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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Book Review: Spanish Comics: Historical and Cultural Perspectives

 Spanish Comics: Historical and Cultural Perspectives. Ann Magnussen, ed. New York: Berghahn Books, 2021. 268 pp. $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-78920-997-6.

 reviewed by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste

On the practical side, if anyone is planning a course on contemporary Spanish comics, please look no further. This title is the ideal companion for any class on this topic. On the other hand, one of the virtues of graphic narratives is the amount of information they can transmit about the culture, history, and politics of any location, making them a suitable vehicle for the examination of any context. Anne Magnussen’s edited volume is a flawless example of this aspect. Within the pages of this title, in a single tome, academics, enthusiasts, and fellow readers will find pieces that cover the role of comics from the time immediately after the Civil War, passing through Madrid’s Movida during the transition to democracy in the late 1970s and early 1980s—following Franco’s death in 1975—to the early decades of this century, when Spain seeks to establish itself as a modern, European parliamentary democracy while facing multiple challenges and growing pains. From a more theoretical perspective, it’s appealing to find an anthology that, while discussing the plethora of comics and graphic novels produced in Spain during the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the current one, manages to connect this production with its cultural, political, and social context in a more organic, plausible manner, clarifying how the country’s evolution from dictatorship to one of the main partners of the European Union dictated and determined the rise and development of Spanish comics.

The book contains 12 chapters, first published as articles in the peer-reviewed journal European Comic Art, which Magnussen co-edits. The amount of vetting and evaluation these texts have endured is visible in the clarity of its arguments and expositions, adding to the quality of the volume. Unlike the editor, an associate professor of History at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense—though she has enjoyed stints at US institutions of higher education—most of the authors, whether Spanish or of some other nationality, are associated with the US, British, or Spanish academe (Agatha Mohring, based in France, is the only other exception).

The first chapter of the collection, by Rhiannon McGlade, a lecturer and fellow at Cambridge, focuses on the golden age of Spanish comics for children, which took place in the 1950s. The article analyzes the production in terms of the interaction between publishers, the censorship authorities, and the audience. Throughout the chapter, it becomes evident how the Franco regime tried to influence comics production via its support of a particular construct of Spain, to be disseminated and popularized among children.  What remains particular about the Spanish situation is the extent to which the government tried to control and discipline the population through measures that, in the case of children, were discernible from a very early age, given the number of orphans and fatalities resulting from the conflict.

Chapter 4. Castelao by Siro, Mazaira, and Cubeiro

One of McGlade’s main contentions is the extent to which some children’s comics tried to push censorship boundaries. Since the press was under strict control by the state, effectively complying with orders and directives associated with the public, all material to be published had to first receive approval from the corresponding authorities. In turn, publications partial to the government were afforded subsidized rates for printing materials. Clearly, this was not the case with any dissenting periodical. Nonetheless, after Franco’s rise to power, staples like TBO or Pulgarcito were eventually allowed to return, in time resulting in the arrival of DDT, by Bruguera, in 1951. Through the 1950s, the government implemented a series of decrees and directives attacking secularism and any sort of content deemed to ridicule the roles of parents and the sanctity of the family and home, enshrining respect for authority, the love of the Fatherland, and obedience of the law, a veritable dream recipe for any autocrat. At the same time, a very tight control was kept on imported material, which, given its promotion of the supernatural—superheroes and their disrupting superpowers were greatly in mind—was judged potentially harmful to the adolescent psyche. Thus, the path toward self-censorship began to surface openly. Near the end, McGlade discusses in detail the cases of main characters of the period, Carpanta, Doña Urraca, and Zipi y Zape, which displayed carefully contained critiques of authority under government watch.

