Years ago I picked up a copy of Rius’s Los Supermachos, which started back in 1965. I finally got around to finishing the book.

Los SupermachosIt’s a satire on Mexican life, at the small town level.  It’s only available in Spanish, I’m afraid, which is a pity, since it’s a useful counterpoint to the idealized, feminized world of Beto Hernandez’s Palomar.  Rius’s San Garabato de las Tunas is highly patriarchal, with strong and open class and race divisions.

The comic is apparently hilarious, though I can’t exactly see it.  It’s my fault, though: when I read it to my wife, she laughs at every page.  I don’t have any trouble seeing the humor in (say) Fontanarrosa’s Inodoro Pereyra, so I have to conclude that Rius has a way with words that doesn’t always translate well.

At the time he was creating Los Supermachos, Rius was a communist; this is chiefly noticeable here in a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve as a parable of the Cuban Revolution.  It’s actually one of the weaker chapters, as the satire is much more pointed– and universal– when he focuses on the inhabitants of San Garabato: the pompous and stupid landowners, the avowedly fascist cop, the socialist shopkeeper, the religious old ladies, the local bum, the agreeable everyindian Calzónzin.

One thing that comes across very well is the paradox of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional)– Rius calls it the RIP– the party that had a near-absolute domination of Mexico fro,m 1928 to 2000.  The party began in a revolution and retained the rhetoric of democracy and social justice, and yet was soon taken over by landowners and bureaucrats.  Thus the mayor of San Garabato, Don Perpetuo, is in general a racist rich exploiter, but in his election speeches he’s all about the Revolution and the People.  It’s a rich environment for a satirist.  In one of the chapters, just to drive the point home, Rius introduces an (anachronistic) Villista– an actual revolutionary– who comes down from the mountains to inquire after the revolution, and is disgusted by its current guardians.

He’s more generally amusing when he’s not so didactic, however.  One of the best chapters starts with one of the characters discovering that some canny operator made a ton of pesos by faking an appearance of the Virgin.  This leads to not one but two groups who try to do the same in San Garabato.  Their candidates to impersonate the Virgin are both male and ugly, but nighttime and a coat of paint are expected to take care of that.

Though Rius wrote at least one book on feminism, one weakness of the comic is that he does not have a very evolved view of women.  His female characters basically fall into the categories of naive and silly, old and superstitious, or dominating viragos.

(Another bit that rubbed me the wrong way: one chapter borrows, without credit, some situations and jokes from Jonny Hart’s B.C.  Not cool, comrade.)

One of the fascinations of the book is its attempt to reproduce colloquial mexicano.  Lots of interesting slang terms and sound changes…  (Plus, one of Rius’s gags is how his not-very-educated characters tend to mangle learned words.  Even the mayor is illiterate.)

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