First graphic novel published in Mexico, 1801

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José Maria Montes de Oca (active 1788-1820), Vida de San Felipe de Jesus: Protomarir de Japon y Patron de su Patria Mexico (Mexico: Calle de Bautisterio de S. Catalina M.n.3, [1801]). All engraved. Graphic Arts collection GAX BX4700.F25 M6

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The life of San Felipe de Jesus (1572-1597), patron saint of Mexico City, is presented through thirty engraved plates in this early graphic narrative. It is, in fact, the earliest all-engraved book to be published in Mexico and tells its story through images, with only brief engraved comments below.

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In 1596, twenty-six passengers sailing from the Philippines to Mexico were shipwrecked off the coast of Japan. San Felipe, a Franciscan monk, was captured, tortured and killed, along with his fellow passengers. The first fourteen plates of this volume depict his life before reaching Japan, the next eight his capture and death, and the final six show events after his death.

Rubén Gallo, Director of Princeton University’s Program in Latin American Studies, notes in his paper on “Orientalism in Mexican Art” (Conference in Wroclaw, Poland, June 1999), that San Felipe’s death at the end of the sixteenth century marked the beginning of a period of orientalism, the product of a curious incident that culminated in the canonization of Mexico’s first martyr. My thanks to Dorothy Sloan for leading me to this citation.

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