Chapter 4. Titoan by Inacio and Ivan Suarez

The second chapter, by Gerardo Vilches, who teaches social sciences at the European University of Madrid, discusses the development of the comics industry during the political transition (1975–1982). Vilches focuses on explicitly political production of the period and the efforts by the regime to limit their impact and influence through censorship. He starts by addressing the last two years of the so-called Ley Fraga, the guidelines promulgated by Franco’s Minister of Information and Tourism, which allowed publishers the risk to circulate what they wanted, only to be punished later. In effect, the law wanted to give an appearance of modernity, but the mechanisms for repression remained intact. The article chronicles the experiences of magazines like Por Favor, El Papus, El Jueves, and Butifarra! in the context of the rise in nudity in a variety of expressions of Spanish popular culture—Destape (Unveiling), it was called by locals—and the judicial system. During the political transition, a hostile environment prevailed in which creators were prosecuted and, on some occasions, strips were cancelled as the result of pressure from the government. Mockery of the Catholic faith was a habitual pretext for the punishment of the satirical press. For instance, both Por Favor and El Papus experienced four-month closures in 1974; El Papus even endured three court martials. Things got so personal that El Papus was chastised as the result of a formal complaint by Carmen Polo, Franco’s wife. By 1978, having faced weekly visits to the court system, Por Favor was closed and only El Papus and El Jueves remained. In the end, with the arrival of democracy, there were more options in terms of procuring information; readers looked elsewhere for political and social criticism. However, the struggle for freedom of press during the transition speaks volumes about the travails of a young democracy.

Chapter 4. Atila by Inacio and Ivan Suarez

The third chapter also addresses the political transition, though from a different perspective. Louie Dean Valencia-García, an assistant professor of Digital History at Texas State, focuses on underground fanzines during Madrid’s Movida, theorizing about the ways in which they offered outlets for the youth’s inconformity and desire to communicate. Valencia-García mentions fanzines like La liviandad del imperdible (The Lightness of the Safety Pin), Kaka de Luxe, and ¡Bang! Fanzine de los tebeos españoles (Bang! Spanish Comics Fanzine), to illustrate the impact these publications had on the culture of the time. According to the author, 1977 figures as the peak year for the production of new, independent fanzines amid a scene marked by personalities like Alaska (Olvido Gara Jova, of the bands Kaka de Luxe, Los Pegamoides, and Dinarama fame) and Pedro Almodóvar. The text includes close readings of work found in zines from the early 1980s, such as Ediciones Moulinsart and 96 Lágrimas (96 Tears). Ediciones repurposed images from Tintin or The Phantom to speak of the Movida. On the other hand, 76 Lágrimas combines strains of feminism and racialized language within Madrid’s zine scene, depicting women as sexually assertive and physically aggressive in a milieu that for decades had rebuked behavior of this nature.

Chapter 4. Castelao by Diaz Pardo

Next, the volume begins to map a broader, more intricate version of the nation, less in sync with the homogenizing, stultifying spirit of the Generalissimo. The fourth chapter, by David Miranda Barreiro, a senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Bangor University (Wales), is about Alfonso Daniel Manuel Rodríguez Castelao (1886–1950), a Galician comics artist and one of the founder of Galician nationalism from the early 20th century, and the many ways in which he is represented in contemporary Galician comics. The mention of Galicia, one of today’s officially recognized autonomous communities, with its own language and culture and a potentially separate project of nation, stands in sharp contrast with the dictates of Franco’s regime, which for decades persecuted any Iberian culture separate from Castile’s to the point of demonizing alternate languages and traditions. Though Castelao

Chapter 4. Castelao by Martin, Sarry, and Balboa

worked as caricaturist during the first three decades of the past century, the article follows a transdisciplinary approach—comics theory, literary biography, and adaptation—to center on his representation in comics biographies published in the 1970s, 1980s, and 2000s. Among the works discussed are a comic by Paco Martín, Ulises Sarry, and Xoán Balboa titled Castelao: O home (Castelao: The Man), a tribute on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death; Isaac Díaz Pardo’s Castelao, from 1985; Castelao  (1987), by Siro, Mazaira, and Cubeiro, the first full-length graphic biography of the artist; and Titoán (2012), by Inacio and Iván Suárez, winner of the Premio Castelao de Banda Deseñada, awarded by the A Coruña Council (and part of an eight-volume series, of which only four have already been published, including O pobre tolo [2012], Máis alá [2013], and Atila [2015]).

