“The course of events will tell, Sancho,” replied Don Quixote; “time, that discloses all things, leaves nothing that it does not drag into the light of day, though it be buried in the bosom of the earth. But enough of that for the present; let us go and see Master Pedro’s show, for I am sure there must be something novel in it.”—Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, chapter XXV
These colorful chromolithograph postcards by the Spanish cartoonist Pedro de Rojas reimagine the adventures of Don Quixote for the twentieth century. We see the Knight of the Melancholy Countenance fighting with what appears to be a park ranger (the caption identifies him as the Knight of the Forest), entering a classy hotel with an umbrella under his arm, and jousting while riding in a motorcar.
The series of postcards closely follows the adventures of Cervantes’ Quixote, beginning with the gentleman reading too many books of chivalry in his study and proceeding through many adventures to his feverish death. Unlike other turn-of-the-century visions of the future's fashions, transportation, and social progress, here the twentieth century seems already retrograde: this Quixote may mount a hot air balloon to tilt at the windmills in his panoply, but little hints at industrialization, urbanization, or other contemporary shifts in modern life. Most of the scenery is nearly timeless: sparse rooms and country roads. It’s fitting that a seventeenth-century epic, about a man who imagines himself a medieval knight-errant, might struggle to find its place in the future, or de Rojas’ present. The postcards take part in a long tradition of illustrating the exploits of the hapless knight and his squire Sancho Panza — see our essay “Picturing Don Quixote” by Rachel Schmidt for more on the book's iconography through the centuries. And yet, the serial, keepsake nature of these chromolithographs make them equal parts illustration and ephemera, joining various quixotic curiosities that appeared in the period, such as this album for collecting image-laden candy wrappers that surrounded a Spanish sweet called “Caramelos del Quijote”, sold by the confectioner Matías López in 1900.
Born in Seville in 1873, Pedro de Rojas worked for several Madrid newspapers in his twenties before moving to Cuba in 1903 and, later, to Buenos Aires, where he died on September 4, 1947. In Argentina, de Rojas helped develop comics into a popular new medium for artistic expression. Comic strips first appeared in domestic papers around 1907 as importations from the United States. The second half of the nineteenth century had seen the rise of color magazines in Argentina, which — as one such periodical, El Mosquito, claimed — sought to provide caricatures “at the level of Charivari of Paris and Punch of London”. It was only natural, given the growing hunger amid a certain class of readers for social and political commentary, that comics slotted easily into these glossy pages. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, de Rojas declined North America’s influence on the form, choosing instead to draw on European traditions, cross established codes between text and image, and explore clashing subjectivities instead of a recurring protagonist’s plight. One of de Rojas’ most striking experiments, shared with us by our reader Lucas Nine, was a comic known as “Don Salamito y Doña Gaviota”. As Nine explains: “The novelty was how readers could choose, by mail, the names of the old couple that starred in the strip, actions for them to perform, and, eventually, the time and causes of their deaths, giving some interactive flavor to the thing.” Alongside his comics, de Rojas helped found the influential magazine La Vida Moderna in 1907, and provided illustrations for Caras y Caretas, the famous children’s’ magazine PBT, and Crítica, known for its sensationalist images, where he worked with prominent writers such as Jorge Luis Borges.
Dec 9, 2020