No motivation better than an obstinate need-to-prove, Hugo Pratt forced a turning point in Breccia’s approach to both his art and political activism on the comic page, leading to one of this century’s graphic political masterpieces: La Vida del Che.
Growing up in the barrio of Buenos Aries, Alberto Breccia lived through the rise of Juan Peron and the corresponding decline of post-War Argentina. Social justice seemed bred into Breccia from the start. Inspired by Burne Hogarth and Alex Raymond (in those days, who wasn’t?), but stuck in tedious humor and western serials, Breccia met writer Hector Oesterheld, and together they began producing experimental and subtle stories critical of contemporary society, their political inclinations masked by the gaucho scarf of adventure tales like Sherlock Time and Mort Cinder … and then Che Guevara was murdered.
In alternating chapters, Che details Guevara’s early life, drawn by Alberto, and his final days as a guerrilla in Bolivia, illustrated by Alberto’s son Enrique. Throughout his portion of book, Breccia was experimenting with line and collage, introducing chaos into his chiaroscuro images. This imbued his panels with an otherworldly atmosphere that enforced the story’s gravity and mythos-making undertones. Enrique Breccia was much more restrained, employing a less detailed approach, working primarily in silhouette. These contrasting styles work to emphasize Che’s final days as bleak and inescapable; in these pages he is a man aware of his destiny, the fingernail of the three Moirai poised ready to cut.
Oesterheld’s prose occupies a middle ground between poetry and stream of consciousness prose. It is dense and razor sharp, situating Che in his political, cultural and economical time frame. Che is not journalism disguised as comics, it is the school bully who, while beating the crap out of you, delivers a lecture on Marxism, Argentinian history and a monologue about socialism and revolution. Oesterheld and the Breccias want you to rage, cry and feel indignant.
And apparently there were consequences to this rage: Immensely popular upon publication in 1968, the year after Che’s death, La Vida del Che proved to be such an intimate and challenging work that seven years later the ruling military junta in Argentina banished it completely, destroying even the printing plates. Hector Oesterheld then disappeared in 1976, his family one year later. All are now presumed murdered by the regime. While not directly responsible for his disappearance, Che showcased Oesterheld’s political convictions to the world. After Oesterheld’s disappearance Breccia maintained a low political profile until the bold publication of Perramus, a scornful and bold take on then-contemporary Argentina published in 1984, a time when attracting the attention of the regime was a one way ticket to incarceration. Perramus received an award from Amnesty International in 1989. Alberto Breccia died in 1993. With La Vida del Che the ninth art sideswiped reality, forcing it to either acknowledge or condemn it. Appropriately so, the cover of this new Dutch edition is drenched in red.