Monday, September 24, 2012


Obscurity of the Day: The Mad Monks

Brazilian cartoonist Henfil (Henrique Souza Filho) came to the United States in 1973 hoping to accomplish two things: find some medical relief for his hemophilia, and to become the next Charles Shulz. He returned to Brazil without having achieved the latter; I hope he did better with his hemophilia.

The Mad Monks starred the beatific and unflappable tall monk, King Size, and the short, hunchbacked, evil and nasty monk, Runt. The gags were often about God and religion, and it blows me away that some of it got printed, newspapers being so uptight about such matters . While these Sundays are pretty tame, go check out a few sample dailies here.

Although I do not have Henfil's book, Diário de um Cucaracha, I did find a research paper online that discusses some of the content. Against huge odds, Henfil got a contract with Universal Press Syndicate, who reportedly touted him as the next Garry Trudeau. Although they apparently liked the edgy material, the syndicate typically accepted only a small percentage of the strips he submitted, the rest being considered unprintable. Henfil was thoroughly disgusted by this, but he did eventually come to realize that you don't become the next Schulz with such challenging material. He reconciled himself to the fact that the American newspaper comics market was not the medium for him, voluntarily ended the feature and moved back to Brazil.

I have only been able to verify that the strip ran from November 1974 to January 1975, but the author of the website that had the daily samples claims he started reading the strip in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel around the middle of 1974. If his samples were a bit bigger I might be able to discern the dates, which might very well be the needed proof for moving back the start date. Can anyone supply more information?

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!


It was great to see some of Henfil's work here. He had a stormy and complicated journey in the US, but this is a minor, and less important, part of his life. In Brazil he was and is one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. With his work he fought bravely and briliantly against the dictatorial regime, never backing down from his beliefes. He died of AIDS in 88, so the hemophilia joke wasn't that funny at all... But I'm sure he would be ok with it and laughing as well. Sorry about the bad english and congratulations for the work.
Hi Eduard --
The article I read said that he came to the US hoping for help with hemophilia -- it said nothing about AIDS. I definitely meant no disrespect or was making a joke about it when I expressed hope that he got some relief, no matter what the malady.

I have to give Universal Press Syndicate credit. When they began in 1970 they wanted a new breed of cartoonists for the funny pages.

Some of their early strips succeeded. "Doonesbury", their first comic strip, is still around. Their other hits included the likes of "Cathy", "Tank McNamara", and "Ziggy". Say what you will about those strips, but they were DIFFERENT from what the other syndicates were offering at the time.

But then, for every "Doonesbury" you had this strip, "Kelly & Duke" by Jack Moore, and "Griff and the Unicorn" by Dave Sokoloff (anyone remember those strips?). But that's to be expected in the world of syndicated comic strips.
I have read his book "diarios de um cucaracha' and I believe It is a pitty this book is not translated to english. It is much more than a funny statament of his adventures in New Your but also a great description of social and intelectual of both american and brazilian society.

He treatment of Hemofilia was just a excuse to travel to US. And as his older (and not less famous) brother Betinho he contract AIDS later during a blood transfusion.

These strips are fantastic!!!! Do know if they are in the public domain?
They are not nearly old enough to definitely be in public domain. I suggest you contact the syndicate with your question.

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