Ajubel (Sagua la Grande, Cuba, 1956), like any good Cuban, is a gregarious spirit. His professional experience in Cuba contributed to accentuate this vital and national attitude: his early involvement (1973) as a cartoonist in the weekly publication Melaíto, one of the few humour magazines based outside the capital that achieved significant notoriety, introduced him to a collective project that immediately agreed with him. In fact, the first jokes he published in that paper were result of a collaborative process, in which others chose the subject and Ajubel offered the graphic realisation.

However, soon enough the small provincial island began to feel limited for the ambitions and interests that were stirring in this young artist who, determined to conquest the capital, in 1975 saw himself linked to the most influential Cuban publication dedicated to post-revolutionary graphic humour: the weekly publication DDT, which in those years, and especially during the 1980s (when Ajubel was officially hired), experienced its most creative period thanks to cartoonists such as Manuel (Manuel Hernández) and Carlucho (Carlos Villar), and the trace left by Padroncito (Juan Padrón, who later became a filmmaker and the creator of the famous Cuban vampires and executioners). DDT operated as a tribe in which Ajubel lived for a few years, a time in which he found his style, grew as a cartoonist, as a humorist, and as an individual, until he discovered that the game of humour also felt constrictive and he began to broaden his boundaries with increasingly ironic and reflective proposals rather than merely enjoyable.

In 1987, when Ajubel was riding the wave of his popularity as a humorist, we had a long conversation that was turned into an interview and published in the monthly cultural publication El Caimán Barbudo. At the end of the text, Ajubel said about himself: ‘…I think I am drawing a lot, but not always what I want to. There is not enough time to do all I wish to do. My mind is full of projects, some of them unachievable, but that provide me with the opportunity to dream. One also lives from those hopes’.

Along with the concerns that can be perceived in the dissatisfactions of the Ajubel from 1987 (and which would soon demand a liberating outlet), there has been a revelation that I should have anticipated: my connection to Ajubel’s work goes back to the prehistoric times of the 1970s, and nothing this cartoonist has done since then has been foreign to me.

His departure from Cuba, which coincided with DDT’s gradual decline in the 1990s, took him away from group projects and forced him to confront a vital and creative situation that was unfamiliar to the Cuban artist: solitary and individual work with twice as much responsibility; as well as aesthetic excellence he had to achieve economic sustenance. Curiously, after leaving the island and settling down in the continent, the gregarious Ajubel was much like Robinson Crusoe, with the most indispensable means at his fingertips but lacking the support from a group. He now had to create a life while working in an environment that was always competitive, stratified, and sometimes even adverse. Just as Defoe’s character, the cartoonist drew on his range of possibilities (all concentrated on his special talent) and transformed the solitary island of exile into a fertile land, from which he has already picked some juicy fruits from the elusive tree of recognition and success.

Leonardo Padura Fuentes

Self-portrait of the author