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Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush

Kirkus Reviews 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
Urrea’s delightful tale of morality and meaning is rendered masterfully by Cardinale’s boisterous illustrations, their bold outlines providing heft to the surrealism…An enchanting exploration of life’s myriad mysteries.
The residents of the small Mexican town of El Rosario don’t quite know what to make of Mr. Mendoza and his omnipresent paintbrush. Is he merely a vandal, spreading snippets of esoteric nonsense around town with a few strokes of his brush? Or an overlooked philosopher who has explanations for life’s greatest mysteries? The self-described Mexican King of Graffiti, Mendoza spares no one the mischievous spitfire of his brush—neither El Rosario’s residents nor God Himself. When a series of unfortunate incidents befall the town—from the devastating storm that rains down corpses to the mine collapse that drags large swaths of town into a gaping abyss—Mendoza is there with paint-dripped commentary, urging residents to investigate the nature of life itself. Urrea’s delightful tale of morality and meaning is rendered masterfully by Cardinale’s boisterous illustrations, their bold outlines providing heft to the surrealism. This tale, in their steady hands, becomes a cheeky tour through elements of Latin pop culture: Hints of Romero’s horrors, Rivera’s aesthetics and García Márquez’s magical realism all make their appearance here. An enchanting exploration of life’s myriad mysteries.
- April 15, 2010 
The Bloomsbury Review
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.
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, 
Publishers Weekly
This lovely comics adaptation of a short story by major Latino writer Urrea may have found the ideal way to present magical realism graphically.
This lovely comics adaptation of a short story by major Latino writer Urrea may have found the ideal way to present magical realism graphically. As a boy growing up in the little town of Rosario, the narrator observes things in the natural world around him wonderfully ripening, but he also catches glimpses of marvelous forces that intrude into mundane life. Mr. Mendoza, meanwhile, is offended by the small-minded pomp and hypocrisy of the townspeople and posts his observations in sometimes scathing, sometimes enigmatic graffiti written on objects, animals, and people. Cardinale presents this in a mixture of crosshatching and scratchboard style that makes each panel resemble a static woodcut—but one that interacts dynamically with surrounding action. The scenes look only temporarily solid, an especially appropriate condition for the story’s conclusion, when Mendoza abandons the town by climbing steps he draws in the air. A different level of “realism” in the art wouldn’t have maintained the ambiguity that makes the tale’s magic so hauntingly effective.
- May 3, 2010 
Library Journal
VERDICT: Cardinale's colorful, wood-block-style art paints this lively tale about Rosario and its townspeople with nostalgia and humor. A gem.
In a small town where the drawings make you smell the heat and the burros, the enigmatic Mr. Mendoza has appointed himself graffiti king. Writing on walls, corpses, unwilling bystanders, and teens caught peeping at girls, the self-designated group conscience wields his brush with sardonic wit, scrawling on the cemetery's wall, for example, "Mendoza never slept here" and on a sign with the town's name, "No intelligent life for 100 kilometers." Then the scribe announces his departure, and everyone is abuzz. Will he just walk out? Kill himself? But Mendoza's brush has a life of its own in providing an escape route. Adapted from the short story collection Six Kinds of Sky, Urrea's magical realist parable about growing up in Mexico turned out to be strangely prophetic. For Urrea himself, Latino Hall of Fame inductee and Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Devil's Highway, the conscience-driven Word, like Mendoza's brush, allowed him to ascend to literary and journalistic acclaim. VERDICT Cardinale's colorful, wood-block-style art paints this lively tale about Rosario and its townspeople with nostalgia and humor. A gem.
- May 15, 2010 
Horn Book
Urrea's…short story has now been superbly adapted as a graphic novel by Cardinale.
"When I remember my village, I remember the color green. A green that is rich, perhaps too rich, and almost bubbling with humidity and the smell of mangos." In vividly descriptive prose that meanders between the narrator's boyhood mischief, the history of the Mexican village of Rosario, and the pervasive graffiti of Mr. Mendoza's eponymous paintbrush (following along in the Latino tradition of artist as community conscience), Urrea's previously published short story has now been superbly adapted as a graphic novel by Cardinale. Not only does the art perfectly capture the mood of the piece-from the blocky woodcuts to the muted earth tones-but it also reinforces the lucid dreamlike quality of its magical realism. That genre can be a hard sell for teens, but this wonderfully visual example serves as both an enticing introduction and an invitation to further explore the masterworks of Allende, Borges, and Garcia Márquez.
- Jonathan Hunt, July 1, 2010 
San Francisco Chronicle
Christopher Cardinale's muted earth tones and beautiful woodblock style mix fantasy with gritty reality; children and adults alike will be beguiled by this book.
Authors of short stories are lucky if they get their work published, never mind have it adapted into graphic novels. But that's the good fortune that has befallen Luis Alberto Urrea - granted, not just any short-story writer but the author of the acclaimed true-life account "The Devil's Highway" and the novel "The Hummingbird's Daughter." "Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush" (Cinco Puntos Press; 64 pages; $17.95 paperback) is a captivating rendering of Urrea's tale of an eccentric old artist whose sly graffiti-as-social-commentary is found throughout a Mexican village, leaving townspeople scratching their heads about its meaning. The illustrator Christopher Cardinale's muted earth tones and beautiful woodblock style mix fantasy with gritty reality; children and adults alike will be beguiled by this book.
- John McMurtrie, June 20, 2010  Visit Website
Albuquerque Journal
Christopher Cardinale's broad-brush art complements the story and gives it an air of magical realism. The art can be enjoyed independent of reading the tale.
Welcome To Urrea's World

