“I started to look back at Malvinas, and what I remembered were anecdotes that had nothing to do with war or patriotism, but with the absurd,” said 60-year-old cartoonist José “Pepe” Angonoa, reminiscing about the origins of “How I won the war” (Eudevia, 2017) — a comic book he wrote about his experiences as a conscripted soldier in the Malvinas war.
When he was a teenager, Angonoa communicated mainly through cartoons. He studied Graphic Design at the Lino Spilimbergo School in Córdoba and, at age 23, he joined the legendary humor magazine “Hortensia.” He later worked at other important humorous publications such as “Humor,” “Satiricón,” and “Eroticón”. Today, his work is published in 16 national and international newspapers, mainly in the United States.
“When I was a kid, above all, I used to make caricatures. The same thing I do now, but instead of doing it with a politician, I would draw the headmistress or a teacher,” he said“And always, everything ended with a ‘let’s go to the principal’s office, let’s see if you are that funny.'”
When you were very young, you were drafted to fight in the Malvinas in the war of 1982. Some of those experiences were told in the book you published in 2017, “How I won the war.” Can you tell us how that idea came up?
Yes, in a meeting, someone asked me about Malvinas and I told an anecdote. Javier Solar, a great cartoonist, said to me: “Can I turn this anecdote into a comic strip?” I said yes, and after that, he asked me: “How about a book?.” He made the illustrations and I wrote it. We named it “How I won the war”, which is the name of an anti-war documentary made by John Lennon in 1968.
Do you remember the first anecdote you told Javier?
Yes. In the middle of the countryside, a lieutenant wanted to find a way to communicate from between the pits, with distances of 50 meters or more, because we didn’t have walkie-talkies. So, he designed a “telephone” with tin cans joined by a thread and put that on the front lines. You can imagine – people would trip on them. A child playing in a house can do that!
The worst thing is that they did a demonstration, with a sergeant and a captain 50 meters away from each other, shouting “Hello, here I am” and “I copy you, affirmative”. And they could hear each other, obviously, but when the field was completely silent.
I saw that and I wondered: “Where the hell am I? Who are these guys?”
During the war, Angonoa remembers his hands were burning — they were not made to wield weapons and he longed for pencils, markers and brushes. While in Argentina the news magazines’ headlines were “We are winning,” a large part of Argentina’s 10,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by the British.
“Hours and hours went by, and the Red Cross gave us paper and pencil, to write letters to our relatives,” he said. “I started drawing,”
What were you drawing?
When we were taken prisoner, British troops started to get off the ships and helicopters. They all came from different combat units and had their own special uniforms, they were very striking. A big, clean, white sweater- A goose down jacket. Embroidered caps. And the weaponry! Those rifles with curved magazines. We had the FAL [the Argentine army’s standard light automatic rifle].
We cartoonists are curious: if something catches our attention, we want to draw it. My colleagues saw me and said, “draw me, for my mother, for my sister”. But while I was drawing, the British grabbed me, my colleagues tried to pull me back, but they managed to take me to one of their officers. I didn’t know what was going on, and my companions didn’t know what was going on. There was a big fuss. They took my papers: I had drawings of weapons, uniforms, shields — they got angry.
They sent you to the principal’s office! They must have thought you were a spy.
Yes, but they let me go: I didn’t look like a spy! (laughs).
How do you feel now about that experience?
I don’t feel like “a Malvinas hero”. Heroes are dead. I feel like a victim. I’m not interested in tributes, they bug me: I don’t want to see the military anymore. I am not a military man. There were a lot of military men in the war who helped us a lot, who were very good. But they were not all of them and they surely were not most of them. Some had even fought against the “guerrilla.” In the genocide. And they had experience in killing guys — guys like us! They are murderers. So why do I have to be sharing a room with a guy who killed a student for not thinking like them?
Did it affect you personally?
Yes, ten years ago I was admitted to a neuropsychiatric hospital. I was able to receive outpatient treatment, thankfully. A couple of years earlier, I had started taking prescription medication, but I was a Pandora’s Box that exploded. “I can live with this,” you say to yourself, but it creates a ball, like a psychosis.
I have comrades from Malvinas who do not go to a psychologist or psychiatrist, and they are fine but any inconvenience in life is a trigger for all those monsters to appear again. So, I recommend them to go: “You were next to me, be careful, because you don’t know where those feelings can end up.”