Lawndale Art Center’s newest exhibition, “Between Love and Madness,” celebrates the microcuentos or “mini-tales” popularized in Mexico during the 1960s and '70s. These 3-by-4.5 inch comics were intentionally small so they could be carried in the back pocket of a worker’s pants or tucked into a student’s backpack. Coupled with prices sometimes as low as a single peso, these handheld comics became wildly popular; publishers unloaded 55 million microcuentos per month at the height of their popularity.

Christopher Sperandio, a professor in Rice University’s Visual and Dramatic Arts department, gathered students from his Practical Curation class to develop and organize the exhibit. Together, they carefully selected the pages featured in the exhibit from a collection of almost 1,300 pages.

Walking into Lawndale’s main display room, glass-topped tables in the center of the room display a few individual comic pages, and a few framed pages hang on the walls. Up close, you can tell each panel has been painstakingly drawn with a great deal of care and detail. Everything from the bulging muscles in La desaporecida Micro-Misterio #438 to the ghastly bullet wound to the throat in Tramperos y ladrones Heroes de la Pradera #16 pull the viewer in with theatrical flair. The black-and-white scenes depict drama and emotion that are a heightened version of reality with the bubble-lettered “Bang!” of a gunshot or bug eyes widened in horror.

Even the surrounding walls of the gallery hint at the dynamic, action-filled nature of comics. Each of the painted images are taken from one of the comic panel scenes: a squawking bird in flight, a wrist gripped violently, and the profile of a woman turned toward her window in suspense. These scenes fill the room with movement, nervous anticipation, and tension—recurring themes throughout these comics.

An enlarged “Yiiiiiieee!”, the onomatopoeia that the character shouts out while he rides his horse in Heroes de la Pradera #16, has been painted on the right-hand wall in thick, jet-black ink, perhaps to remind the reader that they too will be in for a wild ride on their Lawndale visit.

Thru March 25. Free. Lawndale Art Center, 4912 Main St. 713-528-5858. More info at lawndaleartcenter.org.

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