Perhaps the best-known comic strip of Latin American origin in the world, Mafalda is a character initially created by Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known as Quino, as part of a failed marketing campaign. From 1964 to 1973, Quino published it in a variety of media: the weekly magazine Primera Plana, the newspaper El Mundo, and the weekly journal Siete Días Ilustrados. Mafalda has been translated into more than 30 languages, including French, Italian, English, and Chinese. It remains popular all over Latin America and in a number of European countries, like France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.
Unlike Peanuts (an alleged inspiration), with a slacker protagonist from a homogeneous, Midwestern setting, Mafalda is a precocious little girl who lives in an urban, middle-class location. For a short stint, her pet is a small turtle called Burocracia (Bureaucracy). She lives in a small apartment with her two parents, Alberto, an office clerk for an insurance company and Raquel, a housewife (and music school dropout), and, eventually, her little brother Guille (Billy). Alberto enjoys taking care of plants and is annoyed by ants; Raquel wonders what her life could have been had she pursued her dream career. Guille is the only character to grow in stature and mature in the course of the strip. The family owns a Citroën 2CV, a trademark of the Argentine middle class of the 1960s.
Her group of neighborhood friends includes five main characters. Insecure and naïve, her pal Felipe lives in her same building and is in a grade above at school. A bearer of a hyperactive imagination, his outlook on life is simple and innocent. Next is commercially driven Manolito, the capitalist member of the group. The son of the local storekeeper and a champion of Rockefeller, Manolito dreams with making it big. Susanita is the conservative icon of the gang. Conformist and racist at heart, as well as prone to gossip, she dreams about getting married, becoming a stay-at-home mom, and having many children. Eternal optimist Miguelito, an all-around good guy and the youngest member of the squad, admires Mussolini thanks to his grandfather. In due time, vertically challenged, socially militant Libertad joins the gang; her parents, a socialist and a French translator, are progressive members of the middle-class intelligentsia. Only Libertad’s progressiveness surpasses Mafalda’s.
Thematically speaking, Mafalda embodies idealism, the hope for a better world. Poverty and the lack of social justice befuddle her. She chastises humankind for its incompetence and lack of clarity, though she never loses faith in it. From a Latin American perspective, she is very much a product of the 1960s, puzzled by the actions of world powers like the US, the Soviet Union, and China. For this reason, the strip covers many aspects of the late 1960s and early 1970s: the Vietnam conflict, hippie culture, the Beatles, the Cold War, etc. However, Mafalda’s realistic, insightful assessment of world affairs stands in sharp contrast with her aspirations. Published amply, coloring is traditionally in black and white only, though colored images appear occasionally on book and magazine covers.
Internationally recognized for her progressive and inclusive worldview, Mafalda has been adopted in campaigns in favor of children, education, and democracy by UNICEF, the Spanish and Argentine governments, and the Red Cross.
–Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste
- Foster, David William. From Mafalda to Los Supermachos: Latin American Graphic Humor as Popular Culture. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1988, 1989.