Mafalda, by Quino

Quino was the most celebrated Argentinian comic artist of all time, most famous for his subversive signature series 'Mafalda' (1964-1973). It features a feisty little girl who constantly questions society. Mafalda worries about the state of the world, the government, the educational system and other controversial issues. Her tough questions and snarky remarks often leave adults speechless. Even today the comics have maintained their relevance and remain bestsellers in reprints. Beloved with general audiences and praised by intellectuals, 'Mafalda' won several awards. In 2014 she even became the first comic character (and fictional character in general) to receive the Légion d'Honneur. As arguably the most recognizable Latin American comic series in the world, Mafalda has become an Argentinian icon. Apart from 'Mafalda', Quino has drawn countless other political-social comics and cartoons throughout his career. He remains one of the most celebrated satirists of the Spanish-language world.

Early life
Joaquín Salvador Lavado Tejón was born in 1932 in Mendoza, Argentina. His father was a commercial employee and his mother a housewife, both from Andalusian descent. His grandfather, Joaquín Tejón, was an illustrator and to distinguish them from each other, everybody called the boy "Quino", which he'd later adapt as his artistic pseudonym. Quino loved reading comics from a young age. Among his graphic influences were Ernie Bushmiller and Chic Young. In adulthood he also became a huge fan of Ronald Searle, Jean Bosc (Bosc), Chaval, Sempé, Saul Steinberg and Charles M. Schulz. Quino's maternal grandmother was a communist and his parents were very interested and worried about the rise of Nazism and fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, especially regarding the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It shaped Quino's own political consciousness which would find its way in his later work.

First amateur publication of Quino, in Dibujantes of 9 October 1954.

Early career
Quino studied art at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Mendoza, but when his father passed away in 1949 he dropped out and decided to find a job. In 1950 he made his first illustrated advertisement for a fabric store. After his military service, he settled down in Buenos Aires. On 9 October 1954 his first gag comics appeared in the weekly magazine Esto Es, soon followed by work in Leoplán, TV Guía, Vea y Lea, Damas y Damitas, Usted, Panorama, Adán, Atlántida, Che, Democracia, and especially Rico Tipo, Tía Vicenta and Dr. Merengue, where he was the house cartoonist. He married in 1960 and met several future colleagues and publishers during his honeymoon to Brazil. In 1962 he held his first personal exhibition.

First 'Mafalda' strip of 28 September 1964. Mafalda asks her dad whether he's a good father and "better than all the dads in the world?" He answers he doesn't know whether he's better than all other fathers, but he's certainly good (enough) for her. Mafalda: "I supposed so." 

In 1963 Quino and a colleague, Miguel Brascó, developed a plan to create a comic strip with subliminal advertising messages for Mansfield, a line of the electrical household appliance company Siam Di Tella. The plan was to sneak it into an unsuspecting magazine. Quino created a six-year old girl with curly black hair, inspired by Ernie Bushmiller's 'Nancy' (known in Spanish as 'Periquita') and Lucy from Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts'. Since Mansfield's products started with the letter "m", the girl's name had to start with the 13th letter of the alphabet too. As Quino watched the film 'Dar La Cara' (1962), an adaptation of David Viñas' novel of the same name, directed by José Martinez Suárez, he noticed a young baby named Mafalda. Around the same time he also read about Mafalda of Savoye, daughter of deposed Italian king Victor Emmanuel III. Now that his protagonist had a name, Quino and Brascó offered 'Mafalda' to the newspaper Clarín, but they quickly got wind of their plan and refused to take an advertising comic. Three episodes found their way in the magazine Leoplán, yet the entire advertising campaign eventually fell through. As such Quino could keep the rights to his character and make his comic more acceptable to other magazines.

