Mexican comic books focus of new University of Texas at Arlington Library exhibit
ARLINGTON -- A new exhibit at The University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Special Collections offers a rare look inside the rise of comic books in 20th century Mexico, their literary, cultural and entertainment value, and influence by the Mexican government.
More than 75 comic books from the 1940s to the 1960s are represented in “¡Viva México! A Comic Book History of Mexico.” The exhibit is free to the public and runs March 16 through August at the UT Arlington Central Library, 702 Planetarium Place.
The Golden Age of the Mexican comic book, known in Spanish as historietas, began in the 1930s with the publication of comic book digests that serialized U.S. strips like Superman, Dick Tracy and Betty Boop, combining them with strips by Mexican creators.
“This exhibit will celebrate facets of Mexico’s colorful history that are rarely seen or understood in modern American culture,” said Christopher Conway, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the UT Arlington Department of Modern Languages. “What is especially extraordinary about the comic books is how tremendously they impacted people of all classes in Mexico. In fact, the comic books were at one point, more widely read in Mexico than any other form of print.”
In addition to inspiring national pride and entertaining its millions of readers, comic books promoted literacy.
Conway said Mexico’s government sponsored literacy campaigns in the 1930s and comics helped the less affluent learn to read.
“Comics were something that the rich and poor could afford,” Conway said. “But, it enabled poor people to exercise their reading skills and made them feel as if they were becoming more modern and educated.”
All of the comic books and a few movie posters in the exhibit are from Conway’s own collection. He began gathering the memorabilia as a graduate student studying Spanish. The comic books in the exhibit include depictions of world figures such as John F. Kennedy Jr., Joseph Stalin, Eva Perón and Gandhi. Some cover subjects include immigration, race, triumphs and tragedies that have defined modern Mexico.
Another aspect of the exhibit will accent women important to Mexican history, such as La Malinche, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Virgen de Guadalupe.
Christian Zlolniski, associate professor of sociology and anthropology and director of the UT Arlington Center for Mexican American Studies, underscored the significant role that comic books hold in Mexico’s history.
“Few people know the history of Mexican comics. They reached a massive audience and had a deep cultural impact in Mexico. Yet their significance has been largely ignored because comic books have not been historically viewed as culturally valuable in comparison to other cultural productions such as literature or movies,” Zlolniski said. “This exhibit will help to correct that bias and showcase the important role comics have traditionally played in Mexico’s popular culture.”
Parts of the exhibit are interactive and will be presented in both Spanish and English. More information is available online at the Special Collections website. Find a campus map online at http://www.uta.edu/maps/?building=LIBR.
About The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 48,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.