Behaving Badly: Irreverent Play in Cortázar’s

Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales


Anne Connor

Southern Oregon University


Perhaps because Julio Cortázar himself stated in an interview with Saúl Sosnowski that his primary interest in writing the comic book Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales (1975) was to reach a wider audience and disseminate the findings of the Second Russell Tribunal, for many years the text was largely ignored and treated as propaganda or paraliterature by the critics (54). Even when taken seriously as an experimental text a concomitant part of Cortázar’s literary project scholars concluded that it ultimately “failed” because it was produced on expensive paper, making it inaccessible to the masses he sought to reach (McCracken “Hybridity” 149, Libro de Manuel…” 76, and Franco 51). Recently, however, renewed interest in this innovative and hybrid work has emerged, and critics have explored various literary, artistic, sociopolitical, and historical elements of the text. María de Lourdes Dávila (2008), for example, has analyzed the complexity of the multilayered text, and proposes that it can be read from a variety of perspectives: historical, political or artistic (140). Likewise, Marie-Alexandra Barataud (2009) argues that by combining literary, political and artistic interests, the text’s structure becomes a unique trans-generic writing.  Furthermore, Jaume Peris Blanes (2012) has added to the contextual understanding of Vampiros multinacionales by highlighting its relationship to the intellectual debates in Latin America during the sixties and seventies, and finally, José Enrique Navarro (2012), through a close reading of the different editions of the text, explains how the modifications of the comic book sections over the years reveal a general disregard for the visual component as integral to the richness of Cortázar’s multimedia experiment.

The majority of these articles have for the most part focused on the narrative structure of the text and its place in the popular vs. elite culture debate of the 1970s. While on the one hand Cortázar’s interest in breaking down the established boundaries between high culture and popular art forms reflected his desire to reach a wider audience and promote political activism against the human rights abuses that were occurring throughout Latin America, his exploration of the comic book genre can also be understood as an extension of his greater literary project which was about questioning and re-shaping traditional narrative structure. Notably, few close readings of Cortázar’s multimedia experiment exist, as José Enrique Navarro has pointed out in his analysis of the differences in the drawings within the comic frames in Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales over the years:

El hecho de que ningún crítico se haya referido a estas notorias diferencias evidencia la atención superficial que ha merecido la obra en sí, y más en particular las viñetas del cómic de Fantomas, que quedan relegadas de esta manera a la condición de material instrumental puesto al servicio del texto escrito. En este sentido, críticos y editores parecen haber coincidido unánimemente a la hora de privar a la historieta de sustantividad. (“Adversidades transatlánticas…”)

 It is through a careful reading that I propose to elucidate another largely unexplored and yet pervasive aspect of Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales: the ludic quality of the text. By analyzing Cortázar’s self-deprecating humor, which involves a rather complex identification with the story’s hero Fantomas, and his interest in “behaving badly” – that is, breaking the rules of intellectual conduct, genre, and readerly expectations – we gain a better understanding of the weighty themes at the heart of Vampiros multinacionales.

The idea of game playing (“la teoría del juego”) has long been recognized as an essential concept underlying Cortázar’s narrative – we can observe it in his clever ability to play with words, his use of the fantastic to play with the reader’s concept of reality, and moreover in his fascination with breaking narrative rules and creating innovative literary “games” in which the readers must actively participate, such as in Rayuela (1963), La vuelta al día en ochenta mundos (1967), 62 Modelo para armar (1968), Último round (1969), and Libro de Manuel (1973). In an interview with Manuel Pereira, Cortázar explained the integral role of playfulness and humor in his writing:

Creo que la literatura reclama una dimensión lúdica, que la convierte en un gran juego. […] La literatura comporta experimentación, combinación, desarrollo de estrategias, lo cual, analógicamente, hace pensar en deportes como el baloncesto, el fútbol o el beisbol. En ese sentido es que lo lúdico para mí es capital en la literatura, y siempre he sentido que los escritores que carecen del sentido del humor, por tanto de capacidad lúdica, no son los escritores que yo prefiero. (52)

The ludic quality of Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales works on many levels.  First of all, it should be evident visually to readers from the onset, as the cartoon drawing of Fantomas on the cover, with a billowing cape and laser gun in his hand [see image 1], suggests the text is in actuality “una historieta,” a term in Spanish for comic book which also implies, through the diminutive of “historia,” a lack of seriousness or depth. In addition, both the association of cartoons with children’s literature as well as the implication of comedy within the “comic” genre reinforce the playful aspect of the book. At the same time, the fact that Julio Cortázar, recognized at the time as a modern master of the short story and one of the founders of the Latin American Literary Boom, not only pens the comic but also inserts himself proudly as the narrator, shunning in this way any pretense of being above writing “historietas,” can be understood as one of the first subversive moves in this game (1). 

