© Oli Verlag N.V.

Guillermo Mordillo was an Argentinian cartoonist who rose to prominence during the 1970s and 1980s. His cartoons frequently feature surreal situations, often involving sports such as cycling, golf and association football. Big-nosed white men and women and goofy-looking giraffes are recurring characters. By lack of dialogue, his cartoons easily destroyed all language barriers. His work has a poetic quality, which helped him become a global success. Mordillo won numerous awards and was subject of heavy merchandising, including animated cartoons. At the height of his success, he was one of the most popular and instantly recognizable cartoonists in the world. In terms of global fame he is arguably the most significant Argentinian comic artist of the late 20th century, along with 'Mafalda' creator Quino.

Early life
Guillermo Mordillo was born in 1932 in Villa Pueyrredón, Buenos Aires. His father was an electrician and his mother worked as a domestic staffhold. Like many Argentinian boys, Mordillo enjoyed playing soccer in the streets and remained a huge fan of the sport throughout his entire life. He idolized Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, because they showed him the power of silent comedy, while the Marx Brothers provided him a love for surrealism. Among his graphic influences were Walt Disney, Loriot, Hergé, Oski, Claude Serre, Michel Bridenne and Eduardo Ferro. At age 13 he drew his first comic strip, 'Pascacio El Vagabunde' (1945), featuring an anthropomorphic kitten. A year later, he left school with his parents' blessing to become a professional cartoonist. He studied at the School of Journalism in Buenos Aires and graduated in 1948.

Early career
Mordillo's career took off in 1950, when he joined the animation studio Burone Bruché. On the side, he adapted famous fairy tales by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm and Joseph Jacobs into little illustrated books in landscape format shape, published by Codex. In 1952 Mordillo decided to establish his own animation studio, Estudios Galas. He nevertheless had more success publishing cartoons in several Argentinian newspapers and magazines. Soon Mordillo became the house cartoonist of La Naciòn.

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Move to Peru
In November 1955, Mordillo decided to travel and moved to Lima, Peru, where he found a job as a freelance designer at the local division of the McCann Erickson advertising company. He also illustrated 'Aesop's Fables' for the publishing company Editorial Iberia Lima. During his stay in Peru he developed a passion for golf which, just like association football, became a recurring theme in his cartoons.

Move to the USA
By 1959, Mordillo became a greeting card illustrator for Hallmark in Kansas City. A year later he moved to the United States. The artist always wanted to work for Disney, but instead found employment at Paramount Pictures, where he animated on 'Popeye' and 'Little Lulu' cartoons (respectively based on the characters created by E.C. Segar and Marge). In the end he liked his old job better. Mordillo moved to New York City, where he designed greeting cards for another company, Oz. 

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Move to Europe, and breakthrough
After his brief stay in the United States (1959-1963), Mordillo decided to move to Europe. He arrived in Paris on 19 September 1963. His skills in designing greeting cards got him a job at Éditions Mic-Max, but by 1966 he was fired and faced a humiliating return to his home country. At this low point of his life one of his friends convinced him to stay in France and apply his cartoons to some magazines. On 31 July 1966, Mordillo published his first cartoon in issue #4638 of Le Pèlerin. Since he spoke little French he decided to work in pantomime. Having finally found his trademark style, Mordillo's cartoons broke through on a global scale. Over the years, they appeared in French magazines such as Paris Match, Lui, Marie Claire and Pif Gadget. In 1968 his work found its way to the prolific German magazine Stern. By the time the 1970s rolled along, Mordillo was one of the most recognizable and popular cartoonists on the planet. Apart from professional success, Mordillo also met the woman of his dreams in Paris and married her in 1969.

'The Individualist', 1973. © Oli Verlag N.V.

