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His Own ‘Planet’: Cartoonist Liniers Revels in His Creative Freedom

  • "Good Night, Planet," by cartoonist Ricardo Siri, who goes by the pen name Liniers, sits at his desk during an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at Siri's home in Norwich, Vt. Originally from Argentina, Siri is now living in Norwich and is the artist-in-residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Cartoonist Ricardo Siri, who goes by the name Liniers, talks during an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, in his studio at home in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A stuffed animal sits on the desk of Ricardo Siri, a cartoonist who goes by the pen name Liniers, during an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at Siri's home in Norwich, Vt. The stuffed animal, Planet, inspired his book, "Good Night, Planet," about a little girl's stuffed animal that comes to life at night. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ricardo Siri, a cartoonist who goes by the pen name Liniers, talks during an interview with his dog, Elliott, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, at Siri's home in Norwich, Vt. Siri is the artist-in-residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2017

To those who know him from the endearing, often experimental comic strips he’s published the world over, he’s Liniers, the noted Argentine cartoonist and artist-in-residence at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction.

But in person, he’s Ricardo Siri — or, preferably, “just Ricardo,” said the artist, who uses his middle name as a pseudonym. “Liniers is my Batman name.”

He riffed on the comparison for a few more sentences, the first of many goofy and expletive-peppered tangents he would go off on during an interview this week at his yellow house in Norwich, where he lives with his wife, Angie Del Campo, and their three children, Matilda, 9, Clementina, 7, and Emma, 3.

But while Batman doesn’t really wield any superhuman powers, Liniers does have at least one: “My superpower is making people go ‘Awww.’ ”

Upstairs in his office — a small, less-than-tidy room gilt by skylights and cluttered with books and pens — Liniers sat at his desk and discussed the seemingly small question that led to him writing his new children’s book, Good Night, Planet, which he released in both English and Spanish at the Norwich Bookstore Sept. 9.

He and Del Campo had gotten Emma, then 2, a stuffed animal last year — a spotted deer that shows signs of being well-loved by its owner.

“Poor girl, all her toys were back in Buenos Aires,” Liniers said. “So I asked her, ‘Emma, what is the name of your new friend?’ And she said Planet, Planeta. She knew maybe 14 words at the time and I had no idea ‘planet’ was one of them. It just killed me. Best name I’ve heard for a stuffed animal.”

At this point Elliot, the family’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, bounded into the room, excited to have visitors.

“Chill, man,” Liniers stage-whispered to him. “I told you, you have to play hard to get! Too desperate, man.” Later, Liniers shared that he’d wanted to name the puppy Bill Murray, but he got outvoted on that one; it’s now his car’s name.

Elliot also figures prominently in Planet and Emma’s story, as well as in a recent comic strip Liniers made for a Sketchbook page in the New York Times that recounts a conversation with between Liniers and his middle daughter, Clemmie, about her experiences going to school in a new country. In the cartoon Liniers depicts himself as a rabbit, a la Matt Groening’s comic strip Life in Hell, but with glasses.

His art doesn’t always borrow from his family life, though. In fact, part of why he loves to make comics is because the medium is so versatile. In addition to books, he also produces a daily comic strip for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion. Called Macanudo, which loosely translates to “cool,” the strip touches on a variety of subjects — sometimes political, sometimes heartfelt, but always, Liniers said, with “some element of surprise.” Like a robot who is excessively in touch with his feelings, or a man and a woman who sit on opposite sides of a couch but then, in the last panel, kiss.

Liniers is now a beloved artist in his native country, where he was born in 1973, the same year Juan Peron returned to the presidency from exile. The following years in Argentina were marked by intense political strife, with dissidents disappearing left and right under the unstable military government. Brief and tenuous periods of democracy punctuated this era, and nationalist propaganda and censorship reigned supreme.

He was too young to understand most of what was going on at the time, but he did love to read Mafalda, a comic strip that he compared to Peanuts, except that while Charles Schulz’s comic strip deals with a range of psychological states, Mafalda is more political; its titular character is a young girl who questions authority wherever she finds it.

In this way, growing up in post-dictatorship Argentina left its mark on him, even if he wasn’t aware of it at the time.

“I don’t like politicians on a very basic level,” he said, adding that this “default position” colors his view of the current American administration: “We know our demagogues and dictators in Latin America. Believe me,” he said, “we can spot them a mile away.”

He was 10 when democracy was restored in Argentina, by which time, he said, “I already knew who I was.” He was a boy who drew pictures from Star Wars, who was about to discover Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and who was a bona fide nerd — way before nerd culture came into vogue, he added.

“Now you hear people say, oh I love Game of Thrones, I’m such a nerd. But no. You don’t get to call yourself a nerd unless you were ostracized all of your teenage years, didn’t get any girls, no girls even came near you, you just sat in your room listening to Pink Floyd and doing your drawings and thinking ‘Ha-ha, one day I’ll show them!’ ” he said, hunching over his desk and waving a maniacal finger in the air like a mad scientist.

And one could argue that he did show “them,” whoever they are. In addition to his three children’s books, he’s published three volumes of compiled Macanudo comics, and has drawn a slew of album covers, book jackets and New Yorker covers.

But as he started publishing his work in higher and higher profile platforms, he had to come to grips with that inner child who, as much as he loved comics, was still “a loner,” Liniers said.

At his early book events, “Oh man, I suffered horribly, I would be that guy breathing heavily into the microphone and everybody would be like, is that guy OK?” he recalled. But eventually, “that shy guy, I kicked the (expletive) out of him, and it wasn’t very pretty and now he’s dead.”

But creating daily comic strips is a separate beast from writing and promoting a book, though both appeal to different neuroses that Liniers associates with an artist’s personality. With a book, like Good Night, Planet, the artist can micro-manage to his heart’s content, can hem and haw until every detail is just right.

“This,” he said, holding up a copy of the hardcover book, which depicts Planet drooping from Emma’s hand onto a ground strewn with autumn leaves, “is exactly what I pictured.”

But while creating a book fosters perfectionism, his steady output of Macanudo comics has forced him to accept that creativity ebbs and flows, and to realize that sometimes, “you just have to send something off and say, ‘ah well, good enough.’ ”

Even now, sometimes he’ll look at his most recent work and say, “Hell yeah, I did that. Other times, it’s just … .” He pinched his nose like he smelled something foul, and swatted away an imaginary newspaper.

But in the daily grind of creating something, anything, he’s found “space for absolute creative freedom,” he said. “I need to not feel trapped in one type of humor, or even in humor.”

He’s crafted some storylines that run on for a month or more, then abruptly stop. Sometimes, when he goes on vacation, he has his readers send in strips for the paper to publish in lieu of his own. He’s had recurring characters that he kills off when they’ve run their comedic course, such as a sentient olive who after a long time successfully avoiding ending up in James Bond’s martini or on a pizza, eventually meets its fate, which Liniers signified by simply drawing a pit.

This combination of absurdity and poignancy is one of the places where Liniers thrives, and he attributes his success in this area to years of solitude and obsessive tendencies.

“But I think that’s true of a lot of artists,” he said. “You do the same (expletive) thing a gajillion times, and eventually it starts to look like you. That’s the trick. ... You just have to destroy yourself.”

And then he cracked up.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.