The initial text itself, however, has no graphic element. Aside from an explanatory header, “De cómo el narrador de nuestra fascinante historia salió de su hotel en Bruselas, de las cosas que vio por la calle y de lo que le pasó en la estación de ferrocarril” (7), the story is written in standard narrative form. Still, the formulaic section title parodies the literary tradition (found, for example, in Don Quijote) of announcing the fundamental components of a chapter before narrating them (Peris Blanes 101). The irony apparent in Cortázar’s title lies in the disjunction between the descriptor “fascinante historia” and the rather mundane activities the header actually highlights. His use of hyperbole pantomimes the over-the-top superhero descriptions commonly found in comic books, while at the same time ironically questioning the veracity of the “guiding” text apparently written by the author or editor. In addition, by making the reader aware of the story’s verbal construct, the subtitle can be understood as another means of breaking with convention in Cortázar’s narrative gameplay. By referring to the narrator in third person, he underlines the artificial character of the text while at the same time problematizing the identification between Julio Cortázar, the author, Julio Cortázar, the narrator, and Julio Cortázar, the protagonist (Peris Blanes 101). The game abruptly ends, however, in the next subtitle: "De cómo el narrador alcanzó a tomar el tren in extremis (y a partir de aquí se terminan los títulos de los capítulos, puesto que empiezan numerosas y bellas imágenes para dividir y aliviar la lectura de esta fascinante historia)" (1). 

The Latin phrase “in extremis” offers up more ironic hyperbole, along with the repetition of the descriptor “esta fascinante historia,” but the humor also lies in the sudden abandonment of the narrative “tradition” that the section headers had referenced.  Instead, priority is given to the visual media, and the suggestion that the images will better divide and lighten the reading once again question the truth behind the adjective “fascinante,” for if it were true there would be no need for such visual breaks. Evidently, the rules of the game are arbitrary and can change with little notice, due perhaps, it is suggested, to the editor/narrator’s own indolence and preference for pictures over words.

The implication that Cortázar, contrary to his public image, may actually be a lazy narrator plays a part in the self-deprecating humor that runs throughout the text. The story starts with Cortázar the protagonist en route to the Brussels railroad station to catch a train to Paris after attending a meeting of the Second Russell Tribunal, which met in 1975 to investigate U.S. involvement in violations of human rights in Brazil, Chile and Argentina. From the beginning, then, the story creates a space where historical events and fiction coexist. Cortázar was indeed a member of the Tribunal, but the account of his return trip home is highly fictionalized, and the self-image he constructs is intended to break down his notoriety as a serious and diligent author:

[…]tenía que regresar a su casa de París, donde lo esperaba un trabajo bárbaro, razón por la cual no tenía demasiadas ganas de volver; esto explicaba su tendencia a demorarse en los cafés, mirar a las chicas que paseaban por las plazas y revolotear por todas partes como una mosca en vez de encaminarse a la estación. (7)


The narrator’s introduction of Cortázar as a voyeur, loafing around with the hope of avoiding work, is further played up by admitting a perceived sense of self-importance: “por el momento sólo le había interesado cerrar los ojos del pensamiento y dedicarse a no hacer nada, cosa que según él merecía de sobra” (8). These introductory comments set the scene for a depiction of the author “behaving badly” – that is, breaking the accepted norm of intellectual conduct, and refusing to play by the rules.