 Chapter 5. Paracuellos by Gimenez
Chapter 5. Eloy by Hernandez Palacio

Chapter five discusses trauma, memory, and comics. Juan Carlos Pérez García, an associate professor of Public Law at the University of Málaga, traces the representation of the Civil War and its subsequent dictatorship from the 1970s to the 2010s. Memory and trauma, it turns out, play big roles in the Spanish comics of the current century; in fact, this interest in memory and trauma in comics evinces how closely the Spanish comics scene reflects trends from the comics industry around the world. The mention of master cartoonist Carlos Giménez’s Paracuellos (1976—), his unparalleled testimony of childhood in the Francoist Hogares de Auxilio Social (Social Assistance Homes), is unavoidable. Though the Civil War is nowhere, its presence can be felt extensively all over the narrative,

Chapter 5. Un largo silencio by Gallardo

documenting how Franco’s regime sewed social division and embraced systematic violence to repress the population. Eloy (1979), by Antonio Hernández Palacios, does approach the conflict directly. Following commercial conventions, Palacios uses the figure of a young militiaman to chronicle the war and portray a parade of celebrities, including Major Enrique Líster, one of the great Republican military leaders; Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria” (The Passionflower), the legendary communist politician, famous for her slogan “¡No pasarán!” (They shall not pass) during the Battle for Madrid; and Buenaventura Durruti, the renowned anarchist hero buried at Montjuic in Barcelona, among his characters. Un largo silencio (A Long Silence, 1997), by Francisco and Miguel Ángel Gallardo, father and son, is a first-person account of the war from a critical point of view. It also represents the quintessential mnemonic narrative associated with trauma; it includes the imperative to tell, the notion of generational memory that aspires to be shared, and repetition and fragmentation, thus being exemplary of Marianne Hirsch’s “post-memory.” 

Chapter 5. El arte de volar by Altarriba and Kim
El arte de volar (The Art of Flying, 2009), by Antonio Altarriba and Kim, is also based on the parent’s memories, chronicling the failed ideals of the Spanish republic, and shared trauma, that of the main character who commits suicide and the one of the son, unable to prevent his father’s suicide.

Chapter 5. Los surcos del azar by Roca

Next, there is Los surcos del azar (Twists of Fate, 2013), by Paco Roca, in which the story of

Chapter 5. Paseo de los canadienses by Guijarro
La Nueve (Number Nine), the division composed of exiled Spanish soldiers that participated in the liberation of Paris in 1944, serves as a device to explore the trauma of Republican defeat in the Civil War. Finally, there is Paseo de los canadienses (Promenade of the Canadians, 2015), by Carlos Guijarro, which tells the story of the old Malaga-Almería Road, where between three to five thousand people perished under the attack of Nationalist ships and Italian planes while fleeing Málaga’s siege by the Francoist forces, a story that was virtually erased by the triumphalist revisionism of the dictator’s adherents.

Chapter 6. El Cid by Hernandez Palacios

Interest in the past is not limited to trauma, as explained in chapter six, by Iain MacInnes, a senior lecturer in Scottish history at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who discusses representation in historical comics of the 1970s and 2010s. Like the two previous authors, MacInnes combines textual analysis with a great deal of societal context, offering readers a well-rounded outline of the objects of his research. His main interest, proper of a specialist in the 14th and 15th centuries, is the Reconquista (Reconquest), the process culminating in 1492 by which Castilians managed to recover the territories invaded by the Moors. This was especially relevant in the 1970s because, after the Civil War, Franco aligned his actions with Castilian success, hoping to legitimate his own Reconquista

Chapter 6. 1212 - Las Navas de Tolosa by Cano de la Iglesia
from the hands of the Second Spanish Republic. The two graphic novels at hand are El Cid (1971–1983), by Antonio Hernández Palacios, and 1212: Las Navas de Tolosa (2016), by Jesús Cano de la Iglesia. In both accounts, Spanish forces are portrayed as heroic. In the first, other Christian forces, like the French, are otherized, condoning a nuanced understanding of the greater role of the neighboring nation within Spanish history. In addition, both narratives frame their actions within the more ample context of the crusades. As would be expected, the main other in both accounts is the Muslim population, though Cano de la Iglesia takes things a tad further by emphasizing the non-homogeneous nature of the Muslim troops, some of which appear zealously religious. He distinguishes cautiously between Arab forces and a group of black African slave troops, playing on stereotypes. To some extent, Cano de la Iglesia echoes the modern context of a refugee crisis in Europe after the Arab springs and the Syrian crisis, providing a more comprehensive depiction of the impact of war on the Muslim population. Representation of the French troops isn’t as empathetic, though; in both stories, they’re frequently problematic and fail to follow orders, giving in to violence and acts of atrocity, like at the massacre at Barbastro. Also, their brand of Christianity borders on fanaticism, though in a manner reminiscent of pre-secular tensions. Lastly, the prevailing impression is that, while Cano de la Iglesia seems more kindhearted, Palacios embraces a portrayal of a Spain still in development, less prone to nationalist inclinations, in which Christians and Muslims battle according to convenience and personal interests, well along the lines of El Cid, who, as a soldier of fortune, occasionally served as ally of the Moors. In the end, both narratives figure out ways to avoid explicit nationalism, given political implications during their times.