By David Steinberg
Journal Staff Writer

Luis Alberto Urrea tells a magical tale in the graphic novel "Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush."


Mr. Mendoza is the moral compass of the fictional town of Rosario, Mexico, and the self-proclaimed graffiti king of the country.


It's a town with long-dead bodies of monks rising out of the cathedral walls during the annual June flood. It's a town with underground silver mines that twist deeper and deeper. The mine shafts sometimes cause the streets above to collapse.


It's a town with a whorehouse. And it's a town whose young boys are going through puberty and getting their kicks spying on young girls bathing naked in the river.


Mr. Mendoza has something to say, or write, about that youthful peeping-tom behavior. He grabs two boys and inscribes messages on their foreheads ("Pervert" reads one), and other declarations on their chests and buttocks. He chases the humiliated, naked kids through town.


Eventually, Mr. Mendoza has enough of Rosario's cheap thrills, belching his farewell to bar customers because "it is the only philosophy you can understand." He departs ... up and up into the clouds on a stairway he paints in front of him.


Urrea said in a phone interview that Mr. Mendoza is based on a real person, a well-known practical joker in his dad's hometown.


"I kind of blended that character with some Old Testament character, Elijah, into "the crazy borracho Elijah from Sinaloa," Urrea said.


Rosario and Tres Camarones, a setting in his novel "Into the Beautiful North," are two sides of the same Mexican town, he said.


Christopher Cardinale's broad-brush art complements the story and gives it an air of magical realism. The art can be enjoyed independent of reading the tale.


"Christopher went (to the town). So they are renderings of what the town looks like," Urrea said.


Urrea teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a recipient of the National Hispanic Cultural Center's Literary Award. Cardinale is a cartoonist and community muralist in Brooklyn, N.Y.


- David Steinberg, June 27, 2010 
Terra.com
La unión de estos dos destacados artistas en la publicación es un regalo tanto para los lectores como para quienes defienden los méritos del relato gráfico…Las ilustraciones de Cardinales le brindan al relato una nueva dimensión al destacar el arte de protesta, lo cual representa una parte esencial del texto.
Magia y protesta en relato gráfico de Luis Alberto Urrea

