Anxiety, says Alberto Montt, is a vicious cycle. In a movie theater, before a vacation, when receiving a message from the person you like or while reading a book calmly, he suddenly attacks. Did you lock it? Do you have your passport up to date? Why didn’t he send you a emoji? Do you realize that time is passing? “My head destroys me because my environment is shit and my environment is shit because I destroy it in my head,” says Montt (Quito, 48 years old), designer, cartoonist, blogger and one of the stars of Latin American comics, that these days presents at the Guadalajara Book Fair Anxiety (Planet, 2020), more than 100 cartoons around that monster that assails in silence.
After a year and a half of interviews on Zoom, live broadcasts on Instagram and questions about how he has handled the confinement, the illustrator walks like a gale through the corridors of the fair. He is happy to be back. “The covid does not cause me anxiety, my problem is people in general … But that has happened to me since I was 20 years old,” he says in an interview with EL PAÍS in a small courtyard secluded from trafficking. The fair has returned after the 2020 stoppage and has reduced its capacity to 70%, but still expects more than 200,000 people this week. The illustrator, with an Ecuadorian mother, a Chilean father and, according to what he says, “Argentine literary education”, is one of the highlights of the event. His book, in which he caricatures anxiety as a little red bug similar to a virus, is one of the delights of one of the large venues at the fair, where it is sold on the self-help shelf.
– Is humor self-help?
– I wouldn’t go that far. Humor is a raft of salvation, ”says Montt, who hates etiquette. It allows us to understand misfortunes, endure vicissitudes and approach life with dignity. Humor is what distinguishes the human being from the politicians.
The illustrator grew up in a town on the outskirts of Quito. His upbringing, as you often recall, was based on the comics of Mafalda and Condorito, that his father brought him back when he traveled to the city. He studied Design in Quito and at the age of 26 he moved to Santiago de Chile. His cartoons exploded on the internet a decade later, in the era of blogs, under the name Daily dose. Today he still shares most of what he produces online, where his drawings are all the rage in the age of meme anonymous and TikTok videos.
Humor, seen from that perspective, is a serious thing. “We live in a society that tells you what is the right thing to do and how to deal with things. I think humor is a response to that, to that gaze that has only one perspective, “says Montt, who draws a line between his work and the culture of viral images:” The signed vignette implies a responsibility that is not found in the meme. With him something is thrown into the world saying ‘this is what I believe, this is funny, this is violent, this is reflective, if you want you can share it’. But there is no one behind ”.
After diving for almost a decade in the small – or huge – triggers of everyday insecurity that “may be nothing more than the nervousness of getting on a plane or the gateway to a very dark depression”, the illustrator has a definition for the anxiety that goes on and on: “Anxiety is an emotion generated by the inability we have to control our environment. It is the frustration of not being able to have everything under our control ”.
– Does drawing help you control yours?
– Drawing helps me … 15 minutes. It’s like people who go to the psychologist and come out saying “how wonderful, I feel great, I love to come” and two hours later it is wrong. It has happened to all of us. I went a couple of times to the psychologist, I will have done a maximum of four sessions.
In an era that combines an unprecedented self-awareness with a global village of billions of people sharing the same fire on the internet, Montt argues that “there is a tendency to speak of the individual as something to be pursued, but it is a way of managing a herd. The individualistic society that looks inward is equal to the culture of the meme. All this toxic positivism movement shit goes around. Those messages that tell you ‘you are important’, ‘what you think is valid’, ‘that way of seeing is only yours’ make you say ‘it’s true, I’m unique’ while you give it ‘like’ together with thousands of people. It is not that we sit down to say ‘hey, let’s see what I have’, it is that someone tells us ‘you have this’ and they teach you a meme or a sticker of WhatsApp that tells us everything we are ”.
“That individuality is a product that they sell us to make us feel special and we are all the same,” says the illustrator. “We all have the same books inside, the same series, the same music, the same frustrations. Anxiety is a great proof that we are not unique ”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.