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The image of the people in the Cuban graphic humor.
 
The image of the people in the Cuban graphic humor.

“Cuban caricature could not have a pro-independence history as rich and intense as literature did. Its main exponents during the colonial times (Landaluze, Cisneros, and Villergas) and its publishing press (La Charanga, El Moro Muza, Juan Palomo) were all against Cuban independence. From the patriotic side there are barely a few examples, published abroad for obvious reasons. The first one: La vaca de leche y relevo de los ordeñadores (1848) was a denunciation for the exploitation the Cuban society was a victim of under the colonial order. Printed in Philadelphia, this caricatured picture circulated clandestinely in the Island, and is attributed to novelist Cirilo Villaverde, who was complicated with the conspiracy La Mina de la Rosa Cubana at that time. In 1892, in New York, José Martí founded the newspaper Patria. Four years later, Patria began to publish articles, pages and comic sketches of a satirical kind criticizing annexationism and autonomism. That very year appeared the Cacarajícara weekly newspaper, published by the Cuban community in New York, where Ricardo de la Torriente began to collaborate as a caricaturist.
Little or nothing changed with the arrival of the Republic, except for the caricaturist’s nationality and, consequently, the caricaturized ones’. While during the colonial times the first ones were Spaniards and the second ones Cubans, now both of them were Cubans... liberals and conservatives. To this we must add the Uncle Sam, a character symbol of the American nation, whose contrast was Liborio, a character recreated by caricaturist Ricardo de la Torriente out of the icon repertoire of the catalogue of characters and traditions in the 19th century in Cuba, particularly, the character of the guajiro descendant of isleño (a native of the Canary Islands) typified by Víctor Patricio de Landaluze, a native of Bilbao. The first antagonists in these caricatures, the liberals and the conservatives, would be an accurate reflection of the new policy of parties that was making its debut in the Island and the fights between them to hold the political power, guarantor of the economic power; The second ones, the Uncle Sam and Liborio, were a reflection of the contradictions and conflicts derived from an imperial policy, which became Cuba into a neocolony de its powerful neighbor. At the same time and in order to avoid being naive, as many of the readers of those newspapers were ―particularly those who read Torriente’s La Política Cómica―, we must point out that the visual conflict between the two characters ―symbols, indirectly―, always gave a very clear message: regardless of everything, the ultimate, supreme ideal, democracy, represented the best political status for Cuba, either regarding the new kind of journalism as regarding its relations with the world, through the United States. In purely journalistic terms, this reality was what the caricatures of distorting tendency almost always expressed, just like it did during the colonial times, when it was linked to the pro Spaniard satiric journalism (...).” (1)

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Torriente, chief editor and owner of La Política Cómica, was the creator of a character representing the Cuban people: Liborio, to whom some critics consider to be a copy of the guajiro [Cuban peasant] character, established by Landaluze, with big sideburns, leather boots and a peasant’s hat.

According to Bernardo G. Barros’ considerations: “...Torriente is who have better satisfied and satisfies in Cuba the public’s demands. Almost everybody reads La Política Cómica every Friday, where the artist constantly works, showing his easy perception of the grotesque. For him, there is no subject that can not be ridiculed. His drawings are skillfully combined satires, caricatures or parodies that contain a criticism or a depressing joke. He was for a long time the humorist of the newspaper La Discusión, he later he worked for El Mundo, and then he finally founded the abovementioned weekly newspaper.

“The technique of this cartoonist lacks of a right perception of values. Sometimes he tries to summarize, or suggest, with two or more poorly combined features, the overall sensation. That is why he almost never draws hands, or achieves that perfect illusion of life other cartoonists ―more responsible with their own work―, get when they summarize in a few strokes the appraisal of a scene or a character. He is also among the few cartoonists who accept nowadays in Cuba the absurd and totally illegitimate canon of the distorting caricature, the easiest and more comfortable to do for the artist who does not want (or can) define the summary demanded by impressionism ―whose purpose is to determine any individual’s psychology...” (2)

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Meanwhile Liborio, as a passive observer, is identified as “the usual victim”― conformist, pessimistic and with a middle class touch that would start the argument between the Island and the United States―, another picturesque characters came up, created by artist Eduardo Abela ―who had been Torriente’s disciple at the San Alejandro Academy of Art. Abela’s El Bobo [The Fool] first appeared in 1926 on the newspaper La Semana ―run by Sergio Carbó―, resulting to be rather a “smart” guy who plays “the fool” to say his truths about the political adventures during the Machado regime. Immerse in a cryptic iconography, its civic lessons turned it into the voice of the national feeling and, as a typical character, it establishes an important contrast with its predecessor Liborio, for it does not give up but tries to find a way out of the problems it faces.

El Bobo was no longer published after Machado’s fall, with the honorable exception of some subsequent homages by his creator, who in 1959 represented it with a beard and dressed in an olive green uniform. But the idea of a character that was a symbol of rebelliousness, able to evade the censorship, would be retaken again. During the fight against another dictatorship, Batista’s, came up El Loquito [The Crazy], who fist appeared in the pages of the Zig–Zag newspaper in 1957. Nuez, his creator, developed it in an angular design, using drawn clefs, since the caricature never had texts.