 Chapter 7. Arrugas  Roca

Chapter seven marks a break in the narrative of the volume, since, from this point on,  the focus is on contemporary comics and, most specifically, the work of cartoonist Paco Roca, of Wrinkles (Arrugas, in the Spanish original, 2016) fame. Cleverly, Magnussen has chosen an interview of Roca by UCLA grad student Esther Claudio, who centers her work on post-Francoist Spanish historical memory in graphic novels. The interview figures as a sensible opener to the second half of the book. In it, Roca is candid about his relationship with the graphic novel, acknowledging how the format has forced him to implement and embrace new narrative tools, and the fact that some of his most recent production—like Los surcos del azar—though reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s Maus in its methodology, is actually a far cry from the US cartoonist’s oeuvre. In fact, Roca underscores how in Los surcos the facts and evidence are framed in fiction, emulating historical testimony.  He goes on to point out the irony that the members of the Nueve, the main characters of Los surcos, fought with one object in mind—to free Spain from fascism—and this was precisely what they were not able to accomplish. Roca even elucidates that, though seemingly inspired by Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla—Claudio is dead right pointing out the likeness—his palette is more influenced by nineteenth-century Romantic painters like Scottish artist David Roberts, who traveled to Spain and Tangiers. Alluding to Wrinkles, he also explains how, in retrospective, he wishes he had focused more on people providing care, since they tend to grow in the face of adversity. The interview is remarkably adept at setting a new tone and rhythm in the volume in comparison with previous articles, more concerned with assessing the politics of the cultural production of the post-Civil War and transition period. Thus, it serves as a smooth transition toward the remaining portion of the volume. Claudio does a competent job interviewing Roca and extracting some key tidbits on his work and plans for the future, as well as explicating the theoretical relation between Roca’s production and issues related to memory.

In the following chapter, Sarah D. Harris, a Bennington professor, discusses the use of metaphors and memory in La casa (2015), Roca’s more recent work. The graphic novel explores the importance of the self-built vacation home, as common fixture of many Spanish families in the 1970s and 1980s, as a space of memory. As Roca points out, the experience also hints at the prevalence of the Diogenes syndrome among his father’s generation; thus, many second homes became the preferred spots for old school projects, family memorabilia, and discarded gifts, eventually embodying a museum of mementoes. As Harris explains, after the passing of the father, the house—and the land it rests upon—becomes a semi-autobiographical bridge between the memories of two generations, past and present co-existing. The trees, for example, become metaphors for family. The space for the barbecue ratifies the presence of the deceased parent. The dumpster is packed with heirlooms and objects of the past. And, as usual, food under the father’s beloved but rickety pergola triggers remembrance. Harris is utterly proficient at showing how Roca dwells on the mnemonic implications of a second home and, along the way, processes mourning for a father who passed away shortly before La casa was concluded.

In the next chapter, Benjamin Fraser, from the University of Arizona, looks at La casa from another perspective: that of architecture. Fraser suggests the notion of an architectural elegy as a mechanism to process grief in Roca’s novel. Initially, he focuses on structural elements of visual narrative, discussing how the layout invites readers to take in the images as a whole, rather than sequentially. In this way, page layout reinforces architectural specificity, drawing parallels between visual and material structures. In the second half of the chapter, Frasier centers on grief, depicting recollection as something that is spatially bound, with the past superimposing itself over the present. A new pérgola toscana, built to honor the father’s wishes and memory, becomes the embodiment of how the siblings come together to repair their strained relationships, all impacted by the manner in which they related to their progenitor. By the end, the chapter reveals that, in Roca’s case, unlike in the graphic novel, the second home wasn’t sold, and the cartoonist even used it to spend two summers working on the graphic novel in question.

