Liniers has been crafting daily comics for the past decade in his home country of Argentina, but collections of his comic “Macanudo” has never been published in the United States. That’s now changed–fortunately for those like myself with dismal Spanish language skills–because while I’ve enjoyed and admired his artwork, my understanding of the verbal humor was limited (usually nonexistent). In the new collection, Macanudo Book 1 from Enchanted Lion Books, it’s clear that the comic strip is better than I thought it was.
Just to start with the book itself, Enchanted Lion and its designer Sarah Klinger did an excellent job with the hardcover collection, keeping the fairly standard size for comic strip reprints with three strips on each page. In this case the hardcover has a great wraparound cover and endpapers that show off Liniers’ inventiveness with dozens of takes on the character of Fellini–a house cat–in a variety of poses.
Describing the strip itself is a challenge. “Macanudo” doesn’t revolve around a series of characters, but neither is it a series of one-off strips. Structurally, the closest match to an American comic strip would be Wiley’s “Non Sequitur” which most days consists of one off comics while others involve a recurring cast of characters. It’s not a very good comparison as the two strips are very different in just about every other respect.
The comic does have a recurring cast which shows up on some days consisting a young girl, Henrietta, her stuffed bear Mandelbaum and her cat Fellini. The three characters appear in a minority of the strips collected in this volume. The rest of the strips are strange, colorful tales involving penguins and goldfish, gnomes and mimes, a Banjo Man and a variety of other people and creatures.
If there is a flaw in the collection it’s that Henrietta doesn’t come off as a character in this year’s worth of strips. Instead she feels more like a stand in as a child character as opposed to a fully formed character in her own right. Admittedly that this is something hard to do and the fact that many of her interactions are not with other people but with her stuffed animal and her pet. It’s also notable that while Henrietta talks to the bear, the bear doesn’t talk to her.
Fellini the cat stands out more as a character than Henrietta, but there are times where Fellini functions more as a type than an actual character in his own right. He’s the character where Liniers can explore cat behavior in a way that is funny and relatable for people with cats. In a strip where these characters would be the primary focus, this would be a major problem rather than a minor one, but in “Macanudo,” they aren’t the stars of the strip. The star is Liniers and perhaps most important, the tone.
It’s light, playful, but this lightness should not be confused for a lack of seriousness any more than the simplicity of style that he utilizes for the strip should be considered simple. His ink lines and use of watercolors are unusual in that they’re not how American comic strips are made, but they resemble the aesthetic of children’s books. This simplicity allows him to experiment with the strip in other ways. He can have a few days of stories involving continuing characters and then a week or two of one-off strips. He can change the layout, the shape and nature of the panels. Some strips have punchlines and others don’t. Some rely on visual humor, others on wordplay and others are simply quiet meditations trying to capture of a moment of some sort.
In the end the comic manages to do what a good comic can do - and what a good cartoonist can do - namely to craft a world with its own sensibility and approach. There are two comics which perhaps bluntly express his underlying feelings and approach.
Some might dismiss such a comic and the sentiment it expresses, but I can’t help but feel that it encapsulates Liniers’ philosophy about the strip and its role should be. This is after all a comic strip which appears in the newspaper next to all the mostly dark and ominous and troubling news that fills the pages. In Macanudo, Liniers has carved out a small space in the newspaper where he won’t deny what’s happening in the world but he wants to carve out a space where the mundane and fantastic and strange and the other aspects of life can find a space.
Cartooning is a commercial artform and a newspaper strip is a very commercial one, and Liniers demonstrates that he’s aware of this fact and wants to find a way to use that to his advantage. By crafting such a unique space, one that is solely defined by his voice and his ink lines, Liniers makes this space in the newspaper as uniquely his as a columnist marks space in the newspaper as their own. Liniers also manages to craft comics that never talk down to children, regardless of whether or not they involve children. It’s not cynical or sarcastic or high-tech. It aims for that timelessness that we associate with some of the very best comic strips about childhood from Peanuts to Calvin and Hobbes.
Henrietta is a strange child with her knowledge of Fred Astaire, her life as a writer, the way she interacts with her stuffed bear as both a stuffed animal and a complex creature to say nothing of her love of “films of high aesthetic and narrative value that lift me up spiritually and emotionally. Important works in the history of film, that speak of the human condition and all that.” Which is to say films like “Zombies From Beyond the Grave 2, Back From Hell” and “Mutant Monsters from the Great Beyond 4.” I can’t say where the bear got its name from but no doubt it comes from an odd unique place, just as Fellini’s name did, but what’s most notable about her is that while she may come off as a sketched in character, more an idea than a fully-fleshed out one, she will grow into her role as a major figure in the comic over time. Or rather, given more time and space.
Like the strip itself, she has plenty of room to grow in the coming years, but already in this collection of the strip’s first year, the signs of greatness are already there for anyone to see and it serves as a potent reminder of the richness of comics that exist beyond these shores and outside the Anglosphere, but are such a part of the tradition of comics that when we read them in translation, they are a unique world and yet also fit perfectly within our own understanding and tradition of comics.