Book Review: Macanudo: Optimism Is for the Brave by Liniers

Fantagraphics continues their English-language collections of this Argentine comic strip with this charming second volume. If you haven’t stumbled across the Macanudo strip before, it originated in Argentina in 2002, where it continues to this day, and finally reached US syndication in 2018. 

Liniers has many apparent influences on his strip, primarily Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, and Peanuts, with healthy dollops of Krazy & Ignatz and Mutts as well. His true strength is how he builds on the shoulders of those greats, amalgamating their inspiration into something that feels both fresh and familiar. There’s no convoluted backstory needing explanation, and no ongoing narrative, just a set of recurring but not interacting characters who make funny observations about their daily lives or just enjoy living in the moment. This makes the strip instantly welcoming to new readers, while rewarding longtime fans with the ongoing antics of familiar characters.

Among the characters are a little girl named Henrietta and her talking pet cat named Fellini, a pair of elves, and a boy and his imaginary blue monster (pictured on the cover). The little girl spends her time alternately reading or playing outside, with her cat as her faithful companion. The elves usually have some surreal things happening with their freakishly long, intertwining hats. The boy carries on with his daily adventures while his monosyllabic monster utters “Olga” to everything like a furry Groot. Other prominent characters include a pair of hapless penguins and a bickering old couple of witches, although there are dozens of other ancillary characters or even one-offs like Grogu who can get called up at any time based on the daily whims of Liniers.

The strip is at times bizarre, wryly observational, or whimsical, but the one unifying theme is optimism. Sarcasm has no place here, where characters are more likely to wax poetic about the joys of reading than gripe about the state of the world.  No matter what characters are involved or what situations they find themselves in, the strip is like a ray of sunshine, even through the long days of Covid where one of its only two mentions is its appearance as a tennis ball being batted away by a grinning player. As Henrietta remarks to Fellini one day, “if a book is extraordinary it is started by one reader and finished by a different one”, a fully appropriate sentiment for this enchanting collection.

The new collection compiles strips into a 176-page hardcover. As with the first collection from Fantagraphics, Welcome to Elsewhere, the book design is exceptional, with embossed covers adding some classy texture and acid-free matte paper providing the best showcase for Liniers’ delicate brushwork and dreamy watercolors. It’s a far cry from the lousy pulp paperback collections originally given to the legendary strips that inspired him, and an indication of the timelessness of this strip, as the Fantagraphics books are built to last for generations.

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Steve Geise

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