Lydia Gil Denver, 23 jun (EFE)- Uno de los grandes maestros de la literatura latina en EEUU, Luis Alberto Urrea, acaba de publicar su cuento "Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush" en formato gráfico, ilustrado por el destacado artista y muralista Christopher Cardinale.
La unión de estos dos destacados artistas en la publicación es un regalo tanto para los lectores como para quienes defienden los méritos del relato gráfico.
Popularmente conocido como "cómic" este tipo de relato que integra elementos verbales e icónicos ha sido favorecido por el público joven y consecuentemente se le ha asociado con la literatura escapista o "menor".
Sin embargo, en los últimos años el formato gráfico ha tomado auge entre el público adolescente y adulto con versiones gráficas de novelas tradicionales y adaptaciones de películas y series televisivas.
El texto de Urrea brilla en este formato, ya que se trata de un texto breve y altamente evocador.
"La brocha del Sr. Mendoza" se remonta a la niñez del narrador en el pueblo Rosario que podría ser cualquier pueblito latinoamericano de antaño donde los enamorados le daban vueltas a la plazuela y las ancianas chismorreaban de camino al mercado.
Todo acontece en esa lentitud del recuerdo, como en cámara lenta, destacando los colores y olores de un pasado lleno de emoción pero casi carente de acción.
La monotonía del recuerdo se interrumpe, sin embargo, con el Sr.
Mendoza "el rey del graffiti en todo México".
Mendoza aprovecha todo espacio, desde los cadáveres de monjes insepultos hasta el trasero del propio narrador para expresar sus protestas que cubren desde la hipocresía social hasta la política internacional.
Cansado de la incomprensión del pueblo y la estrechez de sus pensamientos, Mendoza decide marcharse con la ayuda de su brocha.
La historia toma un giro fantástico hacia el final, sin que resulte ni efectista ni anticuado.
Al contrario, el final parece destacar la protesta sutil del relato.
El rol del artista está al centro de esta sencilla historia.
El Sr. Mendoza comenta, explica y protesta mediante su brocha, convirtiéndose en la conciencia del pueblo, lo cual evoca el rol del escritor y del artista en la comunidad.
Las ilustraciones de Cardinales le brindan al relato una nueva dimensión al destacar el arte de protesta, lo cual representa una parte esencial del texto.
Reconocido por sus murales y arte de conciencia social, Cardinale resulta en este contexto el artista ideal para ilustrar el texto de Urrea.
Tanto en color como en estilo, las viñetas de Cardinale sugieren grabados que, en lugar de destacar la acción tradicional del cómic, recalcan la nostalgia del texto.
De cierto modo, las ilustraciones lamentan la pérdida de conciencia social, lo cual no resulta tan aparente en el texto no ilustrado.
- Lydia Gil, June 23, 2010  Visit Website
School Library Journal
The richly colored artwork captures the town and its citizens in bold black lines filled with the heat and magic of Mexico. The quiet, lyrical text tells of urban legends and teenage lust tempered by guilt, and it’s beautifully woven into the graphics.
In the small town of Rosario, alongside the crumbling cathedral and the dusty walls, are cryptic messages painted by Mr. Mendoza, self-proclaimed “graffiti king of all Mexico.” A teen tells fantastic legends of the town, connecting them with the man’s words. Mendoza himself is a legend; is he real or imagined? Immortal or human? There’s nothing his paintbrush hasn’t touched, from a dead monk to a peeping Tom. He paints the town’s ugly truths, angering and intriguing residents. The richly colored artwork captures the town and its citizens in bold black lines filled with the heat and magic of Mexico. The quiet, lyrical text tells of urban legends and teenage lust tempered by guilt, and it’s beautifully woven into the graphics. This slim book can fit into any collection serving older teens.–Sadie Mattox, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA
- Sadie Mattox, July 1, 2010 
San Antonio Express-News
The [story] has now been turned into a graphic novel…vibrantly illustrated in a bold, woodcut style by Brooklyn cartoonist and muralist Christopher Cardinale.
If the small village of Rosario has a conscience, it is Mr. Mendoza, the self-proclaimed El Rey de Graffiti de Todo Mexico (the King of Graffiti of All Mexico) who posts his musings — "No intelligent life for 100 kilometers" on the city limits sign, for example — for all to ponder.

Originally written as a short story by Luis Alberto Urrea for his 2002 collection "Six Kinds of Sky," from Cinco Puntos Press, the fable has now been turned into a graphic novel by the El Paso publisher, vibrantly illustrated in a bold, woodcut style by Brooklyn cartoonist and muralist Christopher Cardinale.

