Sunday, November 23, 2008

Carlos Sampayo's and José Munoz's Sudor Sudaca

Carlos Sampayo and José Muñoz did, in my opinion, the only real noir comics series (or otherwise) ever: Alack Sinner (first appearance in the Italian magazine Alterlinus: January 1975; the magazine was numbered # 1 every January; 1975 was the mag's second year). Even so they weren't happy duplicating the stereotypes of the genre and their series improved immensely when the clichéd ex-cop private detective became a taxi driver. The only thing that mattered from that point on were human relationships and the big, grotesque, protean, expressionistic, dark, city of New York around the main characters.
José Muñoz described Alack Sinner's creation in an interview with Eddy Devolder (my translation): "We always talked a lot more about our lives in our comics than about the books that we've read or the films that we've watched. [...] [W]e gave ourselves a lot in our relationship. That's how Alack Sinner was born. [...] The whole story of Alack Sinner and his daughter, for instance, is a transposition of what I experienced with my own daughter." (José Muñoz: Le dessin duel; Vertige Graphic: April 1994: 43.) Conversely: "Alack Sinner was born from our fascination with melancholic, tender, nocturnal, characters." (44)
About New York, here's what José Muñoz said in the same interview: "As a place in the mind, New York, which we visited in 1981 only, offered us the possibility of telling stories in which we could mix a varied array of milieux. But, deep inside ourselves, New York was like an ideal Buenos Aires. [...] At that point we didn't have, by the way, any eagerness to tell stories with an Argentinian background." (44)
I remember a scene in one of my favorite movies, Andrei Rublev by Andrei Tarkovsky (1966) in which Andrei is just walking. At a certain point a rider appears, coming from the opposite direction. The camera focuses this new character for a while until the horseman disappears. This simple, strange, interlude always seemed to me the mark of a genius (something as weird as Goya's dog). It reminds us that there's life beyond the diegesis. The world is larger than the stories we are witnessing. In the stories of the Alack Sinner's series and also in Sudor Sudaca (spic's sweat; the word "sudaca" is as offensive as the word "spic," but the origin is different: it comes from the word "sudamericano," "South American") the same effect happens when bystanders are depicted by José Muñoz in an expressionistic way. Carlos Sampayo also allows us to read graffiti, "hear" fragments of the people's conversations, or "listen to" their thoughts. Muñoz and Sampayo transport us to a nightmarish Diane Arbusesque world. Alack Sinner is part of that meagre gallery of what I called elsewhere "the absent hero." Against North American inspired mass art hero mythology, the true anti-hero that is Alack Sinner disappears gradually to show the world around him. This is an Argentinian tradition that goes back to the often lauded Oesterheldian "collective hero" (what we have here is the anonymous collective anti-hero).
Sudor Sudaca (first appearance in Frigidaire # 19, June, 1982) is a short series of short fragmented stories about the experience of being an immigrant. This topic can also be found in a couple of Alack Sinner episodes: "Constancio y Manolo" (Constancio and Manolo; Charlie Mensuel # 98: Mars, 1977); "Pépé l'architecte" (Pepe, the architect) in Le bar à Joe (Joe's bar; published in book form by Casterman: 1981 [1978]).
José Muñoz was the most successful comics artist to attend the Escuela Panamericana de Arte during the fifties. He was Alberto Breccia's student and admired Hugo Pratt's art. At a very young age he began drawing for Editorial Frontera. He drew Ernie Pike episodes and assisted Solano Lopez as a ghost artist in El Eternauta (writing by Héctor Germán Oesterheld). In 1963 Hugo Pratt hired him to draw Precinto 56 for Misterix magazine. The series' main character, Zero Galván, was a kind of Alack Sinner's forefather (scripts by Eugenio Zappietro, alias Ray Collins). In 1972 José Muñoz leaves Argentina. He'll meet Carlos Sampayo in Barcelona. Needless to say that Sudor Sudaca is a distillation of their experiences as immigrants in Europe. As Carlos Sampayo put it in the intro to La Cupula's edition (1990: 8; my translation): "Today, temporarily reduced to being a Sudaca, I'm a foreigner forever; that's what I am where I live - Spain - and, going back, that's what I would be in my homeland. Personally I think that I have no other roots than the language in which I express myself, writing and talking, thinking and dreaming (sometimes I also dream in Italian, a language that's part of a not so distant past). My roots are in the language of my childhood (my homeland, as Fernando Pessoa put it refering to the Portuguese language).
I'm a foreigner forever, not yet as free as the air, but I aspire to its state of weightlessness."
An important piece of the puzzle is missing: politics. Muñoz and Sampayo said some bad things in their comics about their cousins from the north's world hegemony; but that's another story...

the confrontation between the clean, self-righteous (right wing) hero of mass comics and Muñoz and Sampayo's anti-hero (a North vs. South confrontation?): "Scintille (...fiamme, fumo...)" (sparks, flames, smoke): Perche lo fai Alack Sinner? (why do you do it, Alack Sinner?); Milano Libri: 1976.

PS A great essay that mentions Sudor Sudaca (the only thing that I don't understand is why "Fernando Pessoa" is substituted by "popular belief" at the end: page 25):


The Metabunker said...

"Sudor Sudaca" is a masterpiece -- probably also my favourite single work by the two Argentine masters, although the "Joe's Bar" cycle of stories is perhaps a more substantial accomplishment.

Anyway, I also wanted to plug this interview T. Thorhauge and I did with the pair back in 2001:



Isabelinho said...

Thanks Matthias!