On 29 September 1964 the first episode of 'Mafalda' appeared in the magazine Primera Plana. The editors had accepted his gag comic on the condition that he removed all subliminal advertising. For Quino this was an easy promise, since he was no longer affiliated with Mansfield. But this didn't mean he would refrain from influencing his readers with unsuspected messages. In hindsight it's ironic that 'Mafalda' started off as a failed advertising comic, yet was far more successful as subversive political-social, anti-commercial satire. On first view it appears to be a typical children's comic. Mafalda is a young girl who loves pancakes, but despises soup. She enjoys watching Walter Lantz' 'Woody Woodpecker' and listens to the Beatles. Like most six-year olds she can be loud-mouthed, blunt and very impatient. Originally she and her father Alberto (Papá) were the only recurring characters. Her mother didn't make her debut until 6 October 1964. The family lives in block E, based on a building not far from Quino's own home in the San Telmo neighbourhood at Calle Chile 371 in Buenos Aires.


Although Mafalda is only six years old, she often asks her parents confrontational questions about heavy-handed issues. Some are mere ploys to distract them, so she doesn't have to obey a certain order. But other times she is genuinely upset about politics, war, poverty, the education system, gender roles... The feisty girl wonders why her dad has to go to his job, "if the company always sends him back exhausted." She questions why her mother stays at home and conforms to her gender role. In class the kid wonders why teachers can't teach her anything useful. Whenever adults talk down to her she usually has a snappy comeback. She aspires to become a translator at the United Nations to support world peace.

Mafalda doesn't just discuss these issues with adults, but also children of her own age. On 19 January 1965 readers got to know Felipe, a local buck-toothed boy with a huge imagination. He loves reading comics and playing cowboys & Indians. School, on the other hand, brings up his worst fears and depressions. He has a crush on a girl named Muriel, who is often seen crossing the street, but he is too shy to talk to her. Quino based Felipe on his good friend Jorge Timossi, a journalist at the Cuban bureau Prensa Latina. Two months later, on 29 March 1965, another neighbourhood boy came into the picture: Manolito, the flat-top son of a Spanish immigrant shopkeeper. Manolito has inherited his father's workaholic ambitions and is obsessed with making a career. Their store was inspired by the bakery of the father of a friend of Quino. On 6 June of that same year the blonde and big-chinned Susanita made her debut. She is in every way Mafalda's opposite: conventional, superficial and gossipy. Her main ambition is to become a housewife and raise children. She never questions authority or anything dubious for that matter. This often leads to arguments, though Mafalda and Susanita are nevertheless still best friends. In February 1966 Miguelito entered the stage, an Italian immigrant boy with blond, banana bunch-like hair and non-conformist behaviour. He can very combative in arguments, sometimes bordering on sociopathic attitudes. His grandfather admires Mussolini and Miguelito therefore often defends "Il Duce" too.

On 21 March 1968 Mafalda was given a little brother, Guille, who enjoys his pacifier and - contrary to his sister - soup. Just like her he has a gift for debating. Guille was inspired by Quino's nephew, Guillermo Lavado. Mafalda and her baby brother have a pet tortoise, named Burocracia ("bureaucracy"), "because it moves so slow". On 15 February 1970 another character with a metaphorical name was written into the series: the girl Libertad ("freedom"). Libertad is the daughter of a socialist and a translator of French books, more specifically by Jean-Paul Sartre. Libertad actively promotes a left-wing revolution. She is so outspoken that it frequently brings her in trouble with her teachers. Technically, Libertad and Mafalda agree on many issues, though Mafalda often asks logical questions about how her friend's radical ideas would work in reality.

On 25 June 1973 Quino terminated 'Mafalda'. The cartoonist felt he'd said everything he wanted to say. But he had a more important reason for quitting too. A month earlier another coup had taken place, bringing Hector José Cámpora into power. And a month later a new president was sworn in: Raúl Alberto Lastiri. Both were merely puppets who prepared the comeback of Juan Perón, who had ruled the country between 1946 and 1955 and became president again in October 1973. Quino was aware that the situation in his country was taking a turn for the worst. Already several of his friends had "disappeared". He remembered bringing a 'Mafalda' episode to the headquarters of a magazine that published his work, only to notice signs of recent gunfire and bomb attacks in the building. Perón ruled Argentina until his sudden death in 1974, whereupon his wife Isabel Martínez de Perón succeeded him, until Jorge Rafaele Videla overthrew her in 1976 and established a new dictatorial junta. Around this time Quino moved to Milan, Italy, where he stayed for the next four years. 

