Gabriel Vargas comic characters. Museo del Estanquillo, Mexico City.
Comics culture in Mexico is far from being a modern phenomenon. Its roots may be traced back to many stages in Mexican history. Indeed, Mexican intellectuals such as Ilan Stavans agree that pre-Columbian codices and other ancient documents could be seen as primary sources of the comics culture in the country. Another important influence has been the work of José Guadalupe Posada whose satirical cartoons helped create a political identity of visual art. Political satire was quite a strong movement in the Porfiriato and many newspapers become almost legendary because of its political comics. Because of political repression, the political cartoon ("caricatura política") become the only means of free expression in those years. Later, there would be a national industry for many decades with great authors like Yolanda Vargas Dulché (founder of Grupo Editorial Vid), starring titles like Memín Pinguín, La familia Burrón, Chanoc among many others. Comics later grew a reputation of being geared toward children though, which nearly murdered the industry.
The only genre that survived was the comic genre known as the "Sensacionales" or "La revista vaquera"—very low quality black and white comics printed in tones of sepia featuring about four panels per page in a four square diagram. The pocket size books generally have approximately one hundred pages and are famous for portraying voluptuous women on their covers. They feature erotic adult stories of varying degrees of pornography.
Adult comics have a unique place in Mexican culture. Sensacionales are trashy and exploitative, but they also represent a genuinely popular indigenous medium. The dominant role of adult comics in Mexico is relatively new. From the 1930s through the 1970s, Mexico had a thriving comic-book industry with many genres. Titles such as Pepín, Fantomas, and Memín Penguín sold millions of copies during this era.
But in the 1980s, American superhero comics poured into Mexico. That, combined with the perception that comics were only for kids, nearly wiped out indigenous comic books in Mexico. The only genre to survive, and even thrive, was a unique form of adult pulp comics.
In Mexico, adult comics go by a number of names, like "sensacionales" or "ghetto librettos." They are published in huge numbers as roughly square-shaped digests, about 96 pages long, in a realistic but uncomplicated "house" style. Most are sold cheaply at newsstands, either new or second-hand.
Sensacionales are known for their lurid subject matter, with stories and images that can get very gory or pornographic – or even a combination of the two. Typical titles include Bellas de Noche ("Ladies of the Night") or Relatos de Presidio ("Stockade Tales").
In the 1990s the Mexican comics industry began to be revived, importing again USA heroes comics and some national ones. The national industry went through many inner problems getting almost killed again. The only survivors went to magazines or newspapers mainly as comic strips but not as individual autonomous issues. The most popular, like El Cerdotado or Buba have managed to get anthologies of their strips. In this decade, manga also began to arrive with titles like Dragon Ball and Video Girl Ai. In the last years, with the immense popularity of manga across the world, the comic industry seems to getting back on track with Editorial Toukan (whose whereabouts are uncertain at the moment) and Editorial Vid publishing, along some USA comics, many manga titles that is the genre with more growth in the past years.
About Mexican comics, the political satire is still quite strong and there are some attempts of autonomous comics like Meteorix 5.9 and Goji: Un dragón con Ángel.