By Lucila Sigal and Maximilian Heath
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentines held a day of national mourning after the death of the country's beloved cartoonist "Quino," whose comic character Mafalda, an Argentine girl with shock black hair and strong political views, drew admirers around the world.
On Thursday flags of public buildings waved at half-staff, while people on social networks said goodbye to the artist and national treasure, who will have a small, private funeral due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Personalities such as singer Ricky Martin, basketball player Manu Ginobili, politicians and artists paid tribute to Quino, the pen name of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, who died aged 88, his editor said on Wednesday.
Quino was able to use Mafalda's seeming innocence to spread scathing criticism, including of the dictatorships that plagued Latin America from the 1960s. He himself lived through military rule in Argentina.
"Few things are as sad as the fact that Quino is gone," Colombian writer Ricardo Silva Romero wrote on his Twitter account.
A niece of Quino told newspapers his hometown of Mendoza that his remains would be cremated in an intimate ceremony.
With flowers and messages of gratitude, thousands of people in Argentina and around the world paid tribute to the creator of the rebellious girl who advocated for a better world, defended human rights and questioned the abuses of power.
"Goodbye, teacher," wrote Argentine graphic comic Juan Martín "Tute" Loiseau in a strip in local newspaper La Nación.
"He was a philosopher of humor and, at the same time, a 10-year-old boy. As with geniuses, they always keep talking to us, he continues to challenge us," Tute said separately in an interview with a local television channel.
A statue of Mafalda, the girl with puffy black hair who hates soup and loves the Beatles, was decked with flowers from readers who came to pay tribute to her in the historic neighborhood of San Telmo, in the center of Buenos Aires.
"This place is very important to us because it is almost a pilgrimage site, there are queues of tourists every weekend," Damián Losada, a 55-year-old social worker and comedian, told Reuters Television.
The Mafalda comics, which Quino began to write in the 1960s but which transcended generations due to the universality of his ideas, were translated into 27 languages and opened the doors to international recognition.
The comic strip, which narrated the daily life and reflections of the daughter from a typical Argentine middle-class marriage, was published in the weekly Primera Plana in 1964. The character quickly became a hit and her first compilation book sold out in five days.
"In Argentina, from my generation onwards, we all learned to read by reading Mafalda," Argentine cartoonist Ricardo Siri, known as Liniers, said in an interview with Reuters last year, comparing Quino to the Beatles and Charlie Chaplin.
"Mafalda is the perfect character," said Liniers, the creator of the Macanudo strip and artist for several covers of the New Yorker magazine. "Whatever she confronts from the adult world, she immediately questions it."
The son of Andalusian republicans and a confessed socialist, Quino left Argentina to live in Italy in 1976, when Argentina's last military dictatorship began.
After the return of democracy to Argentina, Quino alternated his residence between Milan, Madrid and Buenos Aires, where he continued working until 2006.
In 2004, when the Mexican edition of Playboy asked him if his life had been good, with his characteristic acrimony Quino replied: "Has it been good? Man! Compared with so many people who cannot live doing what they like, then it has been good."
(Reporting by Lucila Sigal and Maximilian Heath; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Jonathan Oatis)