Thursday, June 01, 2023

Macanudo: Welcome to Elsewhere by Liniers

A daily strip is usually analogous to a TV show: a few are dramas, like soaps, but most are sitcoms in printed form. (And let's remember that "sitcom" is a portmanteau of "situation" and "comedy" - it's a comedic story set in a particular situation.) There are odder things, like The Far Side and its followers - my sense is that those are mostly single panels, and are closer to a dedicated slot for magazine single-panel style pieces by a single creator. Still "com," but much less "sit."

Liniers' daily strip Macanudo is somewhere in the uncharted regions between the pure single panel and the strip sitcom. He does have a situation, but it's a vague one - well, actually, he has, in this first book, at least four clearly recurrent situations, which range from almost normal strip set-up all the way to a couple of clicks above General Gag Premise. And I gather that he's got a lot of additional situations that he's used over the course of the strip as well - Macanudo is a collection of situations, I suppose.

Macanudo: Welcome to Elsewhere collects what seems to be about the first year of the Macanudo strip as it appeared in English. Liniers is Argentine, and has been making his comics in Spanish since 2002; the English-language version started to be syndicated by King Features in 2018 and this book came out in 2022. It's not clear if the English version is reprinting the Argentine strip from the beginning [1], picking bits and pieces out of the history of the strip, keeping up with Liniers' contemporary work, or some combination of all those things. (So if you read the English-language version, and become a completionist, you probably need to learn Spanish and seek out the seventeen Argentine collections up to 2017.)

And I suppose I should explain some of the situations. In rough order of frequency, we see:

  • Henrietta, an imaginative girl in a blue dress who is a devoted reader. She appears along with her cat Fellini and teddy bear Mandelbaum, who do not talk to her. Mandelbaum doesn't even move in the strips I've seen, which is unusual for a strip like this.
  • The furry blue monster Olga and her boy, whose name I discover from Wikipedia is Martin. (At first I thought Olga was another companion of Henrietta's, until I realized Martin and Henrietta wear completely different clothes.) They mostly romp around outside, which Henriette and crew also do, adding to my confusion. But Martin does not spend as much time sitting and reading, I suppose.
  • A group of nameless penguins, doing things that are similar to but not quite identical to what human beings do, in their usually-featureless icy landscape.
  • A group of "elves" (small figures with color-coded outfits including long, prehensile pompom hats - they look more like gnomes) who talk about vaguely philosophical things. There's always at least two - most often light-blue and red, if only two - and sometimes larger groups.
There's also some things that seem more like single jokes that Liniers makes in different ways: The Mysterious Man in Black, who is all of those words exactly and equally and nothing else; La Guadalupe, who seems to be the ambulatory skeleton of an older woman; and the two witches Huberta and Gudrun, who here mostly do broom-based gags. And there's also a lot of one-off strips, about John Venn and Elliott from E.T. and aliens abducting cows and random people having random conversations.

So, again: some aspects of the random single panel (though generally presented in strip format), some aspects of the sitcom strip. More random and individual than continuity; there is one two-week epic here, but it's presented in-strip as a comic that Henrietta created, so it's distanced and metafictional to begin with.

Liniers has a soft style, using what I think are watercolors over line art - the color is intrinsic to the art, not added in as an overlay like traditional dailies. In North American comics, it's probably closest in look to Patrick McDonnell's Mutts, and Mutts fans would probably also like a lot of the whimsy and philosophy of Macanudo. It's very expressive and illustrative, occasionally cartoony but more often a classic storybook look - there's echoes of Gorey, for example, in The Mysterious Man in Black.

For topics and tone, it's harder to find comparisons for Macanudo. The Far Side followers tend to be weirder and more bizarre; Liniers's strip is imaginative, bookish, and almost always optimistic. I guess it's somewhat like Grant Snider's work in that way.

I suppose that's my log-line: if you're looking for something that looks like Mutts and reads like Grant Snider, from an Argentine with a great illustrative style in the tradition of the 20th century greats, Macanudo is for you.

[1] Actually, given several references to Twitter, this is clearly not the 2002-era Macanudo, or at least not entirely.

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