11:45am

Thu April 7, 2011
Latin America

Brazilian Cartoon Prodigy Pokes Fun At Politics

Joao Montanaro is a tall, thin, 14-year-old boy with a mop of black hair. He loves video games, Brazil's great passion — soccer — and roughhousing with his two brothers.

But in the family's small, two-bedroom house, Joao has his own studio. There he draws political cartoons for Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha.

In his studio you'll find books with works from the world's best-known cartoonists — from Charles Schulz's Peanuts to a complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes. He says they all provide him with the inspiration that got him drawing when he was only 7 or 8.

"I make comics, cartoons, comic strips, too, and I like the political because you can joke about somebody bigger than you," he says.

Joao's fascination with cartoons began on his father's lap. Mario Barbosa had some anthologies featuring the best in Brazilian cartooning. Joao was too young to understand the political messages, but he took to the art form.

"My dad ... had books with cartoons of that guys, and I see the books, and I love it," he says.

And, in time, he began to discern the political messages from the greatest Brazilian cartoonists — Arnaldo Angeli, Glauco Villas Boa and others.

All of them are cartoonists at Folha — a 90-year-old broadsheet paper long known for its cartoons and illustrations.

New, Fresh Ideas

At Folha's bustling newsroom, art director Mario Kanno says editors saw something new and fresh in Joao's work.

He'd already been working at Folha's kids' newspaper, Folhinha, for two years.

"We brought him with this idea to show that, yes, young people also read newspapers, also are smart, are clever, can show their ideas in this space," Kanno says.

Joao belongs to a family that devotes lots of time to the arts. His little brother, Felipe, is learning to dominate the guitar, and Joao's twin, Raphael, plays the drums.

The bedroom the three boys share is just like that of any American boy: messy beds and video games.

Their father says Joao is just like any kid his age. "He plays football. He goes to school. He has no problem about this. He's not a famous one, he's not a famous one. He's a normal guy," he says.

Still, Joao is not exactly like other kids. He reads the paper two hours a day, he's familiar with The New Yorker magazine and he likes to leaf through LeMonde Diplomatique.

Big Pressure

Some who support Joao — like Orlando Pedroso, an illustrator at Folha — are a little worried. He says Folha may be putting too much pressure on him.

"OK, he is 14, it's a massive experience, it's incredible, but he should play some football and date girls," he says.

Joao's big day is Friday, the day he has to work on his cartoon for Saturday's paper.

He sketches out two, three or four mock drawings and sends them to the paper for review. From those, editors choose the cartoon for the next day's editorial page.

Joao says what drives him is the absurdity in Brazil's rambunctious politics, or the news of the day.

On a recent afternoon, he worked on "The Wave" — a sketch of the tsunami that hit Japan, based on a famous 19th century Japanese print.

"Everyday I draw," he says. "I have a sketchbook, and I sit and draw something."

Indeed, in many ways, Joao is still just a kid who likes to doodle. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Brazil, the country's feisty newspapers are always trying to one-up each other. The biggest paper of them all, Folha, has a new weapon. His name is Joao Montanaro, and he's a political cartoonist who loves to skewer the powerful. His work has been called fresh; his artistry, idiosyncratic. Not bad, for a 14-year-old.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Sao Paulo.

JUAN FORERO: Joao Montanaro is thin, tall, with a mop of black hair. He loves videogames; the country's great passion, soccer; and roughhousing with his two brothers. But in the family's small, two-bedroom house, Joao has his own studio.

There, you'll find books with works from the world's best-known cartoonists, from Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" to a complete collection of "Calvin and Hobbes."

Joao says they all provide him with the inspiration that got him drawing when he was a small boy.

Mr. JOAO MONTANARO (Political Cartoonist, Folha de S. Paulo): I make comics, cartoons, comic strip too. And I like the political because you can joke about somebody bigger than you.

FORERO: Joao's fascination with cartoons began on his father's lap. Mario Barbosa had some anthologies featuring the best in Brazilian cartooning. Joao was too young to understand the political messages, but he took to the art form.

Mr. MONTANARO: My dad had books with cartoons of that guy. And I see the books, and I love it.

FORERO: And in time, he began to discern what the greatest Brazilian cartoonists - Arnaldo Angeli, Glauco Villas Boas and others - were trying to say. All of them cartoonists at Folha, the 90-year-old broadsheet long known for its cartoons and illustrations.

Mr. MONTANARO: Here you have the Angeli old drawings, Glauco from Folha.

FORERO: At Folha's bustling newsroom, art director Mario Kanno said editors saw something inventive in Joao's work. He'd already been working at Folha's kids' newspaper, Folhinha, for two years.

Mr. MARIO KANNO (Art Director, Folha de S. Paulo): We brought him with this idea to show that, yes, young people also read newspaper, also are smart, are clever, can show their ideas in this space.

FORERO: Joao belongs to a family that devotes lots of time to the arts. His little brother, Felipe, is learning to dominate the guitar.

(Soundbite of guitar music)

FORERO: Joao's twin, Raphael, plays the drums.

(Soundbite of drums)

FORERO: Walk into the bedroom the three boys share, and it's like that of any American boy - messy beds...

(Soundbite of videogame)

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible), we are going down.

FORERO: ...and videogames.

Their father says Joao is just like any kid his age.

Mr. MARIO BARBOSA: He plays football. He goes to his school. He has no problem about this. He's not a famous one. He's not a famous one. He's a normal guy.

FORERO: Still, Joao is not exactly like other kids. He reads the paper two hours a day. He's familiar with The New Yorker magazine, and he likes to leaf through Le Monde diplomatique.

Some who support Joao are a little worried, like Orlando Pedroso, an illustrator at Folha. He says Folha may be putting too much pressure on him.

Mr. ORLANDO PEDROSO (Illustrator, Folha de S. Paulo): Okay, he's 14. It's a massive experience. It's incredible. But he should play some football and date girls.

FORERO: Joao's big day is Friday, the day he does his cartoon for Saturday's paper. He sketches out two, three, four mock drawings, sending them to the paper for review. The editors then choose the cartoon for the next day's editorial page.

Joao says what drives him is the absurdity in Brazil's rambunctious politics or the news of the day.

(Soundbite of humming)

FORERO: On a recent afternoon, he worked on "The Wave," a sketch of the tsunami that hit Japan, inspired by a famous 19th-century Japanese print.

Mr. MONTANARO: Every day, I draw. I have a sketchbook, and I sit and draw something.

FORERO: Indeed, in many ways, Joao is still just a kid who likes to doodle.

Juan Forero, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.