Continuing with our “preview week” of content originally posted on my Patreon, here’s a recent-ish review I wrote of Diego Arandojo and Facundo Percio’s BEATNIK BUENOS AIRES, published in English in 2021 by Fantagraphics —
There are three kinds of historical narratives — those that relate the nuts and bolts of the particular epoch they’re analyzing, those that capture and evoke the MOOD and ATMOSPHERE of the time, and those that manage to do both.
The comics medium is uniquely suited to the second option, of course, being a visual means of communication, but that doesn’t preclude the first and third options from being on the table, as it were, as well — when you’ve only got 96 pages to work with, though, you’d better figure out precisely what it is you’re looking to do if you want to do it WELL. There’s not much room for false steps when you’re operating within the strictures of a concise page count, after all, and there’s even LESS time to recover from them.
To that end, the Argentinian creative team of writer Diego Arandojo and artist Facudo Percio get right to work on delivering the goods in BEATNIK BUENOS AIRES (originally published on their native soil in 2019 and released in an English-language edition earlier this year by Fantagraphics, with translation by Andrea Rosenberg), a sweeping overview of the dimly-lit cafes and eccentric creative personages that made up the largely-forgotten 1960s (to be specific, 1963) Bohemian scene in their country’s capitol city. To their credit, the narrative doesn’t FEEL rushed in any way — and Percio’s exquisitely moody charcoal illustrations certainly LOOK anything but — yet there’s an urgency to the pacing here that belies its breezy tone. All of which is to say, there’s a LOT going on, but we are only given crucial glimpses of a LITTLE of it.
This, however, is not a criticism — in fact, the ingenious structure herein really works, the book’s 13 short chapters, each focused on a different artist, coalescing into an eminently readable (and again, because it bears repeating, visually GORGEOUS) tapestry that avails itself of the second of three storytelling options I mentioned at the outset, with mood and atmosphere taking precedence over the grim and gritty details.
Which isn’t to say that you’re not afforded one tantalizing peek after another into the places, people, and events that made this largely sub rosa cultural renaissance so special, only that these collaborators are far more concerned with imparting the essential CHARACTER of the period than they are its minutiae. You’ll be left wanting more, absolutely, but that’s as much a testament to the POWER of the craft on display here than it is to any of its shortcomings — and there are endnotes at the back for those looking to branch off into some independent researches of their own.
Still, this scattershot approach is not without its shortcomings — without some sort of fuller meat and bones context, the actions of an art forger and a photographer who damn near kills his girlfriend come off as too matter-of-fact in their presentation/recounting for their own good, and while we get a taste of the unfortunate sexism that was rife in this counter-cultural milieu, Arandojo never takes it upon himself to take the dudes perpetrating it to task for it in any way. In fact, sometimes his overall tone can be a bit too hagiographic to be considered either honest OR effective.
These are no mere minor quibbles, I’ll grant you, but in the overall scheme of things they certainly don’t rise to the level of being “deal-breakers,” either. This is an IMPRESSIONTIC overview first and foremost, remember, and erring on the side of the overly-comprehensive would likely get in the way of the primary task at hand, that being to capture the essence of the overall local zeitgeist. With another hundred pages (at least), Arandojo and Percio would certainly have been able to pull off something more exhaustive, but then some of that urgency I spoke so highly of would necessarily have been, if not lost, at the very least hopelessly bogged down.
Whether or not you view this comic as a modest little masterwork or an intriguing but ultimately pointless exercise in self-indulgence, then, rests largely on whether or not you’re willing to meet it on its own terms — it achieves almost all of what it sets out to do, some notable exceptions aside, but if that’s ENOUGH for you or not is something only you can decide for yourself. All I know for certain is that Arandojo and Percio made me smell the cigarette smoke, hear the jazz, and feel the heat of the creative energy that were all hanging so heavily in that rarefied 1963 Buenos Aires air.
Interested in more? Then please take a look at my Patreon, the blatant promotion of which is, after all, what this week is all about. Here’s the link : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse
Thank you very much for your review! From a smoky Buenos Aires, Diego Arandojo.
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