Cartoons from Nicaragua (Book Review)

Cartoons from Nicaragua (Book Review)

"Cartoons from Nicaragua - The Revolutionary Humor of ROGER". Featuring the political cartoons of Roger Sanchez Flores, selected and translated/edited by "The Committee of U.S. Citizens Living in Nicaragua" (no ISBN or price is indicated; the copyright date given is 1984, and translation and design are credited to Phillip Beisswenger), 50 pages, inexpensively printed on newspaper stock by Nicaragua's "El Nuevo Diario".

The "Committee" had as one of their goals, drastic changes in U.S. foreign policy. However, as they point out in the introduction, "...by publishing this booklet we are not aligning ourselves with the FSLN...". The "I'm-not-with-them" qualifications were and are fairly common - as they often are when it comes to revolutionary movements and even depictions and criticisms of them, satirical or otherwise. It is the nature of good political cartooning that artists waver between annoying and/or pissing off many readers - and at the same time having a wide readership, across social and political lines. Roger Sanchez Flores (better known simply as, "Roger" - as that is how he signed all works) had that, as noted by some of the authors of other books listed on this site, including Forrest Colburn, David Kunzle and Roger Lancaster.

Roger was cartoonist and caricaturist to the Sandinista papers "Barricada" and "Barricada Internacionale". Later, his own "Semana Comica" -a very different art form- was often officially subtitled, "A Weekly of Humor, Marxism, Sex and Violence", and it was immensely popular. At least two cornerstones of "Semana Comica" (the Sex and Marxism anyway) are not really present in this selection, "Cartoons from Nicaragua", and so what will not be found here are the sorts of insight and imagery that later resulted in the first legal test of the Sandinista's new media law, when Roger was officially challenged (and later reprimanded and temporarily shut down) by the Sandinistas, in case forced on Interior Minister Tomas Borge by AMNLAE (Nicaraguan Women's Association). Though Roger lost much of this round of Sandinista infighting, he won in the court of public opinion - and this story is covered in a forthcoming little obituary of Roger.

While this slender booklet hardly does justice to his overall work, it is representative of his more official forays into newspaper cartooning. The images and intent are rather obvious. Quoting Roger: "North Americans should be able to see this booklet as a mirror of what the White House is doing here. They shouldn't see these cartoons as lies or inventions of ours. They let North Americans know how we see their government". Comic-book-sized publication (approx. 7x11"), coming in at only 50 pages, with each page being an oversized reproduction of one of Roger's political cartoons. The book is organized into broad categories: "The U.S. War Against Nicaragua", "The CIA and the Contras", "The Internal Opposition to Nicaragua's Revolution", "Religion in Nicaragua", & "The U.S. in Central America".

Outside Nicaragua, Roger was far more popular in Europe than in the U.S. This very small pamphlet represents his major introduction to U.S. readers not in Nicaragua. In Spanish, his works were collected into, "Manequitos del Pueblo: Dos Anos en la Luchia Ideologia" or "Cartoons of the People" (2 volumes, published by FSLN, c1981 - German and English editions were later printed in West Germany and London), and "Humor Erotico" (published by Vanguardia, c1986). Versions and/or selections of these works were also printed in small numbers elsewhere in Europe. This short reprint list is a remarkably small showing for a man whose work in 1986, at a time when few Nicaraguans had disposable income of any kind, had a home-grown satirical weekly with circulation numbers at nearly 60,000 (translated to a U.S. population size, this would be a readership of nearly 5 million people - comparable then to Time Magazine). I am unsure of the status of Roger's cartoons and will not reproduce them here. I have posted one example elsewhere, since it was used on the back cover of the book and in promotional materials, so it is fair game, here.