‘El Enmascarado de Plata’, the gestation of Latin American ‘kitsch’

It was Santo El Enmascarado de Plata who immortalized José Guadalupe Cruz (José G. Cruz), one of the key Mexican cartoonists of the 20th century, today forgotten but whose genius marked the history of mass culture in Mexico and Latin America. His success was such that, in the 50s, the cartoon about Holy, “An Atomic Magazine!” (as Cruz subtitled it), sold 1.5 million copies a week.

For this reason, perhaps, it is not accurate to say that José G. Cruz created The Silver Masked. It would be hiding the fact that since the 1940s there was already a man dressed in tights, naked and masked, who fought in the ring of Mexican wrestling, idolized by fans, before the first comic was published, in 1952. But it was Cruz who gave rise to the legend and gave it the mystical aura of the supermen of popular fiction, and gave it a character, a purpose and a market.

(You may be interested in: Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams will present the nominations for the Oscars 2023).

Cartoonist, painter, actor, film scriptwriter, editor, cartoonist, Cruz, a man whose characters moved the ordinary Mexican and, later, the Latin American public, He knew how to see in the silver mask of the wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta the mark of a hero who only had to be shaped so that he would transcend his neighborhood origins and become the archetype that he became.

The comic begins in 1952. By then, the 35-year-old cartoonist from Teocaltico was already a renowned cartoonist in Mexico. After having failed as a singer (that was his illusion when he arrived in Mexico City), he earned his living as a cartoonist and scriptwriter, since the thirties.

The Saint with the ‘S’ in the mask was represented in the fotonovelas by the bodybuilder Héctor Pliego, now deceased.

It was after the success of his western Mexican Adelita and the guerrillasset in the revolution, whose protagonist, with curves and weapons to take, evoked the mythical soldaderas of the revolutionary corrido, whose name became popular in the world of comics in the first half of the 20th century.

The Mexican comic book publishing market was very prosperous at that time. So much so that it competed on a par with the comic books imported from the United States, not only because of the large print runs and the popularity of the comics among millions of readers, but also because it was a massive, low-cost, alienating if you will, elusive, naive.

As Juan Manuel Aurrecoechea and Armando Bartra remember in Pure stories: the history of the comic in Mexicowas able to shape the masses of Mexicans who came with the Revolution, which synchronized popular imagery in the universe of comics and whose market acted parallel to state literacy programs.

In addition to Adelita and the guerrillasCruz’s melodramas —pictodramas, Bartra calls them— were quite successful in the 1940s; its themes, literary modes, and aesthetics would influence the new productions of the independent publishing house that Cruz founded in the early 1950s.Ediciones José G. Cruz, in which he published the first issue of Santo.

(Also: María Cecilia Botero confessed that she is a year older than Amparo Grisales).

From these gruesome, moralizing, affected, suburban melodramas, Cruz not only instituted an appropriate language to speak to those almost illiterate popular crowds, a public that found his elaborate and excessive style liking, but also he adapted photomontage techniques for the mass production of comics.

Cover of a copy of the original comic by José G. Cruz, from 1952.

This technique adapted to the comic, an invention of the Mexicans, which is also known to have been created in 1943 by Cruz himself and Ramón Valdiosera, another great comic from that country, would become popular a few years later in Italy and Argentina and would derive in the fotonovela

Cruz and Valdiosera’s innovation, which did not distance itself from the language of the comic by using photographs, should be understood as a type of formal experimentation in the comic strip, consisting of replacing some elements of the drawing with photography, which, in general, was retouched with brush and was mounted on scenarios and illustration characters.

This type of photomontage gave new life to the use of comic language, with its onomatopoeia, balloons, lines of force, and cartridges of voices in off.

In the case of The Silver MaskedCruz used the photographs of the faces of the characters, which he mounted as cutouts on drawn bodies and backgrounds. The creatures that our hero faced, titans, werewolves, vampires, undead, even satan himself, of course, were monsters of ink.

The one who appeared representing Santo was the wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán himself, the one of flesh and bloodAlthough sometimes, for close-ups, his face was replaced by that of some other model, after all, he appeared masked, so that no reader would have noticed.

Photomontage was the way in which Cruz was able to respond to the extremely high demand for his comics. This technique allowed Ediciones José G. Cruz to comply with the simultaneous production of comics that it edited in the 50s and that in some cases, such as that of Santo, reached regular print runs of up to three times a week and with a production of five hundred thousand copies each.

(Too: Capitalism beats with Gramsci and Althusser).

cartoon empire

Three adventures of Santo every week, without counting the edition of the other publications, it was a barbaric job. Of course, when Cruz created his publishing house, which he founded in a five-story building that he built himself, duly separated by editing, design, production and photomontage departments, as well as a vast photo library, he had already delegated drawing and part of the production of the comics to his legion of collaborators, some renowned, such as Delia Larios, today known as the first Mexican cartoonist.

