Where'd You Get That? Cuban Comic Books

Yahoo TravelMay 15, 2014

This colorful comic is helping me learn revolutionary Spanish at home.

What: Cuba Revolution comic book

Where:  Libreria Venicia, Calle Obispo, Old Town Havana

The Lowdown: I found this 32-page combination comic book and trading-card album languishing in the racks of a dusty used book store on Calle Obispo in Old Town Havana. It was published in the early 1960’s to “retain an exciting memory of the glorious Cuban epic,” in a style “pleasant and appropriate for youth,” according to its Spanish-language introduction.

Nowadays, the neighborhood is hardly revolutionary. Tourists flock to the area to shop, and perhaps grab a drink at Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri bar, El Floridita. In the alleyways, vendors hawk sunglasses and Chinese-made faux-Cuban souvenirs. You’re far more likely to see rainbow-colored jugglers and clowns than soldiers in olive drab. 

Communist party? No thanks, I’ll take a street party. Calle Obispo, Havana. (Photo: Bill Fink)

But inside the used book store of Libreria Venecia, the revolution lives on, stacked high on the shelves, and hanging on the walls. For 15 CUCs (“kooks” as the dollar-equivalent Cuban Convertible pesos are called) I purchased this blow-by-blow graphic-novel style account of the Cuban revolution from its 1952 beginnings to Fidel’s “triumphant return” to Havana in 1959. While its memories are biased and the violent content neither pleasant nor appropriate for kids, the book is a fascinating snapshot of the times.

Color-by-numbers revolution. 

The album has 268 baseball-card sized inserts glued in place, each with a caption and colorful depiction of a moment in the revolution. The pages depict everything from Batista atrocities to mountaintop battles and even an early, clean-shaven Fidel. 

Fidel in the early years could have done Gillette ads.

The centerfold features trading cards of 16 “bearded heroes” of the revolution, including youthful looking portraits of Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as Commander of Column #8, Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara. You can almost imagine little kids at the time swapping sets: “Hey, you wanna trade two Che’s for a Fidel and Cienfuegos?”

Trading cards for the “bearded heroes” of the revolution. Batting averages not included.

In an incongruously capitalist touch, the production of the album was underwritten by a fruit company whose advertisement graces the back cover. A smiling little girl thanks her stylish mom for a tasty dessert of Felices brand guava jelly. The cards were given away as prizes along with product purchases, so some diligent (and probably chubby) kid ate a lot of guava jelly to fill out all 268 spaces in my book. Thanks to the kid and an old Havana shop, I now have a preserved piece of Cuban history.

Comic-book back cover. Thanks for dessert; can I have my Felices-brand trading cards now?”

Bill Fink is a freelance travel writer for publications including his hometown San Francisco Chronicle, National Geographic Traveler, and many others.