Another aspect of “el juego” typically found in Cortázar’s oeuvre lies in his use of the fantastic to play with the reader’s concept of reality. In Vampiros multinacionales, the suggestion of the fantastic arises in his description of Brussels, where it appears something inexplicable is going on: “se dio cuenta de algo curioso: la presencia inconfundible de una multitud de latinoamericanos en los lugares más diversos de la ciudad” (8). Though this unexpected diversity is subsequently explained as a consequence of the influx of political exiles from repressive governments in Latin America, the suggestion that there is an underlying mystery in this urban environment sets the stage for another unforeseen turn of events. When Cortázar goes to a newspaper stand to buy a paper to read on the train, he is surprised to find that his only options are Mexican publications.  His ensuing complaint to the clerk elicits a skeptical response regarding the superiority of the European news: “Mire señor […] la historia viene a ser como un bife con papas fritas, uno lo pide en cualquier lado y siempre tiene el mismo sabor” (10). The clerk’s reply suggests a certain resignation with the news industry, which has become homogenized in the global marketplace. The negative consequences of globalization are reiterated when she mentions that her husband is sick due to radiation poisoning from contaminated fish. Even though she is unsure of Mexico’s geographic location, her query, “¿A usted le parece que en México la merluza está también contaminada?” (10) suggests that lack of education does not preclude an understanding of the workings underlying the world’s connectivity. Just as the human rights abuses in one part of the world have created a ripple effect with a burgeoning population of exiles in Europe, so too, are the effects of environmental waste perceived to be found on the other side of the globe.

The theme of globalization and Cortázar’s self-deprecating humor continue when, after buying one of the Mexican magazines, the narrator finds himself sharing a train compartment with other readers who look down upon his choice in literature.

Lo más desagradable era que el cura, la señorita y el señor enarbolaban sendas publicaciones en el idioma nacional, tales como Le Soir, Vedettes Intimes, etcétera, razón por la cual parecía casi idiota abrir una revistita llena de colorinches en cuya tapa un gentleman de capa violeta y máscara blanca se lanzaba de cabeza hacia el lector como para reprocharle tan insensata compra, sin hablar de que en el ángulo inferior derecho había un avisito de la Pepsi-Cola. (13)

The image of Julio Cortázar, internationally recognized author known for his anti-imperialist political commitment, being stuck on a train with nothing more to read than an overly dramatic comic book [see cover, image 2] that also happens to advertise Pepsi is quite comical (2).

Moreover, Cortázar, who had earlier admitted to his penchant for Belgian women and is now rather crassly hoping to hook up with the Roman blond in his train compartment, realizes that his reading material is killing his chances of seduction: 

Imposible dejar de advertir por lo demás que la rubia platinada desprendía una ojeada cibernética hacia la revista, seguida de una expresión general entre parece-mentira-a-su-edad y cada-día-se-nos-meten-más-extranjeros-en-el-país, doble deducción que desde luego dificultaría toda intentona colonizadora del narrador cuando empezara a reinar la atmósfera solidaria que nace en los compartimientos de los trenes después del kilómetro noventa. (1)

Beyond tearing down his image as a politically committed intellectual, we see Cortázar mired and unable to extract himself from an imperialist worldview. He even describes himself as a colonizer of sorts, one who seeks to conquer the Westernized ideal of beauty, but whose age, nationality, and limited access to the dominant discourse (reading material) ultimately foil his attempt. At the same time, by confessing his interest in the blonde, Cortázar inserts himself in the machista ideology accepted as heroic in the Mexican Fantomas comic book. Known as the “Amenaza Elegante,” Fantomas was always surrounded by his female “helpers” who were named for the astrological signs. His donjuanesque charms went beyond his personal harem, according to a description in “La mujer que despreció a Fantomas” (1979): “No hay letra del abecedario con la cual no empiecen los nombres de cuando menos 12 de las mujeres que ha amado. Y, si hemos de referirnos a la nacionalidad de ellas, podríamos decir que integrarían una auténtica organización de las Naciones Unidas” [see image 3] (3).

