Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Evita: The Life and Work of Eva Perón’

“But all you have to do is look at me to know that every word is true”

I like to classify my comics, as you might know from reading my monthly review posts, and when I got this back in March, I classified it as a “classic” reprint because it’s 50 years old. However, this is the first time it’s been translated into English, so I’m reviewing it like a graphic novel! Sound good? I knew it would! Evita is part of Fantagraphics‘ Alberto Breccia “library,” which is a fun project. Breccia drew this, obviously, with help from his son Enrique. This was written by Breccia’s long-time collaborator, the great Argentinian writer Héctor Germán Oesterheld … sort of (I’ll get to this!) and translated by Erica Mena. As for my qualification … apparently by 1970, Perón was so controversial due to Argentina falling under the sway of a right-wing military dictatorship, so Oesterheld’s project had to be shelved, especially given that the previous year he and Breccia had done a similar book on Che Guevara (which I reviewed here). Even though Juan Perón returned to power in 1971, the project was still shelved. Years later, an editor found Oesterheld’s script (so he said) in Breccia’s studio, so this was published with the artwork and Oesterheld’s script. And now it’s in English, so mouth-breathers like me can read it!

Perón, of course, is famous worldwide, not only in Argentina, thanks in a large part to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Madonna, and even now, 70 years after her death, she’s a huge figure in her native country. Oesterheld’s story reads a bit like a hagiography, but it does seem like it hews pretty closely to reality. Evita did champion the working classes and women, and she did help drag Argentina – occasionally kicking and screaming – into the 20th century. Most of the criticisms of her, it seems, focus on the fact that she was a bit naïve, but she was only 33 when she died, so perhaps we can forgive her naïveté a bit. Making a diplomatic visit to Spain during the Franco era doesn’t seem like it would automatically make someone a fascist, in other words. Perón’s rise to power is a bit fairy tale-like, of course, as she grew up poor, worked in movies and radio, and through that met her future husband, who was 24 years older than she. She worked in government during Perón’s presidency, and it’s not too difficult to see parallels to someone like Hillary Clinton – an unelected person working in the government who draws the ire of enemies of that government, with a nice dollop of misogyny thrown in. Oesterheld’s script simply tells her story, without a lot of embellishment, but with an admiration that feels like the way a lot of Argentines, especially those who lived during Evita’s lifetime (Oesterheld was born in 1919, the same year as she was), feel about her. If you don’t know much about Eva Perón, this comic will tell you the basics, certainly in an in-depth way, but without any real analysis of her character or policies. She did good things because she was good. Some people didn’t like her because of that, but more people loved her because of it. Oesterheld vaguely touches on Argentina’s place in international politics, but he never goes very far into it. It’s fine, but it’s not very deep.

Breccia’s work is, as usual, excellent. Unlike his Che biography, which is deliberately called “impressionistic” (more in the story than the art, but the art certainly has elements of it), Breccia keeps his line work fairly light and doesn’t use as many black chunks to darken the art. He’s certainly not a ligne claire kind of guy, but he still uses lines instead of blacks to create scenes in this comic, which is because Evita was a public, bright kind of figure, while Guevara fought on the margins. Breccia uses thick lines and nice stippling effects to create a good texture to Argentina in the 1940s, making it seem both of the past and timeless, which helps keep the story relevant to a degree. Breccia is as enamored of Evita as Oesterheld is, but his slightly angular work, thick lines, and rough inking help keep the story realistic, as everyone – even the sainted Evita – are just people trying to do their best in this life. It keeps the book grounded, because although it’s clear Breccia admired Evita, his art balances out the script and shows her not as a paragon but as a struggling woman working against the tide of history.

There’s not too much I can really write about this – it’s well done, nice to look at, and it tells us about someone we probably should know more about … that is, if you don’t already know about such a famous person. While it doesn’t really delve too much into the personality of Eva Perón, Oesterheld does a good job showing us why she is so beloved and why she deserves a great deal of that praise. Breccia does his usual beautiful job with the art, and we get a fascinating portrayal of a woman who knew a great deal about how to get things done and could have done a lot more had she not died so young. It’s not the best work by these two creators, but it’s definitely an interesting comic.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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