I’ll be interviewing David Rubin, the artist of The Rise of Aurora West, soon for the blog. I want to have a section of fan questions, so if you’d like to ask David Rubin anything about Aurora West and the Battling Boy books, please send your question through the ask box or in response to this post!
Hi and welcome to a new tumblr celebrating Spanish comics. I wanted to use this first post, in the late winter of 2015, as an overview of the past five years of Spanish comics, talking about (my necessarily biased and limited choices for) 25 pretty cool comics by Spanish cartoonists, writers, and artists published in this half-decade.
This cannot be a comprehensive list; I live in the US and don’t have infinite resources with which to check out everything interesting published in Spain. This is, if I’m being perfectly honest, a list of mainstreamish comics and graphic novels that has enough interest from genre aficionados and other well-established audiences to be widely pirated online. All of it is worth reading and perhaps more importantly worth looking at. Even if you can’t read Spanish. (Some of them are in fact available in English; others will be soon.)
It’s also more heavily weighted toward the front half of the decade, because the kind of comics I’m interested in take a little longer to get pirated than the average US punch/shoot/zap-em-up.
In no particular order:
David Rubín, El Héroe (Astiberri)
A post-Paul Pope epic-length two-volume deconstruction and reconstruction of superheroes informed by mythological heroes (or vice versa), splitting the difference brilliantly between Jack Kirby and Adventure Time. I haven’t seen pages this single-mindedly dedicated to thrill-power since Akira. Two volumes to date; English edition forthcoming.
Max, Vapor (La Cúpula)
The great stylist of the Spanish post-underground tackles the philosophical basis of asceticism, questions of identity, and dick jokes. English edition (not an ideal translation; we miss you, Kim Thompson) available.
Miguel Fuster, Miguel. 15 Años en la Calle (Glénat/EDT)
A former romance agency artist who burnt down his house and spent fifteen years a homeless alcoholic on the streets of Barcelona records his memoirs with dense, scribbly fortitude. Three volumes to date.
Lola Lorente, Sangre de Mi Sangre (Astiberri)
The debut graphic novel from a young art student with a striking style and bravura design sense, starring two children, one non-genderconforming, the other non-neurotypical, who forge a fraught friendship in the shadow of tremendous loss and instability.
Enrique Fernández, Los Cuentos de la Era de Cobra (Norma)
Animator and illustrator Fernández dives into a lushly-rendered high fantasy epic, more Arabian Nights than Game of Thrones (as befits Spain’s actual medieval heritage). First sold to the French market; but when the authors are Spanish, I count it. Two volumes to date.
Laura & Felipe Hernández Cava, Sarà Servito (Ponent)
Another of the post-underground generation, using her faux-naive line to illustrate the adventures of a female spy in seventeenth-century Venice. The script by one of the legendary Spanish comics writers allows Laura to indulge her interest in decadence, class war, lesbianism, and murder.
Juan Berrio, Miércoles (Sins Entido)
One of the twee-est motherfuckers in world comics, let alone Spanish, but with a design sense and line that is to die for. This snapshot of a single day starring a host of anonymous urbanites might belong more to the world of gag cartooning than graphic novels; Berrio’s triumph is that there’s no difference.
David Sánchez, No Càmbies Nunca (Astiberri)
Any of Sánchez’ deadpan, horrifying, and darkly hilarious graphic novels could have made this list; he’s heir to the satirical macabre tradition of David Lynch, Dan Clowes, and Charles Burns, with perhaps a more anarchic, post-Adult Swim sensibility. Which somehow doesn’t undercut the gut-churning effectiveness of his work.
Alfonso López & Andreu Martín, Máxima Discreción (Panini)
Two of the founders of socially-engaged Spanish comics-for-adults in the the late 70s unite for a gimlet-eyed noir with gorgeously fluid watercolor-and-dry-brush art. López was always a good artist, but in the last ten years he’s become great.