'Mafalda'. Italian-language version. Translation: "Haven't you heard me? The future is ahead of you! ... Reactionary!"

On 9 March 1965 Quino left Primera Plana after creative differences with the editors. On 15 March 'Mafalda' continued as a daily comic in the newspaper El Mundo. A year later the series appeared in 60 newspapers and magazines. The first compilation book sold out in less than two days! However, on 22 December 1967 El Mundo was discontinued, leaving a storyline in which Mafalda is expecting her baby brother unresolved. On 2 June 1968 the comic strip found a new home in the weekly magazine Siete Días Ilustrados, where it ran until its final episode on 25 June 1973. 'Mafalda' struck a nerve with many people all across Latin America. At the time most countries there suffered under some kind of corrupt and/or tyrannical military junta. Most common people could relate to a little girl openly questioning the system. But 'Mafalda' was a hit in the rest of the Spanish-Portuguese world too. The series has furthermore been translated in English, French, Dutch, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Korean, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese. In all languages her name remains the same. For the first Italian translation in 1968 novelist and essayist Umberto Eco (later famous for 'The Name Of The Rose') wrote the foreword.

'Mafalda'. Translation: 'Democracy (from Greek: demos, people and kratos, authority). Government in which the people excercise their authority.'

Political satire
'Mafalda' is a typical product of the turbulent 1960s. Many episodes make reference to the Cold War, Vietnam War, the African-American civil rights movement, Maoism, but also women's liberation, youth culture and the student protests of May 1968. Although these references are dated, many issues which Quino addresses are still relevant today. A strong anti-authoritarian streak runs through the entire series. Mafalda often speaks up to her parents, teachers, police officers, salespeople, preachers... Other kids aren't frightened to do so either. In one episode Mafalda reads that "we're all equal in God's eyes", causing her to snark: "Which eye doctor was present at that moment?"

In another classic episode she can't stop laughing when she looks up the definition of "democracy" in a dictionary and compares it to what must pass for it in real life. Quino knew he could get away with it all by letting all commentary be voiced by children. After all, a child can easily be forgiven for saying outrageous things. Certain kids in 'Mafalda' are archetypes for certain classes and ideologies. Felipe is the naïve dreamer, Manolito the staunch capitalist, Susanita the superficial conformist, Miguelito is a bullying fascist, while Libertad is a anarcho-communist. In the midst of them all, Mafalda is idealistic but sceptical. She questions everything adults say to her, but isn't too sure about the ideas of her contemporaries either. During the early years, Mafalda was quite preachy and at times very complacent. But as the cast expanded, Quino was able to divide her radical opinions between other characters and mellow her down. While still vocal, she became more or less the moderate voice of reason.

'Mafalda'. Italian-language version. Mafalda asks her mother what she is cutting out from the newspaper? When it turns out to be a recipe for soup Mafalda damns "liberty of the press!"

Argentina suffered under successive dictatorships during most of Mafalda's run. In 1966 Juan Carlos Onganía toppled president Arturo Illia and established a very repressive junta. In 1970 he was ousted by Roberto M. Levingston, who was removed from power a year later by Alejandro Agustín Lanusse. Lanusse's administration ended around the same time 'Mafalda' published its final episode in 1973. It's therefore quite daring that Quino didn't tone his comic strip down. In an interview he explained that, luckily enough, his country lacked an official censorship bureau, contrary to, for instance, Brazil at the time. All censorship was in hands of his editors, who often tried to convince him to change a certain punchline. Nevertheless, the cartoonist took his own precautions as well. He never attacked individual politicians. First of all because he claimed to be a bad caricaturist, but also because general comments about non-specific governments and society were tolerated. Quino also knew he couldn't poke fun at the Church, the military, sex or address homosexuality. Some gags of 'Mafalda' made use of metaphors or allegories. Even the most famous running gag in the series, her hatred for soup, was one. In a BBC Mundo interview, posted on 6 August 2004, Quino revealed that he actually loved soup. He merely picked it as a metaphor for the military regimes which terrorized Latin America and, just like Mafalda's soup, were forced upon the population.

