From the Archives: Comic Book Characters Came to Life in San Diego

San Diego Comic-Con@Home, a free online version of the annual Comic-Con International, ends today. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, this is the first year since 1970 that the convention has not drawn pop culture and comic book fans to downtown San Diego.

But Comic-Con isn’t San Diego’s only connection to cartoons and comics.

In addition to Union Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Breen, several other prominent cartoonists call San Diego County home. Greg Evans of San Marcos, who created the “Luann” comic. Evan’s daughter, Karen, is now co-writing the comic. The late Brad Anderson, creator of “Marmaduke”, lived in Escondido for several years. And Lalo Alcaraz, author of “La Cucaracha,” is a San Diego native who got his start as a cartoonist at the Daily Aztec, the student newspaper at San Diego State University.

Additionally, Gustavo “Gus” Arriola lived and worked in La Jolla during the late 1940s and early 1950s before moving to Carmel, where he spent the last 52 years of his life. Arriola created the popular “Gordo” comic strip.

Arriola’s comic strip ran in The San Diego Union from 1946 to 1985. Over the years, Gordo, the title character, grew from a simple bean farmer to a suave tour guide and ambassador of good desire for Mexican culture. Arriola received the San Diego Comic-Con Inkpot Award in 1981.

In 1948, Ariolla sat down with a Union reporter at his La Jolla home to discuss the job of creating a daily comic strip.

From the San Diego Union, Sunday, February 1, 1948:

Gordo Lopez designed to make people laugh

The laughable and lazy Gordo Lopez, who frolics in the comic book frames of 53 newspapers, was conceived as a “funny character in funny people”.

Now at home in a white-walled studio in his creator’s new La Jolla home, Gordo grew steadily under the pen of 30-year-old cartoonist Gus Arriola.

Arriola, of Mexican-Spanish descent, brought Gordo into comics because he had always wanted to draw a comic, because he knew something about Mexico, and because he wanted to make people laugh.


Arriola “played” with Gordo’s idea for about a year before choosing the food artist whose “beans weeth cheese” recipe was mailed to tens of thousands of readers. From his home at 626 Rosemont Ave., La Jolla, the cartoonist himself sent 18,000 copies, many to those who follow the strip in The Union.

February 1, 1948 Interview with Gus Arriola

(The San Diego Union)

And one day, Gordo may publish his secret recipes for tacos and other Mexican dishes, Arriola said. “He’s good at everything he does, especially escaping hard labor – and he has to be good to get by.”

The artist spends at least 1 1/2 days “sweating the material for 6 days in strips of three or four images each”. Next comes characterization — the part he really loves — and Arriola can draw and ink about six daily strips in 36 hours.


Meanwhile, the artist’s son, Carlin, who celebrated his second birthday this week, often perches on the back of his father’s drawing board, decked out in a gay bandana, to “play Pepito”. Carlin’s brown eyes twinkle as he watches the figures come to life and, in a language all his own, comments on the arms, buttons and hair, as his father draws.

When the idea for the strip is completely gelled, Frances, the wife of the third member of the Arriola family, leaves the kitchen – where she often cooks Gordo’s beans, and becomes a one-woman test lab, if she don’t laugh, the idea is abandoned.

In addition to his daily strip, Arriola does a Sunday color page, which takes about 2 days of work. too often, he admits, he is up until 2 or 3 in the morning


When Arriola came up with the idea for a Mexican strip, “there was a lot of overplayed commentary used in the movies. These had none of the charm of real broken speech,” he said, and he s went on to develop a dialect which has now become almost a type in its own right.

Born in Florence, Arizona, the cartoonist has traveled extensively to Mexico, but still dreams of visiting the interior to “study people first-hand.” But, he stressed, Gordo does not represent the Mexican people. “He’s like the others, because few of our American strips describe life in the United States. He’s just a fat, lovable man – with a name to match – and his main goal is to make people laugh.