José Domingo, Aventuras de un Oficinista Japonés (Bang)
A surreal, 8-bit video game-esque travelogue “shot” almost entirely from a single angle. Goofy, gross, funny, deeply imaginative and oddly moving. English edition available, although only the title needed translating.
Paco Roca, El Invierno del Dibujante (Astiberri)
Spain’s premier “social cartoonist” of the 21st century tells the true story of the moment in the 1950s when five Barcelona cartoonists tried to break free of the powerful children’s publisher that kept their art and all rights to their work, and failed. A thoroughly-researched, deeply affectionate look at a vanished era, with some resonance for those who don’t know anything about Spanish comics history, but much more for those who do.
Bartolomé Seguí & Gabi Beltrán, Historias del Barrio (Astiberri)
Seguí’s chameleonic style, which morphs to fit the tone of whatever story he’s telling, was present from his earliest work in the mid-80s. Here he revisits that time with a script from a fellow Mallorcan, and nails the uncertainty of youth in post-dictatorship freefall. Two volumes to date.
Tony Sandoval, La Serpiente de Agua (Dibbuks)
Gothic magical realism from one of the more interesting mainstream European stylists (this was published in French first). More dreamlike than the cover suggests, it’s about relationships between young adolescents and their fantasy lives, beautifully rendered in fading watercolors.
Miguelanxo Prado, Ardalén (Norma)
One of the graphic geniuses of Spanish comics returns for his first major graphic novel since the 90s with an allegorical vision of memory lost and recovered, rebuilt, by the charting of suboceanic depths.
Montesol, Speak Low (Astiberri)
My affection for #spanish comics in the 80s means that the cartoonists who came of artistic age in that time are probably overrepresented on this list and in my interest; Montesol is another of the post-undergrounders who broke a long silence with this, a beautifully sloppy meditation on the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War on the generations that followed.
Carla Berrocal, El Brujo (Ponent)
One of the most exciting and inventive young Spanish cartoonists tells the story of a wizard and his coven, his familiars, his lost love, and his travels in the human realm. By using a variety of graphic techniques, no two pages alike, Berrocal creates a subjective world of magic and surrealism that could only exist in comics.
Carlos Hernández & El Torres, La Hulla de Lorca (Norma)
A biography of the famous Granadan poet Federico García Lorca, told through Hernández’ exquisitely-rendered duotone images and El Torres (who has experienced some success in the horror end of the US market) providing a surprisingly vinegary text.
Danide & Marcos Prior, Fagocitosis (Glénat/EDT)
A collection of satirical strips on the 2008 credit crunch and the particularly disastrous economic and social effects reverberating since then in Spanish society. (Phagocytosis, the reference of the title, means the absorption of a smaller organism by a larger; the cultural imperialism of the US is one obvious metaphor.) One of the few books on this list that probably wouldn’t translate very well outside its immediate context.
Alfonso Zapico, Dublinés (Astiberri)
A cartoon biography of James Joyce (the title means Dubliner) by one of the most underrated cartoonists of the twenty-first century. Zapico’s lively, detailed line and engaging compositional sense makes a heavy-duty literary biography a relative breeze. The companion volume La Ruta Joyce (Zapico’s travel diary of the research for this book) is if anything more fun. English edition available; I haven’t seen it.
Iñaket & Mikel Begoña, Tristísima Ceniza (Norma)
Yup, another one about the Spanish Civil War. (If I’d allowed 2009 to sneak in, there would have been two more.) This one focused on Robert Capa, the Hungarian photographer responsible for some of the iconic imagery of the war, and his German Jewish companion Gerda Taro. Iñaket’s loose, sketchy line is a lovely contrast to the seriousness of Begoña’s script.
Álex Fito, Raspa Kids Club (Glénat/EDT)
A collection of short stories and other pieces, tied together by the conceit of a kids’ club where the kids tell macabre and socially unconventional stories. Fito’s style is both slick and cutesy – not unlike a less astringent Chris Ware – which only makes the bottom-dropping-out of his mordant tales all the more piquant.
