comics, Review

Friday Review: Macanudo

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of this comic. Macanudo is actually a daily comic strip from Argentina by Liniers (I know I must seem like the biggest hipster right now) that I just happened to stumble upon while working the other day. So, technically, this is the second volume of collected strips. However, there is no over arching story, and they can be read in any order. I couldn’t find the first volume in the library system, so I went ahead and read this one. Also, I don’t know how many of these are translated into English yet, but I hope there are more. Before I start, though, let me make a note about the title. Macanudo is, according to the author, an old Argentinian word that roughly translates to “everything will be fine.” He named it this because this strip appears in the newspaper, which, he said, is always full of bad news. So this was something for people to read after all the bad news. What a guy.

How to describe this strip? Well, first of foremost it isn’t like most of the strips you think of when “Daily newspaper strip” comes to mind. This isn’t like Garfield or Cathy (which, I’ve really come to detest after I saw a strip in which she said “shoes, they’re like chocolate for your feet.” Good god.). This is not a three panel gag-a-day strip that so often results in, let’s be honest, no humor. So when reading this book, and this review, you’ll have to shed some of your preconceived notions about the comic strip. This strip does center around humor. But, to me, it felt more like an intellectual kind of writing, instead of the rigid format that renders many daily strip humorless. There are various undertones in many of the comics that leaves you figuring the strip out after finishing them. Thus, it stays with you, instead of disappearing a few seconds after reading. In these strips, it feels like there is a real world that exists past the panels, outside the pay off for a joke.

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One of the big positives for me, while reading this, was I often got a surrealist feel from these strips. After Twin Peaks took over my life, I have fully given myself to surrealism and its dream like quality. It amazes me. I get the sense that Liniers is a fan as well, because I think to do surrealism correctly, you have to like it. Otherwise, it just looks like a bunch of nonsense. Of course, reality doesn’t always make sense in comics, but Liniers commands these strips in such a way that reality is seamlessly melts into the fantastical, the dream like.

Many strips also possess existential, improvisational, and poetic feeling. This is something I haven’t seen done very often in a comic strip. Several strips focused on our place in the world, and the universe. These didn’t pay off with a joke, but left us thinking about ourselves, the reader, floating on a rock in space. Or about what it is we’re doing with our lives, or would like to be doing. In addition, there were a couple of strips that didn’t seem to have any real direction, and commented on the activity of Liniers himself. Now, I had read an interview ahead of this where he said there were strips where he didn’t have any idea what to do, so he just threw something down, and added words. That’s what happens when you have a deadline. Knowing that ahead of time, I found these strips much more enjoyable. And lastly, most impressively, there were several strips that I found to be like tiny bits of poetry. They were real moments in life that were not a gag, but an examination of our human condition. These strips moved me, as I don’t ever recall coming across a strip that has ever felt like that before.

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One of the things that makes this strip feel so fresh is that it doesn’t center around the same characters every strip. Many comic strips are focused on a few core people. However, Macanudo has a revolving door of cast members. You never know what you’re going to get. The most prominent recurring characters are Henrietta (a little girl), her cat Fellini, and her teddy bear Mandelbaum (I love the names in this strip). In these strips I felt a  lot of influence of Calvin and Hobbes. Their adventures often dealt with the simple nature of childhood, versus the complicated real world. There is also Oliverio the Olive, a literal olive who’s almost always ends up in a pickle (haha?). We also have Z-25 the Sensitive Robot, who’s escapades often end in sadness. We follow the Mysterious Man in Black that even Liniers doesn’t seem to know much about, too. There are also a reoccurring group of gnomes with giant hats, as well as a lot of penguins who often act like humans. We get to experience the Bovine Movie Buff, who tells us all about the tropes in movies, too. I also really enjoyed the People About Town segments, in which each panel was a different person, and we only saw that one slice into their lives, no other context. There was no joke, just a glimpse into humanity. Of course, there are many other segments that deal with a variety of other subjects, most of them just random people. All of them, however, were charming.

I did not mean to ramble on so long about story this time, I swear. I wanted to talk about art, but got caught up. I am a big fan of Liniers’ art work. His lines are thin and simple, and do not distract from the story. It was perfect for the feeling he was trying to convey in each strip. I mean, I look at this writing and this drawing, and instantly, I know it fits together. Like many comic strips, there was complexity in the simplicity (I know that sounds a little academic for this blog, but hear me out). Every comic strip is only allotted so much space. So often times the backgrounds or locations are simple (though this book does have more background than many strips I’ve read). But there is complexity in this because you have to give the audience enough information in that small space. It’s a tricky balance. But, I was never left wanting. Even in strips with no background.

I have to say, though, my favorite thing about the visuals, or at least the most interesting to me, was the layout. Each strip took up about the same amount of space (that is height and width wise). However, Many strips were designed very differently. There might be one long panel for a strip, or 12 small ones (6 on 6) or even fragmented, off center panels that look like pieces of cut up paper. It was fun to read, and the most dynamic layout I think I’ve ever seen in a comic strip. It was really exciting.

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Lastly, a small thing here, all the humans in the story have red noses. I don’t know why, but I found that detail to be really pleasing.

I’m on a quest to find the best comic strips here, strips that may not have too much exposure here in America, and this is a step in the right direction. If you want a fast, fun collection of strips that will make you laugh and think, and stick with you after you finish the book, pick up Macanudo, or check it out online.

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