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The Fotonovela

What is a Fotonovela

The fotonovela is a traditional print medium found in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. Fotonovelas, also known as novelas or novelitas, are similar in format to that of a comic book. However, rather than illustrations, sequential photographs are used accompanied by dialogue bubbles. Fotonovelas typically depict a simple, dramatic story (or soap opera) enveloped in a dramatic plot that contains a moral message.

Fotonovela

Initially produced in Italy and Spain, fotonovelas were tactile representations of the movie with which they correlated (Carrillo, 1983). The documented history of the fotonovela is varied, although the Hispanic/Latino fotonovela dates back to the early 1940’s in correlation with the rise in the popularity of film.

Eventually, Latin American countries began developing fotonovelas that featured original stories that were not based on cinema productions. By the 1960’s, approximately 23 movies were featured in the fotonovela format and nearly three times as many fotonovelas with original content were circulating throughout Mexico, Central and South America (Carrillo & Thomas, 1983). Toward the late 1980’s, Mexico was publishing approximately 70 million fotonovelas per month (Herner, 1979). In recent decades fotonovela production has declined, although some classic fotonovelas are being reprinted and new fotonovelas are still in development.

This separation of movie and fotonovela created three distinct styles: Novelas rosas, which contain dramatic themes centered on true love, marriage and family; Novelas suaves, which depict middle-class life and its struggles; and, the most frequently produced type, Novelas Verdes, which place emphasis on sex and violence and often illustrate pornographic material (Flora, 1980). It was the popularity of Novelas Verdes that sparked a format change for the medium. Since readers wanted to take in the pornographic images of Novelas Verdes without reproach, producers began creating pocket-sized novelas that could be concealed in a newspaper. This gave way to an expanded content base, due to the privacy allowed by the format, allowing “Taboo” subjects to be discussed.

With the familiarity of fotonovelas in Hispanic/Latino culture, using them as an educational tool has been very effective. In the United States, the fotonovela, due to its readability, has been used successfully in addressing health issues for the immigrant, Spanish-speaking population. They can also be easily shared among community members and appeal to all age groups and education levels.