Back in yonder 2006, some of the FPU crew set up an altar at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s then rather less gentrified Dia de los Muertos celebration. There had been a spate of death’s in the wrestling world, and we paid tribute to all the masked men (or who had at one time been hooded) gone to that big ring in the sky. Several actors from classic lucha-hero films were included as well.
We had tecnico and rudo calaveras, with a skeletal referee, and votive candles surrounding homage photos of the fallen — all in golden ring with skull turnbuckles. Fortunately, the deaths in the wrestling business have slowed since…
Hope to do this again somewhere, someday. The Hollywood Forever thing has become a bit of a co-opted trendy mob scene, alas, probably somewhat to the chagrin of the Latino families whose altars celebrate the memories of departed family to the delight of party-goers looking to extend Halloween. So we’ll probably look for a more traditional and modest location.
Here’s to the memories of so many great performers…
Tags: Dia de los Muertos
So we’ll be set up once again for SON OF MONSTERPALOOZA with an all lucha, rasslin’ and Mexi-monster table of goodies for everyone!
New this time is the “Viva la Lucha!” issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland / Monster World (we have both the newstand and direct market editions), a pile of bootleg Mexican toys and some choice souvenir hoods.
Deets and tickets at the Monsterpalooza website. A great show this time, I’m really looking forward to meeting Toho standout Akira Takarada and Gary (Teenage Frankenstein) Conway in particular…
Tags: Famous Monsters of Filmland, Monsterpalooza
Saturday August 17th at the Latino Comics Expo in Long Beach, CA, I ran the best panel I’ve ever done or been involved with. Entitled “Bring on The Lucha Heroes: 60 Years of Mexican Masked Wrestlers in Comics” it consisted of a half-hour slideshow on vintage fotomontaje comics by Jose G. Cruz and ilk, followed by commentary and Q&A with a host of folks keeping those traditions alive today — Rafael Navarro (Sonambulo), Jason Gonzalez (La Mano del Destino), Dan Madigan (Ultimo Dragon graphic novel series) and SoCal luchador Lestat, who has a digital motion comic of his own adventures in the works!
L to R: Jay Gonzalez, some gordo nerd boy, Lestat, Rafael Navarro and Dan Madigan.
We had a packed room, they even added chairs for late arrivals, and went way over time (kudos to Javier Hernandez for scheduling us last for the day so we could) with rapt interest from the audience. And that’s what I wanted to talk about here — audience reaction.
What I was watching in front of me during the slideshow was a lot of wide eyes, an ocassional dropped jaw, and a lot of those captivated squints you get when someone is confronted with something they’ve not only never seen before but never even heard of existing. Basically, it’s comics fans discovering a a lost continent’s worth of amazing material they never knew about, followed by the realization it was only three hours down the road and across the border all this time.
But let me back up a bit for those unfamiliar with the silver mask in sepia tone.
It started late 1951/early ’52-ish when the one-man Stan Lee/Jack Kirby that was Jose G. Cruz launched Enmascarado de Plata, a 5×6″ comics digest starring one of lucha libre’s up and coming tough guys El Santo.
Unique to the Mexican comics industry at the time was the technique of fotomontaje, of which Cruz and art directors like Jose Trinidad Romero and Horacio Robles were the major pioneers. Santo himself was brought into a photo studio and modeled dozens if not hundreds of poses against a blank background — punching, kicking, running, jumping, challenging evil doers arms akimbo, delivering dialogue in Shakespearian poses — all sorts of stuff that would be reusable in serialized adventure panels. The Santo figures were contour cut and collaged into page layouts embellished by other photographed models, background pictures (sometimes shot slightly out-of-focus to give the illusion of depth like a Viewmaster reel), painted elements, illustrated motion lines and finally speech balloons. The results were fantastical comic book adventures that at the same time benefited from the reality that Santo himself was right there on the page.
The real Santo himself ‘starred’ in his comics, wherein he battled ring menaces as well as monsters too big for the silver screen, like this giant panther that rather resembles the ceramic one on your old aunt’s mantle…
It was here that much of the lucha-hero tradition was born. Santo was Mexico’s ring champion but also the city’s moonlighting superhero. As an enmascarado he was of course more capable of dealing with supernatural threats than mere police and military, although a tried and true camel clutch or chair to the head worked wonders even on the otherworldly of opponents.
