©June 2010 by Fabienne Lopez
More than 30 years ago, I found Mafalda in France in my friend Isabelle’s kitchen. The strip was taped on the refrigerator. I still remember that strip about Mafalda’s friend Libertad: A diminutive girl whose name means “Freedom,” an actual name in Spanish. In the story, when everybody makes the obvious remark (about freedom being diminutive) she answers, “Reach your own stupid conclusions.”
Isabelle had Mafalda book after Mafalda book piled high near the toilet. I spent a lot of time on that toilet.
Mafalda had originally been created by Quino as part of a short-lived Argentinean ad campaign for household appliances. (Quino’s full name is Joaquin Salvador Lavado, Quino being a nickname for Joaquin.) Quino decided to keep the character of Mafalda, a precocious six-year old Argentine girl. She first appeared in Argentina’s weekly newspaper, Primero Plano, on September 29, 1964 — which makes her a Libra Sun with Mercury, Uranus and Pluto in Virgo.
But as I said in the title, no astrology in this post (at least no more!) Just my love for Mafalda. However I could not resist putting up her birth data.
(Another aside: As far as I can tell, Mafalda has never been translated into English, until now.)
Mafalda has strong political views of the world. She’s always deeply concerned about the health of the planet, and about peace and human rights. A typical tirade of this true philosopher of life includes mordacious commentaries about the evils of the world, such as this panel where Mafalda says, in true Mafalda style: “We’re screwed! It turns out that if we don’t start changing the world, it’s the world that ends up changing us!”
She never ceases to ply her parents, teacher and friends with impertinent questions: “Have you two planned our education, or are you just making it up as you go along?”
She is forever condemning corruption, bureaucratic injustice, and other evils of the world in bad times. Mafalda is obsessed with the bad shape the world is in. She wants to be a UN translator, and intends to defuse conflicts by translating the ambassadors’ insults into innocuous statements.
She’s also a big fan of the Beatles (even if she can’t understand the words), and is a dutiful if sometimes sarcastic daughter. Her one weakness is soup. She has a proverbial hate for soup and holds a grudge against the Swiss for having invented instant soup.
Her friends are also distinctive characters. Her oldest friend is Felipe, the dreamer. Felipe is deeply scared of school, even though he’s the brightest and oldest member of the gang. His sweet disposition conceals an avid enthusiasm for the Lone Ranger. He often wages intense internal battles with his conscience, his innate sense of responsibility, and his incurable aversion to homework. He considers his top grades in school: “That is the worst good news I’ve ever been given!”
Her friend Manolito — his full name is Manuel Goreiro, Jr. — is the son of a Galician shopkeeper, and who, at six, is the consummate petty businessman, tireless and tiresome in his promotions of his father’s grocery store. He loves Rockfeller and hates the Beatles. He is shown to be simple-minded except where math is concerned. But sometimes this is not the case as he’s already an expert at publicity and customer relations. When smelling something rotten in the store, he remarks, “I sense this week’s special in the air.”
Then there’s Susanita (Susana Beatriz Clotilde Chirusi), a frivolous and gossip-loving girl with curly blond hair and the perfect would-be aristocrat attitude, concerned about nothing but her future children. She is Mafalda’s best female friend despite their bickering. (“Well… you know… I’d rather freak out at you than at a complete stranger.”) Her dream when she grows up is to marry a doctor, be a mother and dedicated housewife. She and Manolito are the fiercest enemies; Susanita is often the perpetrator of their bickering. As the attacks are often one-sided, Manolito is caught off guard most of the time. On occasion, though, he has the upper hand. Susanita has little sympathy for Mafalda’s worries about the world. (When Susanita reads the paper, it makes her thankful how good she is.) But she and Mafalda occasionally find common ground.
Miguelito (Miguel Pitti), the child of Italian immigrants (his grandfather imbued him with great respect for Mussolini), is about two years younger than Felipe and one year younger than Mafalda, and the others. Miguelito is characterized by his lettuce-shaped hair. Somewhat of a rebel, most of the time he is a little too eager to get into philosophical debates. He is noted for a certain narcissism.
Guille (Guillermo) is Mafalda’s little brother. He loves soup (much to his sister’s chagrin), and has a pathologic dependence on his pacifier. He and Mafalda have a pet tortoise called Burocracia (“Bureaucracy.”) He is Brigitte Bardot’s #1 fan. Guille is very opinionated, straightforward and loves to ask his parents and older sister about the outside world. He is another one of the characters inspired by someone in Quino’s real life, his nephew, Guillermo Lavado.
Perhaps Quino’s most original creation (and the one I love the most), however, is Libertad, the daughter of left-wing parents. She is equally prone to launch into politically correct harangues or into expressions of eccentric naïveté, without very well understanding the ideas involved, as she tends to be a literalist. Her mother works as a translator of French. She likes to keep things simple.
Mafalda: What’s your mom typing?
Libertad: Translations of books, because what my dad makes is just to pay for the apartment.
Libertad: My mom knows French. The French write books in French, my mom copies them the way we speak, and with what that brings in she buys noodles and stuff like that.
Libertad: There’s this guy… wait, what’s his name? Yanpol… Yanpol Belmondo… no, Yanpol… Sastre, is it?
Mafalda: Ah! Sartre?
Libertad: Right! The last chicken we ate was written by him!
Then there’s Mamá (Raquel) and Papá (unnamed.) Mafalda’s parents are a very normal and typical middle-class couple, without any particular distinguishing features. Her father works in a very run-of-the-mill insurance office and is obsessed with his plants and hates ants. He is often seen budgeting to arrive at the end of the month. Her mother is a common homemaker who gave up her university education for the life of a housewife. She lives with the dilemma of what to cook. This contrasts with their daughter’s personality. The parents have two weaknesses in common: the children and Nervocalm, which Mafalda’s father tends to consume after being asked an unnerving question by his daughter. It’s a running gag to see Mafalda dash to the pharmacy. An everyday household chore such as Mafalda helping her mother dust becomes a parental test of patience. Looking at a globe of the Earth, the precocious child asks, “Should I clean all the countries … or just the ones with bad governments?”
While most adults react to Mafalda’s questions or bizarre metaphorical statements with awkwardness, terror and/or annoyance, one elderly keymaker manages to outsmart her:
Mafalda: Good morning! I’d like a key to happiness, please.
Keymaker: [smiling] Certainly, miss. Do you have the original?
In my eyes, Mafalda epitomizes the political fervor and social characteristics of the 60’s and 70’s with its moral values and ethics like peace, equality and integration without consideration for creed, race or religion. But that’s not the whole reason I love the little girl with the big red bow on her puffy black hair. When I discovered this comic strip as a young adult in France, she became a link to my own childhood in Brazil. Like Mafalda, I had lived in South America through tough economic times of hyper-inflation and military regimes. Her reality reflected the difficulties of a Latino middle class family that I had known so well.
When I discovered Mafalda, I immediately identified with the character, her hopes and frustrations. I still do to this day. I see a lot of myself in her and her ability to say things as they are. She is sarcastic but not mean, honest, helpful and hardworking, a good friend, with little tolerance for b**sh**t. Her views of the world might be jaundiced but she is still searching for world peace. She does not suffer fools gladly, but strives to keep harmony around her. Above all, Mafalda has a spectacular sense of humor.
I love Mafalda. She is me.