Mauricio de Sousa is probably the most famous comics artist in Brazil. Creator of Monica’s Gang and several other characters that have accompanied generations of young readers since the mid 1960s, Sousa is recognized as one of the most prolific comics artist of the country. After a brief beginning in the comics industry, he realized comic strips would be a realistic and achievable means of success as an artist and, after that, he would be able to move forward from there. Such are the origins of the so-called “Brazilian Disney,” as some critics classify Sousa’s entrepreneurial career.
Born in the small city of Mogi das Cruzes, located in São Paulo state, Sousa moved to the capital looking for jobs as an artist. An opportunity appeared in the daily newspaper Folha de São Paulo, where he worked as a crime reporter and illustrator. After a brief engagement with a movement in defense of nationalization of comics in 1961, and an unsuccessful beginning in the comic book format, he and Lenita Miranda de Figueiredo (1927-) edited Folhinha, a comics supplement in the newspaper intended for children. In parallel to the positive feedback from readers to his comic strips like Bidu (Blu), Cebolinha (Jimmy Five, 1960), Piteco (Pitheco, 1961) and Mônica (Monica, 1963), Sousa organized a small comics studio in his hometown, trying to emulate North-American syndicate production and distribution practices. As an entrepreneur, Sousa worked to solidify his characters in the Brazilian market through toys and advertisement. For examples there is Jotalhão, originally created in 1962 as a newspaper ad and years later adopted for Cica’s tomato puree.
In 1970, Monica’s Gang was his better-known production and ultimately entered into the comic book format. Abril Editora publishing Monica has Sousa’s debut in the new house publishing, followed by Cebolinha (Jimmy Five, 1973), Cascão (Smudge, 1982) and Chico Bento (Chuck Billy, 1982). At this time, to maintain a successful line of comic books and collections (Almanacs) that sold better than the Disney cast of comic characters – also published by Abril Editora –, Sousa had a whole team of artists behind the elaboration of every comic book, like artworkers, drawers, inkers and writers. In 1986 Sousa moved to Globo Editora, a publisher that was part of the biggest mass media complex in the country. Instead of the Abril’s print run of one million comic books, Globo reached upwards of three and a half million Monica’s Gang comic books. The characters also starred in movies, didactic books, gained a theme park and several commodities, from diapers to videogames. Recently, Sousa’s characters are successfully published in the manga format, and versions of the gang in the graphic novel format are acclaimed for critics and artists. In sum, Sousa’s universe is now well beyond comics, becoming a vital part of Brazilian consumer culture writ large.
— Ivan Lima Gomes