And otherworldly they were! Unlike the modest-to-low-budget films that followed, the only limit of fotomontaje was the imagination. Cruz and his artists pitted Santo against dinosaurs and dragons, cavemen and space aliens, suits of Conquistador armor possessed by ghosts, demons from hell itself and more. He fought a mega octopus underwater, sans scuba gear, and walked on the surface of the moon… shirtless. He flew over a zombie, vampire and werewolf-besieged city in a jet pack and landed on a moving motorbike as easy as leaping off the top rope.
And yes, while masked wrestlers like Medico Asesino and Huracan Ramirez and luchador-like masked characters such as Sombra Vengadora and Neutrón battled criminals in the primordial days of the silver screen, the lucha-hero movie era as most of us know it begins with Santo vs. los Zombies, a decade after the comics books established him as the go-to monster fighter.
Twenty years of enmascarados fighting creatures and crazies on the big screen followed, and it is those films that near exclusively embody the lucha-hero idiom’s posterity, certainly outside the borders of the Latin world. They’ve been dubbed for drive-ins and subtitled for Blu-ray, haunted late night cable in the 80s, lit up VHS tape trading boards in the first days of the internet and are now showing up on streaming services and even in whole on YouTube.
But if the comics did it first, and arguably better, why aren’t they basking in the same retro fandom? Why did my Southern California based audience at a Latino comics convention hardly know the pulp legacy of their culture’s masked icons?
Part of the answer lies in the series’ popularity back in the day.
Findings and anecdotal accounts vary, so I always quote the lower brackets of numbers that have been put out there by researchers*, but at its height, El Enmascarado de Plata was selling 500,000 copies per issue, and those issues were being cranked out via factory-like art studios three times a week! That’s 6,000,000 copies circulating per month. On top of that, nuclear families passed the issues around to two-to-three generations of readers per household, THEN one could sell back those family-worn books to the newsstand for credit towards new issues. The used stuff sold at a discount to other households, so when all was said and done up to a dozen readers could have thumbed through each copy. Suffice to say everyone in Mexico was reading the silver mask in sepia in some fashion.
Evidently lucha masks are not only water proof, they afford their own breathable atmospheres (when needed) during fights with sub-aqueous critters.
That many readers per copy, combined with low quality newsprint and 50-60 years of Mexico’s heat and polluted city air and whatnot makes for some rather rare back-issue shopping. And the fan culture wasn’t the bag-and-board it collector mentality we’ve benefitted from here.
Reprints? Treasury editions? No such luck.
Cruz and Santo had a major falling out in the early 70s, and a spiteful publisher continued the series with a body builder named Hector Pilego donning a variant silver mask. The ‘fake Santo’ era took a lot of lustre off the formerly sainted (literally) property and some inferior series followed. Numbers crept down year after year, and the old-timey-looking sepia-toned books never adapted to the new color age, so by the early 80s Cruz pulled the plug and bugged-out of the business, leaving behind a legally ambiguous estate.
The 1970s ‘fake Santo’ in both repurposed old layouts (above) and obviously newer ones (below). Although the art quality suffered during these latter eras, the Jose G. Cruz painted covers (often derivative of famous works or contemporary movie posters) got stranger and stranger!
So who owns what today? Who knows…
Although I’ve heard accounts of some original art pages being stored in the archives of Hijo del Santo, as a graphic artist and publisher myself, I have a feeling the old original pages were pulled apart back in the day so the elements could be reused in subsequent storylines. Several years worth of material was also re-published in Mexico as well as Central and South American markets with the ersatz Santo pasted over the original, so that art would likely be lost in its virgin form anyway.
FPU correspondent La Reina Arana in Hijo del Santo’s office in Mexico City, 1998. The archive of all the various editions of 30 years of comics was at the time stored loose and un-bagged, exposed to the Mexico City air. Yeah… I know…
Some of the original Cruz cover painting canvases, in various states of disrepair, were also out on display. And NO, an enmascarado does not need a shirt in outer space…
The leather-bound hard-cover below collected a month’s worth of stories. Readers could send their books to the publisher where they were stripped of covers and bound as proto-graphic novels.
Thing of it is, a modern-day English-language tome that sheds light on this lucha-hero universe could be done. NEEDS TO BE DONE!
An avid collector in the audience asked why the Craig Yoe‘s of the world weren’t translating and reprinting these books for all new audiences. Dammit, there’s just no good answer to that! The lucha-hero fotomontaje series are major pieces of world comics history. They need to be preserved and exposed to new generations the same way Japanese and European treasures have been all along.
