FIVE DECADES OF COMIC BOOKS: WRITER BEMOANS AN INDUSTRY
Gabriel Vargas points to a beat-up wooden chair with a soft pillow on it. "That's the only chair I've ever used over the past 52 years. It's still a great chair," he says.
Mr. Vargas is the creator of "La Familia Burron," one of the classics of the Mexican comic-book genre. Started in the 1940s, it's a chronicle of Mexican middle-class urban family life.
Every Monday, "La Familia Burron" hits the newsstands here. Vargas has written every issue. At his peak, he was churning out five different comic books a week. Now, he works out of a home studio decorated with paintings by noted Mexican artists and photos of him meeting presidents. He still dictates one "Familia Burron" a week to a secretary. Four artists produce the storyboards under his watchful eye.
Why has "La Familia Burron" endured?
"It reflects, in a humorous way, how Mexicans live. And it has always moved with the rhythm of the times. I use the problems of the day," he says.
Vargas is not shy about lampooning politicians or tackling such issues as AIDS. Scattered across his desk are pamphlets on the new Mexican currency adopted in January - fodder for the next issue. "Nobody wants these new pesos," he says.
In a hallway is a six-foot-long black-ink mural of a parade that features at least 100 detailed figures. Vargas drew it when he was 13. "Mama wouldn't give me money for ink or pens. I used to beg `China ink' from the Chinese laundry men. You know, the ink they'd use to mark the shirts."
If he were starting over today, Vargas would choose another career. "Thirty-five years ago, historietas [comic books] were examples of original art. It was a good living. Ten years ago, `La Familia Burron' sold 300,000 copies a week. Today, it's 50,000 to 60,000.
"I don't see much of a future for this business. Television is destroying all the old forms of communication - cinema, theater, literature. They've tried to revive our industry using color, soft pornography. Those without morals try to pervert the people by enticing them with this type of historieta. No, the time for this business is almost past."