Until 1973 I lived in Santiago de Chile, the capital of Chile. And every Wednesday during my final year in that country, I purchased a copy of a children’s magazine called Mampato that I took home to read to my six-year-old son before putting him to bed. In many respects, there was nothing special about the magazine. Like so many children’s publications, it printed a number of features that were meant to be both entertaining and instructive: nature studies, vignettes of Chilean history, puzzles, cut-outs, do-it-yours games, mazes, and a number of comic strips reprinted from abroad. The main feature of the magazine, however, was the adventures of the comic-book character Mampato from which the magazine derived its name and which appeared in a four-page full-colour section in the centre of the publication. Unlike the other comic strips in the magazine, ‘The Adventures of Mampato’ was conceived, illustrated, and entirely produced in Chile.
For Chile, 1973 was a special year. The Allende government was fighting for its life. So, too, was my family. We were desperate and confused, and had little time to spare – certainly not for idle entertainments. But every Wednesday I made a point of buying my copy of Mampato. For by that time, the comic strip was no idle interest. It was an obsession.
The obsession developed out of a sense of alarm. Mass-media fiction is probably our most dogmatic form of communication. The stories of romantic novels, the Reader’s Digest, and comic strips – from the Lone Ranger to Donald Duck to Babar the Elephant – are hardly meant to occasion debate. The points they make are simple and unambiguous; the interpretations they demand are straightforward and inflexible; and the readers they entertain are asked to be nothing more than uncritical and passive consumers. And it is for this reason that Mampato was so disturbing. As I read more and more of it, I began to realize the implications of its narrative extended far beyond the comic book itself. While Mampato went about the business of overthrowing his comic-book tyrant in the year four thousand, another far less comic force was setting out to perform an act that was strikingly similar: the overthrow of a man also branded as a tyrannical dictator – Salvador Allende.