Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chicanonautica: Frontera Violenta -- the Comic Book

by Ernest Hogan

I found the most interesting comic book I’ve come across in years at my neighborhood carnicería. It’s called Frontera Violenta. I’m not sure how to translate that. Frontera means both frontier and border in Spanish. In English -- especially in Norteamerica -- frontier means wide open spaces in need of heroic pioneers to go out and fill them with civilization, while a border is something that only nefarious criminals cross without official permission.

That’s the sort of thing arises when Wild West mythology collides with Mexican popular culture.

Frontera Violenta has Año XX in front of the issue number, so it’s been around for twenty years. It also has PARA SU VENTA A MAYORES DE 18 AÑOS on its covers. It’s not kiddie material.

The first issue I bought was No. 1199, “Perscucion Encarnizada,” (“Bloody Persecution”). Along with a blonde babe in revealing red dress was a naked man with a six-shooter aimed right between his nipples. The story starts with a blonde woman killed, her naked body displayed at the roadside. A bounty hunter arrives in town, and after a shootout in the bar he is hired to search for the Mexican that is accused of the crime. During the chase, the Mexican is betrayed by two blonde women before the real (blond) killer is caught and hung in the end.

To make things even more interesting is what I call the Brown Shift in Mexican comics. Either because of the four-color printing they still use, or long-held societal taboos, everyone is lighter than they would be in real life. Mestizos look white, Indians look like Mestizos, and white people -- especially the ever-popular blonds -- look like they should glow in the dark. In the above story the Mexican looked white while the bounty hunter looked Mexican.

I guess you can never tell without checking IDs.

At a more recent visit to the carnicería, I found a plastic bag with three issues of various Mexican comics, including Frontera Violenta for just $2.29 (that’s dollars, not pesos).

No. 1093 “Salieron del Infierno para Morir” (“Escape from Hell to Die”) has a blond thug kill a Mexican in a saloon. The Mexican’s son, goes out for revenge. After more fighting and shooting in saloons, the hunter and hunted wind up in a corrupt prison together. After the Mexican has a night with the commandant’s abused, blonde mistress, they escape. Once they’re out, the Mexican shoots the guy who killed his father.

No. 1114 “Obligados a Matar” (“Forced to Kill”) flirts with politics. Soldiers come to a village and take all the men away to help Presidente Díaz fight las fuerzas rebeldes. This allows a gang of Americano bandits, led by “Rush Clinton” to come in, take over, and make all the women into sex slaves. Humiliated and outraged, the women break out the household firearms, and revolt. The last bandit is shot by a boy hiding in la nopalera with a carabina 30-30.

No. 1121 “Cuando la Ley No Basta” (“When the Law is Not Enough”) begins in Mexico with a machete-wielding, sombero-wearing hombre hacking a woman to death. Two years later in New Mexico, some gringo bank robbers kill a young girl while shooting their way out of town. The girl’s mother is befriended by a Brown-shifted Mexican man who happens to be looking for the machete-maniac from the first bloody scene. The two go to wild and wooly Arizona on a revenge quest. The Mexican hero finds and shoots the leader of the bank robbers, and he and the woman have an outdoor sex scene. The next day, the machete man, shows up and takes the woman hostage, giving the hero his chance to get his revenge. Yes, a Mexican got killed at the end for a change.

Frontera Violenta is everything a comic book should be. No “graphic novel” pretensions to being art or literature. Just professional cartooning that makes the unashamed, thrill-packed pulp writing come alive. It’s the sort of entertainment to have in a pocket as you run around the Nueva Frontera, dodging bullets and talking care of business.

Ernest Hogan’s writing, and news of publications and ebooks can be found at Flurb and Mondo Ernesto.