Zé Picareta (1985)

José Geraldo Barreto Dias was a man of many talents. Also known as Zé Geraldo, he has worked as a comic artist, cartoonist, journalist, announcer, teacher, writer, and researcher. He even had a stint as a boxer, facing Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Hélio Gracie. An entrepeneur with a somewhat anarchistic streak, he was at the vanguard of several projects to boost Brazilian comics. He played an important role in the nationalization of comics during the presidency of João Goulart (1961-1964) with the help of leftwing governor Leonel Brizola.

Geraldo was born in 1924 in Petrópolis, about 70 kilometres northeast of Rio de Janeiro. While still a boy, he saw his first comic strips published in the magazine Tico-Tico (as early as 1933!). This debut was a naïve attempt at a cowboy strip, inspired by American movies, but created without any knowledge of the Wild West. At the age of 15, he started working for Empresa Gráfica o Cruzeiro, the publishing company of media tycoon Assis Chateaubriand. With poet Lúcio Cardoso, Geraldo was co-founder of O Guri magazine, the bi-weekly comics supplement of the Rio newspaper Diário da Noite. The first issue was published in April 1940. It was the first Brazilian magazine with published locally produced comics in color. Geraldo created the character 'Zânzio', a name he borrowed from a dentist's announcement board. The character was also featured in the radio show 'Hora do Guri', hosted by Silvia Autuori on Radio Túpi. Geraldo furthermore made an adaptation of 'I-Juca-Pirama', a 1851 Indianist narrative poem by Gonçalves Dias. In 1945, O Guri published Geraldo's comic strips based on the German pulp series 'Raffles' by Kurt Matull and Theo Blakensee. The series deals with a notorious Victorian era gentleman thief, who is actually the nobleman Lord Lister. The comic strip was written as 'Rafles' however. Among the other early contributors to O Guri were the journalist/cartoonist Millôr Fernandes, the Portuguese artist Arcindo Madeira and Péricles with his character 'Oliveira, o Trapalhão'.

Geraldo got married at the age of 18 and headed for São Paulo to try his luck as a businessman. He eventually returned to Rio however, where he met Antônio Haddad, the editor of the women's magazine Vida Doméstica. The magazine was about to launch two children's supplements, Vida Infantil (1949), and Vida Juvenil (1949). The first consisted largely of work by the cartoonist Joselito, while Zé Geraldo got artistic control over the latter. Geraldo's main contribution was the boys' gang comic 'Garotos Levados', starring the characters Toninho, Chico, Juca and Zé. Among the other contributors to Vida Juvenil were professor Paula Barros, Carlos Cavaco, Lígia Fagundes, Lazinha Luiz Carlos and Malba Than.

He picked up oil painting and spent some time in Paris, France. He painted portraits of the model Norma Thamar, but it was his sense for business that eventually made him drop his brushes. Geraldo was heavily impressed by the Pictograph, a revolutionary cinematographic device developed by French filmmaker Abel Gance that made it possible for the camera to have a clear focus on both close-ups and distant objects at the same time. Geraldo hooked up with 'Tarzan' actor Lex Barker in an attempt to bring the novelty to Hollywood. However, Barker had to finish filming and the deal fell through. The artist then headed for New York on his own, where he got acquainted with the cartoonists Milton Caniff and Al Capp. When he returned to Rio, Geraldo brought with him a license for 'Charlie Chan', a Chinese-American detective created by Earl Derr Biggers who had become famous through comic books and movies. O Cruzeiro now had permission to print locally produced comic stories with the detective in O Guri. They even nationalized these 'Charlie Chan' comics by changing the setting from Hawaii to Rio de Janeiro. The stories were credited collectively to "Equipe de O Cruzeiro", which included at least Zé Geraldo and Gétulio Delphim.

The artist was also present in the sports newspaper Jornal dos Esportes, edited by Mário Filho. He drew comic stories about the history of boxing, most notably the eighteenth century bare-knuckle fights of champions like James Figg (1684-1734). Geraldo also produced a comic book about the history of jiu-jitsu in Brazil, with a prominent role for martial artist Carlos Gracie (1902-1994) and his family. When Gracie and his brother Hélio organized a benefit match for the drought victims in the Northeast of Brazil, José Geraldo signed up. He ended up facing Hélio Gracie in the ring at the Gracie gym, where press photographers were also present. The cartoonist had received training from French heavyweight George Mehdi, and managed to surprise Gracie with his skills.

Several of José Geraldo's comic book initiatives promoted and educated readers about Brazilian culture and history. An early and ill-fated attempt was a series of comics about the popular Brazilian radio singer Emilinha Borba. The stories were intended to appear in Roberto Marinho's paper O Globo, but the project folded. Instead, Geraldo and the singer launched their own comic book, called Estrelíssima, which also failed. With another project, Geraldo and editor Illo Lund wanted to honor the participation of the Brazilian army in the Italian campaign during World War II in comic books and other media outings. The project was inspired by American war and superhero comics, which did the same thing but for their own country. Lund and Geraldo used nearly all their assets to fund the project, and even obtained authorization from the minister of war, Henrique Lot, for participation of the remaining members of the Sempaio Regiment in an event on TV Tupi. Not everyone shared their enthusiasm, however. Assis Chateaubriand, owner of O Cruzeiro and TV Tupi and nicknamed the "Brazilian Citizen Kane", ripped the minister's letter out of Geraldo's hand and tore it apart. The regiment was eventually honored on TV Excelcior, and a series of 19 comic books was published under the title 'Coleção de Aventuras' by Garimar in 1957-1958.