French-language version. Mafalda and her friends play "government". When she wants to be the president Manolito yells: "That's absurd! A woman can't be president!" Mafalda snaps back: "Why don't we innovate? It's a game, no?", whereupon Manolito explains: "Because, even if we're just playing, they would never allow an innovator to be president." 

Controversy and real-life impact
Although the social commentary in 'Mafalda' was usually subtle, many regimes caught on that it was a subversive comic strip. In the 1960s and 1970s the series was frequently censored or downright banned in Spain, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. Under Franco's regime in Spain 'Mafalda' was explicitly tagged as "adults only". On 4 July 1976 the Argentinian army murdered five people in the San Patricio church in Belgrano, Buenos Aires. The assassins found a 'Mafalda' poster of her standing next to a police officer and stuck it on the body of one of the victims!

In the 1990s Quino found out that Taiwanese bootleg editions of 'Mafalda' were distributed in China. However, all references to Maoist China were left out and Susanita - who often talks about raising a huge family - was censored too, since her comments violated China's "one child policy". Quino's agent managed to withdraw these Chinese-language pirate editions. During a visit to Cuba a civilian once asked Quino about a 'Mafalda' episode in which she concludes that since everything Fidel Castro says is banned in Argentina, "why doesn't he praise soup?" The Cuban didn't understand the punchline, because a local paper bowdlerized the original line: "why doesn't that idiot Fidel Castro praise soup..."?

Mafalda, by Quino

Comparison to 'Peanuts'
'Mafalda' has often been compared to Charles M. Schulz' 'Peanuts'. Mostly because both gag comics present satirical commentary through the viewpoint of children. Quino indeed studied 'Peanuts' closely before creating 'Mafalda' because he had no experience creating a comic with recurring characters. The graphic look and lay-out of both series are therefore similar, with Mafalda sharing a resemblance with 'Peanuts' character Lucy. In terms of reception, 'Peanuts' and 'Mafalda' are also comparable. General audiences and intellectuals have praised it in equal measure and both series won numerous awards. Today, despite having been discontinued ages ago, both 'Peanuts' and 'Mafalda' remain popular in reprints. 

However, there are significant differences. Quino's artwork, for instance, is more detailed than Schulz's. In 'Peanuts' all adults are invisible characters, yet the children have adult conversations as a mirror to "the world of the grown-ups". In 'Mafalda' the kids also have adult discussions, but adults are still prominent cast members. Quino's comic is also more grounded in reality. It features no anthropomorphic pets and doesn't take place in a romanticized suburban setting, but the big city. Both comics paint a melancholic view of our present-day world, but 'Peanuts' deals more with individual emotions like rejection, depression and loneliness. Whenever addressing the misery of our present-day world it keeps it somewhat vague. In 'Mafalda' the characters directly question society. Quino didn't shy away from depicting slums in his comic, for instance. 

Mafalda is excited to finally see the country she always saw on TV in real life. After witnessing the slums she sighs: "It's a pity that TV has better programs than the country." 

Interviewed by Le Monde journalist Frédéric Potet on 30 January 2014, Quino made another distinction: "Charlie Brown is North American, while Mafalda is South American. Charlie Brown lives in a prosperous country with an opulent society in which he desperately wants to integrate in search of happiness. Mafalda lives in a country struck by numerous social contrasts and, even though she looks for happiness too, she refuses all propositions made to her." The most significant difference is, of course, that 'Mafalda' has always been very political, while 'Peanuts' avoided such commentary. Quino and Schulz had a mutual admiration for each other's work. Schulz once said: "His ideas in his comics are quite complex and I'm amazed at their variety and depth. He knows how to draw and how to do it in a funny away. I think he's a giant."

Media adaptations
Quino has always been careful not to trivialize 'Mafalda'. He never allowed any theatrical or cinematic adaptation, with the exception of animation because this was the closest art form to his comics. In 1972 Daniel Mallo produced a series of animated TV shorts, which were compiled into a 1981 animated feature film. A decade later, in 1992, ICAIC produced a new animated TV series, directed by Juan Padrón. Compared with the first version, the second version featured more pantomime comedy.