Agatha Mohring, from the University of Angers (France), analyzes several Spanish comics and uses them to describe their representation of illness as pathography, thus pertaining to the nascent field of graphic medicine. At the same time, she argues, these strips illustrate the strong connection between Spanish comics and the international comics scene. The comics are María y yo (Maria and I, 2007), in which Miguel Gallardo describes his daughter’s autism, just like Mexico’s BEF in Habla María: Una novela gráfica sobre el autismo (Maria Speaks: A Graphic Novel on Autism, 2018); Arrugas (Wrinkles), the famed graphic novel by Roca, which deals with the various ailments afflicting the residents of a retirement home; and Una posibilidad entre mil (One Shot in a Thousand, 2009), by

Chapter 10. Una posibilidad entre mil by Duran and Giner Bou
Cristina Durán and Miguel Ángel Giner Bou, which shares the experience of cerebral palsy and Vojta methods, highlighting the resulting despondency and isolation. Mohring identifies all three accounts as didactic pathographies, since according to Anne Hunsaker Hawkins they combine medical information with personal involvement and knowledge, helping readers to get acquainted with the signs and symptoms of ailments or conditions. In all of them, the language of the travel narrative is employed as a metaphor for illness, evincing the graphic novel’s potential to delve into the intimacy of the afflicted and offer insights into autism, cerebral palsy, and Alzheimer’s.

The eleventh chapter marks an idiosyncratic turn, given it focuses on the work of Aleix Saló, the wildly successful Catalonian cartoonist who lit a fire with his Hijos de los 80: La generación burbuja (Fills dels 80: La generació bombolla, in his native Catalan, 2009; Children of the 80s: The Bubble Generation, in English), a volume that discusses how a generation that expected to benefit from Spain’s economic buoyancy following the arrival of democracy ended at the mercy of the modern European welfare state. Saló’s work is in sharp contrast with Roca’s; he may review recent events, but his accounts are more on the pedagogic side, translating into common language the mechanisms and

Chapter 11. Espanistan by Salo

policies that conjured Spain’s predicaments in the late 20th and early 21st century. The authors, Javier Muñoz-Basols and Marina Massaguer Comes, from Oxford and the Open University of Catalonia, respectively, do a very able job analyzing Saló’s deceptively simple graphic (his characters tend to be amorphous, occasionally resembling minions) and written style (he combines economic terminology with pop culture slang). In addition, they look into Saló’s adept use of book trailers on YouTube, pointing at an evolution in the marketing of comics. In a way, Saló’s work is a comics performance, since he found a career and a way out of unemployment as an architect by examining graphically the conditions that led to his professional evolution. His style of work combines humor with education and information, given his account of the economic and political events leading to Spain’s crisis.  Saló has followed Hijos with Españistán: Este país se va a la mierda (Spainistan: This Country Goes to Crap, 2011), which chronicles the economic downturn after the real-estate bubble. Most recently, he has published illustrated essays like Simiocracia: Crónica de la gran resaca económica (Apecracy: Chronicle of the Great Economic Hangover, 2012) and Europesadilla: Alguien se ha comido a la clase media (Euronightmare: Somebody Devoured the Middle Class, 2013), which are also studied in the chapter.

Finally, there’s Antonio Lázaro-Reboll’s account of the emergence of a Spanish comics art scholarship between 1965 and 1975, i.e., the decade immediately preceding Franco’s death. Though the period is marked by the Ley Fraga, it provides significant clues as to why the academic field of Spanish comics studies developed in particular ways. Lázaro-Reboll, a reader in Hispanic Studies at the University of Kent, employs French scholar Luc Boltanski’s Bourdieu-inspired analysis to historicize the emergence of Spanish comics studies, embracing quintessential sociological concepts like the intellectual field, class habitus, and the logics of distinction. Initially, he discusses the appearance of articles in cultural magazines, titles within the publishing industry (Umberto Eco’s Apocalittici e integrati [Apocalypse Postponed], 1964; Terenci Moix’s Los ‘comics’: Arte para el consumo y formas ‘pop’ [Comics: Art for Consumerism and Pop Forms] 1968; Román Gubern’s El lenguaje de los cómics [The Language of Comics], 1972), periodicals, etc., all of which endorsed the artistic and serious status of comics, legitimizing them as cultural products. Next, he discusses the emergence of cultural intermediaries, i.e., the group of figures who contributed to the consolidation of a taste, people like Luis Gasca (Tebeo y cultura de masas [Comics and Mass Culture], 1966); Antonio Martín Martínez (“Apuntes para una historia de los tebeos” [Notes for a History of Comics], in Revista de Educación, 1967–1968); and Antonio Lara (El apasionante mundo del tebeo [The Fascinating World of Comics], 1968). There’s also the consideration of fanzines like Cuto: Boletín Español del Comic (Cuto: Spanish Comics Bulletin)[1] or Cuadernos Bang! (Bang! Notebooks), which played a key role in the dissemination of a comics culture in Spain.

