« Chanoc was set in the fictional Mayan fishing village of Ixtac somewhere near Veracruz. The heroes struggled against corrupt foreigner and larger-than-life sea and jungle animals, especially sharks and octopi. An important feature of the comic book was its use of local colour and coastal lore… »
I’m always unpleasantly amazed when I stumble upon a comic series that ran over a thousand issues… and that I’ve never heard of until now. The sting of it is only slightly alleviated by the fact that it was published in a language I don’t speak. I have already written about long-running (and abounding with tentacles) German series Spuk Geschichten; today it’s the turn of Mexican Chanoc. We may be unable to travel right now, but at least we can accompany pearl diver and fisherman Chanoc and his goofily-mustachioed grandfather Tsekub Baloyán in Aventuras de Mar y Selva (adventures on land and sea – in the context of this post, mostly the sea).
Chanoc actually started out as a rejected screenplay by Dr. Ángel Martín de Lucenay, who, undeterred by this failure, cobbled the story into a proposal for a comic strip and brought it to publishing house Publicaciones Herrerías (taken over at a later junction by Novedades Editores). Ángel Mora was recruited to provide the art, and the first issue (32 pages in full colour!) came out in October 1959. Martín died after having written only 20 episodes, and young writer Pedro Zapiain Fernández was hired. He plotted Chanoc for the next eleven years until 1971, at which point his services were dismissed for a variety of reasons.
In Not Just for Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s, author Harold E. Hinds argues that it’s Fernández’s involvement that made Chanoc a best-seller.
« In order to continue to improve the characterization of Veracruz culture, Zapiain immersed himself in the coastal environment. He fished, sailed, deep-sea dived, hunted sharks, and was even shipwrecked in a hurricane.
Many of the scenes and characters in the comic book are modeled on real Veracruz vistas and people. Zapiain slowly transformed Chanoc. Adventure faded in importance, although many issues still contained at least one adventure subplot. Comedy became Chanoc’s trademark, the humour ranging from wit and repartee to parody and slapstick comedy. Mild polictal satire and social ciriticism were intoducted and sports themes became a staple. » /source/
Conrado de la Torre took over the writing when Zapiain (who, incidentally, died in 1979, at 48) was fired, but by most accounts Chanoc’s heyday was over, though I’ve seen mentions of the strip still being published as late as mid-90s. Many artists have contributed to Chanoc during the golden years: «painters Landa and José Luis Gutiérrez (both as cover artists ); Guillermo Vigil , who later created the comic El Payo; Antonio Morales, the screenwriter for Viruta y Capulina , and Antonio Salazar Berber, the first sports cartoonist and creator of mascots for Mexican soccer teams. » /source/
Thanks for Chanoc’s popularity, he did make it into movies, after all, and many of them: Chanoc (1967), directed by Rogelio A. González; four directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares, Chanoc en las garras de las fieras (1970), Chanoc contra el tigre y el vampiro (1972), Las tarántulas (1973), Chanoc en el foso de las serpientes (1975); and three directed by Rafael Pérez Grovas, Chanoc en la isla de los muertos (1977), Chanoc in the circus union (1979) and Chanoc y el hijo del Santo contra los vampiros asesinos (1981).
My (rather lengthy, sorry) introduction is now done, and we can move onto the octopuses I promised you!
Some covers are, sadly, only available online in extremely poor resolution, so here are two more:
« The comic book may be more popular in Mexico than in any other Latin American country. In this essay, Harold Hinds speculates that its decline was due to a number of factors, including the degeneration of one of its main characters, Tsekub, into a mere clown, the inaccessibility of its increasingly “slangy” language, and its tendency towards cuteness rather than meaningful satire. He then examines the main characters. Chanoc is a kind of highly moral Tarzan‐figure who protects the defenseless against villainous exploiters. Tsekub, Chanoc’s sidekick and antithesis, is an old man with a young spirit whose zest for life provides much comedy. Hinds points out that in addition to adventure and humour, Chanoc’s main components, the comic book also deals with foreign, particularly U.S., interference, in Mexico and elsewhere. He also considers a variety of ways in which Chanoc reflects, at times quite subtly, Mexican culture and society; e.g., aspects of regionalism, nationalism, mestizo character, machismo, and modernisation are briefly explored. » (excerpt from Harold E. Hinds’ Chanoc : Adventure and Slapstick on Mexico’s Southeast Coast)