With "Macanudo," Liniers has the best daily strip you've never seen

Andy Dubbin

Liniers's comic strip "Macanudo" first appeared in Argentina's newspaper La Nación in 2002, at the tailend of the country's great economic depression. If you felt like fleeing the news, you might just turn to the daily's back page, read his surreal and existential musings, and call it a day.

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 1" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Liniers has published more than 10 books, but his work has just recently been translated into English - the first English volume of Macanudo came out this summer. In 2014, Liniers's artwork alighted on two New Yorker covers.

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While he was in town for the Miami Book Fair International, I spoke with Liniers over coffee about the cathartic, inclusive, and at times esoteric thrills of his comic strip, and the disappointing reason why it's not in American newspapers.

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Fusion: Help me out here—what's a Macanudo?

Liniers: "Macanudo" is an Argentinian word—kind of an old-timey word—meaning "it's okay," "everything's fine."

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I started publishing this daily strip in 2002, and in 2002 we had the worst economic disaster in Argentina. Like, everything blew up; we had five presidents in five days. It was crazy, everybody was losing all their money…

Fusion: Sounds like a great time to become a cartoonist!

Liniers: Ha, yes. The thing is, most of the Argentinian cartoonists had moved to Barcelona, because Barcelona was on the upswing. So there was this job in Argentina, and there was no one around! I was like—Yeah, I can do a comic strip!

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We had the Twin Towers, Bush, the war in Afghanistan. The newspaper was like "Agggghhh!" You turn to page five—"Agggghhh!"

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Pessimism was this huge thing, and I thought—what's the most opimistic word? So they have to publish this little word at the end of the newspaper every day. Macanudo.

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 2" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Fusion: That's beautiful.  The power of comics!

Liniers: I am very lucky, because people are really thankful for what you do to them with a comic. Just because they've been told all these horrible stories, and there's one guy that goes—it's not all bad! I get a lot of extra love I don't even deserve just because of the context.

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My theory is that newspapers that don't publish comics are sadistic newspapers. They just beat the shit out of you, and they don't give you anything. Publish comics, you bastards!

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 1" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Fusion: So how are you not syndicated in the States yet?  It makes no sense.

Liniers: A few years ago I got a call from United Media, the syndicate that carried Charlie Brown.

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This woman, she kept looking at my comics, and she said "Wait a second—Elves? First of all, I really don't understand your comic, because it seems to go all over the place and have all over the place characters."

And I was like "Yeah! That's intentionally done like that! I don't want people to know what's happening next, so I have all these characters and different types of humor."

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And she went "Plus — elves are not like this."

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 2" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Fusion: It's like that notorious note from a studio exec— "a Martian wouldn't say that."

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Liniers: I think that's the big problem here [in the States] with the daily strip. They are strangling this form to death because there's no freedom. That's the reason over the last 40 years, the graphic novel has emerged—the golden age of comics is here.

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Fusion: It's funny they're so unfriendly to esoteric humor. I have to read the untranslated ones very slowly because my Spanish isn't great, but the payoff is usually strong.

Liniers: Some of them I don't understand.  So don't worry—it's not your Spanish.

It's just, some of them, I go like what the fuck is this? I have to hand something in! The newspaper comes out everyday I can't wait for inspiration or whatever so, I go "well, whatever!"  And I really like those.

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"Conceptual Incomprehensible #17" from Liniers's "Macanudo" strip (Photo by Andy Dubbin)

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Liniers: Eventually I came up with one type of strip that's called "Conceptual Incomprensible;" just having fun with myself. So those I had to work so that I couldn't understand them.

Fusion: But that's David and Goliath! I see something there.

Liniers: No, in Conceptual Incomprensible, if I'm sketching and I go "Oh, this is David and Goliath!" Then I have to go back and make it so I don't understand it, and confuse myself further.

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Fusion: Working in the realm of untethered fantasy like that must be freeing.

Liniers: I was really lucky in that way. I see this in the movie industry actually. We have great directors in Buenos Aires, and when they come here to work in the States they have to do industrial work. They have to be the tail of the lion, where in Buenos Aires they get to be the head of the mouse.

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If I lived in New York I would try to work into the parameters of the syndicates, but I would be constrained in all these tiny laws they have. In Buenos Aires I can do literally whatever I want.

This is when my first daughter was born.

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"Las verdaderas aventuras de Liniers" por Liniers

Generally cartoonists will publish reruns of old strips. And I was like, I have this space every day! And I remember when I couldn't publish, thinking how nice it would be to have one in there. And I have all these friends who are cartoonists and asked, would you cover for me?

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Fusion: You invite so much participation in your work—from your read-along book The Big Wet Balloon and work with Françoise Mouly to your collaborations with Kevin Johansen.

Liniers: Yeah, I'm not very accustomed to it because I'm a dictator [in my comics]. I'm Mussolini—I don't care—hahahaha.

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But the thing is, you have to have your mind open.  When we started doing these shows [with musician Kevin Johansen], I told my wife it would last like a year, tops.  Which musician wants a nerdy Milhouse character sitting on a desk next to him for his career?

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And we've been doing this for six years, and now we're doing a huge show in Buenos Aires—in our Madison Square Garden; Luna Park. I went there to see like James Brown and Bob Dylan play. Now what the fuck am I doing there?!

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 1" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Liniers: Plus, we do something I have a lot of fun with. We reverse roles at the end of the show. Kevin paints, and I know "Knockin on Heaven's Door," which is like, three chords.

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When I'm all alone with the guitar I'm like a '2'—but then suddenly the whole band starts playing and I'm fucking excellent!

Liniers: When I get to work with someone…you get to go to places you wouldn't go on your own. They get it out of you. I really was this shy guy who did drawings, and Kevin got me on stage, and he was like yeah sure, you're funny; be funny; let's have fun, this is a party!

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Eventually I realized that it was a party, and it was for me to have fun on stage. And, you know, I wouldn't have done that by myself.

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Macanudo por Liniers, published in La Nación

Liniers: And this is Matilda, my first daughter.  She's way better than I am.  Children are completely fearless.  I think that's the thing Picasso was after. To be not scared of screwing up.

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From Liniers's "Macanudo 1" (2014, Enchanted Lion Books)

Macanudo 1, the first collection of Liniers's daily strips in La Nación, is available everywhere, and his second English-translated volume comes out soon. New Macanudo strips also appear daily on Liniers's Facebook page.

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This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

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Andy is a graphics editor and cartoonist at Fusion.

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