Chile pays tribute to its most famous cartoonist, Pepo

A series of exhibitions and talks will celebrate the life and work of the popular Condorito comic book illustrator.

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Throughout Chile, he is instantly recognizable: a cartoon condor, dressed in a bright red cap, shirt and sandals with tail feathers protruding from his trousers and a cigarette hanging from his beak.

The main character of a hugely popular comic book series that first appeared in 1949, Condorito has been providing entertainment and humor to Chileans for decades.

The comic genius behind the popular cartoon figure, René Ríos Boettiger – or simply Pepo – originally created Condorito to reflect the trials faced by the thousands of Chileans who flocked to the city from the countryside in search of work in the 1940s.

Lacking tact and refinement, Pepo’s protagonist often encountered problems in the big smoke, but his strong sense of adventure and steady supply of pranks ensured that he remained an endearing character.

Today, just like his creation, Pepo is an important name in Chilean culture. This month, the country is gearing up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pepo’s birth with a series of talks, exhibitions and a book launch.

Born on December 15, 1911, in the southern city of Concepción, Pepo came to Santiago in 1930 with plans to study medicine. Within two years, he changed his plans and began to pursue a career in the arts.

Some of his earliest illustrations appeared in Topaze, a local satirical magazine, where he was able to demonstrate his sharp wit and political insight.

In 1946, he founded the Pobre Diablo magazine in which he collaborated with other Chilean cartoonists. Throughout his career, he also worked on other popular comic titles such as Pichanga and the children’s magazines Peneca and Topacín.

Despite his popularity, Pepo always maintained a low profile and he retreated further from the public spotlight in the 1990s, when he began battling back and lung problems.

It was around this time that Pepo eventually stopped drawing. Before his death in 2000, he gave the rights for Condorito to a local publishing house, ensuring that Chile’s favorite cartoon figure would live on.

Pepo’s anniversary celebrations kick off on Saturday, December 10, with the launch of an exhibition at Santiago’s Cartoon Museum (Esperanza 555, Casa 25, Santiago Centro). Containing magazines and original drawings, the event will also feature a series of talks from two of Pepo’s contemporaries, Jocar and Percy.

The following Thursday, exactly 100 years after Pepo’s birth, another exhibition will open at Universidad San Sebastián’s Bellavista campus (Pio Nono, near Metro Baquedano) displaying works from the entrants in a recent Condorito-themed cartoon competition. The organizers will also launch a tribute book entitled 100% Pepo.

To complete the celebrations, next March Chile’s National Library will launch a display, containing a broad selection of magazines, photos and original drawings along with a collection of Pepo’s letters and personal objects.