Humanitarian causes
Quino also refused to use Mafalda to advertise products. She has only been used to promote human rights issues. In 1976 she became a spokesperson for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for which Quino designed a special poster illustrating its principles. In 1986 Mafalda also appeared in a campaign by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science to promote the first school council elections in the country. During the Easter Week military uprising of 1987 Quino sent a three-panel comic strip to president Raúl Alfonsín. In 1991 Quino also made a poster for the Spanish Red Cross. On 23 October 2009 Mafalda made a special one-shot appearance in the Italian paper La Repubblica to criticize the misogynistic comments of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. So far the only non-political cause Mafalda ever championed was a 1983 campaign for dental hygiene.

Unauthorized use
Quino has often opposed the use of Mafalda for certain causes without his permission. He was particularly angry when he discovered a sticker showing Mafalda's kid brother Guille with a pro-Franco flag. Another time his comics were used in political campaigns by a right-wing Argentinian military officer. In January 2012 opponents of the Stop Online Piracy laws used Mafalda illegally as their mascot, making a pun on her distaste for soup and the initials of the law ("SOPA"). On 23 July 2018 Quino also criticized the use of his character and a personal quote by pro-abortion activists, because they took both out of context: "I did not authorise it, it does not reflect my position", Quino said in an interview. Though he added: "I have always supported the causes of human rights in general, and particular the human rights of women, to whom I wish them luck in their demands."

Cartoon by Quino. From: 'Mundo Quino'.

Post-Mafalda career
After 'Mafalda' ended in 1973, Quino kept making gag comics and cartoons. Most were done in pantomime and without recurring characters, allowing for easy global translation. Some of these comics deal with general, non-political topics, while other offer biting criticism of modern society. Nearly all feature black comedy, with powerful, often unexpected punchlines. Quino once commented: "The Spanish newspaper El Pais has censored some of my drawings on the grounds that they are too "grim", to which I reply that I may be grim, but I'm never as grim as real life." Although often pigeonholed as a cynic, Quino once said that even he had boundaries he wouldn't cross. He considered natural disasters, imprisonment and torture personal taboos and never featured these topics in his work. It also explains why a socially conscious artist like him surprisingly enough never made drawings for Amnesty International, because he would then have to depict these subjects. 

From 1982 on most of Quino's cartoons were published in the weekly magazine Clarín and, from 1995 on, in El País too. His non-Mafalda works were also compiled in book collections like 'Mundo Quino' (1963), 'A Mí No Me Grite' ('Don't Yell At Me', 1972), 'Yo que usted...' (1973), 'Bien, gracias, ¿y usted?' (1976), 'Hombres de Bolsillo' (1977), and many, many more. 

Graphic contributions
Quino illustrated the covers of Norberto Firpo's satirical/ journalistic books 'Las paralelas no se tocan, nene' (1972) and 'El náufrago y la gallina' (1975)

Quino won the Palme d'Or at the International Salon of Humor at Bordighera. In 1982 he was chosen as "Cartoonist of the Year" by fellow cartoonists all over the world during the International Exhibition of Humor in Montréal, Canada. He received the KONEX Platinum Award for Visual Arts - Graphic Humor twice, in 1982 and 1992, followed by a a KONEX Special Mention in 2012. 'Mafalda' won the Max und Moritz Award for Best International Comic (1988) and a Haxtur Award (2000). In 1998 the artist received the B'nai B'rith for human rights and in 2005 the Prince Claus Award. In 1988 he was named "Illustrious Citizen" of his birth town Mendoza and in 2005 "distinguished citizen" of Buenos Aires too. On 7 March 2014 Mafalda was the first fictional character to receive a Légion d'Honneur. On 22 March of that same year Quino received a Légion d'Honneur too, in the presence of Zep. A few months later, on 21 May, the veteran cartoonist won the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de Comunicación y Humanidades, awarded to him by Spanish king Felipe VI on 24 October of that same year. The University of Córdoba gave Quino a honorary doctorate in 2006. The Chilean government donated a Orden al Mérito Artístico y Cultural Pablo Neruda (2015), while the University of Cuyo made him doctor honoris causa in 2019.

Cartoon by Quino. 

