Christopher Sperandio has been a big fan of cartooning since his youth. He sensed early that comics were a great way to disparage privileged culture, parody the middle class, and speak plainly to conventional publics – which of course he has also had the pleasure to provoke.
How did he begin producing merciless satire and cultural criticism with a wry appreciation for vintage media? Why did he build a practice that merges journalism, politics, and humor with knotty, sometimes ill-tempered narratives? Because he reads the news. Sperandio’s comic art, his dwarfish characters, and their abhorrent self-indulgence is taken directly from an endless stream of near fictive press reportage of our fatuous ideology. Sperandio’s been producing profane cartoon characters for years swaggering on Instagram and publishing comics that allude to the 40s and 50s when the medium was replete with high-stakes socio-political venom. His projects include drawings and graphic novels that dispatch loathing for the juvenile autocratic turmoil by which one party’s partisanship and the courts are awash.
When not engaging readers with comic bloodlust Sperandio trims the e-scape with new drawings, collaborators, and user-friendly technical information about publishing comics. The “Pinko Joe mini-newsletter” draws ties between art history, politics, studio practices, manual labor, and a degree of provocation therapy, but really demonstrates the artist’s fondness for 2D media and story-telling. In a recent issue he reminds us that, “Comics are a printed medium. Various tools are employed to do the work, but the comic itself is a print. In making better comics, therefore, it behooves the DIY comic artist to think like a printmaker.”
This is practical information, even for mildly curious readers who know little of the process or its history, but trust their instincts. Sperandio doesn’t talk down to readers and assumes they’ll be able to unscramble media details and context. They’re invited to see conditions of comics praxis while gathering intelligence about what motivates artists in the discipline. Many artists could care less about whether viewers understand their processes, get their allusions, or appreciate techniques and references, but artists with print and book arts backgrounds are famous for sharing technical data and historical color.
Sperandio isn’t just handing out cool club-info. While he extols the value of practical knowledge, he likes the medium because it inherently demolishes illusions, fruit salad illustration, and closure – things that turn viewers into passive audiences. He wants them to appreciate art as pleasurable but know that comics rhetoric isn’t faithful unless your ready to interact with it, hold it in your space, and decode patterns of images and typography. Comics move you with dimensionality and multiplicity, something else they share with printmaking.
Independent comics like Sperandio’s are scrupulously candid, but riddled with questions, roving narratives, blind curves and dead ends. But most don’t exploit the radicalized social distance in Sperandio’s imagery. He takes on both the gist of common public perception and “stuff” de-signed by millennialist infotainment syndicates. Enter at any point in his books. They’re nuanced by internal debates and reflexive narratives where sub-characters interrupt content by talking back or joking about stories. He digs in by making print technology and materials as striking as text, not giving narration succor, and reciting multiple refrains of in-your-face Brechtian dissidence.
Sperandio adds that “Printing & binding takes time & patience, but it’s essential knowledge if your comics are DIY.” His April 2nd newsletter is a favorite with the introduction of the “Theremonuke” typeface. Its blazing “swamp thing”capital letters, derived from cartoon horror genre are yoked to the fear of a potentially vaporizing Cold War expansion. Comic literature and yellow presses once fanned the flames of nuclear energy as a cause of alien life, so he likes pitting conspiracy theory panic against frosty skepticism to produce an appropriate degree of pulpish anxiety.
Sperandio just published “This Year is Next Year’s Last Year” a graphic novel ridiculing America’s barroom neo-fascism. His main target of course is Trump, the MAGA wing of the Republican party, and the vandalizing of the last presidential election. While he presents Trump as not as overt a criminal as Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin he sees him as supremely more ridiculous and galactically ligitable. Backroom operations leading up to January 6th capital riot are dramatized to inscribe the lunatic fringe of the GOP as it spits on convention, the constitution, the moderate wing of both parties, average Americans, and history in general.
Why stagger through that catastrophe again? Well, the American electorate has a spotty memory and apparently can’t get enough slapstick tragedy. Delusional conservatives have had four years to hallucinate that infantile covert ops of 2020 would still be an excellent strategy. Reminding us of the destructiveness and lunacy of their tactics, such as continuing to claim the election was stolen is exhausting and makes you feel stupid just for acknowledging the pretense. That Trumps indictments have only increased his war chest and popularity make some of the unhinged humor of Sperandio’s comics seem almost tame, and they are anything but tame. He drives home that the certifiable disorders of the main actors, and their leader’s strawberry blonde narcissism is totally in sync with the artist’s mocking characterizations.
By tweaking the unfettered cabaret of mid-century comics with similarly coded radical politics and reckless plot lines Sperandio plays hard. He abhors the scandalous state of political affairs but also rebukes the notion that an umbrella of educated, altruistic intellectuals are making us safe – or comfortable enough to deny Marx’s contention about tragedy returning as “farce.”
Last year Sperandio produced a documentary titled “The Grotto of Death,” about Mexican artist Julio Camerena. It was featured in several independent film festivals and won awards for Best Movie Poster in programs in Barcelona and Buenos Aires. The film title refers to an episode of a classically composed comic book horror story which Camerana discusses along with his role in the 1970’s when Mexico was the largest producers of comic books in the world. “The Grotto” is one dimension of Sperandio’s work meant to bring more attention to the history of mid-century comics, which once defined the medium and influenced “Grindhouse” film production in the United States. Sperandio uses “The Grotto of Death” to illuminate a time when an affordable mass media platform could provide non-elitist, culturally complex and amusing subjects. “If you follow me on Instagram, you know I blend two closely held beliefs – democracy & vintage comics.” Independent film would appear to be a logical addition to Sperandio’s affirmation. “The Grotto of Death” will screen at festivals worldwide, including the United States, Wales, Germany, Argentina, and Ireland. It was awarded Best Horror Documentary by the Tabloid Witch Awards festival in Santa Monica.
Sperandio just opened an exhibition in Lisbon titled “Pinko Joe, The Political Art of Christopher Sperandio.” The show is up through November at the Tinta nos Nervos space in Lisbon. Regarding the work Sperandio comments, “At the beginning of the pandemic, I began a daily drawing practice, posting the results at least once per day, and usually twice or three times daily on Instagram.” After producing 3,000 drawings a selection of 49 images tell an abbreviated Instagram narrative of the artist’s cloistered project.
This month Sperandio opens “The Eagle Warrior: The Art of Julio Camarena,” that he organized for the National Library of Latvia in Riga. The exhibition consists of more than 90 pages of original ink drawings that form the above titled comic published in the early 1970s. Sperandio also begins a residency this month in Riga with “Kuš! Komikss,” the publisher of “This Year is Next Year’s Last Year.”
See links below for more details.
P.S. I just started a mini newsletter. Subscribe at the link below and receive posts directly in your email. My second letter will be up in a few days so hurry! https://pencilbooth.com/subruralkrainak