MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
In Brazil, the country's feisty newspapers are always trying to one-up each other. The biggest paper of them all, Folha, has a new weapon. His name is Joao Montanaro, and he's a political cartoonist who loves to skewer the powerful. His work has been called fresh; his artistry, idiosyncratic. Not bad, for a 14-year-old.
NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Sao Paulo.
JUAN FORERO: Joao Montanaro is thin, tall, with a mop of black hair. He loves videogames; the country's great passion, soccer; and roughhousing with his two brothers. But in the family's small, two-bedroom house, Joao has his own studio.
There, you'll find books with works from the world's best-known cartoonists, from Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" to a complete collection of "Calvin and Hobbes."
Joao says they all provide him with the inspiration that got him drawing when he was a small boy.
JOAO MONTANARO: I make comics, cartoons, comic strip too. And I like the political because you can joke about somebody bigger than you.
FORERO: Joao's fascination with cartoons began on his father's lap. Mario Barbosa had some anthologies featuring the best in Brazilian cartooning. Joao was too young to understand the political messages, but he took to the art form.
MONTANARO: My dad had books with cartoons of that guy. And I see the books, and I love it.
FORERO: And in time, he began to discern what the greatest Brazilian cartoonists - Arnaldo Angeli, Glauco Villas Boas and others - were trying to say. All of them cartoonists at Folha, the 90-year-old broadsheet long known for its cartoons and illustrations.
MONTANARO: Here you have the Angeli old drawings, Glauco from Folha.
FORERO: At Folha's bustling newsroom, art director Mario Kanno said editors saw something inventive in Joao's work. He'd already been working at Folha's kids' newspaper, Folhinha, for two years.
MARIO KANNO: We brought him with this idea to show that, yes, young people also read newspaper, also are smart, are clever, can show their ideas in this space.
FORERO: Joao belongs to a family that devotes lots of time to the arts. His little brother, Felipe, is learning to dominate the guitar.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)
FORERO: Joao's twin, Raphael, plays the drums.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)
FORERO: Walk into the bedroom the three boys share, and it's like that of any American boy - messy beds...
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEOGAME)
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible), we are going down.
FORERO: ...and videogames.
Their father says Joao is just like any kid his age.
MARIO BARBOSA: He plays football. He goes to his school. He has no problem about this. He's not a famous one. He's not a famous one. He's a normal guy.
FORERO: Still, Joao is not exactly like other kids. He reads the paper two hours a day. He's familiar with The New Yorker magazine, and he likes to leaf through Le Monde diplomatique.
Some who support Joao are a little worried, like Orlando Pedroso, an illustrator at Folha. He says Folha may be putting too much pressure on him.
ORLANDO PEDROSO: Okay, he's 14. It's a massive experience. It's incredible. But he should play some football and date girls.
FORERO: Joao's big day is Friday, the day he does his cartoon for Saturday's paper. He sketches out two, three, four mock drawings, sending them to the paper for review. The editors then choose the cartoon for the next day's editorial page.
Joao says what drives him is the absurdity in Brazil's rambunctious politics or the news of the day.
(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)
FORERO: On a recent afternoon, he worked on "The Wave," a sketch of the tsunami that hit Japan, inspired by a famous 19th-century Japanese print.
MONTANARO: Every day, I draw. I have a sketchbook, and I sit and draw something.
FORERO: Indeed, in many ways, Joao is still just a kid who likes to doodle.
Juan Forero, NPR News.
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