Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sergio Aragones in Athens--a Reportage

"Once you become a cartoonist you become part of a universal fraternity . . . no matter where you go, you'll have a very good friend."
--Sergio Aragones


Sergio Aragones is a well-traveled man. Born in Spain, his family emigrated to Mexico during the Spanish Civil War. Aragones eventually moved to the United States to pursue a career in cartooning--a career which has taken him all over the world.
Last night, the lecture hall S151 at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia was filled with universal awe and laughter. Sergio was there drawing and lecturing. In the tradition of the great showman cartoonist Winsor McKay, Aragonnes was entertaining an audience with his drawing skill.
"Giraffe!" someone yelled. "A race-car!" shouted another. "Ninjas!" "Shadows!"
With each demand, Sergio calmly produced a masterful sixty-second cartoon, every gag more spontaneous and funny than the last. One could not help but be impressed by his speed--a gag that would take your average cartoonist a week to come up with shot instantly from Aragones's pen.
All this was the finale to a lecture from the acclaimed "MAD" Magazine cartoonist and creator of "Groo, the Wanderer." Aragones first made money from cartoooning in the third grade by charging his schoolmates a centavo for cartoons. Since his youngest days, he had been drawing behind the sofa and telling stories on the school bus. It was the moment when he discovered the existence of other cartoonists that opened his eyes to the possibility of cartooning as a profession.
While still in high school in Mexico, he would sell memeographed cartoons to the magazine "Ja-Ja" (pronounced "Ha-Ha") for one Peso each.
Local hotels were the only source of foreign magazines where he lived. Aragones began to pick up and emulate material he found in these periodicals from abroad. He found more enjoyment in the pantomime cartoons of the European magazines, simply because he could not understand the puns and punchlines of the American comics. This caused an important realization that it is more universal to tell stories without words. He tried to get his unwilling peers to translate "MAD" for him, and would literally chase down classmates more proficient in English to get them to explain the jokes to him.
Moving to New York City in 1962 with $20 and a portfolio of cartoons drawn on any scrap of paper he could find, Sergio attempted to sell his gags to the syndicates, which he misunderstood to be a type of worker's union. Everywhere he turned, he was told: "This is very weird--you should go to 'MAD Magazine'." Aragones was terrified to present his work to "MAD" because he knew they typically ran satirical storylines, not gags.
When he finally took his work to "MAD," he had a stroke of luck. He encountered cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias, then cartoonist on "SPY vs. SPY." He spoke as little English as Sergio himself, and paraded Aragones around the office introducing him as his "brother."
Soon, Sergio had $100 and a published 2-page cartoon entitled "A Mad look at the United States Space Effort."
By 1976, Aragones had multiple 2-page features, one cover, and his singular margin cartoons under his belt at "MAD." Bill Gaines took the "MAD" staff on trips around the world--Switzerland, Russia, Tahiti, an African Safari, and a Mexico trip organized by Sergio himself. When Aragones "MAD" family met his real family in Mexico, he knew he had acheived success.
Watching Sergio receive the ceremonial "shoe" at the UGA Jack Davis Lecture last night was almost anti-climactic. The celebrated cartoonist had already been accepted into the "fraternity."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Phantom

After my previous post, I did some research on "Mandrake the Magician" and discovered that Lee Falk, the writer of the strip, also created "The Phantom!" I should have researched Mandrake before drawing him--it turns out he does not have a mask. As they say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread!"