autobiographical comic: in the antipodeans of the super-hero

Second part, national scene
By Carol Arán

The adult comic boom took longer to reach Spain than the US and, for the same sociopolitical reasons, the auto-narrative cartoon also took another decade to begin to show up in our country. However, despite its slight initial trajectory, the autobiographical genre has established itself during the last ten years as one of the favourites among the new generation of public comic artists. Deep down we Spaniards have always believed more in the stories of our neighbour’s son than those of the dazzling superheroes with their capes in the wind. Identifying ourselves with imperfect and possible individuals comforts us: it is no accident that the chief twentieth-century comic schools flood Spanish homes with such everyday characters as Rompetechos, Zipi and Zape, or Filemón.

Precisely during that period, long before the underground explosion, the first pioneer of auto-fiction arises in the Spain of the 60s, Manuel Vázquez Gallego «Vázquez». Author of  several famous series out of ‘The Bruguera School’, Vázquez portrays himself, throughout his career, as somewhere between hilarious fiction and exhibitionist reality, presenting himself as a shameless scammer, storyteller and rogue. With works like “El Gran Vázquez” or “I, wholesale cartoonist”, he bridges the gap in a genre that, although it will take time to take off, will no longer fear self-mockery at all.

It is at the end of 70s when the first person comic begins to generate important works in the Iberian territory. The so-called adult comic boom in the country begins, shaking off the dust of the dictatorship with the underground ‘Made in Spain’, which lasted until the 90s. Precursor of this initial boom is the cartoonist Carlos Giménez, a key figure in autobiographical narrative, which he does not start publishing in Spain until 1975. His self-fiction is definitive in the evolution of the genre, with works such as «Paracuellos», “Barrio” or “Los Profesionales”, where different vital stages are captured with a harmonious style and a committed message. In the 80s the alternative comic is already in full swing on the peninsula, and such creators emerge as Miguel Gallardo, with links to the underground world and heir of the Bruguera School.  Known for his work for publications such as «The Viper» and for iconic characters like «Makoki», Gallardo has explored the terrain of self-fiction in recent decades. Works like “Tres trips” or “María y yo” are part of his personal anecdotary, like “Emotional World Tour ”, published in collaboration with Paco Roca to review the experiences around the promotion of their own comics.

Another veteran of the autobiographical comic in Spanish, is Ramón Boldú, a cartoonist who collaborates with satirical press, erotic magazines and alternative comics. From the 90s he begins to publish his most personal pieces, with works such as «Bohemian but abstemious» or «Memories of a second-hand man”, in which he follows the trail of the American underground, drawing himself mercilessly in his peculiar life trajectory.

From the beginning of the 2000s, the earlier ages of the national comic begin to be assimilated. After the disappearance of popular alternative publications, independent publishers begin to emerge, alongside thematic events and authors willing to give free rein to graphic confessions. Associated with this rebirth of the landscape, we find authors like Albert Monteys, one of the best cartoon representatives of the last decades. Monteys is known primarily for his works for «El Jueves» with the series “For you who are young”, which he created with Manel FontdeVila, a sort of guide to topics of interest for his generation, presented by the authors themselves. But he takes his definitive step with «The Albert Monteys Show», a series of first-person strips of absurd comedic tone in which he laughs at his own cartoon and hilarious adventures.

The genre soon finds recurring support in what becomes the definitive heyday of the graphic novel, around the first decade of the 21st century. One of the references of this stage is the aforementioned Paco Roca, who with his customary autobiography, illustrates the pages of works like “Memories of a man in Pyjamas». In this volume, a compilation of comic press strips, the author describes his life as an illustrator of more than forty years who has fulfilled his childhood dream: to stay at home and not take off his piyamas. In this wave of the new century, Juanjo Sáez makes this genre a personal style with his own voice. All his works have an autobiographical component, with the honesty of an open grave. With titles like «Living the story», «Art, imaginary conversations with my mother» or «Me, another egocentric book”, this illustrator and cartoonist shares his experiences and memories, his dreams and relationships, with tender and acidic openness and a spontaneous and unpretentious style, in which the message prevails over technique.

In issues of gender we have never been never the most advanced: it has taken a long time for women to make a dent in the world of Iberian comic. In the last decade and with the help of social networks and digital media, female voices have emerged in the path of self-fiction, such as that of Mamen Moreu, illustrator, cartoonist and collaborator in El Jueves and TMEO. The characters of her monographs, yes, well they are not legitimately «autobiographical» take inspiration from their daily experiences, narrated with a hooligan humor in works like «Rescue» or «Disaster». Agustina Guerrero, an Argentinian based in Spain, is one of the representatives of the new wave of authors on the national scene. Her character «The Volatile» is a comic and exaggerated alter ego, presented in the form of a daily diary, born from a blog and later turned into books like «Diary of a volatile ”or “ Frankly Speaking ”; following the daily journey of a thirty-something in the 21st century.

Despite having its detractors, who accuse the authors of being boring or exhibitionist, the autobiographical movement has filled the shelves of our comic shops.It has become an adult and diverse genre, growing through all kinds of styles, from the comic strip to the graphic novel, offering us an extensive repertoire of authors who draw their lives without shame or fear. It is a genre in which the individual prevails over the collective, and yet makes us connect immediately, knowing that we can all be, at some point, that chaotic and confused individual who lives what they have to live.