One can safely call Oğuz Aral the grandmaster of the modern Turkish cartoon and comic strip. Through appealing but also satirical characters like 'Hayk Mammer' (1956), 'Utanmaz Adam' (1959), 'Avanak Avni' (1973), 'Hafiyesi Mahmut' (1976) and 'Huysuz İhtiyar' (1990) he effectively captured the everyday life in Turkish cities, while commenting on the politics of the day. But most of all he was the driving force behind cartoon magazines like Gırgır, Avni and Dıgıl, as well as a tutor to almost an entire generation of Turkish comic artists. If all that wasn't enough, Aral was a pioneer in Turkish animation, director of theater plays, book cover illustrator, writer, cuisinier, ceramist, musician and specialist in paper marbling.

Early life and career
Aral was born in 1936 in the Silivri district, near the Marmara lake. His younger brother Tekin became a comics artist as well, while his sister İnci turned out as a writer. He studied Fine Arts at the Mimar Sinan University, but dropped out in the third year to pursue a career as a professional cartoonist. The young Aral continued in the tradition of pioneering Turkish cartoonist Cemal Nadir Güler. He developed a comical yet satirical drawing style which was appealing and understandable to the people. Aral was furthermore an admirer of the Kurdish writer and human rights activist Yaşar Kemal and the Communist poet Nazim Hikmet Ran. His first published cartoon appeared in the magazine Resimli Roman when the artist was only 14 years old. At the age of 17 he worked for the leading political satire magazine of the time, Akbaba ("Vulture"). His art quickly appeared in other humor magazines, such as Marko Paşa, Tef, Taş and Dolmuş, as well as the newspaper Gün.

First comics series
In 1956 Oğuz Aral launched his first notable comics series. The 'Hayk Mammer' (1956) was a parody of Mickey Spillane's popular no-nonsense P.I. Mike Hammer, and the first serial debuted in İlhan and Turhan Selçuk's humor magazine Dolmuş. That same year however, it transferred with its author to the daily newspaper Yeni Sabah ("New Morning"). Three years later, another one of Oğuz Aral's long-lasting comics characters debuted, the carefree loafer 'Utanmaz Adam' (literally, "the Shameless Man"). Several of his adventures were collected in a comic album published by Heybe in 1964. During the 1960s, Aral was a regular contributor of illustrations and comic strips to Pazar, the weekly supplement of the newspaper Akşam. The magazine also introduced Aral's third regular comics character, the scruffy vagabond 'Köstebek Hüsnü' ("Hüsnü the Mole"). The feature was later continued for many years in Aral's own magazine Gırgır.

Utanmaz Adam, by Oguz Aral
'Utanmaz Adam'.

Gırgır
By the early 1970s, the developments of the fast offset web printing technique and the favorable economic conditions made it possible for media mogul Haldun Simavi to produce mass print products and distribute them widely throughout Turkey. This resulted in new initiatives, including magazines and newspapers with quality illustrations and newspapers. To boost up sales of the declining newspaper Gün, Oğuz Aral edited a new satirical section called Gırgır ("Fun"). It quickly gained popularity - and space - and was transformed into a free supplement in August 1972, and an independent magazine with an initial print run of 40,000 copies in 1973. Spearheaded by the brothers Oğuz and Tekin Aral, the team was expanded by several young artists ("The oldest was 18 years old," Aral memorized in a 30 April 1989 article in Hürriyet), who would remain the core group for the next seventeen years.

The yellow/black coloured Gırgır paper soon became more popular than the already existing Akbaba and other, more elitist, comic papers of the time. Aral was sharply critical of politicians and social inequalities, and opposed the 1971 and 1980 military coups and the resulting martial law and repression. He believed that the duty of a cartoonist was to simplify problems so that they could be easily understood by ordinary people. His philosophy made Gırgır a success through all layers of society and, at a certain period in time, the best sold comics paper after the Soviet magazine Krokodil. After the military coup of 12 September 1980, the new regime temporarily banned Gırgır because of a satirical cartoon which "insulted the Turkish national identity". But this didn't harm its sales in the least. On the contrary, in the 1980s this weekly publication achieved a circulation of 600,000 issues. Of course the actual amount of readers was much larger.

Avanak Avni
Oğuz Aral continued several of his previous comics series in Gırgır, such as 'Hayk Mammer', 'Utanmaz Adam' and 'Köstebek Hüsnü'. He also launched several new ones, including his signature series 'Avanak Avni' ("Avni the Simpleton") in the 42nd issue of 23 May 1973. Inspired by Gırgır's office clerk Rıza Külegeç, Avni is a big-nosed and big-eared boy from the Istanbul slums, whose adventures tackled many social themes of the time. Avni generally hangs around on the street, where cheating one another is everyday practice. His attempts to seduce the young and beautiful Leyla are unsuccessful, largely because Avni still isn't able to speak properly. His nemesis is Deve Dilaver, the archetype of a boorish and gruff man.