Leonel Brizola, the Secretary of Communication Hamilton Chaves and Zé Geraldo

Geraldo's most notable activities were his efforts to expand the domestic comics industry. By the 1950s and early 1960s, imported comics were cheaper to license, which resulted in less work for the artists at home. The overkill of American material caused many artists to either change careers or search for work abroad. Authors joined forces in collective organizations to promote a nationalization of comics, like the ADESP (Associação de Desenhistas do Estado de São Paulo, 1961), with a young Mauricio De Sousa as chairman. Shortly afterwards, José Geraldo assumed leadership over the ADAGER (Associaçio de Desenhistas e Argumentistas da Guanabara e do Estado do Rio), a union of about 30 artists and writers from the states of Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro. The new progressive government of President Jãnio Quadros was receptive for a limitation of foreign material. The new progressive government of President Jãnio Quadros was receptive for a limitation of foreign material. The American pulp comics were deemed a threat because they deformed children's minds and alienated them from Brazilian culture through stories about U.S. cowboys and gangsters. Plans were made, but the president resigned after only seven months of service in August 1961. The Brazilian military ministers in the Cabinet tried to prevent Vice-President João Goulart from becoming president on the grounds of his alleged ties with the Communist movement. The leftist governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Leonel Brizola, commanded the Legality Movement, which supported Goulart and managed to overthrow the resistance. It was during these days of impending civil war that Brizola and José Geraldo first met. Although Geraldo always maintained that he had no party affiliation, the self-proclaimed "anarchist in his own way" sympathized with Brizola's cause and willingly traveled to Porto Alegre during the government's palace occupation. When Goulart was installed in September 1961, negotiations about better opportunities for domestic comic authors were continued.

Governor Brizola invited Geraldo to lead a public publishing house, which published and syndicated locally produced comics material. Geraldo moved from Rio de Janeiro to Rio Grande do Sul and the CETPA (Cooperativa Editora de Trabalhos de Porto Alegre) was founded in Porto Alegre in February 1962. Geraldo was president and among the associated artists were Flávio Colin, Renato Canini, Getúlio Delphim, Júlio Shimamoto, João Mottini and Luiz Saidenberg. Some of the artists had a fixed salary from the organization, others were paid per assignment, mostly by the government. Early projects were political propaganda comic books, like Shimamoto's comic about the history of Rio Grande so Sul, but the collective also produced material for syndication to local newspapers and magazines. One notable creation was Gétulio Delphim's strip about the Mounted Police Brigade of Rio Grande do Sul, 'Aba Larga'. Geraldo began a regular collaboration with Samuel Wainer's tabloid paper Última Hora in 1962. He made comic adaptations of Brazil's greatest love stories ('Os Grandes Romances Brasileiros') and crimes ('Abalaram o Rio'). With Paulo Rodrigues he made the soccer comic 'A Infância dos Craques', and with Renato Canini he created 'Zé Candango' (1963-1964), a parody poking fun at American superheroes. Besides Última Hora, the latter was also syndicated to Jornal do Brasil.


Zé Candango, with art by Renato Canini

The collective was however plagued by internal struggles. The decorative functions for members of the government within the foundation were one cause of criticism. Additionally, some artists claimed Geraldo was wasting money on non-related projects like soccer matches. Many funds went to the production of photo comics, for instance. Shimamoto recalled that beautiful girl models were brought in, but no story actually saw the light of day. Overall, it was implied that the project was a mere cover-up for other types of amusement. Shimamoto eventually left the group with Luiz Saidenberg, who called Geraldo a demagogue, a liar and a narcist. Gétulio Delphim on the other hand got along well with Geraldo and cooperated with him on several projects. Under the joint signature "Equipe de O Cruzeiro", they continued the satirical humor feature 'Amigo da Onça' in O Cruzeiro after the suicide of its creator Péricles Maranhão on New Year's Eve 1961. Their run lasted two years, after which Carlos Estevão continued production from 1964 to 1972. In 1964 a military coup by the Brazilian Armed Forces, backed by the U.S. government, established a new dicatorial regime under president Humberto Castelo Branco. All CETPA activities came to an end because of the artists' connections with socialist politician Leonel Brizola. They were labeled as communists and banned from most publishing houses. Many continued their career as commercial artists, although Renato Canini became one of the country's leading artists of Disney comics.

Especially Geraldo was heavily charged for his support for Brizola. The governor had continued to support Goulart and sheltered the former president in Porto Alegre during the coup. Several of Geraldo's friends were arrested and both Brizola and Geraldo went into exile in Uruguay. While there, Geraldo eventually tracked down Brizola in the hope of motivating him to continue the battle of Ché Guevara, who had recently been murdered in 1967. However, Brizola had no intention to become a guerilla leader and thus Geraldo returned to Brazil. With the aid of influential family members he was able to settle down in Teresópolis , but his attempts to propose new comic strips to Jornal do Brasil were turned down. He did receive an invitation to work for the subversive satirical magazine O Pasquim, but declined because he felt he was not a humorist. He finally created one more comic strip for Última Hora in 1985. With 'Zé Picareta' (1985), Geraldo took a daily look at the Rio politics of the time.

Geraldo wrote his first novel, 'Bye, Bye, Amazônia', in the 1970s, but it wasn't released until 1981 by Editora Vozes. It was a satirical look at the power of corporations and the international capital. There was no relation to the movie 'Bye Bye Brazil' (1979), which was produced by his nephew Luiz Carlos Barreto. His final book was 'Apresado para nada', and had a preface by his friend Millôr Fernandes. Although he hasn't become as well-known as some of his contemporaries, José Geraldo Barreto was a major player in the development of the Brazilian comic strip. He passed away in 2014.


Illustration from 'Bye Bye Amazonia' (1981)

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