We can therefore understand Cortázar’s obsessive comments about his attraction to the blonde as a way to appeal to the typical reader of the Fantomas comic book; but, as mentioned previously, there remains an underlying desire to break out of the expectations placed on him as an intellectual writer. It is precisely at this point in the narration that Cortázar describes the pleasure inherent in reading a comic book:Pero las revistas de tiras cómicas tienen eso, uno las desprecia y demás pero al mismo tiempo empieza a mirarlas y en una de esas, fotonovela o Charlie Brown o Mafalda se te van ganando y entonces FANTOMAS, La amenaza elegante, presenta” (13-14). The text is then interrupted visually by the insertion of the first page of “Inteligencia en llamas.” It is as if we are reading the comic through the eyes of Cortázar the character, who declares himself: “captado como sardina en red de nailon pero decidido a aceptar la ley del juego y leer figurita por figurita sin apurarse como manda la experiencia de placer que todo zorro viejo conoce y acata [...]” (14). In this direct reference to Cortázar’s “ley del juego” we see the connection between the pleasure in reading and the enthusiasm for games one experiences as a child. Significantly, when the little boy riding with him in the train compartment is told to behave after a marble flies out of his hands, Cortázar identifies with the feeling of being boxed in and unable to play:

Para muchos portarse bien era eso, no salirse del molde social, un niño bien criado no juega con bolitas en un tren, un hombre que vuelve de un tribunal no se pone a leer tiras cómicas ni imagina los pechitos de una chica romana; o bien sí, lee la tira cómica e imagina los pechitos pero no lo dice y sobre todo no lo escribe porque inmediatamente le caerá uno de esos fariseísmos de la gente seria para qué te cuento. (21)

Since Cortázar is of course writing about it, “breaking the rules” comes to the forefront as one of his motives in choosing to write using the comic book format. As Ellen McCracken has noted, in 1969 Cortázar insisted that the primary goal of the socially committed novelist should be “revolucionar la novela misma, la forma novela”. More than ever, Cortázar explained, we need “los Che Guevara del lenguaje, los revolucionarios de la literatura más que los literatos de la revolución” (“Libro de Manuel 69). McCracken points out that his novel El libro de Manuel (1973) was both politically and aesthetically revolutionary through its montage of newspaper clippings and imagery that “break down the illusory authority of the press and reader habituation” (“Libro de Manuel 71). Likewise, by taking on the format of the comic book, Cortázar continues his exploration of boundary breaking in literature. Explains Peris Blanes:

Fantomasaunque de un modo mucho menos ambicioso, continuó con la indagación político-literaria de Libro de Manuel, y constituyó una nueva tentativa de dar cabida a la realidad de la violencia y la represión en una narración que, a la vez, jugara con los elementos internos de la narración y desconstruyera los materiales del relato […] con una sugestiva variación: si Libro de Manuel había tomado sus referentes discursivos […] de la escena de vanguardia […] Fantomas se servía de elementos claramente identificados con la cultura masiva, como el cómic y la estética pulp. (99)

On the one hand, Cortázar is breaking the dichotomy between high culture and popular art, but he also plays with the conventions of the comic book itself. First of all, as previously mentioned, the cover of the text implies we are reading a comic book, but the book actually begins and ends in normal narrative layout. Once Cortázar starts reading on the train and is seduced by the nature of the comic book, the format changes momentarily to a standard comic book sequence of drawings in frames with dialogue and commentary (4). In this way, as mentioned previously, it is as if we are reading through Cortázar the narrator’s eyes the story in which Fantomas is battling a nefarious conspiracy that is destroying the world's libraries and museums. At this point, the fictitious space occupied by Cortázar the narrator is violated when Cortázar the world renowned author is called upon by Fantomas in the comic book to join forces with other famous writers -- Octavio Paz, Alberto Moravia and Susan Sontag— in the fight against the multinational corporations [see image 4]. Now the space occupied by present day reality has intermingled with both the autobiographical narrative and the comic book itself, creating a “story within a story within reality” structure that allows Cortázar to move fantastically from one realm to the other, thereby bringing into question the partitioning that had divided those realms in the first place. This fantastic mergence of reality and fiction places Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales squarely in line with Cortázar’s literary corpus, recalling his famous fantastic stories like “Continuidad de los parques” and “La noche boca arriba.” Again, Cortázar’s play with readerly expectations clearly forms part of his “teoría del juego” and casts doubt on the suggestion that Vampiros multinacionales was conceived primarily for political motivations.

