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 , Máis alá , and Atila ).
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
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) 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)|
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.
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.
 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 https://www.tebeosfera.com/sagas/cuto_1940_blasco.html. Accessed 9 May 2021.
 Staff at Tebeosfera (2020): “La industria de la historieta en España en 2019,” in Tebeosfera. TERCERA ÉPOCA, 13, Seville. Available at: https://www.tebeosfera.com/documentos/la_industria_de_la_historieta_en_espana_en_2019.html. Accessed 6 May 2021.