“Mexican Pulp Art” (Feral House)

Officially, this book doesn’t have an author in the traditional sense.  The only writing comes from an introductory essay titled Mexico’s Lurid Historietas.  The remaining pages exhibit art reproduced from people’s personal collections.

The intro (authored by Maria Cristina Tavera) gives a fairly comprehensive look into how the Mexican graphic design and writing community worked, right down to the kind of medium (gouache) artists used to create these provocative works of art.  When writing about Mexico’s artistic history, she delves into the preference for gouache and why that medium clicked with that community of artists. Tavera even explained how storytelling and continuity worked in these books and what subjects writers took on.  While the rest of the small paperback has an abundance of striking, eye-catching art full of fantastic figures, Tavera explained that the writings mostly revolved around normal dramas that could tangle up a working class person’s life.  And that was the main readership, according to her and her sources.

In fact, as the essay wraps up, Tavera devotes only two paragraphs to Mexican culture’s relationship to the fantastic.  Lastly, according to her, what was found in these books was no different from what was found in other forms of Mexican media.  

Now the art itself.

With a few exceptions, the book cites the issues where a lot of the art originated. 

From the book covers to the pages, we mostly see humans running away, eyes wide and mouths open at earthly and unearthly horrors either coming at them or motionless.  Those horrors are usually aliens, sorcerers, femme fatale types, or other just unhinged human beings.  The men, wearing suits and hair skillfully slicked back, range from either heroic, stoic, or cowed by terrors.  The women look on in terror, suspicion, or dead, with nearly all of them wearing revealing, form-fitting clothing that emphasizes their bodies.  When humans are not being terrorized by beings and creatures, humans are prey to other humans who practice magic, particularly older women who practice magic.

Regarding drawing style, there’s not much caricature.  The artists knew how to capture skin tone, shadow, and folds of clothing.  I also noticed something else when flipping through the pages.  The varying sense of scale found in the illustrations.  As written about in the Khan Academy website (also from what I remember from my old art history classes), Ancient Egyptian art such as the Narmer Palette would define people’s roles by their size, with the Pharaoh as the largest. In Mexican Pulp Art, the artists often depicted horrors as looming, giant heads hovering over cowering people.

You do see some rather amusing artistic decisions.  A painting from the issue, Ayúdame a Olvidarte, shows a woman cross-eyed.  Another issue, La Traición, depicts a man delivering a rather ineffectual high kick to another man’s face. When I saw that, I thought, “He’s going to break some bones in his feet.”

I think my favorite has to come from Lo Inesperado #318-El Cementerio Arguardo.  As two men deal with a corpse in a graveyard, giant eyeballs watch over them.  While this collection has scenes of dripping blood, images of decaying flesh, the art stays largely away from gore.  There were numerous depictions of hangings and one particularly disturbing depiction of domestic abuse.  If you look through EC Comics’ official archive, there’s a lot of similarities between the forties era comics and these works, according to Tavera, debuted in Mexico two decades later.

So, if you’re curious about Mexican art history beyond what’s found in a museum, I recommend checking this out.

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