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Looking at Trino's World in a pop culture context

 May 25, 2023 at 12:17 PM PDT

S1: Welcome back. You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Comic-Con Museum just opened Torino's World. The exhibition showcases one of the most popular and celebrated cartoonists in Mexico , Jose Trinidad Camacho , better known as Torino. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando wanted to place the exhibit in a bigger pop culture context , so she spoke with author and San Diego State University English professor William Riccio.

S2: Bill , before we talk about this exhibit of Trans World , talk a little bit about yourself and your obsession with pop culture , both professionally and personally.

S3: Well , I learned how to read from comic books. My sister and my grandmother , Anna , raised me on Little Dot Archie comics Sad Sack. And literally I learned to read with comics. So comics , pop culture , popular entertainment , you know , were my world. And I was born in the early 60s. And so television was everything. I one of my early publications and my mother got my late mother got very mad. I said I was raised by television. Right. But but it's true. If not , after school , we get our TV trays and we'd sit in front of the television. So TV comics , the movies. I grew up in Laredo , Texas , along the border. They were our entertainment and television in Laredo before cable was , you know , we had three , 2 or 3 American channels and we had seven Mexican channels from Nuevo Laredo. And so English and Spanish , popular and entertainment was my IV bag , right ? That's that's just what I love to do. And so personally , they were a refuge for me. They were source of not just entertainment. I learned I'm an English professor now and my deep affection for language , both English and Spanish , is a result of pop culture. And so for me , that was like the rich treasure trove from which I derived a lifelong obsession with comic books and television and popular culture.

S2: And you went on to study kind of Mexican American stereotypes that proliferate in American pop culture and have written about that and really investigated that. Yes.

S3: Yes. My first major book was Tex-Mex Seductive Hallucinations of the Mexican in America. And it was wholly focused on the evolution of Mexican stereotypes in the United States , sort of like like COVID , the evolution of the virus , because it is viral. The idea specific ideas of Mexicans transcend books , television , billboards , movies. The the bandit , of course , the now the narco. The bandit has evolved from Pancho Villa into the narco , the drug narco drug dealer. The Latina hot blooded , sexy femme fatale , of course , has been a staple since Lupe Vélez. But the idea of the negative idea of the and you say Mexican , but , you know , most Latinos , there are these funny little boxes that I had to open and investigate because they're so endemic. That is , they're a natural part of the background of American entertainment. So I wanted to break that down. That's why I called it a seductive hallucination , because it's everywhere. It's totally permeated consciousness to the point where it has to be broken down because we don't think about it anymore.

S2: And we are sitting here at the Comic-Con Museum and you are a professor at San Diego State University , which now has a program focused on comics and kind of elevating it on this academic level. I'm so. Excited.

S3: Excited. I'm a very small player in it , but I'm a part of what is now called the Center for Comic Studies at San Diego State University. The two ringleaders are this incredible professor of history , Beth Pollard , and an equally remarkable librarian of special collections. Pamela Jackson and I get to play in their sandbox and what I get. I've been teaching comics the university level since 1985. I started at Cornell University when I was still a graduate student. And I've taught and written and published about comics as as a kind of side gig , a little side hustle since then. And luckily I get to collaborate with Beth and Pam and a whole group of professors , lecturers and staffers at SDSU that are into comics.

S2: We are here in Torino's world at the Comic Con Museum , and this is Jose Trinidad Camacho's work. So tell me a little bit about kind of your familiarity with him and kind of the lineage from where he comes from in terms of his cartooning ? Sure.

S3: Mexico has a rich tradition of sequential art , that graphic narrative , those are the fancy terms as professors call comics , but they're comics and. And he's in a long line. I guess it would start with Jose Posada with his printmaking shop in Mexico City and then moving into the 20th century. You have a cartoonist like Rios , who was known for his left wing satirical revolutionary comics Three. You know , at the at the end of this cycle is just a very accomplished , funny , silly , nasty , dirty comic book comedian. You know , I was thinking for an American audience not familiar with Reno's work , who might we think of him as ? And he's kind of silly. So not Garry Trudeau , not Doonesbury , but Garry Trudeau , Doonesbury plus Jon Stewart , maybe from The Daily Show. Sassy , ironic , comedic , and then a little nasty. You know , he's he's got some dirty stuff and it's cool. It's funny.

S2: Well , it's interesting because it seems like his work spans such a diverse range because he does children's books and yet he's also done a movie which kind of reminds you a little of Fritz the Cat and that kind of lewd and crude style of comedy.

S4: Yeah , yeah.

S3: Santos And I can't even say the title of it because it's got a it's got some pornography there. His movie belongs on Adult Swim. I mean , it's definitely irreverent. It's about a wrestler and zombies. And this wrestler has this dominatrix , a woman , bare chested woman. You know , one of the things that strikes me about Reno's work is that we've got to be careful as Americans not to impose our puritanical lens onto Mexico. Mexicans in general are much more and this is despite it being a heavily Catholic country , they're a little bit more easy going about the body. They're a little bit more European about nudity. And so what might scandalize us ? You know , I could see it on Fox News , right. Or The New York Post , children's book artist pens , pornographic animated film. And then , you know , we'd all be , oh , my God , we got to cancel him. But no , no , he's he's a nasty and sassy and irreverent. And when he plays to adults , he's , you know , playing to an adult audience. But when he's doing his children's books , he's just trying to entertain. He's very entertaining. I mean , why should people come out to the Comic-Con Museum to see the exhibition ? Because it's funny. But bring bring a pal who speaks Spanish because there are a lot of jokes that are kind of inside Mexi Mexican jokes.