Fernández Retamar expressed for the Especial Service of Prensa Latina, in 1963: “(...) these recent expression are but the immediate example of a multiple work, the beginning of which goes back to the years of the dictatorship. Back then, for the first time, the name of Nuez, who was not even twenty years old, became popular among the readers and especially among the news-vendors. In a humoristic weekly newspaper there was a small, squint-eyed character with a hat made of newspaper, which looked at the things happening around him with an ironic astonishment. It was Nuez’s "el Loquito", and it was not difficult to realize it represented the Cuban people. Sometimes he appeared looking obviously pleased a saw giving off sparks ―a simple but effective reference to the combats at the Sierra* Maestra―, and others he was condemning some of the schemes of the tyrannical regime, also using simple images. Soon "el loquito" became the most popular creation of the weekly newspaper, and the people began to buy the paper above all to see what the "el loquito" had to say. El Loquito said many things, and he said them bravely. He had that confidence, that sloppiness and that courageous fervor everybody would later know that are perhaps the most outstanding features of the Cuban people.

"It’s odd that during the struggle against the Machado regime, back in the ‘30s, the great artist and cartoonist Eduardo Abela identified the Cuban people with a character of mischievous dumbstruck naivety ―Abela’s El Bobo―, which also made reference by means of symbols to the prevailing situation; and then just some years ago, it was Nuez’s character “el Loquito” which embodied the critical eye of that very people. How was it possible that the people accepted so pleased to be represented by a Fool and a Crazy? The thing is that the “order” was so much discredited, so corrupted, the "brains", the grave, the officers, the sane, the "smart" were people of such a bad sort, that you would prefer to be identified as an idiot rather than as an common criminal.

"But Abela’s El Bobo did not survive the fall of the Machado regime. After its first task was finished, it disappeared along with its armory of symbol. The truth is that after that fall it was not a real revolutionary process what followed. However, Nuez’s el loquito, no sooner Batista’s gang was put to flight, poked out its worrying look on the pages of the Revolución newspaper. From then on its family has been increased (...)" (3)

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"In Nuez we can see, above all, a political caricaturist. His first popular moment and his first great creative moment was when he made el Loquito, in Zig–Zag, at the end of the ‘50s. A lot has been written and said about this character, a symbol ―along with underground Pucho, by Marcos Behemaras and Virgilio Martínez and the guerrilla Julito 26, by Chago―, and the popular uprising that on January 1st, 1959 overthrew one of the most bloody and determined tyrannies suffered up to that time in Latin America. El Loquito, with its keys, its condition of a very sane lunatic and its apparent absentmindedness, will continue the line opened back in the ‘20s and the ‘30s by Eduardo Abela’s El Bobo, as we have said before.

“Starting from this marked exclusiveness, a fundamental feature can be noticed in Nuez’s works: his revealed interest in connect directly, clearly, with his readers. This leads him to establish certain iconographic and composition patterns in his development, by means of which he create a system of signs identifiable at first glance: from a carpenter saw, a route number 30 bus, an Indian, a peanut peddler, and el Loquito to a tank loaded with dregs, or huge size feces, in the significant series about the events that took place in our country during in 1980 in relation to the embassy of Peru and El Mariel , without forgetting the powder keg ―in a constant danger of exploding― with the label DEUDA [DEBT], in another series still unfinished, dedicated to the external debt issue(...)

“The series gathered in Humor de pueblo combatiente (1980) illustrates in detail that period (...) The main character is El Barbudo [The bearded man], a different ―and similar― to its predecessor in Cuba sí, in 1963, or the one driving the route 30 bus on the pages of the Zig-Zag newspaper, in 1958. This one is less summarizing, more descriptive. All of them are, nevertheless, the graphic representation of a popular feeling, a symbol of the most commendable values of the Cuban Revolution (...) On the other hand, we must dwell on some “scenographic” constants in the collection, for they lead us to the guidelines established in the Cuban caricatures since Torriente, or even before.

“I am talking about the way the Island is represented (Nuez summarizes it in an islet sprinkled with vegetation and an outstanding palm tree) in contrast to the continent where Uncle Sam dwells. That perception, repeated by several authors, reminds us the physical proximity between both territories, and allows the two characters in the scene to establish a direct communication from each side. In this case, El Barbudo repeatedly addresses to its neighbor ―using sarcastic, incisive, double-edged phrases and commentaries―, since it knows Uncle Sam is listening even when there is no answer from across the water...” (4)

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Excerpts taken from:

(1) Jorge R. Bermúdez. “Massaguer antes de ser Massaguer”. Published in La Gaceta de Cuba. Nº 6, November–December, 2003. p. 36-40.

(2) Bernardo G. Barros “La Caricatura Contemporánea”. Chapter VII of the 2nd Volume. In: Evolución de la cultura cubana (de 1608 a 1927). Las Bellas Artes en Cuba. Printing house El Siglo XX, Havana, 1928. Official Edition, compiled, directed and noted by José Manuel Carbonell y Rivero.

(3) Roberto Fernández Retamar. Cuba vista por Nuez. In: Todo el Humor de Nuez. Retrospective exhibition. Catalogue. National Fine Arts Museum. 1986.

(4) Antonio Eligio Fernández (Tonel). René de la Nuez en retrospectiva: El futuro comienza hoy. In: Todo el Humor de Nuez. Retrospective exhibition. Catalogue. National Fine Arts Museum. 1986.