In my youth, I came a few times across a comic strip with a little heroine called Mafalda. At that time I didn’t really know the meaning of this precocious girl, she had been nothing more to me than the heroine of a comic strip like Charlie Brown from Peanuts. Later I learned from an Argentinean friend how well-known and popular Mafalda was there. But only a vacation in Buenos Aires and an analysis of Mafalda in the form of a political and socio-historical investigation brought me closer to the comic strip and its significance for Latin America.
If one strolls through the streets of Buenos Aires, one cannot overlook the amount of Mafalda drawings in the city. On a small square between the streets of Defensa and Chile there is a queue of people at any time of the day, patiently waiting to take a picture with Mafalda and her friends.
The statue is located opposite the house where the cartoonist and inventor of Mafalda and her friends Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón, better known by his stage name Quino, lived. Since the statue was erected, this area of the San Telma district has become a tourist spot. Every weekend an artists’ market is held along Defensa.
The idea for Mafalda was born in 1962 as an independent comic strip, which was supposed to take inspiration from the American strips Peanuts and Blondie. From the very beginning, however, Mafalda presented itself as completely different from its role models. The four-year-old girl from the Argentine middle class drives her parents to despair through her questions and her rebellious character.
The father, who has an office job in Buenos Aires during the day and loves potting plants in his leisure time, and her mother, who takes care of the household, represent the first generation of parents after the end of the Second World War to bring up their children in an anti-authoritarian way – and thus have their hands full.
Mafalda’s friends include Felipe, a middle-class child like Manuelito, whose father runs a small shop as an immigrant and who dreams of running a supermarket chain himself, and Susanita, who emulates the traditional role of women as wife and mother. Later Mafalda gets a little brother with Guille. Adults are portrayed in the strip as characters who, due to Mafalda’s sharp logic, don’t really have anything to oppose the precocious Mafalda and are shown their contradictions.
As Isabella Cosse notes in her study Mafalda – A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic (published in Spanish and English), Mafalda developed parallel to Argentina’s political and social development as a voice for democracy and freedom.
Mafalda’s aversion to soup becomes synonymous with an aversion to dictatorship and oppression. With the student riots at the end of the 1960s and the terror of the fascist regimes in Argentina, Chile and Spain, Mafalda’s popularity grew immensely, even outside of his intended target group – the Buenos Aires middle class.
Even today, almost 60 years after the comic strip was created, Mafalda and her friends have lost none of their popularity, even though the last Mafalda comic strip was published in the mid-1970s. Quino discontinued the strip because the world had changed and the background of Mafalda was no longer up to date. This does not detract from the popularity of the character, as can be seen from the snakes in front of the Mafalda statue and the omnipresence of Mafalda drawings and souvenirs.
For English-speaking comic strip lovers, however, it is quite difficult to get hold of Mafalda editions. On Amazon you can only get a few used and old issues, and even if you do, they are sometimes quite expensive.
Mafalda has also been drawn as an animated film several times, but most of all the last one implemented a series of speechless comic strips from the series under Quino’s direction, which can be found on the Internet.
The Mafalda statue is also the beginning of a mile of comic statues on which more than a dozen Argentinean comic heroes gather. Like here Isidoro Cañones, who as a bon vivant has populated the comic world since 1935.
A more detailed overview of the Paseo de la Historieta (comic strip mile) can be found on the official website of the city of Buenos Aires.