S2: And because this is for radio. Describe the visual style of his drawing. I guess.

S5: The closest approximation in American comic strips would be something.

S3: Style wise would be like Hagar the horrible. He's got a very loose and fluid freestyle. It really appeals to me. He's not one of these. It's not like Ernie Bush Miller's Nancy. There's not. These are not meticulously planned and drawn panels. His panels are free , easy , floating , frenetic and funny. Funny. And he's I have to say it again , he's kind of silly. Some of his jokes are , you know , he's not above a crappy pun , you know , to get the punch line. And some of.

S2: You talk about that , he's he's kind of got some silly humor to him. And some of these look political on one level , but then kind of have a punch line that is very silly. Yes.

S3: Yes. Yes. I think that might be some of the way we here in the United States are attuned to Mexican.

S5: Art and culture.

S3: We presume sometimes the foregrounding of the political. And we're aghast to find out that Mexicans like Americans are just into the same crap that we Americans are. You know , that's that's the wonder. I mean , one of the conclusions of Tex-Mex seductive hallucinations of the Mexican is that Mexicans are no different than Americans. That is , they are funny and racist.

S5: And unpredictable.

S3: And full of irony and contradictions. They're human. They're human. They're all too human. And I think we see that in in three news work. I mean , what does three no attempt to do as a cartoonist ? Basically , he's trying to make you laugh now. He capitalizes on our familiar I mean , why does he appeal to an American audience ? Well , a lot of his jokes are about American pop culture from The Avengers to Star Trek to Star Wars. Mexicans watch TV two and they go to the movies. And so his focus is on we can think of it as North American popular culture. And so in his work , we shouldn't be surprised to find these players. Now , he's also got Mexican staples. He's got Luchadores , he's got the Mexican wrestlers. And what he's got , which is what is true of most comic strips , is he's got his eye open to hypocrisy.

S2: And you brought up Luchadores. Yeah. And talk a little bit about kind of the importance of that in Mexican culture and how it's played out in some of Chino's work.

S4: Yeah , I a.

S3: Few years back I got to be one of the talking heads in Carlos Avila's documentary on Mexican wrestlers. And one of the things I said there that I think is true is that Mexican wrestling in Mexico is like opera for the working class. You know , we don't have the blue hair's going to see lucha doors , though. You've got working class people who've worked hard week wanting to do something on a Thursday night , a Friday night , a Saturday night. And they go to the fights. They go to the wrestling fights. And as Roland Bart pointed out in his landmark work mythology , the fakery of wrestling is what appeals to people. They know it's fake. They know it's rigged. They're not there for a kind of judicial straight outcome. They're there for the exaggeration. They're there for the clowns , for the spectacle , for the violence to people. I mean , since , you know , someone , the first human laughed when the other human slipped on a banana peel. We like to laugh at these things. And that's what you get when you go to a Mexican wrestling match.

S2: One of the things about his work , too , is there is this very humanistic quality to the kind of humor that he's doing.

S3: Yes , it appeals.

S5: I mean , this isn't I mean , it's almost it almost does the work a disservice to call Torino a Mexican cartoonist.

S3: He is. He's Mexicano. He's from Jalisco. He's real proud of that.

S5: But the history of.

S3: Cartooning from the cave drawings of Lascaux to today is just human beings try to leave a little trace of themselves behind. And what he leaves behind are some really funny meditations on the human heart and the human soul.

S1: That was Beth Accomando speaking with William Riccio. The cross-border collaboration of Torino's world will be on display at the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park through July 5th. Coming up , a local author writes about a dystopian future that in many ways puts our present into question.

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William Nericcio hanging out with Trino's Chewy at Comic-Con Museum's new exhibit on "Trino';s World." May 1, 2023.
Beth Accomando
William Nericcio hanging out with Trino's Chewy at Comic-Con Museum's new exhibit on "Trino';s World." May 1, 2023.

William Nericcio usually finds himself analyzing the Mexican stereotypes found in American pop culture. But on a recent tour of Comic-Con Museum's new "Trino's World" exhibit he had an opportunity to consider the work of Mexican cartoonist José Trinidad Camacho, better known as Trino.

Nericcio is the author of "Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the 'Mexican' in America" and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, where he also works with the Center for Comics Studies.

"I learned how to read from comic books," Nericcio said. "My sister and my grandmother raised me on 'Little Dot,' 'Archie,' and 'Sad Sack.' And literally, I learned to read with comics. So comics, pop culture, popular entertainment were my world. I'm an English professor now, and my deep affection for language, both English and Spanish, is a result of pop culture."

In looking to Mexican pop culture, there is a rich tradition of sequential art that Trino is a part of.

"I guess it would start with José Guadalupe Posada with his printmaking shop in Mexico City," Nericcio explained. "And then moving into the 20th century, you have a cartoonist like Rius, who was known for his left wing satirical revolutionary comics. Trino, at the end of this cycle, is just a very accomplished, funny, silly, dirty comic book comedian."

Comic-Con Museum and the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego have collaborated for the new exhibit "Trino’s World," which is scheduled to run through July 5.

You can check out our tour of the exhibit in the video below.

Enter 'Trino's World' at Comic-Con Museum