Mafalda: a universal icon

  • Oriana 

On September 30th, 2020, Argentina and the whole world lost one of the best cartoonists of the last century: Quino, mainly known as the creator of ‘’Mafalda’’, which, over the years, has become a symbol of rebellion all over the world.

Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón, his complete name, was born in Mendoza in 1932, and was the son of Spanish immigrants. He attended the School of Fine Arts of Mendoza, but left it after two years in order to start his career as a cartoonist.

In ‘’Buscando a Quino’’ – the 2020 documentary in which Quino appeared in public for the last time – the Argentinian cartoonist Miguel Rep says that ‘’Quino shows his personality and his beliefs in his humorous strips rather than in ‘’Mafalda’’ ‘s ones’’. Despite the validity of this statement, ‘’Mafalda’’ is not Quino’s most famous work by chance: this little girl has not only become one of the symbols of the 1968’s ideals, but also a universal icon representing the right to never stop claiming and hoping for a better world.

Could you have guessed that ‘’Mafalda’’ was born for commercial reasons (purposes)? In 1963, the company ‘’Mansfield’’ asked Quino to draw some strips to advertise the household appliances they produced in Argentina.He created the character of Mafalda and her world, but the advertising campaign was never realized. Quino was inspired by Charlie Brown, the famous American character that belongs to the Universe of ‘’Peanuts’’, created by the cartoonist Charles Schulz. However, these two characters ended up being very different: while Charlie Brown is a typical child uninterested in the adult world, Mafalda is a sort of ‘’young adult’’, who constantly tries to overcome the boundaries belonging to the adult world.

The Italian writer Umberto Eco defined Mafalda as the ‘’little protester girl’’: she’s 6 years old, but she thinks and acts like an adult. She asks adults complex questions about society, war, politics, and environmental issues. However, her family is never able to give her a satisfactory answer: her parents are only concerned about their everyday problems, representing the Argentinian middle class of that time. On the other hand, Mafalda’s friends act and think like normal children. This contrast makes Mafalda even an odder character. Her friends are Felipe, a boy who is lost in his thoughts and dreams, Manolito, who is ambitious and focused on making money, and Susanita, a frivolous girl whose life revolves around gossip, woman antagonism, dreams of marriage and maternity. Quino revealed that Susanita once asked Mafalda to ‘’be a simple girl’’, but Mafalda answered ‘’I can’t be simple’’.  We can clearly see how they are the opposite of one another, yet they are good friends.

Her deep sense of justice and social empathy surely  reflect those of her creator, Quino. All his strips show awareness of human struggles, both at a social and existential level. This great sensibility comes from his own life experience. In a Bolivian TV show, ‘’De Cerca’’, Quino revealed that he was really impacted by the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), which  he experienced himself before the Second World War, the threats of the Cold War, and the Argentinian dictatorship of Peròn. Throughout his life, he understood how situations could change rapidly and irrationally. Therefore, he developed both a sense of justice and pessimism, which are depicted in the character of Mafalda. In the foreword to the first Italian ‘’Mafalda’’ edition, Umberto Eco wrote that ‘’Mafalda expresses the tendencies of a restless youth, which here assume the paradoxical aspect of a childish dissent.’’ Her innocence and her utopian way of looking at problems are shown  with her complex questions, which destabilize (the) adults and reveal their apathy and cynicism.

In 1973, Quino interrupted the publication of ‘’Mafalda’’ strips. Since then, Mafalda has occasionally appeared on journal strips or as the witness of some non – profit campaigns such as UNICEF’s  in 1976.

One of the most beautiful features of ‘’Mafalda’’ is the possibility of reading it at different stages in life. The reading experience will always be different: a child will simply enjoy the story, a young adult will see the force of change and rebellion in its main character, an adult will look at Mafalda with nostalgic eyes. 

In ‘’De Cerca’’, Quino said that ‘’many people continue to read Mafalda because they are nostalgic of that time, characterized by the revolutionary ideals of the generation of 68’’. This is certainly true, but Mafalda is more than a symbol of that generation and those ideals, which are the product of a very different young generation and world than those today. In the end, what Mafalda will always remind us of, is to never stop thinking critically, to question our world, to overcome the boundaries of our ‘’small garden’’. This is why Mafalda is still alive and Quino’s strips should be preserved and read to the following generations.

References:

  1. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quino
  2. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mafalda
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_enrCdDbfU&t=1782s
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXMnQrjCAws&t=1427s
  5. Foreword of ‘’Mafalda la contestataria’’, Umberto Eco, first Italian edition of Mafalda, ed. Bompiani, 1969. 

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