AMAZONA- a graphic novel, by Canizales

Review by Kevin McCloskey 1/23/22

Translation to English by Sofía Huitrón Martínez
U.S edition, Graphic Universe, Lerner, pub date: April, 2022

The graphic novel Amazona, like Disney’s animated musical Encanto, takes place in Colombia. Two stories of refugee families forced off their land by violence could not be more different. Encanto‘s giddy Madrigal family sings about their refuge calling it a ‘casita,’ or little house. Their house is more like a casona, a mansion, so saturated in Disney-color the rainbow seems redundant.

The “casita’ from Encanto ©Disney

On the other hand, Amazona is a starkly drawn graphic novel. It is mostly black graphite pencil on rough white paper. Ink washes and spots of color are used sparingly to reflect a very different take on the refugee experience.

Amazona, detail. © Canizales

The artist Canizales was born in Cali, Colombia. In his story an indigenous refugee family is relocated to a dilapidated casita in a Cali slum. Andrea, the young heroine, describes her new surroundings: “In the place where we live now, and forgive me if I don’t call it home, you’ll find: my sisters and brothers . . .My cousins and aunts and uncles . . .My neighbors, grandmothers, and grandfathers . . .And boys and girls who lost their own families. A total of thirty-eight people sharing a 600-square-foot space. The place is divided into two rooms with no windows, a bathroom with no door, a kitchen, and a patio.

© Canizales

Canizales now lives in Majorca, Spain where he is a professor of illustration and an award-winning author/illustrator. Most of his artistic output consists of early reader picture books and bright bubbly board books. While his board books would not look out of place in a Disney store, Amazona is clearly a passion project. It is fiction, but based on real people and places. Canizales pledges a portion of the book’s profit to aid indigenous people via Resguardo Indígena Nasa de Cerro Tijeras.

The storytelling has tremendous momentum. I intended to simply glance at the review pdf that came my way, but I read it in one sitting. Canizales’s tale is an important story, not a pretty one. There is racism and violence, including an attempted rape. While the vocabulary is deceptively simple, Amazona is not a children’s book. It is a graphic novella for adults, including mature young adults.

detail from Amazona © Canizales

I admit there were plot twists in Amazona that I found hard to believe. – Latin American magic realism? However, Amazona undoubtedly delivers more insight to the Colombian refugee crisis than Encanto. Hundreds of talented artists, writers and colorists are credited at the end of Encanto. Don’t get me wrong, Encanto is a great entertainment product and I appreciate full employment for artists, but it is not food for thought. Encanto was never intended to build empathy with the poorest of poor.

Amazona detail © Canizales

In contrast, one artist, Canizales, born in Cali, Colombia, created Amazona. Sure, he had editors, art directors, and in the case of the U.S. edition, a wonderful translator. Yet, Amazona is basically the act of a single focused imagination, a single hand. Amazona is an extraordinary achievement, worth the journey.

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