Carlos Figueroa is a Costa Rican comics artist, media entrepeneur and the creator of the educational children's character 'Tricolín' (1972). Originating in a series of comics magazines, the character and his friends became a true cultural phenomenon in the 1980s with their own club, radio and television shows and live events. All of these outlets were used by Figueroa Producciones to not only entertain children, but also educate them in moral values and respect for their environment.

Early life
Carlos Enrique Figueroa Quesada was born in 1943 in Cartago into a family of farmers. He grew up in rural surroundings, amidst Costa Rica's natural beauty, while reading superhero comic books and stories about famous people. A school teacher encouraged the boy to further explore his talent for drawing. At age 13, he was working in the central market of Cartago, while taking a correspondence course in drawing. The artist ranks Walt Disney and comics such as 'Tarzan', 'The Lone Ranger' and 'Batman' among his major initial influences. At this early age, the seed was planted for creating a group of kids who'd star in educational stories with a healthy dose of entertainment value. By age 18 he had already designed 'Tricolín' and his friends. It would take a couple of years before the project would fully develop, though.


'La Independencia de Centroamérica' (1971)

Comics artist for La Nación
Figueroa began his career working for an advertising agency. He then spent two years in Mexico and the United States, where he studied marketing, advertising and worked in radio and television production. When he returned to Costa Rica, he ran his own advertising design company. He made his debut as a comics author in 1971 in the newspaper La Nación with a comics serial to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Central America's independence from Spain, called 'La Historia ilustrada de la Independencia de Centroamérica'. The series covered the history of Costa Rica in caption-heavy comic panels, while also devoting attention to the country's presidents. That same paper ran a five-part serial by Figueroa about traffic safety called 'Una Navidad Feliz', sponsored by Costa Rica's National Insurance Institute (INS), also in 1971.


'Una Navidad Feliz'.

Tricolor
In 1972, Figueroa launched his comics magazine Tricolor, named after the colors of the flag, which first introduced Tricolín and his friends. The magazine appeared in four-colour printing and in oblong format, and contained more educational features about Central American folklore and Costa Rican history, including reprints of Figueroa's previous newspaper strips. Felix Arburola Bustos drew the early 'Tricolín' stories. The first series of Tricolor ran until the mid 1970s. Figueroa Producciones began a second series in a normal format in 1978, which evolved into Tricolín magazine in 1979. New artists were attracted to fill its pages, such as Víctor Canifrú from Chile, Edmundo Anchietta López from El Salvador and the Costa Ricans Carlos Alvarado Salazar and Eugenio Murillo Fuentes. The Tricolín characters now became mascots of the magazine's message about ecological values and road education.

Media phenomenon
Between 1972 and 1981, 69 issues of Tricolor and 40 of Tricolín were released, sponsored by companies and institutions which supported the concept of "educational-recreational" advertising. The agencies and offices of the INS distributed 50,000 copies per edition free of charge in schools throughout the country. Economical downfall caused the magazine's cancellation, but the characters were by now popular enough to continue in other formats. In 1980 Figueroa created the "Club Amigos de Tricolín" (CADET), which gradually became the largest children's movement in Costa Rica with more than 10,000 enregistered members. The club organized live events during weekends, called the Tricolín Children's Parties. The Tricolín National Children's Festival was organized for the first time in 1982, and continued for eleven annual editions, sponsored by the government. Tricolín toured the streets supporting humanitarian causes, and appeared in television and radio programs, most notably the one-hour daily radio programs on seven radio stations throughout the country. Weekly supplements of the club were added to newspapers such as La República and La Prensa Libre. In the mid 1980s Tricolín was also turned into an animated TV series, which ran for four years on national television. The artwork was done in Costa Rica, while post-production took place in the United States. It was one of the first animated series which relied heavily on computer technology, still a novelty at the time.

Semi-retirement and revival of Tricolín
By lack of sponsorship, many of these activities were cancelled during the 1990s. The characters were kept alive through the Tricolín kindergarten (1992-2003) and the Bilingual Tricolor School (1994-2003), but it took until 2001 before the club was revived. Figueroa Producciones updated the characters and tried to reach a new generation of children through a website and educational video games. The characters also supported government campaigns about national history and nature preservation. Notable new creations were the ecological superheroes 'Rez y Clar' and the 'Brigada Azul' (2001) who teach the children the importance of environmental protection in comic strips and advertisements.

New animations
By 2010 Tricolín and his friends were yet again restyled by Roberto Guillén's Studio Flex with support of Costa Rica Animation Holdings (CRAH) for a new animated series. Animator Carlos Eduarte (Cali) transformed the main star from a seven-year old boy into and eleven-year old, who also spearheaded the 'Tricolín y los Lumi-Valores' music videos and the TV project 'Tricolín descubre el porqué' ("Tricolín discovers why"). The characters furthermore appeared in the postal series 'Programas infantiles', which continues to teach children about their rights and duties.

Legacy
"Don" Carlos Figueroa, as he is generally referred to, is well respected in his home country for his work in educating children. In December 2010, the weekly newspaper El Financiero awarded the Entrepreneurship Award to the CRAH and Carlos Figueroa personally "for enhancing Costa Rican talent and knowledge in the field of animation". 'Tricolín' became the first national cartoon character who received its own stamp in September 2011. The character had its golden years during the 1980s, during which he influenced a new generation with his motto "Educate the good citizens of tomorrow" and the messages of his club.


Carlos Figueroa and his creations in a 2001 press article

www.tricolin.com

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