific example of this dependency, it is being argued here that North-American comic books (or films), having already covered their costs on the domestic market, were sold to Brazil at very low prices. As result the flow of culture has been unidirectional and, from the 1930s onwards, Brazilian editorial (and film) market was shaped by the characteristics of North-American cultural and economic development.

In their pursuit for quick profit, these Brazilian entrepreneurs who brought imported comics to the country embraced a situation that was already given. Conveniently they bought the product offered by the U.S., but invested little to the advancement of an autonomous national industry. Nevertheless, these foreign comic books also brought positive contributions. The reprint of imported sequential art plays an undeniable role in the development of the editorial sector. As a mass-distributed form these U.S. comics helped to boost the readership and generated numerous jobs ranging from the production to the distribution and constituting a significant material for the growth of Brazilian editorial market.

From the early twentieth-century juvenile magazines (revista ilustrada) to the 1940s superhero comic book, the national publishing sector developed in an incredibly fast pace. From the initial layout and adaptation to newsprint to the final distribution on newsagent shelves and market stalls, there was a complex chain-process which generated a number of jobs and boosted the economy. For example, it is necessary to think that the Brazilian situation worked under different circumstances from those explained by Martin Barker when he discusses the importing of U.S. to Britain (1995: 8-17). The U.S. material imported in bulk had to be adapted in a process which involved a restructuring of some features, especially translation and lettering. The original text had to be not only translated but modified in order to fit the speech balloons (sentences in English tend to be more concise than in Portuguese). This process involved virtually the recreation of original dialogues. Then comic strips or frames had to be arranged in a new layout, and the work had to be art-finalised before the mass printing. These comics continued generating capital even after the re-production process in a number of indirect jobs involving packaging, logistic distribution and transportation of the material before it reached its final point, the reader.

As a result of the political infiltration of the North-American cultural products, the Brazilian editorial market acquired technological know-how and developed some intrinsic expertise. This initial market for comics enabled the subsequent ascension of many talented Brazilian artists such as Henfil (Gaúna, Zeferino), Ziraldo (A Turma do Pererê, O Menino Maluquinho) de André LeBlanc (Morena Flor) and Maurício de Souza (A Turma da Mônica). The unidirectional cultural flow is the mark of U.S.-Brazil relationships but, in a rare cultural exchange, the latter two artists managed to be distributed (though they did not reach the mainstream). It should also be observed that the enormous public success of these comic books contributed to the making of some of the largest Brazilian fortunes. Roberto Marinho’s Globo multi-media empire, Victor Civita’s Editora Abril and Assis Chateaubriand’s network of news agencies, radio and television stations, all started their personal fortunes in the publishing sector and built their capital largely on the success of the comic book sales.

U.S. comic books come from a distinct tradition of publication from that previously known in Brazil and this has caused noteworthy cultural impact on the national production. The comic book model set by O Tico-Tico in the early twentieth-century suggested an entertainment magazine characterised by the humorous tone and the caricature-like illustrational style. Taking after Angelo Agostini’s informative approach to serial-art, O Tico-Tico set a standard for nationally-produced magazines which included a cultural agenda aiming at both instructing and entertaining its readership. This way of thinking about comic books in Brazil starts to change drastically with the entrance of larger numbers of U.S. comics. By the mid-1930s a different world of fantasy disputed the Brazilian entertainment tradition by representing mighty heroes often surrounded by curvaceous women, battling power-craze villains in exotics landscapes inhabited by sub-moronic natives. The new North-American material was characterised by a more dramatic visual narratives which employed a more realistic drawing technique. Such exciting adventure stories drawn in a lifelike manner are factors partially responsible for the success of these comics in Brazil, ushering the national editorial market into an era of heroic characters.

It is not being said here that North-Americans comic books lacked a didactic dimension. As a matter of fact their instructive and ideological agenda operated in a less scholarly way than Brazilian comics, but not lees effective. Bradford W. Wright associates the ascension of superheroes with socio-historical traumas, namely the Second World War (2003: 30-85). This implicates that North-American publishers ‘sought to boost their image by linking their products to patriotism and war effort’, and Franklin Roosevelt, who had made skilful use of the media to further his policies during the Depression, now did it again during wartime.

The OWI [Office of War Information] asked the entertainment industry to raise American morale, encourage public participation and cooperation in the war effort, identify the menace of the Axis powers, and inform the audience of the progressive war aims pursued by the United States and its allies, always in ways that cloaked propaganda within the context of good entertainment as much as possible. (Wright, 2003: 34).

Captain America and Wonder Woman, whose costumes which allude to the American flag, are two blatant examples of the comic book definite entry in the culture of the war. And although some critics like Roberto Causo (2003) argue that such comics, pulp magazines and stories from the period were not as influential in Brazil as they were in the United States, the influence goes beyond the level of representation. The presence and influence of North-America comics in Brazil acted on many different fronts with different levels of intensity which makes their complex contribution a difficult task to access. Trying to clarify this reality it was briefly pointed out here the Brazilian editorial tradition and relations with the North-American cultural industry. Such phenomena was not only mimetic, comic books, as representation, is also a technology, which was copied, learned, parodied, and ultimately enriched (as we will see next) by Brazilian underdeveloped industry and subjectivities.

After the Second World War the North-American market for comic books was in crisis. Superhero characters were largely saturated due to their massive utilisation to denigrate the enemies. In order to raise the sales comic book editors had to reach for a new type of narrative and horror narratives presented themselves as the solution that had both a market and creative possibilities which could modify the stagnated reality left by the superheroes. When horror first emerged in the cinema, more specifically in German Expressionist cinema, Germany was a nation devastated by the First World War (Punter, 1996: 96-119). Horror Comic books also have their origins linked to the war context, but with its own specificities. Emerging out of the universe of juvenile and superheroes comic books, the field of horror comics in Brazil embodied a re-nationalization of comics. Brazilian artists found in horror (rather than superheroes) a better way portrayed national reality, industry and thematic environment.