Returning to the ludic aspect of the text, another indication that Cortázar’s commitment to literary gameplay never wavered in spite of his desire to enact political change lies in his close identification with the hero of the comic, Fantomas. Though ostensibly he chose the Mexican Fantomas as the hero of Vampiros multinacionales because he had appeared as a character in a Fantomas episode earlier that year (5), as María de Lourdes Dávila has pointed out, it also made sense for Cortázar to choose the Mexican comic book industry as a way to reach the greatest public (129). At the time, it was second only to the radio in terms of its mass diffusion, and according to an estimate by Hinds and Tatum, in 1976-77 roughly 56 million copies of comic books were produced in Mexico (4). However, the character Fantomas was not nearly as popular as Kalimán, Tamkún, or other more mainstream Mexican comic book heroes. Moreover, the number of copies published in the first edition of Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales was only 20,000, much lower than a typical popular comic book of the time, which would fluctuate between 280,000 to 8,400,000 copies per month (7). Still, in comparison, in Mexico, an average commercial book sold just three thousand copies. Sales of 10,000 were exceptional (6). It is unlikely that this distribution data mattered much to Cortázar; rather, Fantomas probably held great appeal to him based on the character’s French origins and literary connotations, as well as his anti-establishment status in Mexico. The original Fantômas [see image 5] was an antihero in the popular crime novels by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain from 1911-1913, which were also adapted to silent film (1913-1914). He was a ruthless master of disguise, always appearing under an assumed identity, often that of a person whom he had murdered. Notes Jean Franco, “The avant-garde and the surrealists were drawn to Fantômas novels because of their antisocial violence […] As an enemy of the established order, and especially of the police, […] he blatantly defied the moral code as it was defined by the bourgeois society” (49). Cortázar, who lived and worked in Paris since 1951 (and even drolly makes mention of it in the text: “el narrador tenía la muy cuestionada costumbre de residir en París” (28)) and whose work was greatly influenced by the Surrealist movement, likely appreciated and identified with the origin of the Fantomas character. The French character’s transformation in Mexico provided for appropriately symbolic material as well, since it reflected the Latin American reality of a lack of faith in the so-called social order. Unlike the North American comic book plots of this time, in which there is never any doubt with regards to the democratic order that the superheroes seek to restore; in Mexico, Fantomas does not act to restore order as Superman or Batman would, because there is no confidence in the government and its powers. Unlike the French character,

The Mexican version became really indigenous in 1969 […] Starting in this year, the Elegant Menace, as he was known to Mexico, became some sort of a hero, even if he operated outside of the law and was motivated by the acquisition of wealth, as he progressively turned into an urban high tech Robin Hood. He was a connoisseur of the finer arts, familiar with the latest technological innovations […] Most Mexican popular heroes are outlaws as the population distrusts both the police and the government […] The idea of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor as well as dispensing justice in favor of the dispossessed have always been very well received among Mexicans. (Camacho in Dávila 133) 

 The fact that Fantomas is a playboy, yet connoisseur of the fine arts, who employs novel techniques as a thief to ultimately better distribute society’s wealth leads us to a clear identification with our narrator Julio Cortázar, the erudite Argentine author who lives in Paris and daydreams about blondes, who explores uncharted literary venues such as the comic book in order to share a message about social justice for the people of Latin America. Moreover, the Mexican incarnation of Fantomas included a didactic element, consisting of explanatory notes placed throughout the text, which would identify historical and cultural figures, literary and social movements, as well as historical facts and dates. An inexpensive pedagogical tool for the masses, the Fantomas comic offered the perfect venue for Cortázar’s literary project, as it already embodied part of the counterculture message he was looking to impart:   

Fantomas representó para los miles de lectores […] una puerta a un mundo desconocido pero real, un mundo al que SÍ podían entrar y no una ciudad ficticia como Metrópolis, sino ciudades muy reales como París o la Ciudad de México, representó además una escuela, pues el papel pedagógico se cumplió en cada edición de la revista, representó un escape de la enajenación a la que está sometida la población por la misma industria que creó a Fantomas, esa industria denunciada por Ariel Dorfman en su libro Para leer al Pato Donald,  incluso podríamos hasta hablar de Fantomas como una forma de “contracultura” dirigida a las masas. (Gomez Garza 2)


