Cuba’s Cartoon Legend Elpidio Valdes and Me

Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — I step out onto the balcony and see a group of children playing on the street. One of them runs around, astride a stick, yelling “Up and at ‘em, Palmiche.” It was pleasant to see this, because, nowadays, children tend to spend hours in front of the PlayStation or the computer, and their idols are galactic superheroes, mutants and who knows what else.

Truth is, watching the little ones imitate the Cuban cartoon character Elpidio Valdes made me feel a little nostalgic, as my generation grew up following the adventures of this character who came into existence in the magazine Pionero (“Pioneer”) in 1970.

He was created as a comic strip character for children. As in other comics, he was the main character in a series of vignettes or graphic representations of short, humorous incidents.

His creator, cartoonist, illustrator, storyteller and screenwriter Juan Padron, never imagined his Cuban independence fighter would become an entire cultural tradition among generations of children and young people, and that his adventures would continue to be enjoyed 44 years later.

The author of this saga says he invented the character almost by accident, when he was drawing a comic strip featuring a samurai named Kashibashi. The legend included a Cuban from the 19th century which he decided to turn into an independence fighter and name Elpidio Valdes, as a tribute to the character Cecilia Valdes in the first Cuban novel written by Cirilio Villaverde, and as an expression of Cuban nationality.

Elpido Valdes is a Cuban Liberation Army colonel involved in the independence struggle against Spanish colonialism. His heroic deeds are so captivating that, in 1974, the character reached the big screen and became the most renowned of Cuba’s animated classics.

Padron’s entertaining saga, produced by the Cuban Film Art and Industry Institute (ICAIC), is made up of the following animated shorts:

Elpidio Valdes Against the Military Train (1974)
Elpidio Valdes Attacks the Convoy and Elpidio Valdes Against the NYPD (1976)
Elpidio Valdes is Surrounded and Elpidio Valdes Finds Palmiche (1977)
Elpidio Valdes Against the Cotton Slave Runners and Elpidio Valdes Rides On (1978)
Elpidio Valdes Against Cannon Fire (1980)
Two animated features starring Elpido have also been released: Elpidio Valdes (1979) and Elpidio Valdes Against Dollar and Cannon (1984)

Elpidio Valdes and I were born the same year. My contemporaries and those born later know his catch-phrases and songs by heart.

More than one person has named their pet Palmiche, after Elipidio’s brave horse. Many tell jokes imitating the accent of Spanish general Resople, one of Elipido’s nemesis. Who doesn’t have fond memories of and watch, again and again, the animated shorts of that singular cavalry, headed by Colonel Valdes, Pepe, El Corneta, Marcial, the intrepid Eutelia and his girlfriend Maria Silvia.

Seeing those kids imitate Elpidio Valdes, as we used to do more than forty years ago, inspired me to write this post. And I would like to close with Elpidio’s famous farewell: “Hasta la vista, compay!”