Chapter 11. Fills dels 80 (by Salo)
Overall, Magnussen’s volume does a superb job bringing together a select group of scholars to discuss and examine the contemporary Spanish comics scene. As a whole, the volume is an extension of the argument by Lázaro-Reboll, in the sense that it serves as an additional tool for the legitimation of the study of Spanish comics studies as a professional activity. After all, we are talking of an industry that, on a yearly basis, aside from bountiful joy and tons of amusement, produces millions of Euros. In the span of seven years, from 2013 to 2019, the numbers of comics released by the Spanish publishing industry increased a third, a phenomenal growth by any standard.[2] Anyone reading this book will understand well why Spanish comics are thriving. Their effervescence and vibrancy denote an area of the national cultural industry that shows no signs of faltering or hesitancy. Not even with the pandemic, as I suspect the intimate nature of the prolonged predicament forced upon everyone during this last year will work well as authorial ground for new, imaginative yarns not only from Spain, but throughout the entire world. As both Pérez García and Mohring emphasize, Spanish comics nourish themselves from the international scene, and the world in turn reciprocates, learning precious lessons from the experience of the Iberian peninsula.


Altarriba, Antonio and Kim. El arte de volar. Alicante: DePonent, 2009.

BEF. Habla María: Una novela gráfica sobre el autismo. México: Editorial Océano de México, 2018.

Cano de la Iglesia, Jesús. 1212: Las Navas de Tolosa. Rasquera: Ponent Mon, 2016.

Díaz Pardo, Isaac. Castelao. A Coruña: Ediciós do Castro, 1985.

Durán, Cristina and Miguel Ángel Giner Bou. Una posibilidad: Edición Integral. Bilbao: Astiberri, 2017.

Eco, Umberto. Apocalittici e integrati. Milan: Bompiani, 1964.

Gallardo, Francisco and Miguel Ángel Gallardo. Un largo silencio. Alicante: DePonent, 1997.

Gallardo, María and Miguel. María y yo. Bilbao: Astiberri, 2007.

Gasca, Luis. Tebeo y cultura de masas. Madrid: Prensa Española, 1966.

Giménez, Carlos. Todo Paracuellos. Barcelona: DeBolsillo, 2007.

Gubern, Román. El lenguaje de los cómics. Barcelona; Ediciones Península, 1972.

Guijarro, Carlos. Paseo de los canadienses. Alicante: DePonent, 2015.

Hernández Palacios, Antonio. Eloy. Vitoria: Ikusager, 1979.

—————. El Cid Integral. Rasquera: Ponent Mon, 2015.

Inacio and Iván Suárez. Atila. Santiago de Compostela: Demo Editorial, 2015.

—————. Máis Alá. Santiago de Compostela: Demo Editorial, 2013.

—————. Titoán. Santiago de Compostela: Demo Editorial, 2012.

—————. O pobre tolo. Santiago de Compostela: Demo Editorial, 2012.

Lara, Antonio. El apasionante mundo del tebeo. Madrid: Cuadernos para el Diálogo, 1968.

Magnussen, Anne, ed. Spanish Comics: Historical and Cultural Perspectives. New York: Berghahn Books, 2021.

Martín, Paco, Ulises S. Sarry, and Xoán Balboa, “Castelao: O Home,” Axóuxere supplement of La Región (11 January 1975).