Cortázar hints at his close identification with Fantomas in Vampiros multinacionales when he describes his actions as if he were a superhero, “el narrador franqueó casi supersónicamente la distancia” (9), when the members of the Russell Tribunal are referred to as “los hipercerebrales” (44), and even when he admits to his lack of success with women: “como a pesar de algunos rumores optimistas no disponía de un harén como Fantomas, se fue a dormir con la sola aunque íntima compañía de un embutal” (38). A deeper moment of recognition comes when Susan Sontag, who acts as the voice of conscience within the text, lets them both know they have been fighting the wrong battle. The disappearance of the world’s books, she argues, was just a smokescreen to distract the intellectuals while hiding the bigger scandal, which is that of the multinational companies’ and U.S. government’s clandestine involvement in installing authoritarian regimes while trampling human rights throughout Latin America. “Fantomas cayó en la peor trampa,” declares Sontag, “la de creer que su misión había terminado” (35). Her words of admonition are even harsher for her friend Cortázar: “¿Cómo puede ser que no te des cuenta? Es cierto que hay millones que tampoco, pero la gente paga por tus libros y eso crea obligaciones mentales, me parece” (36). Reprimanding both Cortázar and Fantomas in such a way suggests they are equally blameworthy and thus it is implied that the world-renowned author’s obligation to the public should be no different than a superhero’s. 

At this juncture in Vampiros multinacionales, in another break from both conventional storytelling and the structure of the comic book, Cortázar introduces a further change in the rules of the narrative game. Instead of inserting comic book drawings to illustrate the story, the text is broken up with images to strengthen the argument that the “vampiros multinacionales” were behind the military coup d’états: a map of the CIA’s involvement in the seizures of power worldwide, as well as evidence of the involvement of government and business officials from newspaper articles and photocopies of confidential letters. Once Fantomas takes up the fight against the mega-corporations, we see strangely disparate and anachronistic images, and each one is said to be of Fantomas, taking on a disguise to spy on or gain entry into the secret meetings of the companies and governments that have been violating human rights in Latin America solely for profit. If it were not for the explanatory text, however, there would be no indication that the characters portrayed in the drawings are Fantomas. Instead, the incongruence of the images recalls the surrealist origins of the Fantomas character, and seems to suggest that the search for the truth is futile. This idea of an ever-elusive origin is reinforced by the last image, which is of two men, one a beggar and the other apparently a priest, and the conclusion: “nadie sabía con exactitud cuál de los dos hombres era Fantomas” (56).  

Instead of an ending in which the superhero saves the day, Cortázar once again breaks with tradition, this time subverting the typical comic book plotline. Ironically, it is in Fantomas’ lack of success that we can clearly see him as Cortázar’s alter ego. Both realize that in spite of their “super abilities,” they have failed in their efforts to save humanity. Cortázar suffers from a feeling of impotence, knowing that his work on the Russell Tribunal will not change the terrible human rights abuses that were still occurring in Latin America: “ocho días de trabajo para qué, para una condena sobre el papel que ninguna fuerza inmediata pondría en ejecución, el Tribunal Russell no tenía un brazo secular” (21), a reflection that Fantomas echoes, when he admits bitterly near the end, “Me pregunto si no tenían razón, intelectuales de mierda […] días y días de acción internacional y no parece que las cosas cambien demasiado” (65). 

Once again, Susan Sontag’s voice intercedes to point out that the error in Cortázar/Fantomas’ thinking lies in the fantasy of a solitary hero: Fantomas es admirable y se juega la vida a cada paso, pero nunca le entrará en la cabeza que los otros son legión y que solamente con otras legiones se les puede hacer frente y vencerlos” (57). To this idea, Cortázar retorts,Fantomas es un justiciero solitario, si no fuera así nadie le dibujaría las historietas” (57), revealing in this way the media’s participation in furthering a hackneyed plotline that ultimately serves to disenfranchise the masses. When Cortázar insists, “si tuviéramos un jefe, un…” (58), Sontag’s answer is definitive:

