Cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known as ‘Quino,’ the creator of the iconic Mafalda comic strip and its socially conscious eponymous character, died on Wednesday in his native Mendoza at the age of 88.
He had been in poor health after suffering a stroke earlier this month.
"Quino has died. All good people in the country and in the world will mourn him," said Daniel Divinsky, the head of Buenos Aires publisher Ediciones de la Flor, announcing the artist’s passing on Twitter.
News of Quino’s death prompted a wave of condolences from fellow-artists, politicians, intellectuals and human rights organisations, as well as countless fans from all over the world. In the capital, many porteños thronged around the sculpture of Mafalda in San Telmo, leaving flowers in tribute at the foot of the statue.
Social networks, meanwhile, fizzed with messages of gratitude from institutions including Amnesty International, UNESCO, the Spanish Royal Academy, while countless individual admirers expressed their sadness at the news.
"Stop the world, I want to get off," was perhaps the most characteristic and repeated quote from the acidly precocious Mafalda, the six-year-old girl with bushy black hair representing the progressive middle-class viewpoints of the 1960s who was a prime hater of soup and social injustice.
Quino was remembered affectionately by much of the country’s political class too – even though they were frequently the target of his acerbic humour.
Calling the cartoonist one of the country's greatest ever artists, President Alberto Fernández said Quino had "made us laugh, he made us think and he always called on us to reflect on Argentina, to which he was committed like few others."
Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a former two-term president, uploaded a video to Twitter in which Quino had wished her good luck in governing. She said he had “said things that could not be said” — a reference to censorship during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s — and that he “challenged society with great strength.”
‘The real Petit Prince’
Quino masterfully combined irony, acidity and tenderness in his vast output. His characters were often ordinary people: children, housewives, employees being exploited by their bosses, the victims of the absurd, authoritarianism and their own limitations. Each graphic joke was a short story in itself, hilarious and sometimes heartbreakingly sad.
“I don’t think my cartoons are the sort that make people laugh their heads off. I tend to use a scalpel rather than tickle the ribs," Quino said in an interview with The UNESCO Courier that was published in 2000. ‘’I don’t go out of my way to be humorous; it’s just something that comes out of me. I’d like to be funnier, but as you get older you become less amusing and more incisive."
A master of his craft, Quino was highly respected by his peers both in Argentina and across the world. Fellow-cartoonist Miguel Rep depicted and defined him as “the real Petit Prince.” Italian writer Umberto Eco described Mafalda as fundamental to understanding Argentina. Writing in the prologue to 1963’s Mundo Quino, humourist and critic Miguel Brascó said that “Quino draws little poems about the human species.”
Mafalda, created in 1964, became popular in newspapers across Latin America, Europe and much of Asia before being turned into a best-selling series of books. Apart from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar and Ernesto Sábato, no Argentine has been more widely translated than Quino with Mafalda expostulating in no less than 27 languages.
His work has received global recognition, including Spain’s Premio Príncipe de Asturias and France’s Legion of Honour back to back in 2014.
Quino was “creator of the unforgettable Mafalda and one of the most international cartoonists in Spanish,” the Madrid-based Royal Spanish Academy said. “His precise words travelled to both sides of the Atlantic thanks to his cartoons and his peculiar sense of humour.”
His repertoire, however, was far from limited to Mafalda, a comic strip he stopped publishing in 1973 without ever fading away – he also published over 20 books with titles like Quinoterapia, Sí, cariño (“Yes, dear”), ¡Yo no fui! (“It wasn’t me”) and Simplemente Quino.
Power of the pencil
Quino died in Mendoza, where he was born to Spanish immigrant parents in 1932. A school dropout, he studied at the city’s college of fine arts before moving to Buenos Aires at the age of 18.
"At the age of three I drew my uncle. I discovered that people, horses, trains, mountains could come from something as simple as a pencil... a pencil is something wonderful," he once said in an interview.
Quino was always a lone wolf, although he acknowledged inspiration from Peanuts by Charles Schulz in the United States, which preceded Mafalda by a few years.
In interviews, he often explained that it was his problems with verbal communication that eventually pushed him to create his iconic character. "I draw because I speak badly," he once recalled.
Upon arrival in the capital, Quino suffered three years of economic hardship. Eventually, in 1954, his first cartoon was published in weekly Esto es, a moment that he often described as "the happiest" of his life.
Soon after, Qunio began publishing his work in other outlets. With time, his creations were being reproduced across Latin America and later in Europe.
In 1960, he married the love of his life, Alicia Colombo, which was followed by another landmark in 1963: the release of his first compilation book, Mundo Quino.
With Brascó’s help, Quino then received a commission to produce work for an advertising campaign for the Mansfield electrical appliance company, creating the character of Mafalda for it. The campaign didn’t come to fruition, but Quino kept the work.
And so, on September 29, 1964, the little porteña made her first appearance in the Buenos Aires weekly Primera Plana. Spanish newspaper El Mundo quickly picked up the comic strip and before you knew it, Mafalda and her friends were going global.
