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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Liniers draws on humor and positivity to illustrate his secrets of storytelling

Argentinian cartoonist Liniers spoke at Still North Books & Bar about how he utilizes optimism in his work.

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On April 2, cartoonist Liniers discussed his new book, “Macanudo: Optimism is for the Brave,” with English and Creative Writing department chair Peter Orner at Still North Books & Bar. Originally slated to take place on Jan. 16, the event was rescheduled due to inclement weather. 

Born Ricardo Liniers Siri in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the renowned cartoonist — who publishes under the name Liniers — currently lives in Vermont with his wife and three daughters. Liniers is the artist-in-residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies, located in Hartford, Vt.  

Liniers has authored dozens of cartoon books, including “The Big Wet Balloon” and “Good Night Planet” — both of which have Spanish and English editions. He also has been publishing a daily comic strip entitled “Macanudo” for an Argentinian newspaper, La Nación, since 2002. Liniers has won numerous accolades over the past decade, including the Eisner Award, a prestigious award honoring creative achievement in American comic books. In addition, his works were listed on Parents Magazine’s Ten Best Children’s Books in 2013, as well as School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year in 2015.

Professor Orner opened the Q&A session by asking Liniers about the title of his new book and the role of optimism in his creative process.

“I’m from Argentina, and optimism in Argentina is an act of courage,” Liniers replied. “Coming to America at a politically precarious moment in August 2016 … I brought that concept of optimism to the States.”

Another essential component of Liniers’s work is its humor, he said.  

“My job is not to be good at drawing,” Liniers said. “There were always kids who were better at drawing than me — where are they now, though? It’s not as important to draw well as to draw funny. I know very few people who can draw funny.”

For Liniers, “drawing funny” means channeling his personality into his illustrations. This, in turn, has pushed him to be more open to sharing his optimistic perspective with readers, he said.

“I had to do humor with my guard down,” Liniers said. “In Argentina in the [1990s], humor was all about being up in arms, kind of like stand-up comedy today. To be an optimist, you must put your guard down and not be afraid to walk the thin line between sappy self-help and optimism.”

Liniers’s humor resonated with the audience, whose laughter filled the bookstore throughout the entire event.

“I just thought he was hilarious,” Theo Kessel ’25 said. “Some people who get up and talk like that and are funny, they just talk about themselves, and it’s all ego … but he just seemed like he was hanging out and also happened to be hilarious.” 

Posie Millett ’25 echoed this sentiment, adding that Liniers did not seem full of himself. 

“When some people give talks like that, you know they take their craft very seriously, which can be a good thing, but it can also be kind of a turn off,” Millett said. “He felt a lot more approachable and down-to-earth.”

Rather than conforming to a traditional structure, Liniers said his self-proclaimed “schizophrenic” narratives meander in many different directions, because he is “always looking for surprise.” 

“Humor and surprise are best friends,” Liniers said to his audience.

He went on to share that narrative techniques such as hiding familiar characters across his works and employing many perspectives within each story keeps the reader invested and on their toes.

The cartoonist also shared anecdotes and advice for aspiring authors and illustrators. 

Stuck in writer’s block? Liniers recommended relying on a stock character like his handy “Man in Black” — a debonair lurker who he stashes in different corners of the page throughout his works. And when all else fails — when a doodle has seemingly reached the point of complete un-salvageability — he said to “draw a box around it and slap The New Yorker on as a header. Now it’s a work of art!”

Orner offered personal anecdotes about his experiences reading Liniers’s cartoons, noting the cartoonist’s devotion to details.  

“I read your strips, and I am a better noticer,” Orner said at the beginning of the Q&A.

Commending the artist for his sharp observations of his surroundings, Orner asked Liniers how he developed his unique way of looking at the world over time.

“The work of an artist is to have an antenna out the whole day,” Liniers responded.

When writing with children in mind, Liniers said he aims to harness the emotional rather than the didactic power of storytelling.

“I really don’t want to teach the kids anything,” Liniers said. “What I want my book to do is make them feel something — laugh, feel sad, be scared.”

Expanding on the more terrifying elements of his work, the author emphasized that he does not shy away from potentially frightening material, but rather encourages his young readers to embrace fear as a natural part of indulging their curiosity. 

Liniers said that sometimes imagination can be scary, recalling times when parents would come up to him and say, “‘My kid is having nightmares because of your book,’ and I say, ‘Great!’ I am pro scaring kids.’”

The range in ages represented among the audience at the event testified to the author’s incredible ability to create stories that connect with both children and adults. Full of iconic historical figures and beloved literary characters, from Kafka to Moby Dick, “Macanudo: Optimism is for the Brave” features a bizarre cast of personalities whose recognizable features make the older reader feel cultured and intellectual.

This versatility particularly stuck out to Laurel Lee Pitts ’24, who said she “[thinks] it is really cool that he makes children’s books as well as comics for all ages.”

“I feel like we sometimes undercut the value and the art of children’s literature, so I liked to hear about him doing both,” Pitts said.

These events are an essential part of the Dartmouth English department, according to Pitts, who said she was greatly disappointed when the event was initially canceled in the winter. She added that she was later excited when she saw the event advertised again on a flier in Sanborn Library this term.

“I love when the English Department has these events,” Pitts said. “I think they are a great way to expand the world of the department — instead of just thinking about books as existing in a broad, hypothetical way, we get to engage with them as something that people actually write, and you can talk to the people who write them outside of a strictly academic context.”

At one point, a close friend of Liniers in the audience testified that “optimism is [his] superpower,” before asking the author if he thought his positive outlook was an innate part of his personality — or something he had cultivated through experience. 

“I try to be an optimist because it really doesn’t matter,” the cartoonist said. “You can be a pessimist, tell everyone we’re all going to die, and you’d be right. You will always win if you’re a pessimist. If you’re an optimist, until you lose, it will be more fun.”