Transporting the reader back to the arts scene of Argentina in the sixties, Fantagraphics’ translation of Beatnik Buenos Aires, by Diego Arandojo and Facundo Percio, is an atmospheric exploration of the interconnected lives and passions of the artists and dreamers searching for meaning in the smoky cafes and dim streets brimming with an energy only found after the sun has set.
With no central plot, Beatnik Buenos Aires weaves together anecdotes and episodes from the true lives of various artists, writers, and other creatives that lived and worked amidst an artistic landscape now sixty years past. In the opening note, Arandojo explains how the comic grew out of interviews and research that were part of his documentary on the same time period. While more an artistic exploration than a traditional nonfiction comic, the pages of this book are inhabited by very real people. In various chapters, they move from center stage to the background and then return, inviting the reader to sit alongside them in the cafes full of voices and poetry and debate about the meaning of art and life. In piecing together these separate stories, a greater whole takes shape, a whole that offers glimpses into who these people were, into the things that drove them so fiercely to create, to understand, to leave their mark on the world.
Arandojo’s writing is restrained, moving from dialogue and narration to poetic quotes and references to the existing work of the comic’s subjects. The Buenos Aires he captures is not always a place of beauty. Many of these artists struggle in darkness. A man seduced by a charismatic leader stands in front of an oncoming train. A boy’s piano playing serves as a source of both beauty and strife. The subjects of these stories are sex and violence, politics and passion. This is not an idealized view of the artistic process. Rather, it carries the reader into the tumult and conflicts that form the soil from which so much art has grown. Quiet, sometimes grim, tinged with social upheaval and glimpses of the unreal—Beatnik Buenos Aires seeks out the beating hearts amidst the successes, failures, and raw humanity of the people it explores.
Arandojo’s script is brought to marvelous life in Percio’s hazy charcoal artwork. The Argentina we encounter in these pages is a time past; it is almost a dream. Its subjects are all-too real, but their longings are mythic. Under cover of darkness, huddled together in shared isolation, adrift in a world they seek to understand—Percio’s characters live and love and fight under the dim lights of the cafes they call home.
As a comic, Beatnik Buenos Aires seems to have a simple goal—to capture some piece of a time that is past and the people who lived there. Its themes are as varied as its subjects, but the book and its creators do not set out with a message. They bear witness. And in the closing pages, as Arandojo provides some context for each chapter, the lives of these creatives are set down so that we might catch a glimpse through a window, or through the cigarette smoke of a noisy room—and in that glimpse, perhaps we see the world a little differently than we did before.
The publisher does not offer a specific age recommendation, but the book will appeal most to older readers. Generally subdued and occasionally bleak, Beatnik Buenos Aires does include strong moments of realistic sex, nudity, and violence. Combining this with the overall themes and content, the book aims comfortably at an adult audience with potential appeal to older teens.
In total, Beatnik Buenos Aires is a quiet book hovering at the edges of complex lives and big questions. With controlled writing and a strong artistic style, it’s a worthy read for any audience interested in artistic and cultural history, realistic stories, or comics operating with more traditionally literary sensibilities. Intriguing and well-delivered, it may lack the wide appeal of some other titles on the shelves, but for the right audience, it’s a book worth both reading and revisiting.
Beatnik Buenos Aires Vol.
By Diego Arandojo
Art by Facundo Percio
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Argentinian
Character Representation: Argentinian