Pablo Auladell, El Paraíso Perdido (Huacanamo)
One of the least conventional comics artists of his generation, Auladell is comparable to Dave McKean or Kent Williams, a painter who sometimes tells stories in comics. This adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost is remarkable for his ability to create imagery that stands up to the Old Masters (Blake, Doré), who have rendered this saga of pride and damnation before.
Víctor Santos, Intachable. 30 Años de Corrupción (Panini)
Probably one of the most prolific, and certainly among the most stylish, representatives of the new Spanish mainstream, Santos is becoming a familiar name in US, where he’s drawn for Vertigo, Image, and Dark Horse, but he’s extremely popular in Spain for his high-contrast fantasy, historical, and noir comics. This juicy yarn of political corruption and crime in post-crisis Spain is only the tip of the iceberg.
Susanna Martín & Isabel Franc, Sansamba (Norma)
Franc is a gay Spanish novelist whose forthright lesbian novels were very popular in the 90s; in the 2000s she began collaborating with cartoonist Martín to tell the story of her mother’s breast cancer. Their second collaboration is also autobiographical, about Franc’s relationship with a Senegalese immigrant and the civil, religious, and sexual clashes that result.
José Luis Munuera & Juan Díaz Canales, Fraternity (Astiberri)
A dark but sweet fable about an ancient monster and the boy who loves him, by two Spanish creators best known for their work in the French market (and indeed this was originally sold in French). Reminiscent of The Iron Giant, and not only because of Munuera’s expressive, lushly digital art. There were two volumes in French; the Spanish edition is combined.
David Rubin is the artist hand-selected by Paul Pope to take the reigns of the art to the Battling Boy prequel to add a world to JT Petty and Paul Pope’s words. David Rubin’s art both compliments and rivals Paul Pope as the universe of Battling Boy expands into a completely different direction. I’m pleased to welcome David Rubin as the subject of the first interview on Destroy Comics.
David Rubin: I’m a cartoonist and illustrator born in Galicia, a region in the north of Spain.
I started my career publishing in several fanzines in Galicia, and then I started to publish in some comic magazines in Spain.
A few years ago, I published my early graphic novels “El Circo del desaliento”(Astiberri, 2005), “La tetería del oso malayo” (Astiberri, 2006) and “Cuaderno de Tormentas” (Planeta DeAgostini, 2008) and my work began to be published in other countries like France, Italy or Czech Republic.
At the same time that I did those books, I was working on some film animation productions, as director and art director.
In January of 2010, I left my work in the cinema and began working full time as a cartoonist.
Since then, I’ve made other books like “The Hero vol.01 and 02”; a graphic novel over 600 pages long about my personal vision of the myth of Heracles. It’s going to be published in the USA by Dark Horse next year.
And I also drew “Beowulf,” a savage and visceral version of the traditional English poem, in collaboration with the writer Santiago García. “Beowulf” will be published in English too, by Image Comics.
And then comes Aurora and…well….
Zissou: Who are your influences and how did they affect the direction you took with The Rise of Aurora West?
Rubin: I think that Jack Kirby and Frank Miller’s work are the most powerful influences in my work – and my favorite artists, too – but there are a lot of authors that have made their mark in my style, artist like Blutch, JC Forest, Peellaert, Guy Davis, Kazuo Koike, José Muñoz, John Romita Sr. & Jr., Alex Toth, David Mazzucchelli , Javier Olivares, Santiago Sequeiros, Osamu Tezuka, Go Nagai, Mizuki and, of course, Paul Pope.
(Blutch, Total Jazz.)
But I don’t only partake of comics influences. It’s important for me always consider other disciplines, disciplines like cinema, animation, short videos, music, literature, poetry or painting.
I’ve tried to combine everything in a “mix-tape style,” and the final result is my own style. It reminds me of a lot of things, but is something new at the same time.
This is the way I made The Rise of Aurora West and all my other books.
Zissou: What are “superhero comics” to you?
Rubin: My favorite superhero comic is “Daredevil: Born Again” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Well, it’s my favorite comic in all the world.
