Between the second halves of the 1940s and the 1950s, Brazilian comics artists promoted ephemeral activities in defense of local production. Discussions about the multiple significances of comics in the country started to stimulate local artists to take the first steps in their career in the Brazilian comics art world. At the time, big domestic publishers, such as EBAL and RGE, produced Brazilian versions of international collections and titles. Probably the most remarkable was EBAL’s Edifdes Maravilhosas [Wonderful Editions], a version of Albert Kanter’s Classics Illustrated series (Jones Jr. 2011). Published as part of editorial policies in defense of comics, Edifdes Maravilhosas not only adapted titles, but also published new ones based on Brazilian literary classics. The earliest were O Guarani [The Guarani] (June 1950), Iracema [Iracema] (January 1951), O Tronco do Ipe [The Ipe Trunk] (March 1952), and Ubirajara [Ubirajara] (October 1952). They were all originally written by Jose de Alencar, a writer associated with nineteenth-century Romanticism and the valorization of national values and native people as heroes.
In turn, smaller publishers, such as La Selva [The Jungle] and Continental/Outubro [Continental/October], usually recruited Brazilian artists to produce comic books inspired by TV heroes like Capitdo Sete [Captain Number Seven]. These small presses also produced horror titles based on Brazilian traditional folklore, in place of North American comic books based that had ceased to be imported at the end of the 1950s, due to the sales decrease in the USA after a wave of domestic social criticism against comics (Hajdu 2009; Junior 2004). Comics artists considered Continental/Outubro, led by Jayme Cortez and Miguel Penteado, a more autonomous and creative space when compared to the bigger presses. Moreover, smaller publishers were seen as practical training, where editors and more experienced artists would recruit and teach new ones, establishing references and graphic styles.
After acquiring some work experience in the comic book industry at both big and small publishers, comics artists began collective organizations to effectively argue in defense of the nationalization of comics. The political moment in Brazil helped to support the agenda. Elected in 1959, Janio Quadros served as Brazilian president for seven months. Between moralism and economic austerity, Quadros, eccentric and independent, tried to regulate social activities like cockfighting, bikinis, and soccer games (Benevides 1981, 16-19), as part of what would be called, not without problems, “populism” (Queler 2008). Besides that, he tried to promote himself as a political character beyond traditional “left” and “right” wing stereotypes, which were strong in Latin America during the Cold War. Externally, however, his government was seen as leftist, since he dialogued with countries like Cuba and the Socialist world.
Usually seen as an example of populism in Brazil, Quadros used comics as part of a deliberate personal propaganda campaign to help him get closer to the masses, proving the impact of this media in Brazilian society since the previous decade. After three months as president, Quadros started to manifest his concerns about the situation of comics in Brazil. According to Jose Geraldo Barreto Dias, a comics artist who assumed the leadership of the Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro artists’ unions informed Quadros about the situation of Brazilian comics artists, most of whom were having to change careers or move out of the country because of local publishers’ exclusive preference for international material. As attested to in Ultima Hora's 1961 news report, the president was even more impressed after he noticed that:
The North-American productions that monopolize Brazilian markets are financed by the [U.S.] State Department, exporting comics to Brazil with a five dollars cost each. These publications always follow the “cowboy” or the “Superman” style; heroes that always perform in the purest macarthist [sic] way. (Ultima Hora 1961a)
Inspired by previous bills proposed during the 1950s and related US comics regulation, Quadros spoke in favor of institutional regulation of the comics industry. According to presidential head official J. Pereira, “Brazilian motifs” should inspire Brazilian comics, while “foreign subjects,” “completely divorced from our customs,” “contribute to deform the mindset of our young people” and should be disregarded (Ultima Hora 1961a). To this end, it was assumed that the government should begin to study how to stimulate local production through financing comics enterprises and creating publishing facilities and awards.
Following this announcement by Janio Quadros and J. Pereira, the congressman Barbosa Lima Sobrinho defended the initiative to establish limits to foreign comics publication. Elected by the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and linked to the Nationalist Parliamentary Front (FPN), Barbosa Sobrinho was known for his nationalist agenda. He also supported the nationalization of comics. To explain his point of view, he stated that, even if comics are “an excellent educational vehicle,” “if properly employed,”
What one can no longer afford is those stories of banditry, killings, and cruelties that keep entering Brazilian homes, stories in which Indians, Mexicans, and Cubans are presented as villains. The excuse that the “good guy always wins” is unfounded, since they are mostly endowed with super?natural powers or a very great skill in handling weapons. I see comics being used as international policy instrument, and to curb this I appeal to the Censorship, through its director, Mr. Ascendino Leite, who has been very active in recent days. (Ultima Hora 1961c)
Sobrinho also suggested some elements that should be taken into account when drafting a new bill related to the theme: creation of job opportunities for authors and artists; defense of comics as an educational tool; and limitation of the publication of foreign comics save for those which qualify as “wholesome humor,” and in quantities not equivalent to that of Brazilian authors (Ultima Hora 1961c).
In parallel to the legal actions in defense of Brazilian comics, artists turned to associations whose activities started in the previous decade. In 1961, Associa^ao de Desenhistas do Estado de Sao Paulo [Illustrators from the State of Sao Paulo Association], ADESP, was created. Although lasting less than a year, it put several actions in support of the nationalization of comics in motion. ADESP’s activities included regular meetings, with payment of fees by those who wanted to be associated members.2 The Association headquarters was located in the city of Sao Paulo, where ADESP actions in support of comics nationalization were organized, such as press releases to newspapers and TV shows, along with air travel stipends for those who would disseminate ADESP’s program throughout the country.
