Graphic novel provides intimate view into Penguin Revolution

By Belinda Torres-Leclercq
Published On : Tue, Apr 29th, 2014

Author Lola Larra and illustrator Vicente Reinamontes on book tax, local publishers and process behind novel on Chile’s largest student movement in 30 years.

Graphic novel provides intimate view into Penguin Revolution

Larra and Reinamontes launch ‘Al Sur de la Alameda’ on World Book Day. Photo by Violette Le Gall / The Santiago Times

A new and locally published graphic novel provides a student’s-eye-view of a school occupation during the high school strikes of 2006 that sowed the seed for nationwide calls for universal education reform and defined the country’s most recent presidential election.

Many column inches have been dedicated to the so-called Penguin Revolution where hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets to protests perceived inequality in the country’s high school system, though “Al Sur de la Alameda” provides a unique visual perspective of the inner-workings of a “toma,” or occupation.

The launch of the book at the Education Ministry on April 23 — UNESCO’s International Book Day — brought to mind not only the shifting political attitude toward the student movement, but also the challenges publishers face in a consumer market noted for low reading rates and high book taxes.

The Santiago Times spoke to “Al Sur de la Alameda” author Lola Larra and illustrator Vicente Reinamontes at the headquarters of the book’s publisher Ekaré, part bookshop part café on Avenida Italia. The company — which targets adolescent readers — put Larra in contact with Reinamontes while the writer was working on a fictionalized account of a “toma” inspired by her visit to a high school in Santiago in 2006 on her return to Chile. Her family was exiled and left for Venezuela and later Spain during the military dictatorship.

“A lot has been published on the student movements already from a more academic perspective,” Larra said. “I wanted to show the little details of day-to-day life inside the school building — how they ate, how they converted class rooms into movie theaters, how they handled the press, where they slept, how they washed themselves.”

Now a professional artist, Reinamontes was a student during the Penguin Revolution. His illustrations in the book pay close attention to detail — old cell phones and blackboards and popular hairstyles of the day all place the story in 2006. The story’s protagonist — soccer jock Nicolás — is at first disinterested in the social action of his fellow students, though becomes gradually more involved as he learns about their demands from his crush Paula.

At the time, student demands included public transport passes, the abolition of fees for standardized testing and an end to the management of schools by local municipalities, among other mechanisms protesters felt bred inequality in Chile’s secondary education system. The Penguin Revolution was the precursor to the university-led protests for reform to the higher education system that reached their peak in 2011. Several student leaders from that time have now entered Congress, and President Michelle Bachelet’s successful second run for office was centered around delivering on demands for free universal education.

Much of Bachelet’s ability to make good on her pledge depends on the passage of the tax reform bill she sent to Congress late last month. A recent Finance Committee meeting — incidentally held on International Book Day — outlined a number of modifications that are likely to be posed to the bill, with Chile’s 19 percent value added tax (IVA) on books among them.

According to critics, the implementation of the IVA in 1976 turned books from basic goods into luxury items in Chile, stifling what once was a culture of readers.

Larra said that many local publishers have arisen in Chile during the last ten years with the support of the government via book buying programs, though believes the country badly needs reform of the IVA to promote readership.

“People say there is no use cutting the IVA on books because Chileans don’t read anyway,” Larra said. “But why can’t we stimulate people to read more by lowering the tax? For me those two things don’t contradict each other, they could be done at the same time.”

“Al Sur de la Alameda” is available on the publisher’s website.

By Belinda Torres-Leclerq
Copyright 2014 – The Santiago Times

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