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Sketches from Spain: Cartoonist makes U.S. debut thanks to MSUM alum

Even on the scale of Fargo's Hector International Airport, Jose Angel Rodriguez Lopez, better known by his artistic alias Gogue, was unusually quick to spot Fargo native Brian Iverson in the crowd after landing here earlier this week.

Even on the scale of Fargo's Hector International Airport, Jose Angel Rodriguez Lopez, better known by his artistic alias Gogue, was unusually quick to spot Fargo native Brian Iverson in the crowd after landing here earlier this week.

That was the first time the Spanish cartoonist and the Minnesota State University Moorhead alum met, yet the encounter felt like a long-awaited reunion.

But then, the story behind Gogue's first visit to the United States is unusual in itself.

The trip, and a concurrent exhibit of the artist's work, which opened Monday at MSUM's Roland Dille Center for the Arts. An artist's reception is today.

When Spanish culture instructor Benjamin Smith urged his students to pick a term paper topic, Iverson stumbled upon Gogue's celebrity caricatures online. He loved the artist's knack for playing up his subject's most peculiar feature, condensing personalities into a prominent forehead or a stubborn chin.


"They're overly exaggerated, but they are right on," says Iverson, recalling a Jack Nicholson who was all malicious grin.

Smith encouraged Iverson to e-mail the artist and supplement what little information on him was available online.

"No way," said Iverson, a lanky 28-year-old.

When Gogue (pronounced Go-GAY) received Iverson's e-mail he was a little confused why a young Minnesotan would inquire about a self-taught artist from a tiny fishing village in Galicia in northwest Spain.

"But the longer I thought about it, the more excited I got," Gogue says through an interpreter. "I was surprised and honored."

Iverson found a lengthy response in his mailbox the next day. Their correspondence quickly picked up and a friendship bloomed in cyberspace bridging geographical and age divides.

Uncommon pen pals

In e-mail after e-mail, Gogue told Iverson about his family and his hometown, O Grove, where he contributes a daily comic strip to the local newspaper chronicling the adventures of his droll, stoical anti-hero, Floreano.


Although Iverson was almost half Gogue's age and lived almost halfway around the world, the artist and the student bonded effortlessly.

They found more than a few shared passions, such as a common admiration for the animation work of director Tim Burton, creator of "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and more recently, "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride."

"There was a certain chemistry between us," says Gogue, a low-key, earnest man with rimless glasses and a floppy mustache. "It seemed like it was meant to be."

As the deadline for his paper approached, the student felt overwhelmed by all the information - and new e-mails kept arriving. Smith granted him two extensions after spotting his student lingering in the library, composing e-mails, dictionary in hand.

"That kind of motivation - you can't get it anywhere," Smith says. "It was no longer about the grade."

Iverson assumed that completion of the assignment would put an end to the correspondence, but his PowerPoint presentation on the artist came and went, and the e-mails kept arriving. At some point, the student, artist and professor started discussing a local exhibit.

Last spring, Smith applied for a visiting artist grant at the MSUM gallery on behalf of Gogue. Gallery Manager Jane Gudmundson says the grant committee was intrigued by the artist's distinct style and tickled by his unusual connection to the campus.

"No one here at MSUM would have heard of this caricaturist unless the student had done the research," she says.


The exhibit features selected Floreano installments, caricatures of Spanish movers and shakers, from "Don Quixote" author Miguel de Cervantes to contemporary writer/director Pedro Almodóvar - and Iverson's PowerPoint presentation looping on several computer screens.

Currently living in Seattle and looking for a new job, Iverson drove 22 hours to meet Gogue and introduce him at today's reception.

"It's like a dream we're here," says Gogue of himself and his wife of 19 years, Sefa, who accompanied him on the trip. "And it's come true just because of that e-mail."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

If you go

What: Gogue reception

When: 4 p.m. today

Where: Roland Dille Center for the Arts on the MSUM campus


Info: This event is free and open to the public. (218) 477-2284

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