Seven Spanish Comic Books, ¡que sí!
Last week the Spanish newspaper El País published a selection of 25 treasures of 21st century Spanish comics. The list included many genres, from memoir, to history, fiction and social commentary, and demonstrates a vibrant scene that continues to grow, in a country where comics have not been integrated into the culture as much as in France or Belgium, for example. These comics are more and more visible in all forms of media, are present in public libraries, and benefit from some support from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Many of them address Spain’s recent past, which has its share of painful memories, primarily the Civil War and its aftermath: a 36-year dictatorship.
They include books such as Antonio Altaribba’s exploration of his father’s life as a soldier in Franco’s army, his subsequent escape to join the anarchists, and life under dictatorship in The Art of Flying, and Miguel Gallardo’s comic, Un Largo Silencio (A Long Silence) that he published with his father, Francisco Gallardo Sarmiento, about the generation that endured the Civil War. And then there’s Carlos Giménez's profound and devastating memoir, Paracuellos, about his childhood spent in orphanages during Franco’s fascist regime. On a different register, Miguel Brieva, whose style is reminiscent of 1950s and 60s advertising graphics, criticizes and challenges capitalist society with biting humor. He began by printing his fanzine, Dinero, with a small publisher in Barcelona, which he sold to bookshops, and when it became successful, Dinero was published as a monograph. Another acclaimed comics artist, Max, alias Francesc Capdevila, who emerged underground in the 1970s during Franco’s rule, has experimented with numerous styles and characters, among which, Bardín the Superrealist, who navigates a psychedelic and philosophical world.
Two conclusions can be drawn looking at the El País list: out of 25 books, there are only four women cartoonists, Cristina Durán and Conxita Herrero, Sonia Pulido and Lola Lorente, echoing a genuine need for female comics creators to be be encouraged and included in the world of comics. Secondly, more of these comics should be translated into English. But the good news is that at least a handful already have been, and Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics, is doing a great job translating a number of Spanish comics artists. They also recently published an anthology of contemporary comics from Spain, in Spanish Fever, testimony to this thriving comics and graphic novel scene.