Mordillo always worked in pantomime, which made his cartoons understandable to people of all ages, across all languages. Many consist of one panel, usually providing a wide panoramic bird eye's perspective view of a surreal situation. One of the most iconic is 'The Individualist' (1973), which features a grey town where one man is taken away by the police for painting his roof in bright colours. Another well known cartoon, 'And Now?' (1981), shows a football team on a huge rectangular island in the ocean whose ball has just fallen in the water, several miles below. Other cartoons are actual gag comics, typically three to six panels long. His most famous works revolve around sports. He made dozens of drawings of cyclists, golfers and footballers, typically encountering exotic animals or sporting in absurd locations. Many were compiled in thematical books, such as his 1981 book 'Football', which had a foreword by football legend Pelé. Most people have first encountered Mordillo through his football-themed cartoons, which were often reprinted whenever a new edition of the World Championship Association Football was held. Particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, his art was used on an assortment of merchandising, including calendars, cups, greeting cards, stuffed animals, posters and especially puzzles.

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Mordillo never worked with a recurring identifiable protagonist or cast member. His nameless characters all look similar: short, tiny, slightly chubby, chalk white little men and women with big, bulbous noses and no mouths. He enjoyed drawing jungle and savannah animals too, with a particular love for giraffes, whose long necks provided him with an endless source of comedy. Since his characters lack names, Mordillo's cartoons lacked a proper, permanent title too. In every book or magazine his own name was usually the only header. Since 'Mordillo' was the only way to address them, readers found it much easier to identify his name with his work. This put him at an advantage compared with rival cartoonists, who are typically overshadowed by the names of their fictional characters. Mordillo's graphic style is so uniform that his art is instantly recognizable. Some similar cartoonists, like Ernst or Toon van Driel, have therefore been called Mordillo-esque, rather than be confused with his own art.

Many cartoons by Mordillo show people and animals trying to make the best of their existence. Nobody stands out in the crowd. The artist once said: "My cartoons aren't sad, but melancholic. I'm a melancholic man. Every day I see and hear horrible things in the news. People suffer too much. That's why I draw cartoons, to prevent me from crying. It's a defense strategy. I defend myself with comedy and hope I can help other people too to defend themselves against sadness." He therefore used his talent for humanitarian causes, such as Amnesty International. A 1989 exhibition in La Palma, Mallorca, was held to bring money together to help autistic children on the island.

Children's books
Mordillo also published three classical children's books without words: 'The Damp and Daffy Doings of a Daring Pirate Ship' (1971), 'Crazy Cowboy' (1972) and 'Crazy Crazy' (1974). The wacky adventures of the pirate ship always remained Mordillo's favorite story. At the age of 80, he completely redrew it for a new book publication.

'The Damp and Daffy Doings of a Daring Pirate Ship', as published in Pif Gadget (1975) © Oli Verlag N.V.

Return to animation
During the 1970s, Mordillo collaborated with several studios to adapt his cartoons into animated shorts for television. In 1971 he worked together with Marcelo Ravoni, followed by Friedrich W. Heye a year later. Pilion Film and MS Films adapted his work for German television, among others the local version of Jim Henson's 'Sesame Street', while ParisAnimation Films and Fantome Animations broadcast them on French television. Between 1976 and 1981 the Slovenian artist Miki Muster and the German Manfred Schmidt made about 400 shorts which were presented at Cannes and bought by TV studios from more than 30 countries. These minute-long cartoons greatly expanded his worldwide notability.

Rare Mordillo strip with dialogue. The man claims to be Christopher Columbus, to which the interrogator sarcastically answers: "Yes, and I'm emperor Napoleon." The Columbus imposter then calmly replies: "Honored to meet you!". 

Throughout his career, Mordillo was honoured with many titles and awards. In 1977 he was a jury member at the Salon International de l'Humour in Montréal, where he was named "Cartoonist of the Year". He was President of the International Association of Authors of Comics and Cartoons (CFIA) in Geneva and part of the Creative Workshop Zermatt, Switzerland. On 6 November 1997 he was appointed honorary professor in humor at the University Alcalá de Henares in Madrid, Spain. In 2000 the veteran cartoonist received the Catedratico Honorifico del Humor at the same university. In 1999 the ferry Moby Love II of the Moby Lines was decorated based on a design by Mordillo.

