We don’t often ballyhoo news from other areas within the comic strip universe — we know that the folks originating a new project are effective at getting out their word — but we just received this from our friends at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICL&M), and we think it’s so exciting, we wanted to make sure you’re in-the-know. Here’s the scoop, just as we received it:
Upcoming exhibition at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum:
Depicting Mexico and Modernism:
Gordo by Gus Arriola
Representando México y el modernismo: Gordo de Gus Arriola
|(Columbus, OH) – The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum presents Depicting Mexico and Modernism, the first retrospective on the comic strip Gordo. On view Dec. 13, 2023–May 5, 2024, the exhibit celebrates the dazzling artistry of Mexican-American cartoonist Gustavo ‘Gus’ Arriola.
The syndicated strip ran from 1941 to 1985 and featured Gordo Salazar Lopez, a bean farmer turned tour guide, who introduced readers to Spanish words and Mexican culture. At first, the title character, Gordo Salazar Lopez, a bean farmer, was portrayed through Hollywood’s regrettable stereotype as a lazy Mexican. When Arriola realized he was perpetuating negative stereotypes, he shifted the character’s story, reimagining Gordo as a tour guide navigating a Mexican ‘colectivo’ (bus) called Halley’s Comet and focused instead on accurately portraying Mexican life and folklore. Arriola’s development as a modernist artist was influenced by his first trip to Mexico in the 1960s where he immersed himself in Mexican culture and modernist art. The exhibition invites visitors to trace his journey as an artist who used the comics page to celebrate and share his Mexican heritage with American readers.
“Gordo was a successful newspaper comic strip during its run, but few people today are familiar with it,” said Jenny Robb, Head Curator of Comics and Cartoon Art at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. “The strip is remarkable not only for the way it introduced American audiences to Mexican culture, but also because of Arriola’s inventive storytelling and design that was unlike anything else on the comics page. With this exhibition, we hope to introduce Arriola’s amazing work to new audiences while providing an in-depth retrospective that will also appeal to his many fans.”
Curated by Nhora Lucía Serrano, the exhibition consists of animation made by Bret Olsen and works on loan from Mark Burstein, Jim Guida, Lalo Alcaraz, Hector D. Cantú and from the collections of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University.
“Hailed as a virtuoso comic strip artist by Charles Schulz, Hank Ketchum, Mort Walker, and Eldon Dedini, Gus Arriola was a gifted visual storyteller whose Gordo is a masterclass on how modernism and Mexican ‘artesanía’ influenced the comics medium,” said Nhora Lucía Serrano, exhibition curator. “Originally intended to be the Mexican Li’l Abner, Gordo is also an early example of how the cartoonist and his character’s ethnic identity evolved and emerged in comic strips. Long overdue, this exhibition is the first retrospective on Gordo—a celebration and a testament to the impact that Gus Arriola has had on today’s Latinx’s cartoonists.”
This exhibit will be presented with labels in both English and Spanish languages.
Yes, we’re all Gordo fans here at LOAC, so to us this is glad news indeed. We hope our longtime friends at BICL&M see terrific response to what is sure to be a wonderful exhibition.
Gus Arriola sold Gordo as a south-of-the-border version of Li’l Abner, which helps account for those early “lazy Mexican” stereotypes mentioned in the BICL&M piece — certainly Abner Yokum (who eventually gets a job testing mattresses) is nothing if not lazy! To Arriola’s credit, he seized the opportunity to blaze his own trail and, as also noted in the piece above, he turned his strip into a unique look at Mexico, its culture and its peoples. Gordo helped introduce into the American lexicon words and phrases such as “compadre” and “hasta la vista;” the warmth and charm of the strip is always front-and-center, even on those occasions when its creator opted to present a larger worldview containing geopolitical or environmental messaging.
Arriola’s work appeared in occasional book collections, such as the ones below, published in 1950 and 1981, but a new Gordo collection is long overdue. Perhaps, if the upcoming BICL&M exhibit helps spur renewed interest, this fine comic strip can enjoy the renewed attention it so richly deserves.
Meanwhile, you can learn more about The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum — which is like Ali Baba’s Treasure Cave to any comics enthusiast! — at https://cartoons.osu.edu/.