Brazil's Comic Book Artists Break the Industry Mold

After delving into the world of comics throughout Latin America in our previous post, we return to Brazil to explore Brazilian comicdom just as the country comes off its celebration of National Comic Book Day (Dia do Quadrinho Nacional) [pt] on January 30.

First celebrated in 1984 by the São Paulo Cartoonists Association, the date pays homage to the first time “As aventuras de Nhô Quim” [pt] (“The Adventures of Mr. Quim), considered to be Brazil's first comic strip, was published in 1869.

To mark the holiday, let's take a look at latest trends and innovations arising from the comic book community in Brazil.

A comic strip by Pablo Carranza.

A comic strip by Pablo Carranza. The cartoon plays with the fate of a cartoonist in his worst nightmare. “(1) Mister, would you draw me? (2) You won't end up at a child's party drawing caricatures of a girl named Evelyn… It was just a nightmare…”. Used with permission.

Self-publishing and crowdfunding

Faced with a comic book market centered for the most part in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, artists from other regions find it difficult to publicize their work. Although the core remains located in those larger metropolitan areas, nowadays there are more options available to artists, such as Vitor Batista, to reach a larger audience with their artwork. Batista, who is from the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, decided to publish his work on his own blog Território Marginal [pt], from which he also sells his books.

"The man with a pain" by Vitor Batista, published in Território Marginal under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.5 BR license

“The man with a pain” by Vitor Batista, published in Território Marginal under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.5 BR license. (1) The biggest issue with repression in the today's society is its invisibility. (2) Ooops. (3) See? I have just been arrested and indicted.

The production and publishing of comic books in Brazil has changed a lot over the years. As comic book artist Bira noted in an interview [pt,en] with a Polish blog:

We used to buy Comics in the Newspapers’ stands in the streets. Nowadays this is the last place to find Comics magazines, when you look for them. Of course you’ll find Marvel, DC, Disney and MSP (the only Brazilian) comics there. As the publishers have preferred the book or graphic novel format, the best place to find them is the Bookstore. But also we have had a fantastic boom in the comics production (alternative line) with fanzines, independent or small publishers, since 2006. The fanzine was an important cultural happening in Brazil in the 70’s, but they appeared again.

Self-publishing is a type of strategy that could impact the comic book world not only locally, but also nationally, promoting more geographic diversity within its market.

But it isn't always easy. In an interview [pt] with the Itiban Comic Shop blog, José Aguiar, an artist and curator for the comic book convention Gibicon [pt] talked about the pros and cons of publishing your own work:

 A autopublicação impede que o autor fique parado. E que fique à mercê dos interesses de editores que não estão abertos a propostas diferentes. Isso lhe dá liberdade criativa total (…)
Já o tempo e a energia dispendidos na distribuição e no retorno por parte dos pontos de venda é uma desvantagem nesse processo. Não há organização, nem muito respeito com o editor independente (…)

Self-publishing prevents the artist from getting stuck or being under the rule of editors who are not open to different approaches. This gives them complete creative freedom (…) But the energy and time devoted to distribution tasks and the returns from the points of sales is a disadvantage in this process. It is not organized and there is not much respect towards the independent editor (…)

Crowdfunding has proved successful for some initiatives, including this campaign from Quadrinhos Rasos, a duo of artists who adapt popular songs into illustrated situations that are generally different from the more obvious interpretations of their lyrics.

A comic strip by Quadrinhos Rasos, a project that presents other views to the lyrics of Brazilian pop songs. Published under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

A comic strip by Quadrinhos Rasos, a project that presents other interpretations of lyrics of Brazilian pop songs. “(1) Go go go go go go (2) time, my friend (3) be nice to me (4) I count on you (5) all over the night (6) just drop me down (7) in the end”. Based on the song “Sobre o tempo” by Pato Fu. Published under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.

And more and more artists are adopting crowdfunding as an alternative way to finance their projects. This page [pt] on the crowdfunding website Catarse shows examples of comic book projects that have followed such a strategy, some of which have already succeeded.

Brazilian comic book influence abroad

Comic book writer Timothy Callahan noted in a column for Comic Book Resources in 2010 that a significant percentage of mainstream comic books in the United States were “actually made in Brazil. Or at least drawn in Brazil. It's a huge percentage, comparatively”. It seems the majority of Brazilian comic book artists who find success in the American market are part of the same talent agency.

In “The Boys from Brazil” column, he wrote:

I just find it interesting that so much of the look of mainstream comics is dependent on a single talent agency in Brazil. And I also find it interesting that some of the best artists working in comics today are also from Brazil, even if the existence of the former does not necessarily relate to the latter.

So. Brazil. Goldmine of talent? Fertile ground for comic book artists? Or machinery of the mainstream? You can decide that.

A big change from a few decades ago, when making it big within the mainstream comic book industry was not very common for Brazilians.

Not only for boys

The comic book industry is one that historically has been male-dominated, and many authors and collectives in Brazil are trying to change that. For starters, blogs such as Lady's Comics [pt] offer a different point of view, talking about female “characters, authors and pencillers”.

Mulheres nos Quadrinhos (Women in Comics) [pt], a community on Facebook asks: “who said only boys know everything about comics?”. The page features comic strips from various sources, all written with women in mind.

Picture in the timeline of Mulheres nos Quadrinhos [Women in Comics].

Illustration in the timeline of Mulheres nos Quadrinhos [Women in Comics]. (1) Step by step for women's self defense. (2) adopt an attentive position (3) demonstrate you are interested in a more serious commitment – I love you, I want to be forever by your side and have many children (4) watch him run away in panic.

Projects such as Inverna [pt] aim at individual or collective productions among women in the field of graphic arts. In a partnership with a Canadian magazine, they are promoting Defrosting Women [pt], a contest meant to encourage works by women in that field.

Me, you, them, we… collectives and collaboration!

Collaborative arrangements are becoming more common. Artists join forces with publishers, videographers, editors, and other creative types to work together, fostering the creation of unusual products and bringing more variety to the market, as well as making the business of comic books more viable.

Distribution chains are still an issue for print materials. And reaching a wider and global audience online is easier than ever. As a result, artists such as Pablo Mayer, Fernando Medeiros, and Diogo César have taken the digital approach and publish their comics together on their website Pocotomics [pt], updated weekly.

Another example is the independent publishing house Beleléu [pt]. Based in Rio de Janeiro, the publishing house presents collaborations from various artists, publishing a calendar made by many hands, called Pindura [pt]. In addition to print, they offer online material, even in English (check out Beleléu Magazine!).

The future of Brazilian comics

The National Comic Book Day in Brazil was marked by many celebrations, such as this one [pt] in Fortaleza and this one [pt] in Salvador. The 2013 edition has come and gone. What's next for comic books in Brazil?

In a 2005 post, blogger Ubiratan Araújo wondered about the future of Brazilian comics:

 “Maybe the future of the Comics in Brasil will depend on if we, foreign artists, publish or not in USA…”.

Was this ever true? You will not find an answer to that question in this post, simply because there isn't one formula for success in the Brazilian comic book world. What can be said is that as long as Brazilian artists continue to experiment, the future holds in store many alternative and varied approaches to comic book production.

This post was written with the collaboration of João Miguel Lima.


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