Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información (English Mort and Phil) is one of the most popular Spanish comic strip series, created by Spanish cartoonist Francisco Ibañez and first published in Pulgarcito in 1958. Characterized by an absurdist slapstick humor, the series set the standards for comical style in Spanish comic strip series.

Set in 1969, the series portrays the (mis)adventures of Mortadelo and Filemón, two incompetent detectives who start working for the spy agency TIA (AUNT in Spanish, a parody of the CIA). Filemón is presented as the bald-headed irascible boss of Mortadelo, his tall shapeshifting assistant who lacks any common sense. Both protagonists share the scene with set characters such as their tyrannical supervisor (Super), the failed scientist (professor Bacterio) and the obese secretary (Ofelia), as well as with many villains.

In Mortadelo y Filemón, the narrative of the story is structured in three parts: presentation of a situation, emergence of a misunderstanding and a closure. At visual level, the series is defined by detailed drawing, which adds secondary incongruities to the main incongruities that articulate the plot in the foreground. The humoristic style is overloaded with slapstick, absurd gags, where characters emerge unscathed after subsequent explosions and blows.

Despite the initial concise style of the series, Ibañez progressively increased the length of the stories as well as the amount of visual and humoristic resources, following existing European trends in comic books. In particular, the author adopted Franco-Belgian stylistic influences in his detailed portrayal of characters and scenery. Furthermore, the comic strips shifted from parodying Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to later reference spy stories and finally incorporating references to current affairs. In the consolidation stages of the series, Ibañez temporarily lost the copyright of his characters against his publishing house (Bruguera), which resulted in apocryphal publications of the series during the 80s.

Mortadelo y Filemón made a significant contribution to humor in the Spanish comic strip series. In particular, the proliferation of nonsense and gags influenced on the predominant critical humor of the Bruguera-school, one of the three major comic currents after the Spanish civil war. In addition, the popularity of the comic strips series demanded translations to numerous languages in Europe, being especially embraced in Germany.

Francisco Ibañez has been awarded with numerous distinctions, such as the Golden Ring Award for most popular children’s characters (1969, 1974-6), the Grand Prize from the Barcelona International Comic Fair (1994), the Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts (2002) and the Oso Lifetime Achievement Award at the Madrid International Comic Fair (2002). His career as a cartoonist was recognized by the comprehensive exhibition Francisco Ibáñez, el Mago del Humor held in Madrid in 2014.

— Beatriz Carbajal Carrera

Further Reading

  • Alary, Viviane. 2009. “The Spanish Tebeo”. European Comic Art 2(2): 253-276.
  • Barrero, Manuel. 2011.  “The Origins of the Spanish Cartoon, 1857-1906″Arbor-Ciencia Pensamiento y Cultura 187: 15-39.
  • Merino, Ana & Tullis, Brittany. 2012. “The Sequential Art of Memory: The Testimonial Struggle of Comics in Spain”. Hispanic Issues Online 11: 211-25.