If educating roomfuls of people and connecting the classic material to great newer stuff from El Borbah and Love & Rockets to Sonambulo and La Mano del Destino can help, then call me a crusader.
In the meantime, my advice as a fan is to start poking around various warrens and caves of the interwebs. People are starting to scan their beat-up old collections to post online, and while I as FPU publisher can’t outright endorse (or directly link to) such behavior, if a bit of the old yo-ho-ho is what it takes to preserve this lucha-hero legacy then the more it all gets “shared” the better.
Thanks to everyone who was in the audience at the Latino Comics Expo, you cats were a great audience! And major congrats to the show promoters for such a successful weekend. See you all next year!
*Not Just For Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s by Harold E. Hinds Jr. and Charles M. Tatum and David Wilt’s chapter “El Santo: The Case of a Mexican Multimedia Hero” in Film and Comic Books are the best English-language resources I’ve found so far.
Tags: fotomontaje, Jose G. Cruz, Santo
I’d be recommending the hell out of the Latino Comics Expo anyway, but even more so since I’ll be running a panel with guests Rafael Navarro (Sonambulo), Jay Gonzalez (La Mano del Destino) , Dan Madigan (of Mondo Lucha and soon Ultimo Dragon graphic novel fame) and SoCal luchador Lestat on Saturday, August 17th — 3:00pm.
We’ll be starting with a slide show of vintage Mexican photo-comics, then talking shop with the artists and writers keeping the enmascarado pulp traditions alive and well. AND with a bonus enmascarado on-hand! Beat that!!!
There’s just a pile of talented artists, writers and publishers involved in this show. Come one down.
Full info here.
Coming this October, with three articles by your’s truly:
From the publisher’s release:
“There’s one character that has fought more monsters than any other character: El Santo. That’s right, it’s the big reveal of the cover for October’s FM #270: Terry Wolfinger’s El Santo. Luchador monster movies of the 60′s and 70′s will be the main focus of the Halloween issue that also features the 45th anniversary of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY, and men and masks! Seriously though, Wolfinger is a new art STAR. Love his covers.”
More deets as they come…
Tags: Famous Monsters of Filmland
Born from the multi-media traditions of Tiger Mask, Ultimo Dragon is launching a series of graphic novels that lend a time-spanning mythos to his distinctive mask.
I love the Shadow/Spider pulp-era incarnation of Dragon!
Our pal Dan Madigan of Mondo Lucha-a-Go-Go fame is writing, with Musetap Art Studios’ Wil Woods and Tyrine Carver designing and illustrating. .
They’re crowdfunding these on Kickstater right now — contribute here.
Tags: Ultimo Dragon
Sunday, June 23rd I’ll be joining Rafael Navarro‘s table at the San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Expo in Baldwin Park, CA.
I’m also on a new publishing models panel. Swing on down, meet Pedro, grab a zombie sketch or new book from Raf. Admission is free, make a day of it!
These inch-high stickers are on that puffy cheap vinyl common to dime and quarter capsule machines, Cracker-Jack prizes, etc.
What I love is that the art actually looks like it was rendered at an inch tall, rather than a larger size that would lend a better result when mechanically shrunk down.
I got these about ten years ago, but would put them more at an early 90s vintage, based on what stars are featured.
And here’s a close up look at the “art.” So cool…
It was Tenebrous Kate of Super Coven and Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire a couple weeks back, and now Freddy In Space?!?! Great reviews from great websites! I love love love getting these Zombi Mexicano recs from folks I’m a fan of in the first place and who have turned me onto so much other coolness in the past.
And its just amazingly rewarding when I can pull blurbs like:
“the definitive compendium on Mexican zombie cinema”
“We as horror fans tend to talk about the same movies over and over, and to pick up a book and read all about zombie movies that I had no idea existed was a real treat, and an entertaining history lesson, all in one.”
“ I feel like a better horror fan for now knowing that there are in fact Mexican zombie movies out there, an obscure but nevertheless important branch of zombie cinema that all fans should have at least some minor knowledge of. And that’s what the book is all about; giving us all a brief history lesson on an aspect of the genre that most of us aren’t familiar with.”
Read the full review and find all kinds of horror and related ephemera over at Freddy In Space.
Tags: Zombi Mexicano