‘The Cuba That Touches Me Is Free Because I See It From Humor’

Cubans share and know the cartoons of graphic humorist Alen Lauzán well, and they have earned a privileged place in the independent press. (Blog of Alen Lauzán)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 24 September 2023 — When a group of hallucinating historians proposed to name Fidel Castro the “fifth discoverer of Cuba,” graphic humorist Alen Lauzán (Havana, 1974) sharpened his pencil. If, in his country, which he left in 2000 to go live in Chile, reality insists on being as absurd as possible, what can’t satire achieve? His cheeky and hilarious version of the Island’s history was not long in coming.

In his drawings, three new ships arrive on the tropical coast in 1492 – La Chiva, La Moringa and La Santa Federada – and when they see them, the indigenous-rafters flee in disarray. The conquerors leave the Granma yacht with arquebuses and mischievous faces; Colón repeats Fidel Castro’s gesture in Playa Girón and gets out of a war tank, and a peasant ensemble – with helmets and armor – sings an ode to the “discoverers”: “The first, navigator, / naturalist the second, / the third was wise, / the fourth jumped a rock, / the fifth made us firewood.”

No one is saved with Lauzán, whom the Island of mercenaries in Ukraine and the utopian ministers keep very busy. Cubans share and know his cartoons well, which have earned a privileged place in the independent press. Taking advantage of the fact that a work of his has just won a special prize at the World Gallery Of Cartoons (Macedonia), 14ymedio talks with the creator of the imaginary republic of Moscuba.

14ymedio. What is your working method? What media do you read to get inspired?

Lauzán. I have several methods, I don’t limit myself. They happen according to the pace, the amount of work and children at the time, the season of the year… Right now I read everything, listen a lot and watch a lot: news, music, movies, series or memes, whether to draw about Chile or Cuba. At the moment I am working on the Cuban issue more than ever, and I read all the Cuban independent media. I follow good political analysts, interesting Twitter users – or Xers? Everything inspires me: the truth, the deepest analysis, the most absurd lie, the stupidest comment on Facebook or the most sublime meme.

14ymedio. What topics do you prefer to address? What kind of humor would you do if you weren’t Cuban?

I like political humor, and today everything about Cuba is unbearably political. Tomorrow I don’t know, but today I don’t see myself doing just more humor without doing political satire

Lauzán. From time to time I do light, absurd or philosophical humor. If I didn’t work for Cuban-themed media, I would do it (as I did before) with Chilean-themes, which although I treat them eventually, the priority is Cuba. I like political humor, and today everything about Cuba is unbearably political. Tomorrow I don’t know, but today I don’t see myself doing just more humor without doing political satire. If I did not deal with the political issue, whether Cuban, Chilean or universal, I would be painting natural subjects in forests, zoos, on beaches or cattle farms.

14ymedio. Who are your teachers? What is, so to speak, your “tradition”?

Lauzán. Several references, guides of my training, have paraded. The cartoonists Roland Topor, Tomi Ungerer, Rius, Saul Steinberg, Siné, Ronald Searle, Jean-Jacques Sempé and Antonio Prohías, in addition to the British magazine Punch, the Cubans Zig Zag and Dedeté – with the cartoonists Tomy, Ajubel and Manuel, of course; the French Charlie Hebdo and the Spanish Hermano Lobo. Everyone and everything has created a tradition, that of satirical cartoons, whether political or social.

14ymedio. How do you rate the current state of graphic humor among the artists of the Cuban exile?

Lauzán. Several spaces are being opened; cartoonists are getting together; publications and social networks are being created. The best thing is that many independent media are valuing political humor cartoonists. You have to understand the importance of political humor in the press and give it the space it deserves, importance that comes from the first printed newspapers and remains until today. You can inform, educate and transform society from humor. Whether that humor is good or not is everyone’s decision. Hopefully spaces will continue to be born such as Matraca of El Toque, in which I participate, or Mazzantini, of the Foundation For Human Rights In Cuba, which I edit and is already in its fourth edition.

“Can you write and draw humor in the current conditions of Cuba? It must be very difficult to draw about something knowing that you don’t agree”

14ymedio. How do you think the cartoonists related to the regime are able to function? Is it possible to write and draw humor in the current conditions of Cuba?

Lauzán. They have to do the same as their editors, and in turn the directors of these and the leaders of the Cuban Union of Journalists: what the Ideological Department of the Communist Party directs them to do or lets them do. This is how it has always worked, and this will continue to be the case as long as there are laws against the independent press and zero creative freedom. In the end, the only thing we cartoonists want is just that, to draw and publish. Then you will see if each one wants more freedom or if he wants to continue believing in what he draws. It must be very difficult to draw something knowing that you don’t agree.

14ymedio. Which of your published books is your favorite? In which of them do you think your vision of the world is best synthesized?

Lauzán. It depends. I had a great time drawing Montaña Bazofia, one of the two comics – the other is called Mburu – that I created for 31 Minutes, the Chilean puppet program. Both are hilarious. But Montaña Bazofia is hilariously delirious! As for the vision of the world, I think Insanos, which also is the first collected cartoons of my last five years in Cuba and my first five in Chile. But my vision of the world today is different, so that synthesizing book still hasn’t come out.

Now, if the question is from which one I learned the most, the one I fell in love with and represented a challenge – not only for the time of realization, but also for the level of research – is Emilia, from Darkness to Light (Anaya, 2021). It is a comic about the Spanish writer, first romantic, then naturalist, Emilia Pardo Bazán. A captivating life and an impressive work. Drawing it made me learn a lot about that time. I became addicted to drawing by researching and learning, and that is my synthesis for a better view of the world.

14ymedio. What is the value of critical humor in a society as unascustomed to democracy as that of Cuba? When Cuba is free, what role do you expect your drawings to play?

Lauzán. I don’t think about those things, or about a future free Cuba, much less about the role of my drawings. I think that the Cuba that touches me is already free because I see it from humor, and satirical cartoonists have already been playing that role for some time. The value of critical humor is just that: to draw the Cuba of the day after tomorrow, where you can create and publish without going to jail or going into exile. Antonio Prohías, for example, drew, in the 60s of the last century, today’s Cuba. Perhaps my drawings will really be understood and will have real value in 2080. We’ll see, if I reach the age of 106.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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