--No, Julio, no agregues “Fantomas” o cualquier nombre que se te ocurra. Por supuesto que necesitamos líderes, es natural que surjan y se impongan, pero el error (¿era realmente Susan la que hablaba? Otras voces se mezclaban ahora en el teléfono, frases en idiomas y acentos diferentes, hombres y mujeres hablando de cerca y de lejos), el error está en presuponer al líder, Julio, en no mover ni un dedo si nos falta, en esperar sentados que aparezca y nos reúna y nos dé consignas y nos ponga en marcha. El error es tener ahí delante de las narices cosas como la realidad de todos los días, como la sentencia del Tribunal Russell, ya que anduviste en eso y me sirve de ejemplo, y seguir esperando a que sea siempre otro el que lance el primer llamado. (58)

Sontag exposes Fantomas’ individualism as a failed cultural model, inadequate to solve real-world problems, the solutions for which actually depend on community action and mass organization (Campbell 194).

In this way, Cortázar’s adaptation of the Fantomas character ultimately subverts the standard comic book assumption of heroism. However, this does not mean he shuns the Elegant Menace altogether. Rather, while the multinational vampires have not been destroyed, there is certainly hope in the fantastic ending, in which voices and blurry images come together on the telephone lines. Through an apparent break in the mega corporations’ control of mass media, the findings of the Russell Tribunal are shared across the airwaves, and voices from countries all over the world unite in their condemnation of the U.S.’ involvement in Chile’s coup d’état and the human rights abuses in Latin America in general. Using a bit of futuristic science fiction, Cortázar’s transformation of the telephone into a utopian global communication device can actually be seen as a sort of foreshadowing of the invention of the Internet, which of course opened many alternative channels of information.

This brings us back to the newspaper vendor’s cynical assertion that no matter the country of origin, the story would be the same. Through Cortázar’s self-deprecating humor in the description of the train ride, we see he is actually an active participant in the multi-conglomerate’s control of the media and of what is deemed superior culturally (be it through favoring the French press, fancying foreign blondes, or even inadvertently supporting the sale of Pepsi Cola). His decision to enter into the world of the comic book (both as Cortázar the writer and as Cortázar the character) to subvert its conventions, can be understood, then, as a means to break with not only the restrictions placed on him as an internationally renowned author and intellectual, but also with the lack of social consciousness that a globalized media creates. By including the findings of the Second Russell Tribunal as an Appendix to Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales, he brings the fantasy abruptly back to reality. Some critics have suggested that because Cortázar’s historieta was not as widely distributed as the other more popular comics of the time, his attempt to reach the masses failed. Unfortunately, limiting the text to a propaganda tool and measuring its success by its poor distribution misses all of the layers involved in Cortázar’s “misbehavior”. Significantly, the text ends with a final reference to “la teoría del juego.” From Cortázar’s apartment, Fantomas and Cortázar both observe a little boy on the street play with rocks: “Jugaba muy serio, como hay que jugar” (66). Fantomas, in stellar superhero style, swoops down through the air and gives him a caramel. The boy thanks him, but otherwise does not seem overly impressed by the encounter. Instead, he keeps playing. This final image of a child seriously immersed in a game of his own invention exemplifies the ludic quality of literary experimentation that Julio Cortázar loved. Were he alive today, one can conceive that Cortázar would continue to play with and explore uncharted literary spaces. I imagine he would see the still emerging possibilities of the Internet, and social media, as opportunities to not only break the powers of multinational media control but also to revolutionize the very form of literature itself.


(1). One can almost hear the gasp of surprise in Wolfgang Luchting’s 1977 review of Vampiros multinacionales: “yes, Cortázar has written a comic strip” (74).

(2). The description of the cover corresponds to the comic that inspired the text, “La inteligencia en llamas” (episode 201, February 1975, written by Gonzalo Martré and drawn by Víctor Cruz), in which Cortázar appears as a secondary character, along with other writers like Susan Sontag, Octavio Paz and Alberto Moravia. I am indebted to Luis Van, who runs the website “Mundo Fantomas,” <> for digitizing and sharing this Fantomas episode with me.

(3). “La mujer que despreció a Fantomas” written by Sotero Garciarreyes and drawn by Víctor Cruz (No. 2-391, 14 January 1979). <>

(4). All of the comic images used in Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales are taken from “La inteligencia en llamas(See Note 2).

