Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Firsts and Lasts: Gordo Says Adios
Gus Arriola wanted Americans to learn about and appreciate Mexican culture, and as we know, comic strips that seek to educate have a very steep hill to climb. By the time newspaper readers get to the funnies page they want to be entertained, not preached at. So Arriola had to become that most rare and precious of jewels, the cartoonist who is so good that readers want to enjoy their work even if it is *gasp* educational. Arriola's art is utterly divine, highly stylized and decorative while retaining the unpretentious touch of bigfoot cartooning. The writing is similarly balanced, successfully navigating that high-wire between education and entertainment. Arriola was an entertainer first and foremost, but once he had you hooked he offered you a comfortable and fun learning experience about Mexican history, the Spanish language and Latino culture.
With the strip about to be retired in 1985 after a 40+ year run, Arriola decided to give readers closure on confirmed bachelor Gordo's love life. After toying with an involved idea in which Gordo is cloned (!), Arriola decided on a simpler continuity. Gordo was trapped into an imminent forced marriage with the Widow Gonzalez and he takes the one escape route he could by proposing to his beloved Tehuana Mama. Faced with getting her wish after all these years, she decides to overlook the circumstance that is forcing Gordo's hand and accepts. The whole Gordo family rides off into the sunset.
In the final strip Arriola offers a generally warm goodbye message to his readers, but betrays just a hint of anger at either the end of Gordo, or at Mexican-US relations. I'm really not sure which.
Thanks to Mark Johnson, who supplied the syndicate proofs for Gordo's final week.
Labels: Firsts and Lasts
Gordo's biggest drawback was, perhaps because of the "educational" component, was the tendency to be very talky, and though in these examples, he obviously had a hard deadline for an "¡Adios!" strip, and had to explain a lot of story fast, through the years he did a lot of very text-heavy, action-light entries.
Nevertheless, Arriola is somewhat overlooked. He was capable of truly dazzling compositions that should have put him into the class of greatest penmen of the form. But I remember few papers that carried it, as if it were just beyond the number of UFS strips a client paper would take.
Might be that it would've been more popular in the Southwest, but I did my growing up in the Northeast.
It's a shame we don't have more reprint collections. "Accidental Ambassador Gordo" is a combination of highlights and personal memoir; it includes some story arcs and leaves you wanting more. There was also "Gordo's Critters", a collection of late-period Sunday pages.