ADESP’s activities were publicized by Mauricio de Sousa’s performance as its president and were supported by students, public officials, press, radio, and television. Nowadays, de Sousa is better known internationally for Monica’s Gang and the universe of comics characters he created during his career, but in 1961 Sousa was a Folha de Sdo Paulo [Sao Paulo Journal] police reporter. He had published his first comics through the publisher Continental in 1959, a comic book titled Bidu (Gusman 2006). A renowned figure among both artists and the press, Sousa led Sao Paulo comics artists’ interventions, signaling the importance of “concatenate[ing] a joint offensive—Sao Paulo-Guanabara—against the ideological influence and the deformation of child mentality” (Ultima Hora 1961b).
An example of his activities mentioned in the press was the presentation of a petition to a member of the Republic Civil House asking for a “study of the dollar based comics stories imports,” since such research would encourage the Congress to seek to hinder material selection by international agencies and stimulate domestic production (Ultima Hora 1961b). The document also suggested “the settlement of a 30 % quota to foreign material for each comics magazine edited in the country, such as in Argentina, where there are laws to protect local artists’ work” (Ultima Hora 1961b). All of this rested on the grounds that “the current comics magazines—the overwhelming majority coming from the USA—deform and alienate Brazilian children’s mentality, promoting North American ‘cowboys’ or ‘gangsters’ as heroes, instead of worshiping the gaucho [southern Brazilian cowboy] or the Brazilian countryman” (Ultima Hora 1961b). The same piece reports Mauricio de Sousa, in dialogue with Jose Geraldo Barreto and the inauguration of what was called the “Comics Operation,” with the purpose of intensifying social pressure for the fulfillment of Quadros’s promise to establish a 60 % rate for Brazilian production in domestic comic book publication (Ultima Hora 1961b).
The official announcement of the Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro comics association came the following week. Associayao de Desenhistas e Argumentistas da Guanabara e do Estado do Rio [Illustrators and Writers of the States of Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro Association] (ADAGER) was founded in July 29, 1961, and was set up to be the institution to speak on behalf of all comics artists from Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro. ADAGER reinforced anti-imperialist discourse as a political strategy for the construction of editorial policies in defense of Brazilian comics authors, and argued that:
The bitter struggle that keeps [sic] Brazilian illustrators defending the national interests in the comics industry - which is a permanent struggle, not only for economic reasons, more comics imports than exports but also because the imports expose our childhood to a (foreign) ideological education - now is coordinated by a trade association. (Ultima Hora 1961b)
About 30 illustrators met at ADAGER headquarters, located at Jose Geraldo’s apartment on Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Avenue. Among them are some important names from Brazilian press and graphic humor. Days later, ADAGER reorganized its staff “among comics community representatives” and announced the following list of names and positions:
Jose Geraldo, president; Luiz Fernando, vice-president; Fortunato de Oliveira, treasurer; Rogerio Gammara, deputy treasurer; Flavio Colin, secretary; and Eduardo Barbosa, deputy secretary and public relations. Members of the Supervisory Board: Ziraldo Pinto, Edmundo Rodrigues and Paulo Egberto. Substitute members of the board: Gutenberg Monteiro, Pericles and Eucy. ( Ultima Hora 1961d, 3)
Cognizant of the organization of comics artists’ unions, southern Brazilian artists from the state of Rio Grande do Sul began to deliberate about the importance of a southern organization similar to ADAGER. In the second half ofAugust 1961, the first meetings started to happen in Porto Alegre. The press referred to them as part of a “Nationalization Movement of Comics in the south, similar to what is happening in Rio and Sao Paulo” (Ultima Hora 1961e, 2). Ultima Hora also indicated that the group would soon prepare a draft of the statute of what was then called Associa^ao de Desenhistas e Argumentistas Gauchos [Illustrators and Writers from Rio Grande do Sul Association] (ADAG) (Ultima Hora 1961e, 2).
However, there was a gap of about a month and a half between the aforementioned inaugural meeting and the resumption of activities related to ADAG. This can be credited to the unstable political situation spread across the country and Rio Grande do Sul in particular, resulting in the sudden resignation of President Janio Quadros. Leonel Brizola, governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul at that time, managed to defeat political conservative forces and took the lead in defense of legal developments to be pursued after the president’s abdication. It was then that the Legality Movement started in favor of Vice President Joao Goulart’s right to become the next president. Goulart was in a diplomatic campaign in communist China when it all happened and had been seen as a “communist” by some military ministries because of his sympathy toward workers’ rights (Canepa 2005, 278-280). The movement resulted in a parliamentary regime, and Leonel Brizola was elevated to national politics. In the end, Quadros proved to be an enthusiastic defender of the Brazilian comics artists, and, when the time came, Brizola, through Jose Geraldo, also engaged in the debate about the nationalization of comics.
The first encounter between Brizola and Jose Geraldo happened during the Legality Movement. Though concrete evidence of this is difficult to find, ADAGER’s president said in an oral testimony that he sympathized with the cause and willingly traveled to Porto Alegre during the government’s palace occupation. There he had his first contact with Brizola, who, days later, would arrive in Rio de Janeiro looking for Jose Geraldo in order to invite him to work for a public publisher, the creation of which was one of the demands of organized comics artists. Jose Geraldo withdrew from his activities in Rio de Janeiro, moved to Rio Grande do Sul, and started to recruit artists from ADAGER, ADESP, and ADAG to join this new publisher, CETPA (Dias 2001).