Luis Alberto Urrea. Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush.
The graphic novel Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush is adapted from a short story written by Luis Alberto Urrea in 2002. Even though this tale was not originally intended to be told with the aid of pictures, its presentation as a comic is fluid, succinct, and, above all, successful.
Urrea, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, published the short story "Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush" as part of his collection Six Kinds of Sky. He has since written the widely acclaimed novel The Hummingbird's Daughter and was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Devil's Highway. Christopher Cardinale was chosen to illustrate this story due to his experience as a "cartoonist and community muralist with a social justice message."
The combination of Urrea's writing and Cardinale's artwork in Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush is utterly captivating. Urrea's storytelling is so powerful that even though he uses few words to tell his tale, the reader comes away with a gut feeling of who these characters truly are. His simple assertion that "to be macho, you must already know everything, know it so well that you're already bored by the knowledge," speaks volumes about the mindset of adolescence. Cardinale's style is bold and colorful, with thick lines rendering every scene in decisive brushstrokes that might have been painted by Mr. Mendoza himself. His depictions of the lush green landscape, "A green that is rich, perhaps too rich, and almost bubbling with humidity," and old gossiping women "double file, dark shawls pulled tight around their faces," give them a deeper layer of existence that both complements and coincides with Urrea's original descriptions. Cardinale skillfully chooses when to stick to a literal representation of the author's words and when to add small touches of his own. His decision not to show Mr. Mendoza until the middle of the book, depicting him instead as an enigmatic shadow, is highly effective in contributing to the sense of mysticism surrounding the main character.
Overall, Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush is a short, charming read that will leave the reader longing for a taste of magic, adolescence, and the lush greenery of rural Mexico.
University of Oklahoma