Sunday, October 20, 2013

El Invierno Del Dibujante (The Winter of the Artist) by Paco Roca


The five artists have had enough. Sure, working for one of the biggest comics publishers in the country means steady work and income. But in return they lose all the rights to their work, not to speak of the constant editorial changes they have to live with. So why not leave and publish their own comics where they retain full creative control?

Sound familiar? Well, the year is not 1992 and we're not talking McFarlane, Lee, Silvestri et.al. here, but Escobar, Penarroya, Conti, Cifre and Giner, five of the biggest names in comics in Spain under dictator Franco in the 1950s and 60s.

Most readers outside of Spain will not have heard of any of the names involved (perhaps apart from Francisco Ibanez, whose Mortadelo y Filemon has gained popularity in some countries), but that should not stop you from reading this book - for one, because the topic of a comics publisher (former Spanish publishing giant Bruguera) who denies artists and authors their creative rights is, as noted above, one that should be instantly familiar and relevant to especially comic fans in the US (which makes publication of an English language version all the more necessary).

Spanish author/artist Paco Roca has done meticulous research to tell this story, which, according to his afterword, had always been close to his heart. This does not mean, however, that he is taking sides in what at first glance looks like a simple story of good (the artists) vs. evil (Bruguera). For the most part Roca just documents the events and he is right in doing so, because the story is much more complex, as it will eventually turn out. 

Life in Spain under Franco's dictatorship has affected everyone, including Rafael Gonzalez, the publishing director despised by the artists since he keeps making editorial changes to their work and who runs Bruguera similar to General Franco running Spain. The struggle for artistic freedom in El Invierno Del Dibujante can thus be seen as an allegory for life in Spain in the 1950s, where censorship and other forms of oppression are all around - perhaps creating an independent comics magazine can bring at least some kind of freedom into the lives of the five creators? At the heart of the story then is not the question if the group of artists will succeed (which is indeed answered within the first few pages), but what the motivation is behind the things that people do in this book and how it affects others' lives.

Roca's artwork is minimalistic, but precise and hauntingly beautiful. His use of shade, for example, is reminiscent of Blacksad's Juanjo Guarnido (or should that be the other way round?). 

The most striking artistic feature however is Roca's use of colour. The story jumps back and forth between different seasons in 1957 and 1958 and for each season the background around the panels uses a different colour that fits the time of the year as well as, on a metaphorical level, the content of the particular stage in the story (for example, red as a symbol of life and courage is used for spring 1957, when the five hopeful creators first set out to create their own magazine).

An example of Roca's use of shade and coloured backgrounds
Paco Roca has delivered an atmospheric work that gives the reader an insight into life in 1950s Spain while dealing with artistic freedom as well as with freedom and the role of hope in general. Highly recommended.

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