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Move over,
Mickey Mouse!
It is Monica's

If you haven't heard about Mônica, Cascão, Cebolinha & Co. yet you haven't been reading your paper very attentively. They are all part of the Turma da Mônica, a gang of comic characters whose adventures have been translated into nine languages and exported to 17 countries. Maurício de Souza Productions, responsible for bringing out the Turma, is the fourth largest animation company in the world.

Divya Shukla

Thirty-five years ago Maurício de Souza, creator of the Turma da Mônica (Monica's Gang) comic books, began to market his ideas in São Paulo by bus. Nowadays, it is hard to find a Brazilian child that is not familiar with Mônica, Cebolinha, Cascão, Magali or many of the 200 other characters that belong to the Turma.

In 1955 Maurício de Souza accepted a position as a crime-beat reporter for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo in the hopes that later he might persuade the newspaper to print some of his drawings which were created mainly during the day, before his late-night job. Perseverance and persuasion paid off when the newspaper agreed to print his comic strips regularly. Five years later he started to publish his cartoons and quit his night job.

The temperamental bucktoothed girl with the trademark blue stuffed rabbit draped around by the ears is Mônica. Souza's daughter Mônica was the inspiration for the character of the same name. Mônica is bossy, tough and a late-comer to the scene.

The character of Mônica was introduced in 1963 in Cebolinha's comic strip, and shortly thereafter gained wide-appeal among the readers of comic books.

Mônica may be the star, but the other characters have admirers of their own. Cebolinha is the timid one, also known as the character that lisps. Magali is the one that loves food. Cascão is the foul-smelling one, the one who doesn't like to bathe.

Most of the characters are based on Souza's nine children: the twins Vânia and Valéria; Do Contra, inspired by seven year old son and fan of Brazilian soccer team Corinthians. And there is also Bidu the dog. Souza's inspirations aren't always his children, evidenced by the character Pelezinho, created in honor of, the soccer-great and friend, Pelé.

Mônica has mellowed in her old age during the earlier comic strips Mônica was too aggressive especially against Cebolinha. The violence was toned down when a group of neighborhood children from Rio's Barra da Tijuca threatened to stop buying the comics unless Mônica treated Cebolinha with more respect. Souza complied with the request and created a still bossy, but less violent character.

What is the secret of the Turma da Monica's success? Well-developed and predictable characters, answers Souza. Children like predictability because it enables them to guess the plot. Children like repetition, they like to watch the same thing over and over again because it gives them familiarity and an understanding of the characters.

The Turma da Mônica has been so successful that the comic books are translated into nine languages and are exported to 17 countries. Twenty-five million comic books are sold per month on a worldwide basis.

And Maurício de Souza Productions (MSP) is the fourth largest animation company in the world. MSP earns $300 million per year in revenues generated from products licensed with the Mônica trademark.

The product line includes everything from disposable diapers, shampoos, soaps, toys and clothing sold in 62 countries. MSP's commercial partners, industrial giants such as Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Kenko, pay royalties of 7% on products licensed with the Mônica logo.

Kenko, the disposable diaper company, captured 35% of the disposable diaper market in Brazil after they manufactured their diapers with designs of the Turma Da Mônica. Similarly, Brink Toys saw its revenues increase by 20% from the manufacture of vinyl Mônica and Cebolinha dolls.

MSP's headquarters are in São Paulo's neighborhood of Lapa, where the corporation occupies two six-story buildings and employs 300 artists. The business deals are conducted by Souza's daughter and inspiration, Mônica. Mônica is the director of the food division which generates 50% of MSP's overall profits.

Maurício de Souza credits his mainly young staff with the continual success of the Turma da Mônica. Souza says that he relies heavily on the opinion of his female staff which have almost always been right in the past. Whenever there is an uncertainty regarding the script or product line, the opinion of the female employees has proved to be a winner.

Foreign competition of comic strips and cartoons created a necessity for Turma da Mônica to be more aggressive and to invade over media sources. The success of the Ninja Turtles and other Japanese comics began to affect MSP's revenues so much that, MSP began to create cartoons made for TV. In addition to nine feature-length cartoon films especially aimed at the Latin American market. Many of these films were also exported to Portugal and China.

A Belgian company, in association with MSP, produced a 52-episode cartoon series made for Portuguese television which cost $10 million. Taiwan's Cuckoo's Nest contracted MSP for a 52-episode series made especially for television, to be broadcast in English. The estimated cost is $18 million and it should generate revenues of $50 million within one year, according to Souza.

The biggest competitor was the Disney comics which dominated the Brazilian animation market until 1987 when a partnership between MSP and the Brazilian publisher Globo proved beneficial. Globo which was also interested in defeating Disney agreed to finance and publish one million comic books in order to saturate the market, this led to a demand of 3.5 million comic books per month.

What does the future hold for the Turma? What about Monicaland, the happiest and bossiest place on earth? A Latin American Disneyland is actually being considered. Souza wants it to be strategically located, close to Argentina and Paraguay (two of Brazil's partners in the Mercosul agreement). MSP has been dealing with the state government of Rio Grande do Sul because Porto Alegre could be a possible sight for this park.

Even though Monicaland might be something for the future, São Paulo's shopping center Eldorado does have its own Mônica amusement park inaugurated in January of 1993 which receives in excess of 1.5 million visitors per year. The park is mainly a large playground, with toys, trees and grass. The idea was to replicate a backyard, or as the Brazilians call it a quintal. There aren't that many mechanical toys, but there are computers that allow children to interact with several of MSP's characters.

Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba may soon have their own Mônica parks in the same style as the one in São Paulo. There are also ambitious plans of recreating the same here in the United States, in fact, negotiations with Kim Basinger happened but never materialized.

It might be a while before Americans read the Turma da Mônica comics regularly, but until then Maurício da Souza will continue to create internationally famed comic strip characters that brighten the day of children and adults alik. Close to 60% of Monica's regular readers are adults.

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