Blue Demon: You Can’t Kill a Vampire

Posted by Dr Ernesto Priego on January 06, 2012 in Ernesto Priego, Guest Blog tagged with , , , , ,
El Increíble Blue Demon 13, cover, Ediciones Latinoamericanas, date unknown. (COGRAF edition, Bogotá)

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, cover, Ediciones Latinoamericanas, date unknown, (COGRAF edition, Bogotá)

Blue Demon, born Alejandro Muñoz Moreno (April 24, 1922 – December 16, 2000) was one of Mexico’s most famous pop culture icons. Like Santo, he was a trans-media property, spanning free wrestling performances, radio, TV, film and comics. These two characters embraced the Gothic producing a successful mash-up of cultural references.

The 1950s was a prolific era for Mexican comic books, preceding the widespread introduction of television in Mexican homes. From early on, Mexican historietas and foto-novelas catered for a readership hungry for melodrama, action and violence.

Most existing copies are the editions published by COGRAF in Bogotá, Colombia, and included no publishing dates in their legal page (bottom of page 32 in the Colombian editions). The original Santo series started running in 1952, and while it is possible the Blue Demon series would have followed quickly after most surviving copies are likely to be from the mid 1960s.

These comics were aesthetically defined by the technical conditions of their production: cheap, porous paper printed on black and white or sepia tones. In the case of lucha libre or free wrestling photo-comics, the use of black and white photography in high contrast allowed for an appearance not unlike that of classic horror films.

Whilst Santo and Blue Demon would go on to star in popular movie team-ups against a gallery of monsters clearly influenced by (if not ripped off) the Universal and Hammer catalogues –Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos (1969), Blue Demon y las Invasoras (1968), Blue Demon en Pasaporte a la Muerte (1967), Blue Demon contra las Diabólicas (1966), Blue Demon vs. Cerebros Infernales (1966), La Sombra del Murciélago (1966) and many others– their comic book titles were responsible for the original mashing up of cultural referents from Mexico and elsewhere, adapting European and American Gothic themes and motifs into the Mexican popular iconographic imaginary.

La sombra del murciélago, theatrical poster, 1966

La sombra del murciélago, theatrical poster, 1966

Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo, theatrical poster, 1972

Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo, theatrical poster, 1972

Blue Demon’s comics, such as issue 13 of the first original series published by Editorial Latinoamericana in Mexico City, achieved considerable popularity in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, exporting its visual and linguistic references south of the border. Titled “Vuelven los vampiros” (The Vampires Return”), the issue ran for 32 pages, which often was the standard length of periodical American comic books published at the time.

The circumstances of American comic book publishing might or might have not had a direct influence on the comic books made and read in Mexico, but the connections and differences between the horror comics from the United States and their Mexican counterparts should not be underestimated. Even though the moralistic backlash against comic books partly initiated by German-American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham had started at least in 1948, when he published his article titled “The Comics, Very Funny”, on the Saturday Review of Literature, proper censorship in the form of the  Comic Book Code Authority would not be fully established until 1955. 1955 was also the year when a publication such as EC ComicsShock Illustrated would coin the term “picto-fiction”, employing an aesthetic that bridged pulp magazines and comics.

Shock Illustrated (1956) #2, Painted cover by Rudy Nappi.

Shock Illustrated (1956) #2, Painted cover by Rudy Nappi.

 El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 1, panel 1

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 1, panel 1

The Mexican government had been attempting to censor historietas at least since 1944 (Aurrecoechea 2001) but the truth is that horror and Gothic melodrama were tolerated standard features of the genre. Foto-comics or foto-novelas from the late 40s and early 50s were thus pioneering cultural products, trans-media texts that embodied, almost as if they were Bakhtinian chronotopes, the past and the future, the local and the “foreign”.

“Vuelven los vampiros” features all the standard elements of Gothic fiction, an old house, a dungeon-like cave, underground passages, crypts, graveyards, shadows, moonlight, rugged mountains, lush exotic gardens, omens and ancestral curses, passion-driven villains and a wilful villain-hero. The story starts with Blue Demon attending the call of a male friend whose girlfriend is dying of an unknown cause. Blue Demon detects the cause of the frail girl’s illness: the scar of the vampire’s teeth on her neck. He promises to help his friend seeking the help of a monstrous hooded witch, Ceferina, who lives in a cave on the top of a rugged mountain. It is then that the vampire and his sidekick, a decidedly Wolfman-like creature, appear to defend their prey:

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 9

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 9

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 10

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 10

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 11

El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 11

This hybrid textual fabric was also made manifest by the combination of photography and illustration. Whereas the actor playing Blue Demon (who is likely to have been Alejandro Muñoz himself) does wear his mask for the photo shoots, the monster character faces have crudely been more than once drawn on top of the photographs (for example to exaggerate hairy eyebrows), enhancing both the fictitious and meta-performative nature of the visual narrative and, in retrospect, the uncanny nature of the staging.

Following the photo montage techniques mastered by narrative photographer José Trinidad Romero (1925-1999), throughout the issue the anonymous artists behind this El Increíble Blue Demon issue make use of all the theatrical and photographic resources at hand, experimenting with different angles and zooms, changing from conative frames to top shots, etc.

The script literally repeats and spells out again and again the standard Gothic motifs, particularly when they  are not fully shown graphically in the specific panel (“el viejo cementerio“- “the old graveyard”; “la vieja casona abandonada” -“the old, abandoned mansion”). As in most stories of this foto-novela genre, the Gothic elements work as the framing for a melodramatic plot in which the female villain-damsel-in-distress plays a double role in more than one sense. Falling in love with Blue Demon, she will face the dilemma of choosing love over eternal life.

Played by the famous tele-novela star Malena Doria (1933-1999), the role of the ironically-named Luz (meaning “light” in Spanish), the “vampire woman” of this episode, will be discussed in our next entry.

Malena Doria as Luz, "the vampire woman", El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 18, panel 3

Malena Doria as Luz, "the vampire woman", El Increíble Blue Demon 13, page 18, panel 3

References

Aurrecoechea, J.M. (1999).  “José Trinidad Romero: Carnival of Images.” Luna Córnea 18, p. 207-217.

Bartra, A. (2001). “Fin de fiesta. Gloria y declive de una historieta tumultuaria”. Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios sobre la Historieta Latinoamericana, vol 1, no. 3 (September 2001), 147-166.

Priego, E. (2010). “¡Santo! The Stuff of Legend”. The Comics Grid, 25 April 2011, <http://www.comicsgrid.com/2011/04/¡santo/>. Retrieved 6 January 2011.

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