Henrique de Souza Filho, the Henfil

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


A creative left-wing anti-regime mind that missed nothing

In times of resumption of authoritarianism, of civil-military government, of a renewed and sophisticated “cucaracho” feeling, the longing for combatants and rebels comes in the form of nostalgia. Despite the difficult times lived in Brazil with censorship and lack of freedom (1964-1985), resistance through the arts and communication was a creative and healthy mechanism that mitigated the annoyances of living under an exceptional regime. In this context, the cartoonist Henfil stood out.

Henrique de Souza Filho, known as Henfil, was born on February 5, 1944, in Ribeirão das Neves (MG) and died on January 4, 1988, in Rio de Janeiro, aged 43. He began his career as a cartoonist and was a contributor to The Quibbler (1969). A multi-artist and creator of iconic Brazilian cartoon characters, he was a kind of catalytic reflection of the interest of the masses. He responded to reality with the irreverence of an artist, the skill of a journalist and the wit of an anti-regime activist.

Through the sports newspaper, he managed to place the supporters of the soccer teams in Rio de Janeiro at the forefront of his strips. Flamenguista-roxo, the episodes in which Flamengo fans took vultures to the stadiums are attributed to him. In politics, he was the left-wing soul of one of the main tabloids of the alternative press that fought for democracy in Brazil, The Quibbler.

Brazil was never for amateurs and Henfil, in a letter to a friend of lampoon, reports that his personal life did not exist. Her vacation projects included finishing books and editing movies. Not only was he competent and irreverent, he loved the job. Henfil was a genius at decoding the power behind the information. A popular guy who understood his people's culture, language and communication well.

It was the soul of the newspaper Quibbler and pushed both the editorial staff and the people to the left and towards confrontation. With an acidic, careless humor and characteristic sadism disguised in drawing, he made the story move through a bit of his journalistic and political optics. Always creating disaffections and fans, an anti-regime leftist mind that didn't miss anything. Forgive, no way. With his brother Betinho, threatened by the dictatorship, he fought permanently. Some say that hemophilia wouldn't let him sit still. It was he who coined the expression “Diretas Já!” at the end of a famous interview with Teotônio Vilela. He tried to invent her ending by adding the question and answer: “Direct when? Direct now!”, thus creating the best-known slogan in the fight for the opening of the regime and for direct elections in Brazil.

Where would “Os fradim”, “a Graúna”, “O Bode Orelana” and “Zéferino” be, infallible characters who once gave face to the struggle for democracy? They would certainly serve the people, helping to exorcise the ghosts that haunt the brutal murder of Marielle Franco; laying bare the clumsy attempts to overthrow the fragile, recent and insufficient Brazilian democracy; transforming, at least in the comic, the revolt over the loss of Moa do Katendê, of the more than a thousand deaths daily due to negligence with the COVID19 pandemic and others, into activism and the fight for better days.

Imagine a paranoid “Ubaldo” pissing himself with fear trying to leave the country in the episode where President Bolsonaro, still campaigning, threatens the left with the cruel choice “jail or exile”. To see the “Olerana” goat reappear as an intellectual who eats books and today would mock the ignorant speeches of an unprepared person in power. Next to Olerana, what would the Myth eat? Zéferino praising the political culture “it was not the fault of the Northeast”, referring to the 2018 election, when the region demonstrated its repudiation of the conservative captain’s retrograde positions.

It would be liberating to watch the “Fradins” mocking the blue and pink of Damares, in the hypocritical statement that relates genres to colors. By the way, Fulfilled and low, were the personality of its creator. The conflict between religious taboo and the demand for freedom, embodied in the sadism of the characters, set the tone for the humor that put its finger on the wound and poked at the system.

One of his most intriguing characters, Caboco Mamado, from The Quibbler, buried in the “Cemitério dos Mortos-Vivos” the author’s enemies who in some way collaborated with the dictatorship. In one of these wakes, Elis Regina, when she saw her name in Henfil's cemetery for the undead, went cross-eyed. She scolded the cartoonist. This outburst did not have the effect she had hoped for: in another cartoon, Elis reincarnated as the Frenchman Maurice Chevalier, who, in 1945, sang in Germany at Hitler's invitation, according to Arthur de Faria, in Elis – a musical biography.

Brave was Henfil's attitude of burying, at least in the newspapers, figures such as Roberto Carlos, Pelé and Marília Pêra, not to mention Elis Regina, who later became his friend. After all, the story tried to explain the pressure she suffered to sing in the military Olympics. And, in addition to the singer, Henfil only regretted burying another person in the cemetery of the living dead: Clarice Lispector.

Today, we would inevitably watch the burial of Silvio Santos, Anitta with a lime shovel and Ronaldinho Gaúcho, like another number 10 shirt, in the cemetery of the living dead of Caboco Mamadô. Not to mention that Henfil himself, with a sharp tongue, would not fail to comment that the presenter of Sunday's main program had to come to the public and remove the hood that the people wore on the president, when he mentioned the word imbecile, during a blunt speech. The popular imagination quickly connected the dots and all that was missing was Henfil to mock. A full plate!

Supposed oranges, açaí vendors, Jesus on a guava tree, 15 million in condensed milk and 3 billion to buy deputies in the middle of a pandemic. Subject is lacking.

The Cucaracho feeling, so well diagnosed in the experience of Henfil, already reflected Brazilian society in the 70s, with the “mutt complex”, a synonymous expression coined by Nelson Rodrigues. In today's Brazil, no one better than him, with his acidic humor and unmistakable comic talent, to decode the fake news that led us to yet another dark page in our history. His peculiar mockery of the current feeling of subalternity seen in the salute given by the Brazilian president to the US flag would be inevitable.

Victim of AIDS, Henfil died in Rio de Janeiro on January 4, 1988. The cartoonist contracted HIV in one of the transfusions he frequently performed, as he was a hemophiliac, as were his brothers, sociologist Betinho and musician Chico Mário.

Today there are 259271 thousand dead from the COVID19 pandemic in Brazil, here, the victims are unprepared, denialism and necropolitics that continue its cut, being cruel and relentless with the poorest and most vulnerable. The lack of our artist's rebellious trait is even more disturbing when the theme is early loss and state neglect.

We also need the return of playful resistance and messages that ignore the limits of good mocism. The left lost and will collect defeats if it doesn't understand that it needs to recreate the language of communication with the people, and in that Henfil was the best.

Used to dealing with dictatorship strictu sensu, would certainly not hesitate to say that the purchase of the plateau is a dictatorial act that dispenses with the need for weapons to attack the people in republican clothes. On the other hand, I would also not forgive the left and the progressives who did not even have the ability to unite forces against Brazilian neo-fascism. But, these are silly assumptions. Henfil's communication saw what many could not see, its authenticity does not even allow one to imagine its creation. Let us then remain with the lucubration of what we will never know, but just remembering it already brings hope that it is possible to resist and change the state of things that are there.

Caboco Mamado, bring brother Henfil back please!

*Italo Jardim is a historian, master in Ethnic-racial Relations, professor at Pretos Novos Research and Memory Institute (IPN).

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