Last week I participated in my program’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB). ASB gives students the opportunity to seek out professional experiences and to get an authentic glimpse of what it would be like to work our dream jobs, be them in special collections, rare books, public schools or elsewhere. I went to the Library of Congress (LoC) in Washington, D.C. where I spent a week accessioning comics.
What does that mean? That means that the LoC owns a large number of comics that they want to keep/ house/ preserve/ store/ have/ share with patrons and library users and it needs a record on file for each one. So, using Voyager catalog, I helped the Newspapers and Periodical Division to move closer to that goal.
The real gold I came across was vintage/retro Condorito, a Chilean comic that stars a half-bird, half-man hybrid in various curious situations and professions: helping a young beauty who has lost her bikini bottom at the beach, acting as director of a university that admits black students in a racist country and constructing the most effective lines to elicit alms as a beggar.
Condorito is a compellation that was born in 1942. After general dissatisfaction with the scarce cultural representation of Chile in Walt Disney’s cinematic production Saludos Amigos, Chilean cartoonist René “Pepo” Ríos created what he believed would reflect the true spirit of Chile with Condorito, a comic series that effectively addressed humor, visited every class of Chilean society, heavily relied upon puns and chose a[n anti-]hero based on the local fauna, much like the José Carioca character, half man, half parrot, used to represent Río de Janeiro, Brazil, and later on Panchito Pistoles, of the same genus, used to represent Mexico.
I very much enjoyed leafing through this collection as the drawing is crisp, the scenes are diverse and the humor requires attentiveness to language, namely double entendre. However, Condorito, seems to be willing to do anything for a laugh at anyone’s expense, concretely that of women, minorities and even the poor.
Many scenes reflect little if any sensitivity to marginalized groups. Condorito’s mother-in-law-to-be’s obesity is often the butt of jokes; victims of racism are exploited en route to humor; and the poor have been depicted as being opportunists. If I tried, I could even cite an instance in which Condoirto poses as a lame man and upon injuring himself is magically cured and walks as an able-bodied person. But my goal isn’t to demonize Condorito.
It’s a series I quite enjoy. It does, however, as a cultural product, provide a very interesting insight into a society that embraced sexism, racism, classism and ableism as a norm. Condorito, after all, is and was the most famous comic production born out of Chile.
My encounter with Condorito newly raised some rather familiar questions: To what degree are we as consumers responsible for supporting not only the patriarchy but also artists that blatantly insult and damage some of societies’ most vulnerable groups?
A translation of the text above
Anonymous Man: Hey, Black Monkey-Face, why don’t you climb a tree?
Construction Worker: Hey, Black Monkey-Face, did you just come down from a tree?
Black Man: I’m going to study at the University of Pelotillehue. They’re not racist there like they are here.
University of Pelotillehue
Black Man: Good morning, sir. Is it true that at this university, no one’s racist?
Condorito: No, we’re not racist.
Black Man: So here I can study at a desk with my peers?
Condorito: Of course, young man. Tell me: In (On) what branch would you like to study?
Black Man: I don’t want to study in (on) any branch!
Black Man: I want to study at a desk like everybody else, you stupid bird!
New words I learned in Washington, D.C.
indicia: text that usually appears within the cover of a comic book at the foot of the page that provides publication information-- when, where, by whom
deacidification: a preservation method that intends to slow the process of deterioration that naturally occurs in paper made of certain fibers. This can be achieved by soaking said paper in a chemical bath that [I assume] increases the acidic material's pH.
Mylar: transparent plastic material that comes in sheets and can be cut so as to display sensitive materials to and for audiences
New thoughts: Since I got to see an historically black college/university (HBCU) for the first time on this trip, maybe my next ASB experience could center around Morehouse and/or Spelman.
My name is Katrina Spencer. I'm a librarian.