(Columbus, OH) – The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum presents Depicting Mexico and Modernism, the first retrospective on the comic strip Gordo. On view Dec. 13, 2023–May 5, 2024, the exhibit celebrates the dazzling artistry of Mexican-American cartoonist Gustavo ‘Gus’ Arriola.
The syndicated strip ran from 1941 to 1985 and featured Gordo Salazar Lopez, a bean farmer turned tour guide, who introduced readers to Spanish words and Mexican culture. At first, the title character, Gordo Salazar Lopez, a bean farmer, was portrayed through Hollywood’s regrettable stereotype as a lazy Mexican. When Arriola realized he was perpetuating negative stereotypes, he shifted the character’s story, reimagining Gordo as a tour guide navigating a Mexican ‘colectivo’ (bus) called Halley’s Comet and focused instead on accurately portraying Mexican life and folklore. Arriola’s development as a modernist artist was influenced by his first trip to Mexico in the 1960s where he immersed himself in Mexican culture and modernist art. The exhibition invites visitors to trace his journey as an artist who used the comics page to celebrate and share his Mexican heritage with American readers.
“Gordo was a successful newspaper comic strip during its run, but few people today are familiar with it,” said Jenny Robb, Head Curator of Comics and Cartoon Art at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. “The strip is remarkable not only for the way it introduced American audiences to Mexican culture, but also because of Arriola’s inventive storytelling and design that was unlike anything else on the comics page. With this exhibition, we hope to introduce Arriola’s amazing work to new audiences while providing an in-depth retrospective that will also appeal to his many fans.”
Curated by Nhora Lucía Serrano, the exhibition consists of animation made by Bret Olsen and works on loan from Mark Burstein, Jim Guida, Lalo Alcaraz, Hector D. Cantú and from the collections of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University.
“Hailed as a virtuoso comic strip artist by Charles Schulz, Hank Ketchum, Mort Walker and Eldon Dedini, Gus Arriola was a gifted visual storyteller whose Gordo is a masterclass on how modernism and Mexican ‘artesanía’ influenced the comics medium,” said Nhora Lucía Serrano, exhibition curator. “Originally intended to be the Mexican Li’l Abner, Gordo is also an early example of how the cartoonist and his character’s ethnic identity evolved and emerged in comic strips. Long overdue, this exhibition is the first retrospective on Gordo—a celebration and a testament to the impact that Gus Arriola has had on today’s Latinx’s cartoonists.”
This exhibit will be presented with labels in both English and Spanish languages.
Save the Date! Join us on Saturday, January 20 for a reception to celebrate the opening of this exhibition and a program featuring Lalo Alcaraz, Hector D. Cantú, Carlos Castellanos and Frederick Luis Aldama.