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Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush

The Bloomsbury Review

Already established as a master of the art of storytelling, the writer Luis Alberto Urrea here shifts his focus from the traditional book form to the emerging genre of the graphic novel. Thanks to an equally established artist Christopher Cardinale, the reader is presented with the shifting visions revolving around a village—El Rosario, somewhere in Mexico—recollected from the narrator’s youth. El Rosario is a small town peopled with young lovers, muttering old women, and threads of history, real and imagined. Within this color-saturated, cloistered community, Mr. Mendoza announces—in his stark visual statements—that he is “the graffiti king of all Mexico,” one of the many pronouncements littering the local surfaces. On the road entering the village, the sign for Rosario has been tagged, “No intelligent life for 100 kilometers,” written “in Mr. Mendoza’s meticulous scrawl.” The wall next to the village cemetery proclaims, “Turn your pride on its back and count its wiggly feet.” He is disliked by adults (“What the hell did he mean by that?” is a response to one such defacement), as well as youth (Mendoza once caught the young narrator peeking at the local girls bathing in the river and inked “Pervert” on his forehead, adding “Mother is blue with shame” to his chest). Mr. Mendoza is a figure of mystery, if not a demonic spirit.

The fabled graffiti artist captures the curiosity of the village, in addition to its wrath, when a pig is seen running down the street, the message “Mendoza goes to heaven on Tuesday” written on its side “in perfect cursive script.” The climactic ending involves his paintbrush wielded as a weapon to distort reality; Mendoza, in trademark black suit and hat, leaves the scene of his mischief in surprising form. Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush is a rich gift, an off-center, enigmatic tale with a well-coupled balance of narration and art. Urrea and Cardinale are a “match made in heaven” — or at least mythology. Let us hope there’s more where this one came from.
- Melody Moire, 

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