SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Cartoonist Gus Arriola, whose long-running "Gordo" was one of the first syndicated comic strips to celebrate Hispanic culture, died Saturday following a lengthy illness, according to his publicist. He was 90.
Arriola, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease for some time, died at home in Carmel with his wife, Mary Frances, by his side, according to publicist Alan Richman.
Arriola, who was born in Arizona but of Mexican-American descent, started drawing "Gordo" in 1941.
His strip about a bean farmer-turned-tour guide who taught Americans about life south of the border ran for 44 years in as many as 270 newspapers. He retired in 1995.
Fellow cartoonists praised Arriola's skill as an artist and for helping to break down anti-Mexican stereotypes and educating readers about life in a neighboring country.
"He became an accidental ambassador. I didn't intend for him to be, but the readers made him that," Arriola said of his main character during a 2002 interview with The Associated Press.
"People would write and tell me that they went to Mexico because of reading about it in the strip," he said.
Early in his career, when Arriola worked as an animator for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's cartoon studio, his talent with pen and ink were put to use reinforcing the popular image of Mexican banditos, and his original incarnation of Gordo featured a lazy scoundrel taking siestas under a tree.
He remade the strip after a few readers complained that his work was a disservice to fellow Hispanics.
"I was going to do a Mexican Li'l Abner," Arriola said. "I was just going to be funny, then I realized that I'm depicting a real group of people here. I was caught, and I had to go with what I had created."
Arriola learned about Mexican culture from his father, who was born on a hacienda in the Mexican state of Sonora and from growing up as the youngest of nine children in Florence, Ariz., about 120 miles northwest of the border.
He would later recall that he learned to speak English by reading the Sunday funny pages.
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