"The tale was inspired by two things," Urrea, whose books include the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize finalist "Devil's Highway" and the elegiac novel "The Hummingbird's Daughter," wrote in a recent e-mail. "One, there was a real-life Mendoza character in Rosario, Sinaloa, named Pancho Mena. Pancho was the Practical Joke King of Mexico. You can imagine. Two, the prophets of the Old Testament, like Elijah and Elisha. If a character like Pancho Mena got the gift of prophecy and was a borrachito in a small Mexican village, maybe — just maybe — Mendoza could happen.

"But it is totally a morality play, as many picaresque stories are deep down under the skin."

Great community debate is sparked when Mr. Mendoza writes, on the wall of the cemetery, which faces the town brothel: "Turn your pride on its back and count its wiggly feet." And, "Mendoza never slept here."

"Who does Mr. Mendoza think he is?" asks police chief Reyes.

When Mr. Mendoza declares his "work finished" and that "Mr. Mendoza goes to heaven on Tuesday" — painted on a passing pig — the whole village goes into an uproar. "Was he going to kill himself? Was he dying? Was he to be abducted by flying saucers and carried aloft by angels?"

The answer is a testimony to the power of art, as Mr. Mendoza creates, step by step, his own stairway to heaven.

"After reading Luis' story through numerous times I drew out the entire book from my imagination without using visual reference or models," Cardinale wrote in an e-mail. "I wanted the first images to be based on nothing but Luis' descriptions and how they coalesced in my imagination. Later I decided I had to go to Rosario, Mexico, in the state of Sinaloa to see the town the story was set. I couldn't imagine creating a whole book based on a place that I had never actually visited."

Says Urrea: "Christopher's artwork is wonderful. Stunning. I had never imagined ëMendoza' illustrated, so it was a happy surprise for me and, now, that's the way it looks. Forever."

The graphic Mr. Mendoza, says Cardinale, is a composite of men he encountered during his trip to Mexico.

"When I visualized Mr. Mendoza I thought of older men that I had seen in the plazas of Mexico," he wrote, "men who carried themselves with dignity and were well dressed even if their coats were a bit worn at the edges. To me, Mr. Mendoza was a bit of a film noir character and a trickster. I wanted him to have a classic style. I imagined him springing through the shadows, in spite of his age, and laughing to himself as he thought of new graffiti to scrawl on the walls of Rosario."
- Steve Bennett, July 11, 2010 
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Zero Stars
The text is absolutely sparkling, wry, warm, and funny with a satirical edge that counterbalances the magical realism that begins as an undertone and expands into the story’s climax … Readers who fell under the spell of Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia will definitely want to book a trip to Rosario.
In this graphic novel based on a short story, Rosario is the small Mexican town called home by the young narrator and his cousin Jaime, who’s his partner in adolescent mischief. The town has a history of smugness, and its favorite target is Mr. Mendoza, who fancies himself the “Graffiti King” (much to the town’s annoyance) and writes pithy, sometimes perplexing maxims on whatever—and whomever—he wishes. The text is absolutely sparkling, wry, warm, and funny with a satirical edge that counterbalances the magical realism that begins as an undertone and expands into the story’s climax. The picture of the town is incisive and vivid, and the two mischief-prone young guys and their exploits have a cross-cultural authenticity that makes them kin to Richard Peck’s and Gary Paulsen’s comedic adolescents as well as Lat in his memoir Kampung Boy (BCCB 1/07). The book deftly makes Mr. Mendoza firmly corporeal while giving his aphoristic habit a haunting mystery—that is, when he’s not writing sternly moral reprimands across the boys’ bare bottoms after he catches the pair spying on skinny-dipping girls. The drafting suggests wood engraving, and the picture-book-worthy trim size gives it room to play: though strong and vigorous, the line evinces a delicacy in the designerly, regular barring that provides shading and depth. There’s a hint of a homage to R. Crumb at a few heightened moments, yet the subdued palette, with its emphasis on earthtones, keeps the visuals anchored in reality. Readers who fell under the spell of Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia (BCCB 3/09) will definitely want to book a trip to Rosario.
- September 1, 2010 
Midwest Book Review
Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush is a stunningly illustrated life story that absolutely transcends into great art myth at the end…an evolving experience of the macabre and the sacred intertwined, evocative and haunting in its tone.
Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush is an illustrated adult comic book version of the life of Rosario, Mexico's “king of graffiti,” who wrote “Deflate your pomp or float away!” in paints on the body of an unexpectedly exhumed monk. Mr Mendoza's Paintbrush is a stunningly illustrated life story that absolutely transcends into great art myth at the end. The humor and originality of the artist are showcased in this amazing graphic biography. Collectors of woodblock style art such as that done by Christopher Cardinale will want to add this latest work to their treasures. It is an evolving experience of the macabre and the sacred intertwined, evocative and haunting in its tone. Adult themes and jokes make this a choice more suitable for mature young adults and of course fun-loving mature adults as well.
- August 15, 2010 
EN/SANE World
...An example of a graphic novel that represents Mexican/Mexican American writing and artistry at its finest.
Luis Alberto Urrea's story of the magical Mr. Mendoza, a leathery ancient in the town of Rosario, MX, who uses his paint brush to inspire, confound, and challenge the morality of the locals, is an example of a graphic novel that represents Mexican/Mexican American writing and artistry at its finest.