(5). According to Navarro, shortly after finalizing one of the meetings of the Russell Tribunal, Cortázar received a copy of “La inteligencia en llamas” from Luis Guillermo Piazza, literary head of the Mexican Publisher Novaro (n.p.).   Cortázar explained that since he was surprised that the editors would see fit to turn him into a character without first consulting him, he decided to in turn appropriate the comic for his own literary purposes (Barataud 11).


Barataud, Marie-Alexandra. “Del texto y de la imagen: la escritura transgenerica en Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales de Julio CortázarJounées d’etudes et colloques du SAL III. 2009. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <>

Campbell, Bruce. “El Bulbo vs. The Machine, Graphic Artistry as Superpower” in Viva la Historieta: Mexican Comics, NAFTA, and the Politics of Globalization. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009: 187-95. Print.

Cortázar, Julio. Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales. México, D.F.: Excélsior, 1975. Print.

---. “Continuidad de los parques” Final del juego. Mexico: Los Presentes, 1956.

---. “La noche boca arriba” Final del juego. Mexico: Los Presentes, 1956.

Dávila, María de Lourdes. “Alguien se pierde en el laberinto cosmicómico de Fantomas, ¿pero quién?” Iberoamericana, VIII, 29 (2008), 123-142. Print.

Dorfman, Ariel and Armand Mattelart.  Para leer al Pato Donald: comunicación de masas y colonialismo. Valparaíso: Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso, 1971. Print.

Franco, Jean.  “Comic stripping: Cortázar in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Alonso, Carlos J. (ed)): Julio Cortázar: New Readings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998: 36-56. Print.

Gomez Garza, Manuel and Domínguez Trelles.  Fantomas o El comic como literature en tiempos de crisis” Decir, Existir, Actas I Congreso Internacional de Literatura para Niños: Producción, Edición y Circulación. Buenos Aires: Ediciones la Bohemia, 2010: 1-4. Print.

Hinds, Harold E. Jr and Charles Tatum. Not Just for Children: The Mexican Comic Book in the Late 1960s and 1970s. Westport/London: Greenwood, 1992. Print.

Lindstrom, Naomi. The Social Conscience of Latin American Writing. Austin: Texas University Press, 1998. Print.

McCracken, Ellen. Libro de Manuel and Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales: Mass culture, Art, and Politics” in: Mine, Rose (ed.): Literature and Popular Culture in the Hispanic World: A Symposium. Gaithersburg: Hispamérica/Montclair State College, 1981: 69-77. Print.

---. “Hybridity and Postmodernity in the Argentine Meta-Comic: The Bridge Texts of Julio Cortázar and Ricardo Piglia” in Castillo, Debra and Edmundo Paz-Soldán, eds.: Latin American Literature and Mass Media. New York: Garland, 2001: 139-51. Print.

Merino, Ana. Fantomas contra Disney” Revista latinoamericana de estudios sobre la historieta. 1:4, 2001: 203-224. Web. 9 sept. 2013.

Navarro, José Enrique. Adversidades transatlánticasvida editorial de Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales, de Julio CortázarCiberletras 29, December 2012. Web. 20 sept. 2013. <>

Pereira, Manuel. “Cortázar: El niño eterno” Día siete. 398. 30 marzo 2008: 46-52. Web. 27 sept. 2013. <>

Pérez, Genaro J. “A Note on Julio Cortázar’s Fantomas contra los vampiros internacionalesRevista monográfica 7, 1991: 382-385. Print.

Peris Blanes, Jaume. “Cortázar: entre la cultura pulp y la denuncia política” Estudios filológicos 50, 2012: 95-112. Print.

Romero Chumacero, Leticia. “Torvo, inspirador aleteo: Julio Cortázar y sus vampiros” Ogigia 7, 2010: 19-29. Web. 27 sept. 2013. <>

Sosnowski, Saúl. “Entrevista con Julio Cortázar” Hispamérica 13, 1976: 51-68. Print.

Williams, Jeff.  Superhéroes y desarrollo económico. El caso argentinoDiálogos de la comunicación 78, 2009: 1-10. Web.  30 aug. 2013. <>