When the first compilation of Mafalda comic strips appeared in book form in 1966, it sold out in two days.
With his cartoons, Quino reflected the world of adults as seen through the eyes of a group of children, with his six-year-old protagonist as the central character. "She is a girl who tries to solve the dilemma of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this world," he once told journalists.
According to Quino’s official website, Mafalfa is “an inquisitive, intelligent, ironic, non-conformist girl, concerned with peace and human rights, who hates soup and loves the Beatles.”
Like her, Quino was a declared lover of freedom, although he also suffered censorship.
"In Argentina I had to censor myself because when I started to draw in Buenos Aires they clearly told me 'no military, no religion, no sex'. And then, I talked about all that but in another way," he once recalled in an interview.
When Mafalda arrived in Spain, during the Franco dictatorship, "it went out with a banner on it that said 'for adults only' and it was also censored in Bolivia, Chile and Brazil," when those countries were also under military dictatorships.
Quino stopped drawing the strip of his best-known character in 1973, when Mafalda was being published in the weekly Siete Días Ilustrados, before the arrival of Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Following the 1976 coup, the young cartoonist fled to Milan, before becoming a Spanish citizen in 1990. He has lived alternately in Madrid, Paris, Milan and Argentina ever since.
Though Quino stopped drawing Mafalda regularly in the 1970s, the comic strip remained popular and he periodically drew it again, including for a campaign with UNICEF about adequate medical care for children and other rights. One image shows the protagonist at the head of a line of children in front of a nurse.
“We came for the vaccination against despotism, please,'' Mafalda says in the caption.
Another cartoon unrelated to the UNICEF campaign shows an adult standing with Mafalda as she gestures at a rotating globe with a map of the world on a desk. “You're leaving? And this? Who's going to fix this?'' she says, gesturing at the globe.
Quino said that humour and art wear themselves out and that he stopped drawing Mafalda because he was repeating himself.
“Even though the books continue to sell very well and people ask me for more, I think that I made the right decision when I stopped doing Mafalda, and I don’t miss her at all,'' he said.
His fans, however, will certainly miss Quino. As she laid flowers by Mafalda’s bench in San Telmo in the capital on Wednesday, local resident Damian Lozada reflected the sense of mourning that had swept the country.
"I had to go out to do some paperwork and I thought of coming to greet Mafalda, Susanita and Manolito, because there are several generations of us feeling a little orphaned today, I think. And they even more so," said Lozada, referring to the nearby statues.
"Quino leaves behind an extraordinary body of work for the world. It is love and it is humour. It is tenderness and it is intelligence. It is scathing observation and also innocence," he added.
Aged 81, Quino admitted that he had finally stopped drawing due to some problems with his eyesight, later revealed to be glaucoma. He said he was satisfied though, because he had said “almost everything” that he felt throughout his life.
There was still more to squeeze in, though. In 2014, when Mafalda's 50th birthday was celebrated, Quino received the French Legion of Honour. Despite his happiness at receiving such a distinction, he was still horrified by the loss of his sight. "It is very ugly, the world is disappearing," he told La Nación.
In 2017, after the death of Alicia, the cartoonist moved from Buenos Aires to his native province, settling in Luján de Cuyo.
On Thursday, his family announced that his remains will be cremated at an intimate ceremony in Mendoza, while the government declared a day of national mourning and the lowering of flags to half-mast on public buildings.
Born in the early years of the Beatles (of whom she has always been a fan), Mafalda is now sadly left orphaned at the age of 56. Her creator’s legacy, however, will be here for many more years to come.
Tributes flood social media after Quino’s death
The words "thank you" and "teacher" were everywhere you looked. On Wednesday, as news emerged of Quino’s death broke, social networks were flooded with tributes by fans.
Argentine graphic comedian Miguel Repiso, known as ‘REP,’ a close friend of the late artist, wrote simply: "My second father left. Thanks for everything Quino (1932-2020)."
Fellow popular cartoonist and artist Ricardo Siri, otherwise known as ‘Liniers,’ echoed the thoughts of many by posting: “Thank you teacher.”
Neuroscientist Facundo Manes, meanwhile, wrote: "Goodbye to one of the brightest minds (and hearts) in our country. Thanks for everything, Master! #Quino."
Politicians also weighed in. "Thank you Quino. For your art and commitment. Your immense work will always be present in Argentine history and in the collective memory of those of us who enjoy it. Goodbye, teacher," said Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero in a message on Twitter.
Many tributes to the late cartoonist were accompanied by images from Mafalda comic strips especially one with the star character looking sad with an appropriate caption that read: “Well ... how does one stick this on the soul?"
Figures from outside Argentina also paid their respects. Spanish singer-songwriter Ismael Serrano wrote: "Quino died. What a great shame. You could say that I learned to read with Mafalda. To this day I continue to do so. Reading it and learning to read. Thank you, Quino."
Colombian senator Gustavo Petro said that “Quino was the philosopher of cartoons. A progressive man who made humanity think."