Spanish Comics Now
By Santiago García.
A few years ago, when American readers discovered David Aja’s new, sleeper hit, Immortal Iron Fist, it was reasonable for them to conclude that the hot artist making his mark in its pages was the latest in a long line of great American cartoonists. After all, the Valladolid resident sounds international enough to warrant confusion.
Nowadays, everyone knows that Aja– star of the moment thanks to his work on Marvel’s Hawkeye, which has earned him five nominations at the prestigious Eisner Awards– is a Spaniard. He and other countrymen, like Marcos Martín- whose exciting recent comic, The Private Eye, coauthored by celebrity writer Brian K. Vaughan (Lost, Under the Dome)- and Emma Ríos– who debuts her female revenge western Pretty Deadly this Autumn, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick– are on the frontline of a veritable Armada Española invading the pages of the 21st Century American comic book scene.
The door was first opened 20 years ago by Carlos Pacheco. A Cádiz native, who arrived at Marvel in the mid-Nineties, Pacheco was armed with an exhaustive knowledge of American comics, gleaned from translations of superhero serials popular in Spain since the early 70s. Though Pacheco was a foreigner, he had so completely absorbed the intricacies of the American tradition that he quickly became a fan favorite, drawing characters as iconic as the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and Superman. A wealth of Spanish artists followed suit, storming Marvel and DC Comics, such as, among others, Salvador Larroca, Pasqual Ferry, Kano, Javier Pulido.
The artistic migration began under the looming crumbling of the comic industry. From the 1940s until the 1980s, Spain, like most of the Western countries, had a newsstand-based industry, peddling cheap adventure and humor magazines aimed at children. With the advent of Spanish democracy, a rush of “adult” titles entered the scene, flooding an unprepared market. The industry experienced a short boom, followed by a swift, debilitating bust. Following the lead of pioneers like Pacheco, most artists began looking for greener pastures in the still healthy American and French industries. For some artists, like the renowned Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido, whose bestselling noir-cum-funny-animals, Blacksad has been translated from French into English, French success translated into American success.
With the beginning of the 21st century also came the emergence of a new Spanish comic industry. Based on the concept of the graphic novel, publishers geared comics towards mature audiences, selling their volumes in bookstores rather than newsstands. The cartoonist became an author, capable of tackling subjects previously considered anathema for light-hearted serials, such as memoir, social critique, illness, history, emotion, and even politics. International hits like Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi hoisted a great deal of public recognition onto the graphic novel, cementing it as a kind of emergent literature.
Two works published in 2007 sealed the success of the uniquely Spanish graphic novel: The first was Arrugas (Wrinkles) by Paco Roca, an unexpected bestseller centered around a group of senior citizens afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Arrugas sold over 60,000 copies in Spain, was translated for countries as distant as Japan (though there has yet to be an American edition), and has since been adapted into an animated movie. The second, Gallardo’s María y yo (Maria and me), a moving confession focused on the artist’s relationship with his autistic daughter, has been made into a documentary. That same year, the Spanish government established the National Prize for Comics- a move that seems to be an official acknowledgment of the graphic novel as part of the larger cultural scene.
How can this vibrant new Spanish graphic novel reach American audiences? Entering a historically isolated market is a very difficult, though not impossible task. Also, very few of the best Spanish graphic novelists have ever been translated into English, Martí (Calvario Hills, The Cabbie) and Max (Bardín the Superrealist, which earned the first National Prize in 2007) being the most notable exceptions. The latter’s most recent work, Vapor, is set to appear in English in 2013. Likewise, one of the best young Spanish artists, David Rubín, will bring his grandiose The Hero to America in the near future, and is currently collaborating with alternative comics star Paul Pope in a sequel to the latter’s Battling Boy.
Other Spanish artists have chosen a more direct route, publishing their comics directly in the States. Málaga born El Torres, has had titles published by both Image and IDW, including his horror cult hit The Veil, drawn by Gabriel Hernández. El Torres has also gone on to found his own Publishing House, Amigo Cómics, explicitly to publish in the American market. Diábolo, a publisher from Madrid, distributes his books internationally in Italy, France and Germany, and has brought many contemporary Spanish visionaries, like Mauro Entrialgo, Juan Berrio, Nacho Casanova and Marcos Prior to America
The picture is not all roseate though; Lorenzo Pascual, Diábolo’s publisher, argues that “American readers have very little experience with European comics in general, and even less with Spanish,” which, in a time of economic flux and uncertainty, might lead to tenuous recognition. Furthermore, Pascual remarks, “Digital editions are getting an ever-growing share of the pie in the USA, which complicates an already overloaded market.”
But it’s precisely in such times of crisis that opportunities present themselves, opportunities Spanish authors are ready to seize. Whether it be illustrating mainstream series, drawing and inking iconic American characters, or authoring unique works published by American companies or imported directly from overseas, it is a sure thing that one year from now we’ll be seeing a lot more Spanish names in American comics.
Interesting Spanish Comic Websites
Santiago García is the author of La novela gráfica (soon to be published in America), recipient of the Best Study on Comics Award at the Saló del Cómic de Barcelona 2011. He also has written several graphic novels drawn by different artists and is currently working in Beowulf, with David Rubín, and Las Meninas, with Javier Olivares. He maintains a blog about comics: www.santiagogarciablog.blogspot.com