Not that long ago, if you walked down the streets of Mexico City, you’d see tons of newspaper stands. These stands offered the latest issues of newspapers and magazines, and also candy, snacks, and the holy grail of Mexican popular art: pulp magazines. With really colorful backgrounds and vibrant sceneries, the most valuable thing about these pulps was their covers, which depicted the most irreverent and crazy situations you could ever imagine. From the classic sexy women facing horrible monsters, aliens invading our neighborhood, to even killer robots ravaging our city.
But what makes Mexican pulps so unique in comparison with those made in other parts of the world? On one hand, everything they talk about regarding Mexican society and realities of the time. On the other hand, the racy, witty, and humorous nature of our people. Take a look at some of the best covers ever made and be amazed (and a bit shocked) by the amazing themes on them.
Pulps started appearing in Mexico in the 1940s, but they really became popular in the 1950s thanks to their innovative stories and imagery. At first, they were pretty similar to the ones being published in America, you know, the romantic, erotic, and sometimes historical stories made to entertain working-class readers. However, Mexican pulps didn’t really have the success they enjoyed in the US mainly because they weren’t speaking to them directly.
So, in the early fifties, writers and artists took a risk and started to create new content based on the everyday experiences that the average Mexican faced, but taken to the extreme by adding nonsensical situations. However, it didn’t matter how strange and crazy they looked: the main characters had the traits, concerns, and likes of most of its readers. Needless to say, these became the ultimate form of entertainment the population recurred to.
Imagine how important these were that the production of these stories ended up becoming a kind of factory where artists would have to work all the time so that production met the consumers’ demand. If you notice, some of these covers actually have the signature of the artist who created it. But these were rare exceptions. In most cases, they came out unsigned mainly because there were thousands of people working on them. If you still can’t comprehend the extent of this craze, picture that, in the mid-seventies, around 56 comic books were produced every month. At the time, Mexico’s population was about 65 million.
These pulp magazines became instant classics in popular culture. In some cases, they were original stories, while in others, they were stories based on famous movies or even popular characters like El Santo or Capulina. That proximity with what the audience loved watching in films or listening to in the popular radionovelas, had a huge impact in the consumption of Mexican pulps. The great difference and the reason why national pulps eventually beat those produced in the US (which were really popular in Mexico in the thirties and forties), was that unlike the US ones, they weren’t that censored and thus, all sorts of controversial subjects were tackled with the characteristic raw humor that characterizes Mexicans.
Apart from that, what’s interesting to analyze nowadays is how even when a story centered on supernatural, mystical, or even fantastical themes, they still reflected the main anxieties of the people in times of constant social and political upheaval. So, the main characters (like Carlos, Juan, María, or Mercedes) weren’t merely fighting aliens, monsters, spirits, or devilish beings, but actually the fears and struggles of the lower classes: poverty, violence, injustice, strict morals, and so on.
These covers (slightly smaller than the ones produced in the US) were usually made with tempera paints on cardboard, and while they might look like kitschy, saturated works, when you look closely, you can see the sophistication in technique and style of these mainly anonymous artists who devoted their life to creating visual icons for people, which still continue to inspire tons of contemporary artists.
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