But that was not why his work was less intense. He was the one who wrote the scripts for almost all the publisher’s series, as well as preparing some of the covers.being the editor, being aware of the sales, finances and production of each magazine.

(Can read: Penélope Cruz and Dua Lipa will present the Met Gala in honor of Karl Lagerfeld)

He produced between two and three scripts a day and liked to type on very long rolls of paper, because, according to what his daughter, Griselda Cruz, told Ricardo Vigueras, “his ideas were faster than his fingers (and he wrote very fast, with all fingers), and I didn’t want to waste time changing blades”.

Cruz recreated for the comic the masked character that Rodolfo Guzmán had invented in the forties, who was not always known as Santo, because before wearing the silver mask he was Rudy Guzmán, ‘the Masked’, ‘the Black Demon’ , ‘The Masked Bat II’.

At the age of 35, when he began the Santo series, José G. Cruz was a renowned cartoonist.

It is also due to Cruz that Santo, the one with the ring, went from being “rude” to being part of the “technical” side; In Mexican wrestling, the wrestlers are divided between one another, which is the same as saying between good and bad; This is for marketing reasons, since a hero with the moral and religious virtues of a Saint, devoted and protected by the Virgin of Guadalupe, could not be on any other side but on that of the good guys.

This and other things Cruz added to the masked man; like his superhuman strength and will, the one he used to fight for good and justice, and face the bad guys of this world and those of the next; that she not infrequently had to fight against Lucifer and his legions and the other creatures that came from the underworld of the pulp and American science fiction and horror films.

With the publishing house, in the same year of its creation, 1952, Santo, La pandilla, Black Shadow and Muñequita appeared. Cruz continued editing Adelita and the guerrillas, now in charge of Delia Larios. More titles from the José G. Cruz label would come with more or less luck in the Mexican and Latin American comics market.

In the case of ‘el enmascarado de plata’, his greatest success, it would be published and republished in other formats until the eighties, even a few years after Cruz closed the publishing house. Since the end of the seventies, the comic would be reprinted by the Colombian publishers Icavi, VORD and Editora Cinco, the latter which also published the Mexican series Kalimán, Memín, Arandú, Orión, and others.

The franchise, so to speak, of ‘Santo’ was divided into three: the comic, the movies and the fight, for which Rodolfo Guzmán became an actor, as well as a fighter and cartoon character. Cruz and the Mexican filmmaker René Cardona signed a contract for the assignment of rights so that the cinema and comics would not step on each other’s heels; rights that Cardona would later sell to other producers. For his part, Rodolfo Guzmán received a percentage for the sales of each magazine.

(We recommend: Peligrosos Crew and their commitment to a more powerful hiphop).

the final years

If the relationship between José G. Cruz and Guzmán was not friendly, it remained cordial, at least until 1973, when the fighter sued the editor for “usurpation of personality”.

In response to the lawsuit, Cruz not only revealed the identity of “Santo”, but also replaced the figure of Guzmán with that of Héctor Pliego, a bodybuilder who holds the title of Mister Mexico, also for legal reasons, he changed the hero’s clothing, now it was distinguished from the previous one by wearing an ‘S’ on the mask and wearing short underwear, instead of mesh.

Shortly before dying, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta revealed the face that was hidden behind the Saint’s mask.

The new Saint appeared in the last numbers of the saga; in the reissues of the series, his photographs would be mounted on those of the previous Saint. There was also a third Saint, who would appear on the covers of the final issues of the magazine.. The lawsuit was closed in 1979. The courts agreed with Cruz. However, the time of the magazine and the editorial, and that of Cruz himself, was already counted.

In the early eighties, Cruz dissolved his publishing empire to go to the United States. Ediciones José G. Cruz was one of the many Latin American comic book publishers that closed their printing presses. The crisis was widespread in the world of South American and Hispanic comics. His time had passed.

In 1984, Rodolfo Guzmán died, days after discovering his face before the Mexican television cameras. Hundreds of thousands of mourning fans accompanied his bier. It was his will that he be buried with the silver mask. Cruz survived five more years. He lived a comfortable, albeit lonely, life. His love and friendships were already part of the golden age of Mexican popular culture.

José G. Cruz passed away in Los Angeles. A neighbor found his body three days after his death.

Perhaps the best definition of Santo, as well as the other heroic icons of popular culture of the 20th century, is that of Juan Villoro: “A collective accident.”

The legend of Santo was the sum of the genius of José G. Cruz, of his comics and his millions of readers, of the magic of a silver mask, of Rodolfo Guzmán, of the crowds that cheered him in the ring, of the millions who went to see their more than fifty films, the industrial machinery of entertainment and the idiosyncrasies of a people hungry for heroes.

* Cartoonist and popular culture researcher.

More news

-Riz Ahmed and Allison Williams will present the nominations for the Oscars 2023

-Gloria Estefan, among upcoming members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame

-Golden Globes: several actors tested positive for covid-19 after the award ceremony

‘El Enmascarado de Plata’, the gestation of Latin American ‘kitsch’