Mexican Murder Mags Let it Bleed


If homicide equals entertainment, the Mexican murder mugs are the hardest-working zines in show biz. In their brutal, gore-venerating implication that dying brings us all together, they constitute the true alternative press. They embody everything which defines high-quality journalism: screaming graphics, shameless exploitation, and the unflinching eroticization of death.

On Tijuana's dusty avenidas, amid the auto shops, tequila bars, and three-year-olds selling Chiclets, we snagged seventeen different bloody editions within a few hours. Weekly publications, they cost an average of two thousand pesos (about seventy cents), but wily newsstand owners charge gringos a buck. It's still a bargain. Like ANSWER Me!, most of these journals have the good taste to include an exclamation point (or two) in their titles El Nuevo Alarma! (The New Alarm!); !Custodia! (Custody!); !Peligro! (Danger!); Nota Roja (Red Note); Enlace! (Connection!); and Alerta (On the Alert). But you don't need an interpreter to appreciate them-if anything, their impact is heightened by the language barrier. They're the best type of magazine, the kind you don't have to read to enjoy.

Most of them benefit from Grade-Z production values. Printed on toilet-paper-quality rag with smudgy ink, they feature copper staples, grainy photos, and obvious paste-up marks. The color shots usually have skewed registration, causing the magenta, yellow, and cyan to clumsily overlap for full squeamish effect

Their closest American corollary is True Detective and its ilk, but what the Anglos only hint at, the Mexicans display with the brazen glee of a mutilated exhibitionist. And they have the cojones to put the most gruesome shots on the cover. They cut through the shit, literally!

Their pages are soaked with oceans of hemoglobin, a stew of body parts where nothing (except sex) is led to the imagination. Carcasses are shown mashed to the consistency of tomato paste, but the editors show a Catholic sense of restraint by placing block bars over breasts and genitalia. Gored-to-the-bone faces submit to agonizing close-ups. Eyeballs dangle from their sockets. Skeletal remains lie in piles. Blood bubbles from newly dead mouths. Blackened skulls swarm with maggots. Half-corpses sprawl on apartment floors, their purple entrails spilling onto the tan carpet. The red stuff gushes from an open cranium onto the sidewalk, trickling past a discarded Pepsi can. Dead families lie on a bed with numbered cords suggesting the order in which they were killed. The human debris of train and car wrecks lies scattered like gum wrappers. Bound-and-gagged victims of the Mexican Mafia float in swamps. Heads are stitched up like baseballs in preparation for burial. Morgue shot after morgue shot reveals crushed foreheads and crimson-splotched sheets. Scowling and unkempt, the crimes' perpetrators wield machetes and automatic pistols, staring at the reader with cold brown eyes. In other words, it's nonstop fun from cover to cover!

The non-gore content is likewise meat-based, with equal doses of cheesecake and beefcake. Painted ladies in fishnets and miniskirts adorn crossword puzzles and centerfolds. Some are flabbily topless-la muchachita sexy! The masked heroes of lucha libre (wrestling) bulge through spandex costumes, their bulky bodies framed with cut-out marks so you can create flimsy trading cards. Most of the mags feature a "people" section, with glitzy photos of Mexican and American celebrities in hyper-real colors. Ads tout muscle-building manuals and sexual-vitality enhancers.

Though all of the same breed, the mugs differ subtly from one to the next. Alarma! is generally the most pulverizingly graphic. On the other end, !Custodia! allots far too much space to the living. Nota Roja specializes in murder comic strips and skanky chicks- their rule seems to be guts on the front cover, bikinis on the back. Alerta, like Nota Roja, is crappily printed-it seems as if its black-and-white pictures were grafted from some static-choked UHF channel. Enlace! is big on Mexican-history essays. The helpful !Peligro! ran a piece giving step-by-step instructions for building an outhouse.

If the declining Roman Empire had a press, this would be it-a meat-grinding menu of murder, glam, blood, sex, and machismo. Is it any wonder that Mexicans do death better than anyone else? Mexico is a cultural colony, buried under Spanish imperialism and hovered over by paler northern powers. The Aztecs and Mayans remain ghosts, roaming unnoticed over its flat, hot wastelands. Death is woven into everyday life, an object of worship, a wistful reminder of faded glories. Our neighbors to the south certainly aren't more perverse than us, maybe just a tad more honest. Mexican murder mags are the final word on everyone's final chapter.

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