Final years and death
In 1990 Quino settled down in Spain and naturalized himself to become a Spanish citizen. He divided his time living in Milan, Spain and France. Every year he spent at least eight months back in Buenos Aires. In old age he enjoyed receiving several lifetime achievement awards and other recognitions. On 20 April 2009, the veteran announced his retirement. Quino passed away in 2020, at the age of 88. 

Cartoon by Quino. 

Legacy and influence
Despite his large body of work, 'Mafalda' still overshadows everything else Quino has done throughout his career. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that his earlier and later comics and cartoons lack recurring characters. Nevertheless it's amazing that a comic strip which ran less than a decade, saw little merchandising and is in some ways a bit dated, has never left the public consciousness. 'Mafalda' is still reprinted today with equal success. The character turns up in graffiti, in online political satire and arguably remains Argentina's most famous rebellious icon, second only to Ché Guevara. Much of Quino's world view remains as relevant in our time as it was back then. His comics express great compassion for the underprivileged and a strong sense of humanity.

The Flemish theatre group Hei Pasoep used an image of a screaming Mafalda as their official logo. In Paris a boutique was named after the character and in Angoulême a street. Since 2010 a street in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, also carries her name. On 21 August 2005 a square in the Colegiales neighbourhood in Buenos Aires was named Plaza Mafalda. Some famous quotes by her can be read on the square. Since 30 August 2009 a statue of Mafalda sitting on a bench can be seen on the Plaza Mafalda in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, in front of the artist's old home. It was designed by sculptor Pablo Irrgang and is part of the Paseo de la Historieta (Comics Route) in Buenos Aires. At Calle 371 in the same neighbourhood, a 2007 memorial plaque reminds passersby that "Mafalda lived here", while since 19 November 2008 the subway station Estación Peru at the Plaza del Mayo of Buenos Aires has a large mural painting titled 'El Mundo de Mafalda' ('Mafalda's World'). Another mural was created in the Parisian metro near the Argentinian embassy, in 2014. Another statue by Irrgang has been placed in park Campo de San Francisco in Oviedo, Asturia, Spain, in October 2014. In 1997 the Sojourner Mars Rover inspected various rocks on the planet Mars. One was named after Mafalda. In 2007 Quino ended at the 88th place in the election of "El Gen Argentino" ("The Greatest Argentinian"), being the only comic artist to make that list.

Cartoon by Quino. The people in their money-shaped booths are watching Charlie Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' and experience it at different levels, literally and figure-of-speech.

The 1992 celebration book 'Todo Mafalda. Edición especial aniversario' (reprinted in 2014) had a foreword by famed novelist Gabriel García Marquéz. It also features homages to Quino by celebrities like Julio Cortázar, Altan, Martín Morales, Osvaldo Cavandoli, Daniel Paz, Máximo, Ventura y Nieto, Cuando, Caloi (Carlos Loiseau), Clemente, Rudy (Marcelo Daniel Rudaeff), Carlos Nine, Roberto Fontanarrosa, Rep and Fernando Sendra. On 29 September 2014, five Latin American and Spanish artists, namely Forges, Pedro X, Rayma Suprani, Guillo and Matador paid tribute to Mafalda to celebrate the series' 50th anniversary. Quino was a strong influence on Algésiras, Becs, Alex CorralesRaquel GompyLiniers (whose 'Enriqueta' is very similar) and Francisco Munguía. Mafalda had a cameo in Ceesepe's surreal comic series 'Slober' (1975-1979). Celebrity fans of 'Mafalda' have been writers Umberto Eco, Julio Cortazar and Gabriel García Marquéz. Argentinian cartoonist Fernando Sendra once said: "Quino exists and Mafalda is his prophet." Spanish humorist and cartoonist José Luis Castro Lombilla once reviewed the second Spanish edition of 'Todo Mafalda' with the quote: "At this point nobody will doubt that if a Nobel Prize for Graphic Humor existed (...) Quino would be the winner." 

Books about Quino
For those interested in 'Mafalda', Isabelle Cosse's 'Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America's Global Comic' (2014) is a must-read.

Self-portrait for the cover of 'Simplemente Quino' (2016).

Series and books by Quino you can order today:


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