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by Mary Louise Pratt
New York University

Gallery: Cartoons by Jabaz

Jabaz is the pseudonym of José Antonio Baz Nungaray, a designer and visual artist who was born and lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. The accompanying online exhibit gives a sampling of his current work in photomontage. It's a political humor feature titled "El país del nunca Jabaz" that appears daily on page three of the Guadalajara newspaper Público. The title is a pun on the phrase "El país del nunca jamás," which is the Spanish translation of "Never Never Land." Jabaz replaces the traditional political cartoon using a line drawing and deriving its meaning from exaggeration and caricature, with hilarious photomontages created on the computer by skillfully piecing together real images from television and the web. Public figures bear the brunt of his ridicule, and he specializes in depicting them in ridiculous poses, often ingeniously attaching their heads to bodies that convey a symbolic meaning. He adds brief, witty captions, often using puns, irreverent slang, and sexual innuendo (for example, figure 1). Because he works for a daily paper Jabaz's collages tend to address current issues, often the previous day's news.

"El país del nunca Jabaz" began in 1998 in Guadalajara, where Jabaz was already a legend (see history below). Since 2002, when Público joined the national chain owned by Grupo Milenio, (a Monterrey-based media consortium that also publishes the newsmagazine Mural), Jabaz's audience has become national. He has 95 million more people to amuse or enrage, and the whole national and international political scene to make fun of. His work was daily fare on the morning show hosted by Mexico's unique political commentator, Brozo, known for his political stunt work and for appearing made up as a clown. "El país del nunca Jabaz" was a favorite citation on the program. Imitators of Jabaz's unique computer-based montage technique are now proliferating all over Mexico, but no one yet equals his combination of intelligence, wit, technical skill, range, and iconoclasm.

Behind "El país del nunca Jabaz" are decades of work and experience with the two elements that comprise it: political humor and visual design. In the early 1970s, as a young student eager to work with images, Jabaz landed a job in the editorial division of Guadalajara's Department of Fine Arts. There, he and a small cohort worked under the tutelage of Felipe Covarrubias, whom Jabaz values greatly as a teacher and mentor. By the late seventies, Jabaz was teaching visual design in the Department of Communications at the ITESO (Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente), a broad-minded Jesuit university in Guadalajara, where he had studied. He had also established himself as a fine book designer, producing volumes for the presses of ITESO, the Colegio de Michoacán, and other regional publishers. He continues to work as a book designer today.

It was at ITESO that Jabaz's contribution to political humor took off. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, an exceptionally talented group of young men began turning up in his design classes at ITESO. Their names and pseudonyms – José Trinidad Camacho (Trino), Paco Navarrete, Manuel Falcón (Falcón), José Luis García (Josel), Ignazio Solorzano (Jis), -- are household words in Mexico today. Over the next ten years this remarkable confluence of talent and energy grew, incorporated new members, and changed the face of political humor in Mexico.

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