Martín Martínez, Antonio. “Apuntes para una historia de los tebeos IV: El tebeo, cultura de masas (1946–1963),” Revista de la Educación, 197 (1968): 125–141.

—————. “Apuntes para una historia de los tebeos III: Tiempos heroicos del tebeo español (1936–1946), Revista de la Educación, 196 (1968): 61–74.

—————. “Apuntes para una historia de los tebeos II: La civilización de la imagen (1917–1936),” Revista de la Educación, 195 (1968): 7–21.

—————. “Apuntes para una historia de los tebeos I: Los periódicos para la infancia (1833–1917).” Revista de la Educación, 194 (1967): 98–106.

Moix, Terenci. Los ‘comics’: Arte para el consumo y formas ‘pop.’ Barcelona: Llibres de Sinera, 1968.

Roca, Paco. La casa. Bilbao: Astiberri, 2015.

—————.  Los surcos del azar. Bilbao: Astiberri, 2013.

—————.  Arrugas. Bilbao: Astiberri, 2007.

Saló, Aleix. Hijos de los 80: La generación burbuja. Barcelona: Penguin Random House, 2014.

—————. Europesadilla: Alguien se ha comido a la clase media. Barcelona: Random House Mondadori, 2013.

—————. Simiocracia: Crónica de la gran resaca económica. Barcelona: Random House Mondadori. 2012.

—————. Españistán: Este país se va a la mierda. Barcelona: Editorial de Tebeos, 2011.

Siro, Mazaira, and Cubeiro. Castelao. A Coruña: Nova Galicia, 1987.

Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste is professor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA. A version of this review will appear in print in IJOCA 23:1.

[1] Cuto is the nickname of a popular character from the forties authored by Jesús Blasco and published in the Magazine Boliche (Bowling). For more information, see Accessed 9 May 2021.

[2] Staff at Tebeosfera (2020): “La industria de la historieta en España en 2019,” in Tebeosfera. TERCERA ÉPOCA, 13, Seville. Available at: Accessed 6 May 2021.

Monday, May 10, 2021

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

When Le Chat Was Put Among the Pigeons

 Musings by Wim Lockefeer

In a time of pandemic, it was no more than a fait divers on the global news cycle, but it was a fait nevertheless: the plan of the Brussels regional government to invest 9 million euros in a museum for Belgian cartoonist Philippe Geluck and his character Le Chat met with less than favorable, or at least mixed, reactions. Protest predominantly focused on the perceived lack of artistic merit in Geluck’s work and on whether the government should spend that amount on a new museum in times of Covid (while the Museum of Modern Art has been closed for more than a decade).

What is Le Chat? Why would the Brussels government want a museum for a cartoon cat? And why is everybody in the art world seemingly so set against it? Here are some thoughts from a local part-time comics journalist.

For the casual observer, Belgium’s government structure may seem like an impossible Gordian knot. We have three communities, each with their own language (Dutch, German, French) and their own governmental functions. In addition, there are two state-like regions that don’t really cover the same grounds, but also have their own governments. Then there’s the region of the capital or Brussels (with its own government) and there’s the federal government. Even I had to look it up, and I’ve lived here for more than fifty years.

Belgium likes to present itself as the cradle of European comics. Almost every sizable town has its speciality store, and comics fairs and festivals are all over. In Brussels especially you’ll bump into comics around every corner, be it in one of its several museums (including the comprehensive Comic Art Museum and the specialized Marc Sleen Museum), along the comics mural route, in galleries and art houses and in quite a lot of comics shops, both in French and Dutch (and a little English).

Even though Philippe Geluck is a cartoonist, his most important work, Le Chat, largely is not a comic strip. During its run in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir (from 1983 until 2013) his daily offering was quite often a single panel gag cartoon, with a penchant for bon mots, absurdism and self-referential jokes. Le Soir is one of the oldest newspapers in the country, and its readership is a perfect fit for Geluck’s kind of humor: respectable, highly educated, with a well-paying office job and quite progressive values, but not so much so as to ever be calling for a revolution.

Belgium may well be the birthplace of the Franco-Belgian comics tradition, but for the longest time comics were considered to be low-grade children’s fodder, whereas the single-panel cartoon was a quality cultural product for the discerning connoisseur, with international festivals in places like Knokke-Heist since the early 1960s. Think of the status of the New Yorker cartoon in the USA.