Guillermo Mordillo won the Silver Medal (1969) and Gold Medal (1995) at the International Biennale of Humorous Designs at Tolentino, Italy. In 1999 he received another award at the same festival from the hands of Italian president Francesco Cossiga. He also received a silver award in 1972 at the First International Festival of Humorous Designs in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Mordillo won the 1978 and 1983 Palme d'Or and the Galerie Ambiance (1988) all at the International Fair of Cartoons in Bordighera, Italy. In the same country, at the International Fair of Rappallo, he was named "Best Humorous Designer" in 1994.

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Mordillo’s book 'Le Galion' won both the Loisirs Jeunes (1971) in Paris and the Critici en Herba (1971) in Bologna, while his other book 'Crazy Cowboy' received the 1977 Nakamori Award in Japan. He won a Phenix de L'Humour (1973) in Paris, the Asociation de Dibujantes Argentinos Award (1974), the El Gaucho award (1976) in Cologne, Germany, a honorary medal at the First International Biennale in Cordoba, Argentina (1979), a Yellow Kid Award (1984), Andersen Award (1985), the Konex Humor Grafico (1992) in Buenos Aires, the Juventude Award (1993) by the Chamber of Commerce of Amadora and the Artista Della Fantasia Animata (2002) at the Festivale Internazionale Dell' Animazione Televisa in Positano. Mordillo's shelf with awards was additionally occupied by the WCC Special Honour Award (2004), Haxtur Award (2004), the Argentores Award (2008), the Albun Brunosky Honorary Medal (2010), the Honorable Càmara de Diputados de la Nacion (2011), the Claudio Kappel (2011) award, the award of the city of Napels (2012) and the Pulcinella Award (2014) in Venice.

His work has often been exhibited, from Moscow, Montréal, Buenos Aires, Genova, Hamburg, Paris, Bratislava, Napels and Barcelona, all the way to Peking.

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Final years and death
In 1980 Mordillo moved to Mallorca, Spain, where he lived until 1997. After that date he moved to Monaco, spending his final years there. In an interview he claimed Monte Carlo was very boring and he would probably never stayed there when he was younger. But in old age it was exactly the traquillity he needed. Still, he never quite retired. Even in his 70s and 80s Mordillo kept creating new cartoons and experimenting with new techniques. In 1998,  Mordillo's cartoons were adapted for interactive games by Funworld Electronic on touch screens. In 2007 he moved to using acrylic, pastel and colour pencils. He launched his own Twitter account in February 2010. The same year his cartoons werd adapted into an iPad Game by Murmex Labs, available in the AppStore. In 2019 Guillermo Mordillo passed away from an illness. He was 86 years old.

His final project was an animated feature film, 'Crazy Island', and animated TV series, 'Crazy Humans', based on his cartoons. Produced by the Belgian cartoon studio Grid, German studio Wunderwerk and Chinese Nebula Group, the film centers around two islands. One is filled with humans, the other with animals. When both sink into the ocean, the humans and animals join the same ship in order to find another island. Naturally this brings tensions along... All characters follow Mordillo's familiar designs and surreal comedy, but the film will feature some dialogue, though not more than necessary. An  animated TV series is developed simultaneously by Grid, Nukufilm Studios, Calon and Telegael, combining stop-motion and CGI. 

Legacy and influence
Guillermo Mordillo was subject of a 2002 homage album to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of Caricature in Buenos Aires, where dozens of cartoonists paid tribute to his work. He was a strong influence on Sergio Aragonés, Boulet, Serge ErnstNicolas Mazière (Nicolin), Leendert-Jan Vis, Peter de Smet, Joseph and Nic Tholl. A Mordillo giraffe statue is located in front of the Museo del Humor at the Avenue de los Italianos 851 in Buenos Aires, as part of the 'Paseo de la Historieta' ('Comics Walk'). Pantomime artist Marcel Marceau once said that "Mordillo's cartoons hide a lot of love and tenderness."

Guillermo Mordillo.


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