Q&A: Cuban comics curator talks exhibit, Cuban revolution

Kate Williams

Four glass cases contain the history of Cuba under the rule of Fidel Castro. The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection’s exhibit, “Cuban Comics in the Castro Era,” uses a handful of colorful comic books to explore themes of art and methods of art production during the Cuban revolution, when comics were used as a tool to popularize socialist ideology.

Gilbert Borrego, a UT alumnus and a digital repository specialist for UT Libraries, came across a collection of Cuban comics while working at the Benson and created the exhibit to finish his Master of Science in Information Systems and explore his love for comics and history.

Borrego spoke with The Daily Texan about the exhibit and what he hopes visitors can learn from it.

The Daily Texan: What was the process like to complete this project? 

Gilbert Borrego: It was a long process. After I processed (the archive), the ideas had to take shape in terms of what I wanted to discuss beyond just comic books. I had to think about the role that comic books played in the larger picture of the Cuban revolution. I had to think about good representations of the people of Cuba, the ideology of the government and the viewpoints of the populace.

DT: Did you learn anything new while curating this exhibit?

GB: I don’t think one would consider comic books having that big of an influence on culture. We have Marvel and DC comics that became movies and became such powerhouses in terms of popular culture, but when you think about Cuba, especially during the ‘60s, you think mostly about television and radio and newspapers. Comics actually had a very colorful history with the revolution because it involved subversive artists who first drew these underground books that were anti-(Fulgencio) Batista. So, I think the idea that comic books actually played such a large role in helping to usher in the ideology of the revolution is probably my biggest takeaway.

DT: Do you have a favorite comic book that you came across while doing this?

GB: One of the main characters that have come out of this was Elpidio Valdés by Juan Padrón. This was a rendition of a character that fights off any enemies to the Cuban people. He also knows the skills of a samurai and all these other things on top of this very interesting, complex character. I like that one because I think it exemplifies what Cuban comics are about, which is to have a combination of adventure, humor and politics all wrapped up in one character. I think that character is the pinnacle of what a lot of these Cuban comics represent.

DT: What do you want visitors to take away from this exhibit?

GB: I think I just want people to come away with an idea about the complexity of Cuban politics. I think that most people don’t necessarily know much about Cuba, other than that they’re sort of this pseudo-enemy of the United States, that they’re these socialist mainstays from the past. And I think I want people to walk away and understand that Cuba had a long history of coups and injustices, and they still persevere with their humor, art and creativity.