AS A BOY growing up in Argentina, Ricardo Siri could read his novels in Spanish, but his father had an insistent dream: He wanted Ricardo to become a lawyer who could also speak English. So something of a deal was struck: Dad would provide his son with all sorts of fun reading material, as long as it was not in Spanish.
So, Ricardo Siri, perhaps predictably, grew up to fulfill half his father’s dream: He became a cartoonist who could also speak English.
Two decades later, Siri — who goes by the nom de toon Liniers — became a published artist. His whimsical strip “Macanudo” was launched humbly in the pages of La Nación in 2002.
Today, the daily strip is so wildly popular in Latin America and some other markets, including Italy, that Liniers has more than a quarter-million fans on Instagram and nearly three-quarters of a million followers on Twitter.
Next week, King Features will make “Macanudo” available through newspaper clients to the land that helped fire young Ricardo’s comic imagination. The partnership between Liniers and King includes not only print and digital syndication of original strips, but also consumer product licensing.
“King Features is beyond anything I could have imagined,” says Liniers, noting he has long been a big fan of such King strips as Patrick McDonnell’s “Mutts.” “And the best thing that Patrick McDonnell taught me other than ‘Mutts’ is ‘Krazy Kat,’ ” the legendary George Herriman comic launched by King a century ago. McDonnell and his wife, Karen O’Connell, co-authored the book “Krazy Kat: The Art of George Herriman.”
“I had no idea who this Herriman guy was” before reading that, Liniers says. “Now, Patrick and George — that is like being in the company of John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . and I am Justin Bieber.”
Liniers is self-deprecating about his work, but his talent ranges beyond his offbeat comic; he also has created several New Yorker magazine covers, and this past summer he received an Inkpot Award at San Diego Comic-Con, as well as an Eisner Award for his children’s book “Good Night Planet.”
Then again, Liniers remembers how humble his cartoon dreams were from the very beginning.
“In the early 2000s, my biggest hope when I [first] got published in the newspaper was that my strip would get to Uruguay,” Liniers tells Comic Riffs. That way, “I could tell my parents: ‘I’m an international strip. And I’ve got readers in Chile!’ ”
Upon reflection, Liniers is grateful for the timing of the 2002 launch. “Argentina was in an economic tailspin — we’d had something like five presidents in a week,” he says with a laugh. He wanted, in his own small and colorful way, to offer a space of hope within a bleak newspaper.
So he named the strip “Macanudo,” which in old Argentine patois represents something cool, positive and hopeful, he says.
The strip bristles with philosophical warmth delivered by dozens of characters, human and animal, many channeling Liniers’s sense of soulful humanity.
He also fills his strip with nods to some of his favorite works that have influenced him — ranging from Latin American strips like Quino’s “Mafalda” to Fellini films to Steven Spielberg and Stephen King.
“I grew up in the ’80s, and that was when, with an American cultural explosion, my 10- and 12-year-old mind was watching Star Wars [movies] and ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘E.T.’ — those works got in there,” he says. “But also there was Bob Dylan and Kurt Vonnegut and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ So I always try to be very thankful [by including] my references in the strip.”
The catch was, once a Hollywood film left the Argentine movie house back then — poof — it was gone. “You would see them in the theater, but then not see them on TV,” he says. “There were no videos — they would go away forever.”
That absence, though, sparked Liniers and a classmate to draw comics. “We would just sit down and draw them beginning to end — as a way to create people and make them move and have this experience of how comics work. At age 10, there was a direct connection between movies and storytelling to comics.”
Liniers also was drawn to horror — “I will buy you Stephen King novels in English,” his father told him — and so the boy cartoonist drew some dark comics, too. “When you read ‘Pet Sematary’ when you are 11,” he says, “that makes an impact.”
Not that the horror is reflected in “Macanudo.” “I have my dark sides, but I try hard to be an optimist in this strip,” Liniers says. “Newspapers hit you and beat you [with bad news] every morning. You need a small row of something that is not terrible. And I think it’s sadistic of a newspaper not to have a comic strip.”
Beside, Liniers says, in a world of so many official liars, artists can be the truth tellers.
“Our job is to draw funny with a little soul in it. Charlie Brown is not a little kid; he’s been to World War II. It’s all lies — but they have this truthful soul and beauty to them. And that’s the trick,” Liniers says by phone from Vermont, where he has been a fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
“Art is all lies,” he notes about the power of good fiction. “These people — artists — are lying to you to tell you something that’s truthful. A politician will tell the truth just to lie. I like my liars to be truthful.”
Liniers is eager to bring his truth-telling humor to the United States partly because this is the home of the newspaper comic strip. “The comic has been very impactful and seminal in America culture, like jazz,” says Liniers, who urges newspaper readers and editors to demand vibrant new comics that push the creativity of the form.
He also notes some editors say the quirky whimsy of “Macanudo” elicits more warm “awws” than belly laughs sometimes.
“I think this country,” Liniers says of the United States, “needs a little bit of ‘aww’ right now.”