Long Way Round: Jeff's Blabbity-Blab About Buenos Aires.

Hey. I'm back from a great time in Buenos Aires where my wife and I went to visit her best friend who's subletting a place for a few months down there. The weather was great, the food was even better, and the exchange rate was downright dreamy. I'm not officially "back" in that we returned yesterday and I probably won't get to CE until Friday, but thought I'd share what I gleaned about the comix scene down in Buenos Aires. This is long, and has not a comic review in it, so if you want to skip it, I won't mind. Hibbs has a great write-up about Sweeney Todd just below, so while this may not be your week to get your snarky comic reviewer fix, it's certainly content-rich. Anyway, The Master List of Comics shops has four stores in Buenos Aires listed. I visited two of those stores, Entelquia and Punto de Fuga, as well as a third, Club del Comic, which Edi found through the Time Out Guide, while I was there.

If you know anything about Buenos Aires (and I basically didn't), five or six stores is not something to jump up and down about. Buenos Aires proper has close to three million people, and the Buenos Aires area, which includes the metropolitan area surrounding the city proper, claims more than eleven million inhabitants, approximately a third of the entire population of Argentina. While one shouldn't generalize about how many stores there actually are in such an area based on one website and one travel guide, that's a lot of people and I didn't see anything close to that in comic stores. Club del Comic and Punto de Fuga were located about two long blocks apart from each other, and both were almost achingly tiny. Club del Comic is jammed with toys and anime in the front, and then set with shelves on each side and through the center, while graphic novels and some bound volumes are set in racks that reach almost to the ceiling giving the upper walls a scaly feeling. Punto de Fuga feels even smaller, but that's probably because they also do duty as an Internet cafe, with five or six computer stations, and some sort of area where they make the coffee and the tea and the mate and stuff.

(Amusingly, whether through predilection or economic necessity, Club del Comic seemed to be more of a DC store, and Punto de Fuga more clearly a Marvel store. They both had some Corto Maltese volumes, Spanish translations of various internationally published volumes (at CdC, I was thrilled to find all of the volumes of Grant Morrison's Zenith for only 100 pesos, but discovered it was indeed in Spanish), and some neat stuff here and there, but by and large it was mainly the big two, and only the most mainstream of those works. I'm not sure why, but there wasn't a copy of Watchmen in graphic novel form to be had anywhere.)

The third store, Entelequia, was located right where you'd expect a comic store to be--close to the University (or maybe the law school, I couldn't quite tell from all the surrounding bookstores which all had legal volumes in the window)--and had the far more extensive selection of the three stores. The top floor was all non-superhero stuff, while the capes were consigned to the basement. But the stuff in the basement was all pretty current and in English--they order their stuff from Diamond and it ships once a month There, I talked to a really sweet guy who patiently answered all of my questions, and cleared some stuff up. According to him, the comics market in B.A. went through the same collapse as the market here in the mid-'90s but it suffered the additional blow of the economy's collapse in 2001. Before that crash, Entelequia had approximately 80 to 90 subscribers; now, it has approximately 40. (This is probably true for the one location I visited, and not the second location--if it still exists.) The retailer certainly had the same party line as U.S. retailers: the guys who grew up reading comic books are still buying comics, but their kids aren't; the kids use their disposable income on stuff like video games; manga is seen as an emerging force but they're not seeing as many kids in shopping for it as he'd like; and so on.

Anyway, that's the retailing side of things, but I'm no Brian Hibbs so I can't tell you what it means or how to change things up for those shops. Although if I was DC, I'd see what was up: not being able to buy a translated trade of Watchmen or Dark Knight makes no sense at all to me.

All this is lengthy preamble to what I actually did buy, pictured above at right. There are a lot of kioscos in B.A.--little shops where you buy candy, cigarettes and drinks--and I was right off several areas where the streets were only for pedestrian use and where there were kiosco de diaros on every block. These had all the current magazines, but also sometimes had terrifyingly old, torn-up comic books that were just there to fill up shelf space--I came across a copy of X-Men from early in Joe Casey's run that looked as if it'd been dug out of the ground--and at a few places, there were these cellophane wrapped books with iconic cartoon figures on the cover and a logo, "Biblioteca Clarin de la Historieta." They were thick books, over 200 pages, but I couldn't tell if they were essays or reprints or what. After seeing them briefly on our first day walking around, I became obsessed with trying to find them again and buying them, particularly Dick Tracy: Chester Gould's work is so iconic and masterful in its own right, it didn't matter if I could read it or not.

Of course, it being the volume I wanted the most, it took me forever to find it again. The next day, we couldn't find the kioscos with the volumes at all, and I didn't see the volumes until we ended up at Club del Comic, which had multiple copies of the Superman and Batman volumes, some volumes I wasn't interested in at all, and the Flash Gordon copy. The Superman and Batman volumes were marked up to sixteen pesos (as opposed to nine at the kioscos) and the Flash Gordon copy was marked down to eight. I bought it, tore open the wrapping when we hit the street, and was relieved and delighted to see that it wasn't essays (I love Raymond's Flash Gordon, but think even the staunchest academic would be hard-pressed to fill two hundred pages on the topic) but black and white reprints that was one-third Rip Kirby and, of the remaining two-thirds, one-third Dan Barry material. I was hooked. Because I didn't have a ton of space (either in my luggage or at home), I tried to keep my shopping choices limited. Of course, now I'm kicking myself for not picking up the two volumes of El Eternauta by Oesterheld and Solano-Lopez, which may well have been the raison d'etre of the Biblioteca Clarin de la Historieta line in the first place. El Eternauta is a classic of Argentinian comics. (I was kind of shocked that there wasn't more work available of Francisco Solano Lopez, one of the few Argentinian cartoonists whose work I recognized but maybe I just didn't come across it while I was there.)

In the end, I found a kiosco that had a torn and ravaged copy of Dick Tracy on the ground for cover price. Fortunately, the kiosquero took pity on me and took a less-ravaged copy out from under his glass display and also sold me a similarly well-preserved Corto Maltese volume (that has color pages!), for ten pesos each. Entelequeria had a five peso copy of El Loco Chavez that rounded out my little mini-collection--eleven hundred pages of reprints for thirty three pesos, or approximately eleven bucks. The Dick Tracy volume is the only one I've spent any time with, and it's worth all those pesos just on its own. Even the "Lunar Chica" story from 1963 is as insane and interesting as anything Ditko's ever done--if the deluxe strip collections continue to gain ground in the book market, I hope we'll see some major retrospective of Gould's work some time soon.

So yeah, that's what I've been up to the last ten days or so. Next week: some comic book reviews, maybe both old and new depending on what catches my fancy. I've also got a Wondercon pic of Ben and Hibbs and some other stuff I'll be posting in the next few days. Anyone who knows more about the B.A. scene or Eternautas, feel free to throw info or links in the comments.

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