Single-panel jokes have the additional benefit that they can be easily reproduced on all kinds of merchandising products. Over the years Le chat has graced numerous post cards, napkins, badges, magnets, posters, and lately, of course, face masks. Le Chat chocolates (Les Langues du Chat) in their collectable tins are a favourite to take along when visiting friends. Les Chat and its licensing is omnipresent.

Or rather, that’s what you’d think if you visit Belgium and land in Brussels National Airport (or, conversely, if you leave the country and want a final farewell to all the riches it has to offer). If you don’t consider the ever-present Tintin for a moment (or at least try not to), you’d think that Belgium is basically Chat country.

Which it isn’t. I’d wager that if you ask any one hundred Dutch-speaking Belgians, roughly 80% would not know about Le Chat or Geluck (although they would now, after all the hullaballoo in the papers). In Brussels, the urban centers in the south of the country, and in France, they are a bona fide hit though, with more than 14 million books sold.

Because, indeed, Geluck also managed to get his cartoons collected in a long-running series of albums, published by Casterman (historically, the publisher of the more respectable clear line of bandes dessinėes, such as Tintin or Alix). From 1985 onwards, Le Chat was a recurring feature in color in the avant-garde comics monthly A Suivre (also published by Casterman) and, as with most of the more popular titles in that periodical, later collected in up-market hard cover books.

All in all, Philippe Geluck is without a doubt a very successful creator, with numerous books in various languages, radio shows and television series, awards and honorifics a-plenty, and even an asteroid named after him. He could be considered, for better or for worse, one of the most recognized Belgian authors of the past few decades.

But even while he kept quite busy with his cartoon series, stand-alone books, spin-off books and animation series, Geluck also started try his hand at a different, even more profitable business - that of fine art. Helped by specialized galleries such as Huberty-Breyne, he started doing large scale paintings with the same zany, absurdist humor and, indeed, with Le Chat.

At high-profile art events like the Brafa art fair, Geluck is present with his paintings, offered at quite hefty prices, and limited-run multiples. And he is selling – this is the kind of art that fits the office wall of an accountant who wants to be more than just a dreary functionary. It’s funny (it has an actual joke that may break the ice), it’s easy (Geluck’s art style has been called a lot of things, but never sketchy or chaotic) and it’s largely innocuous.

Halfway through the 2000s, Geluck started mentioning how Paris and other French cities had approached him with proposals for a museum of some kind for him and his creation, and culturos in the Brussels government got a tad anxious. After all, haven’t they just lost Tintin and the Hergé Museum, to Louvain-La-Neuve-Ottignies, a provincial town in French-speaking Walloon Brabant (one that, admittedly, also had a university)? Could they afford to lose Geluck as well, and to France at that?

            And so, a plan was made, a site was chosen (a building that for the longest time had been empty, but that is situated on the Rue Royale, in the middle of the cultural heart of the city) and initial designs were presented to the assembled press.

After which a (small) wave of protests washed in, especially from the Brussels art world, with a petition asking why a museum dedicated to one man, a cartoonist with a simplistic style at that, was in the works, while the whole collection of the National Museum of Modern Art had been in storage for more than a decade, and while other (more serious, I gather) art was being neglected.

While all this was covered in the press and on TV, the Brussels, and Belgian, comics scene, kept strangely quiet, even though the Belgian Comics Museum had announced only two weeks earlier that it was forced to let go a third of its employees because it had attracted 70% fewer visitors due to the COVID crisis. In addition to the rent from the book store and coffee shop, tickets are the only source of income of this unique Museum.

            Philippe Geluck seemed quite shocked by all the hubbub the plans for his museum had caused. During a television debate on commercial station RTL he announced that, if a better goal for the building could be found, he’d gladly step aside.

            So, what to do? Perhaps turn the Rue Royal building into a modern art museum and support the already existing Comics Museum? Give Le Chat its own wing there? For the government bodies involved in the affair, nothing seems to have changed in spite of any controversy. Maybe we should simply wait a couple more years. After all, Geluck is still alive and very much kicking, while other bigwigs of the Belgian art world only got their museums long after their demises. 

 A version of this will be published in print in IJOCA 23-1.