Avni, by Oguz Aral

Other comics and magazines
In March 1976 Gırgır's smaller sister magazine Fırt was launched, under editorship of Tekin Aral. Oğuz Aral was present from the first issue with the private investigator 'Hafiyesi Mahmut' (1976), another 'Mike Hammer' parody, this time illustrated from Aral's scripts by İlban Ertem. The Gırgır staff additionally launched LakLak, a Sunday supplement of the newspaper Günaydin, in 1978. Among Aral's additional comics creations are 'Vites Mahmut' ("Gearbox Mahmut"), 'Duvar Geçemeyen' ("He Who Cannot Cross Walls"), 'Duvargeçen' ("Wall pass") and 'Pinti Hamit' ("Hamit the Miser").

Post-Gırgır
In the second half of the 1980s, the tide turned for Oğuz Aral's successful tenure as Gırgır's editor. In 1985 a group of unsatisfied cartoonists lead by Tuncay Akgün and Mehmet Çağçağ left the magazine and founded Limon, a paper with much more harsh and explicit sexual humor. In 1989 publisher Haldun Simavi sold Gırgır to the journalist Ertuğrul Akbay, and Aral left as editor, taking the core of the artist team with him. Akbay managed to keep the magazine alive until 1993, but without the cartoonists who had made it a success. Oğuz Aral was involved in the launch of another humor magazine, Dıgıl, which was launched on 4 May 1989 with his former pupil Galip Tekin as editor. Aral himself headed Avni, a magazine built around his best known characters which lasted from 1990 until 1996, when health reasons forced him to quit. From 1990 on, Oğuz Aral was also present in the daily newspaper Hürriyet, in which he delivered his social commentary under his alter ego 'Huysuz İhtiyar' ("Grumpy Old Man") until his death from a heart attack in Bodrum on 26 July 2004.

Non-cartooning work
Although mainly remembered for his cartooning career, Oğuz Aral embarked upon several other artistic activities. In 1958 he entertained many in Anatolia with his own pantomime theater, while he also worked as a set designer for stage shows. Throughout his career he scripted four theater plays, 'Huysuz İhtiyar' ("Grumpy Old Man"), 'Hababam Sınıfı, Sınıfta Kaldı', 'Keşanlı Ali Destanı' ("the legend of Ali of Keşan") and 'Bir Garip Orhan Veli', which was performed throughout Turkey by amateur theater groups for 22 years. The founder of the first Turkish cartoon studio, Aral not only produced commercial films, but also animated films such as 'Koca Yusuf' ('Yusuf the Wrestler', 1966), 'Direkler Arası' ('Theater', 1967), 'Bu Şehr-i İstanbul' ('This City Called Istanbul', 1968) and 'Ağustos Böceği ile Karınca' ('The Cricket and the Ant', 1971), all broadcast on the national TV channel TRT. He additionally starred in live action films such as 'İnsan Doğarken ağlar' (1962) and 'Karanlikta uyananlar' (1964), the latter also starring his future (and second) wife, actress and ballerina Tolga Tiğin. Aral was furthermore active with ceramics and paper marbling, while he also played the bağlama, a string instrument used in Turkish folk music.

Hafiyesi Mahmut by Oguz AralGirgir cover by Oguz Aral
Legendary cartoon character Hafiyesi Mahmut, and a cover of the Girgir paper when it was very popular.

Legacy
The importance of Oğuz Aral for Turkish comics culture cannot be underestimated. His accessible and relatable characters and illustrations have played an important role in the mass appreciation of satire and political commentary in Turkey. Cartoons and comic papers like Gırgır were instrumental in the country's democratization. They showed how the Turkish society questions ongoing issues, and adapts people to criticism and black humor. Nowadays, the students of Oğuz Aral carry on the tradition of their tutor, and are acknowledged worldwide for their skill and fame. Among his most many successors are Mehmet Çağçağ, Latif Demirci, Ramize Erer, Oktay Gençer, Süleyman Gök, Suat Gönülay, Ergün Gündüz, Gürcan Gürsel, Güneri Içoğlu, Hasan Kaçan, Yakup Karahan, Vedat Kemer, Nuri Kurtcebe, Özden Öğrük, Sait Oktay, Suat Özkan, Behiç Pek, Sefa Sofuoğlu, Galip Tekin, Mahmut Tibet, Tarık Tolunay, Mehmet Üstündağ, Sevket Yalaz, Kenan Yarar and Halil İbrahim Yıldırım - indeed, an entire generation. Several of Oğuz Aral's creations have been continued by other artists. Gürcan Gürsel has for instance drawn new adventures of 'Utanmaz Adam', while the staff of the humor magazine Penguen has produced new stories of 'Avni' in memory of its creator since July 2006.

Without Aral's knowledge, the character Avni has become a mascot for protest movements, not only in Turkey, but also in other countries. In South Africa, he has been a symbol in protests against racism, while groups opposed to the E.U constitution in France used his likeness on T-shirts. In the USA and Mexico, Avni has been a symbol of anti-imperialism groups. A statue of Oğuz Aral was erected in Istanbul's Kadıköy district on 26 July 2005. The bronze cartoonist was joined by a statue of his beloved character Avni in 2017. Aral's own statue was vandalized and repaired on several occasions, while Avni was stolen and missing for 16 days in 2018.

Oguz Aral and team
Oğuz Aral looking at cartoons together with youngsters of comic paper Girgir in 1977.

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