The Spanish Civil War in Comic Books: A Surge in Popularity–and Quality

December 29, 2018
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La Brigada Lincoln / The Lincoln Brigade is a new graphic novel by Pablo Durá, Carles Esquembre and Ester Salguero that has just been published in Spanish and English

La Brigada Lincoln / The Lincoln Brigade is a new graphic novel by Pablo Durá, Carles Esquembre and Ester Salguero that has just been published in Spanish and English. To order your copy, contact ALBA at info@alba-valb.org

The last couple of years have seen a number of wonderful new graphic novels on the Spanish Civil War. An overview.

When José Pablo García’s graphic novel version of Paul Preston’s classic Spanish Civil War history was published in 2016, it quickly rose to the top three of the Spanish bestseller list. Its success not only confirms the surge in interest in Civil War since the beginning of the 21st century, but also the great popularity that the graphic novel has achieved in Spain in recent years. More authors publish their work on a greater range of subjects and in better quality editions than ever. Translations and exhibits abound, while sales have surged. Since 2007, there is a National Comic Prize. And bestselling works like Arrugas (Wrinkles) by Paco Roca and María y yo (Maria and I) by Miguel Gallardo have been taken to the cinema.

Among the pioneers in the genre is Forges, whose satirical masterpiece Historia de aquí (History of Here, 1980-81) deals with shameful episodes of Spain’s national history. Among the best early comics on the Spanish Civil War are Eloy, uno entre muchos (Eloy, One among Many); Río Manzanares; Euskadi en llamas (Euskadi in Flames); and Gorka Gudari, published between 1979 and 1987 by Antonio Hernández Palacios, and Carlos Giménez’s Paracuellos series, which first appeared in 1981 and whose 2007 compilation, Todo Paracuellos, came out in English in 2016.

Carlos Giménez’s classic in English translation.

Carlos Giménez’s classic in English translation.

The publishing boom sparked by the rise of the memory movement over the past 15 years has given rise to a new collection of graphic novels on the Civil War as well. These newer titles often focus on lesser-known historical episodes. Some incorporate women’s or children’s perspectives. Others explore the tensions between the first and second generation or life in prisons, concentration camps, or exile. They often straddle genres, intertwining historical drama with thriller and noir or docufiction. Some are simply biographies. Almost all of them underscore the value of memory and the urgent need to revisit the past.

Two titles do a particularly good job shedding light on forgotten historical episodes while acknowledging the complicated workings of memory and the difficulty of representing the past faithfully.

Los zurcos del azar (The Furrows of Chance, 2013), by Paco Roca, won the prize for the best work at the Comic Fair in Barcelona in 2014. Although this is not the first time that Roca deals with the Civil War, here he pays a brilliant tribute to the exiled republicans who helped free Paris from the Nazis after fleeing Franco’s Spain. A young writer, Paco, travels to a town in France to interview an unknown war hero, Miguel Ruiz, who is ill and lives alone. His neighbor, the only person who takes care of him, discovers Miguel’s story with amazement: the horror at the Alicante port at the end of the war, the escape on the S.S. Stanbrook, the arrival in Oran, the internment in a labor camp to build the Trans-Saharan railroad, the battles fought at the service of the Corps of Africa, the liberation of Paris, and the reunion with his loved one and her sudden death when they try to return to Spain to join the anti-Francoist guerrillas. Miguel’s is a traumatic memory.

Los zurcos del azar, by Paco Roca.

Los zurcos del azar, by Paco Roca.

Despite the passing of time, the past for him is more real than the present—underscored by the fact that the past is drawn in color while the present is drawn in sepia. Based on rigorous historical research (Roca was advised by ALBA’s Robert Coale, who also wrote the epilogue), Roca’s book masterfully synthesizes the great diversity of the Republican exile experience. Thanks to Paco’s ability to listen, the lack of public recognition for the Spaniards who continued the fight against fascism after the Civil War and the consequent reluctance of Miguel to tell his life (“I do not have much to tell,” he says) at the end become gratitude—gratitude from the villagers to Miguel and from Miguel to Paco “for having made me recover a part of my life that I did not dare to remember.”

El convoy (Norma, 2015), by Denis Lapière and Eduard Torrents, tells the story of the first convoy that took 927 Spaniards to the Nazi concentration camp in Mauthausen. Only a dozen survived. Divided into two parts, the story shows the differences between the memory inherited by a second generation (Angelita) and autobiographical memory (her father Manuel). Angelita, an attractive 44-year-old woman living in Montpellier in 1975, receives a call announcing that her mother is seriously ill at a hospital in Barcelona. On her way there, Angelita discovers that her father, who supposedly died in Mauthausen, has been sneaking around with her mother for fifteen years. Angelita is forced to face the painful memories of her childhood: fleeing from Barcelona, crossing the Pyrenees on foot, the separation from her father, the Argelès concentration camp, and the sexual harassment suffered by her mother at the bakery when she is finally offered a job. In the second part of the book, the story of Manuel unveils an even darker reality: the poor relationship between Manuel and his wife as they live through the different experiences of exile and the concentration camps. As in Roca’s book, in The Convoy the past is drawn in colors and the present in sepia. The appendix in which Torrents narrates his family’s experiences in Barcelona during the war, illustrated by photographs and drawings, brings the book closer to the genre of docufiction.

Other recent titles worth highlighting include 36-39 Malos tiempos (Bad Times, 2011), by Carlos Giménez, which shows through the eyes of a young child, his family, and his neighbors how horror becomes the norm in a besieged Madrid. Las serpientes ciegas / Les serps cegues (The Blind Serpents, 2008), by Felipe Hernández Cava and Bartolomé Segui Nicolau, approaches war through the noir genre. La vida es un tango y te piso bailando (Life is a Tango, 2015), by Ramón Boldú, offers a self-conscious story sprinkled with humor. ¡No pasarán! (2011), by Vittorio Giardino, tells the adventures of an international brigadista in a Catalonia that is about to fall. In Joan: Sobrevivir en la guerra civil (Joan: Surviving in the Civil War, 2012), by Robin Wood and Carlos Pedrazzini, young man turns into a rogue in order to survive. Un largo silencio (A Long Silence, 2012), by Miguel Gallardo, completes with vignettes from the 21-typed pages of Gallardo’s father’s memoirs. Tristísima ceniza (The Saddest of Ashes, 2011), by Mikel Begoña and Iñaket, follows photographer Robert Capa’s wanderings through Spain. Finally, El fotógrafo de Mauthausen (The Photographer of Mauthausen, 2018), by Salva Rubio and Pedro J. Colombo, tells the story of Francesc Boix, the only Spaniard who testified at the Nuremberg trials.

Carmen Moreno-Nuño is Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on the cultural representation of the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War and the postwar era in democratic Spain.

La Brigada Lincoln / The Lincoln Brigade is a new graphic novel by Pablo Durá, Carles Esquembre and Ester Salguero that has just been published in Spanish and English. To order your copy, contact ALBA at info@alba-valb.org

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