Carpanta, the protagonist of the series of the same name created by Spanish cartoonist Josep Escobar (1908-1994), first appeared in the magazine Pulgarcito in 1947. The comic strip’s plot is simple: Carpanta (which means “ravenous hunger”) is a poverty-stricken man who combines a three-day beard with an outfit consisting, surprisingly, of a jacket, a bow tie, and a hat. He lives under a bridge and attempts, repeatedly but unsuccessfully, to satisfy his appetite. Unfortunately, in his brief adventures (generally one to four pages long), something always comes between his hunger and the food he is about to consume. He is sometimes accompanied by his friend Protasio. Carpanta depicts not only scarcity and privation, but also the frustration suffered by a large percentage of the Spanish population at the end of the Civil War (1936-1939).
There are two other important features in Carpanta’s personality. First, despite his poverty and hunger, he never begs and only rarely steals. He seldom works and makes no attempt to find a job. In short, Carpanta is the modern embodiment of the pícaro (rogue or rascal), a figure with a long tradition in Spanish literature. Second, he sometimes displays his awareness of being a fictional character. Carpanta mentions his creator in several stories and even argues on occasion with Escobar, turning the cartoonist into another character within the strip.
Two periods are noteworthy in the Carpanta series. Until the mid-1950´s the cartoon was highly critical, drawing the attention of the censors under General Francisco Franco´s dictatorship (1939-1975). Escobar, a victim of Franco’s reprisals who was sentenced to prison under the regime, quickly made changes to Carpanta when the series was threatened with cancelation. This second phase also reflects changing circumstances since, as the economic situation in Spain began to improve, Carpanta’s readers no longer identified so readily with a starving poor man. Over time, secondary – and fleeting – characters also appeared such as the young Valeria, who falls in love with Carpanta but, in turn, is loved by Protasio. This love triangle, destined for disaster since Valeria cares nothing for Protasio while Carpanta flees commitment, was unable to breathe new life into a cartoon series that was already showing signs of waning.
Nevertheless, Carpanta remained very popular and has become part of Spain’s collective imagination. He starred in his own television series, whose 13 episodes aired in 1960 and were scripted by Escobar himself. Later, from 1977 to 1981, the character had his own magazine, Super Carpanta, which was published quarterly. Of the characters created by Escobar, Carpanta’s popularity was exceeded only by that of the brothers Zipi and Zape.
- Alary, Viviane. 2009. “The Spanish Tebeo.” Translated by Ann Miller. European Comic Art 2.2: 254-276.
- Barrero, Manuel. 2003. Translated by Miriam del Pliego. “The Evolution of Children’s Comics in Spain.” International Journal of Comic Art 5.2: 28-49.
- Pilcher, Tim and Brad Brooks. 2005. “Spain.” In The Essential Guide to World Comics, 192-195. London: Collins and Brown.