(A juxtaposed page of roof top running from Born Again and The Rise of Aurora West)
And I like old stuff like the Spiderman issues by John Romita Sr., Gil Kane, or Ross Andru, “Adam Strange” by Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Carmine Infantino, and all the Kirby stuff – especially New Gods and Kamandi.
I really love the work of David Aja in “Hawkeye,” Javier Pulido on “The Hulk,” “FF” by Fraction and Allred, and everything that Marcos Martín makes.
(A page from Mike Allred’s FF and David Rubin’s designs for Medula’s Gang in Aurora West; parallels can be shown in how Allred and Rubin texture their monsters.)
And “Lone Wolf & Cub,” by Koike and Kojima. Well…it isn’t a superhero comic, but after “Born Again,” it’s my favorite comic of them all.
(A panel from Lone Wolf & Cub; the dynamic of a child and a single parent in a vicious world uncannily carries over into Rubin’s work on Aurora West. Daigorō is still dependent on his father as a baby, Haggard West won’t give Aurora her Jetpack.)
Zissou: A trend I noticed starting last year that I hope continues is the movement of well-respected cartoonists from high-profile books at Marvel and DC to projects at First Second that afford them the creative freedom in reaching an even wider audience. Specifically, I’ve seen this with Farel Dalrymple following Omega the Unknown with The Wrenchies, and Paul Pope taking Battling Boy to First Second after Batman Year 100. Having read The Rise of Aurora West with that in mind, the book feels like something between Batman Year 100 and Battling Boy in terms of your own unique brand of cartooning introduced to an American audience. What was it like collaborating on Aurora West with Paul Pope and JT Petty while maintaining authorship over the characters as well as working for an American publisher?
Rubin: Working for First Second is not the same as working for Marvel or DC.
The characters and the world where the story happens are both creations of Paul’s, not mine. But I have a lot of freedom to move in that world.
It’s a world full of concepts that I love, that I feel comfortable working on. I don’t feel like I’m only working for hire with Aurora West, I feel that this book is mine, too.
And dealing with First Second, Paul, JT, and everyone who’s involved in the creation of those books is fantastic – it’s very much like my dealings with the Spanish and European publishers that I’ve worked with before.
Zissou: As a Spanish cartoonist working on a series developed by an American cartoonist about something as culturally diverse as monsters, how did your personal history with monster stories, as well as drawing your own with Beowulf and other comics, direct how you designed your cast of monsters?
Rubin: I’ve liked monsters since I was a child. And in my country, Galicia, we have a huge ancient tradition of monsters, ghouls, and other weird creatures like wolfmen or phantoms – a lot like what happens in Scotland or in Japan with the yokai and traditional historical folktales.
My country is very different from the rest of Spain. We don’t have “Toreros” or “Sevillanas” and it rains a whole lot, but we have so many stories about monsters and phantoms instead. That works better for me!
I think that this is the origin of my fascination with monsters and other creatures of the night – and because I like to draw them so much.
Zissou: One of the definitive differences between the Aurora West book and Paul’s Battling Boy is the detective atmosphere that develops around the themes in Aurora’s past in her attempts to better understand her future where Battling Boy thrives on a privileged god-kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing. In drawing Aurora West, what do you think makes her character stand out compared to Battling Boy and other superheroes at other publishers?
Rubin: Appreciation of the detective atmosphere – that’s great!
I’m trying to make Aurora and Haggard’s adventures feel like Batman and Robin 60’s and 70’s adventures. Well…in confidence, I can tell you that I consider Aurora West books to be the best “Batman & Robin without Batman & Robin” story of the last few years.
And on the subject of the comparison between Aurora and Battling Boy; there are some similarities between Battling Boy and Aurora; both are learning to be heroes, both have a lot of doubts about themselves and their own different fates, and both are still kids.
But Battling Boy came from another realm full of gods and heroes, a world where everything is possible. He had a easy life until he came to Arcopolis, while Aurora grew up in a world with only one hero; her own father, in a city under siege, full of monsters and menace.
And that has made a big difference in the personalities of them both.