Mexican Independent Comics: how do they survive?
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Up until the 1970s, Mexico had the most successful comics industry in the world, if you measure success by the number of printed issues and the frequency of it. In the 1930s, one of the best known comics of the country, Pepín, had a million issues printed weekly, even more than what the wildly popular Manga genre prints today.
In the past century, comics were the cheapest and most effective mode of entertainment among Mexicans; they were read not individually but collectively, sometimes by whole families or groups of friends that could easily read and share the contents with illiterate people who had no access to text-only books, but could easily interpret the stories that the images told.
The introduction of the TV and, in a lesser degree, the internet, caused the medium of comics to lose a great number of its audience. Mexico replaced its beloved stories of popular characters and common situations for the electronic artifact, and the comics industry went downhill ever since.
Downhill means that by the 1980s, most of the publishing houses had closed, and the national titles had been substituted by stories of American superheroes, that have never ceased to be published. Comics artists and writers struggled a lot to find work or had to leave the sector of comics. A few of them found in populist narratives the formula to maintain a somewhat large audience, but industrial comics narratives had effectively lost the hearts of Mexicans.
In the margins, comics artists, publishers and readers had a few projects that reflected interests and practices very different from those of the dying industry. This was the decade where comics were exhibited at museums for the first time, acquiring a degree of legitimation and recognition that unfortunately didn’t translate into a renewal of the industry. But an independent community was established. The following decade (1990s) saw the foundation of El taller del perro, and new technologies such as the internet, facilitated networking and publishing.
But the digital has meant no substitution for the printed. In recent years there’s been a renewal of the 80s culture of fanzines, where independent comics fit right in. They range from cheaply photocopied issues to more artisanal printing and binding, and the internet’s social networks have proved to be a free and fast way to promote them.
One of the most interesting festivals of independent comics in Mexico, and a an accomplishment of equal and collaborative economy, is Zin Amigos (zinamigos.tumblr.com): a wordplay that links “zine” with the Spanish word “sin”, which means without. So it has two meanings: Zine friends (amigos) and Without friends. This is a collective of drawers and writers interested in self-publishing and selling to the readers without intermediaries, so they can keep the totality of the earnings and distribute them fairly among the makers of the zines, a trend that’s proved successful in the sector of independent book publishing.
Zin Amigos’ printing is also extended to t-shirts, posters and other kinds of merchandise. And of course the internet, mainly Tumblr, works as a platform to show their work and connect with their readers. The best part of it is that the readers are not passive: some of them become “ziners” too, but mostly their presence is manifested in the stories themselves, where they’re sometimes represented.
While the Mexican comics industry is not completely gone, it’s clear that the most interesting comics, the ones that say something about actual people and their ways of life, practices and dreams, are to be found in the networks established far from the industry.