The magical realism that permeates and defines so much of Latin American writing is apparent; the mythos of mystery in events and places that otherwise seem mundane is clear; religion and local color folklore entwine throughout the narrative appropriately and without seams, and Christopher Cardinale's artwork is exquisitely palpable.

The woodcut-esque textures and hatches of the drawings don't just offer an aesthetic sensation of "feeling," but an actual sense of touching, of smelling, of hearing and tasting. Everything looks and feels like burlap, like stone, like the skin of the elderly or the smell of fresh milk, or the heat of summer.

One reads this book and its art and has every sense heightened.

But as soon as we are introduced to Rosario's iconic artist and his influence on the two young leads, he leaves everyone, walking on a stairway to the stars, with readers and townsfolk alike left to ponder the components of his pigments, or, if the graffiti on the back end of that mule on the last page is to be heeded, if we've gotten too wrapped up in the telling, fooled by the planted and tilled mysticism of a story with a reality too ordinary to leave alone.

The Kirkus Review has mentioned Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush as one of the best graphic novels of the year. It's hard to argue against the claim.
- Bucky Carter, December 3, 2010 
Book Dragon
Urrea’s story with supernatural energy, every panel somehow a snapshot of movement-in-progress, whether shatteringly monumental like the thunderclap hitting the clock tower, or quietly subtle as a student raising a knowing hand
Luis Alberto Urrea‘s creativity is limitless. Lest you cast doubt about quantity vs. quality, rest assured: Urrea’s got BOTH.He’s done the award-winning, list-making, bestselling memoirs, novels, short stories, poetry collections, anthologies, and provided the thousand words for others’ pictures … so, of course, he’s got to try the graphic novel, too …
Meet the mysterious Mr. Mendoza, the self-proclaimed “graffiti king of Mexico.” Told through the memories of a young boy growing up in small-town Rosario, Mr. Mendoza is an enigmatic figure whose magic paintbrush, I must admit, conjures images from that delightful childhood classic, Harold and the Purple Crayon.
Rather than paint pictures like wide-eyed young Harold, the crafty Mr. Mendoza leaves behind powerful words in some of the most unexpected places … from a desiccated monk’s corpse to a donkey’s behind, no blank space can escape Mr. Mendoza’s revealing fanciful script.
The church is marked for its shallow pomp, the brothel and its next-door cemetery are both shamed and shunned, and even the boy narrator and his friend are branded on their foreheads and bare bottoms after getting caught ogling bathing schoolgirls. Mr. Mendoza has no patience and shows no mercy.
Eventually, the hard-working Mr. Mendoza grows exhausted with his disgust for his fellow townspeople. He announces his departure … and amidst a growing audience, he draws his own escape, Harold style! Where he goes, no one can follow …
Artist Christopher Cardinale imbues Urrea’s story with supernatural energy, every panel somehow a snapshot of movement-in-progress, whether shatteringly monumental like the thunderclap hitting the clock tower, or quietly subtle as a student raising a knowing hand. Combined with the chameleon Urrea’s story, the result is an imaginative revelation.
- May 28, 2011 

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