Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave by Liniers

Some comic strips have ongoing stories - adventure strips are rarer these days, but long continuities still exist, here and there. Some have recurring gags, done slightly differently each time - Lucy and the football, the possibly imaginary Ernesto Lacuna, a sergeant viciously beating a private.

Those are things to grab onto, when you are, as I am now, trying to write about a new book collecting that comic strip.

Liniers' Macanudo is a wispier, quirkier, more variable thing - it does have recurring characters (five or six sets of them, in fact), but their interactions are oddly both more and less templated. The elves always talk about the same kinds of things, ditto the penguins. Olga and Martin have imaginative adventures, usually outside. Henrietta reads books, and does other little-girl things. But what they each do is more intellectual, more about the life of the mind, and less "little Billy draws a dotted line through the neighborhood again" - it's more patter, and less business, to put it in comedy terms.

It's not really patter, either - I think Liniers means it. His characters are serious about their thoughts in a way that's mostly alien to the least-common-denominator dullards of North American zombie strips, who enact the same few actions over and over again because those actions once won their original creators hundreds of syndicated papers and minor fortune.

That's what's interesting about Macanudo, and distinct and exciting. But it does make it difficult to find things to say about a collection of two hundred or so strips. Especially when you (well, me, in this case) said it all once already.

Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave is the second collection of the strip in English [1]; the first was Welcome to Elsewhere, last year. I had a long post then, talking about the style and feeling of the strip, and cataloging all of the recurring situations I saw in that first book. There are more, I understand - the Wikipedia entry lists two dozen, so some of them may appear much less often, or were only in the earlier Spanish-language days, or have been left out of these books for other reasons.

So what I said then is still true: it's still the same kind of strip, as you'd expect for something that has been running (counting the Spanish-language-only years, which of course you have to) since 2002.

The title of this one is appropriate: it is a strip with an optimistic tone, most of the time, a strip about the casual bravery of everyday life - the bravery of being positive and open and welcoming to the world instead of closed and hateful and destructive. All of those situations - even the witches, who tend to be more put-upon by people unhappy with their lifestyle - are in a positive, optimistic mode, about being happy and learning new things and exploring both physically and intellectually.

It's not exactly a gag-a-day strip - each strip is a thought or a moment, and they do tend to be separate moments. But they're not "gags," most of the time. They are amusing, or thoughtful, rather than the "hey laugh at this!" post-vaudeville rhythms more common in the standard comic strip. That makes Macanudo a quieter, different  thing, and I wonder how well it fits on the page with the usual comics rabble.

(I only read it in book form, myself - it's not in my local paper. I have no idea how many English-language papers it is in. Given the contractions of the industry, I'd bet fewer than it even was in a year ago.)

You probably know already if Macanudo sounds appealing to you. If it does, you will enjoy it. If it sounds fussy or overly precious to your might still like it; it's simpler and more grounded than I might be making it sound. But it is different, it is a strip about thinking rather than bonking people on the head. I like that; I hope you will, too.

[1] There's an asterisk if you both read Spanish and have access to the book markets of Argentina, where a dozen previous collections were published.

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