Thursday, 28 October 2010

Miguelanxo Prado's Adult Spanish Comic Première

I throw myself into the Instituto Cervantes, the institute for all things Spanish, on Deansgate. I’m a few minutes late, due to the shite-ness of First Buses- they left me stranded at Oldham Mumps bus depot where the drivers change over, and I sat on the bus for 15 fucking minutes just waiting for the second driver to turn up.


When I get in, a woman gives me a set of headphones attached to a CB radio, and I can already hear a Spanish-tinted voice, in English, translating the man speaking. I presume- correctly- that the bearded man in the mismatched suit is Miguelanxo Prado, the Spanish comic book artist who is here to discuss his work for the Manchester Literature Festival. Behind me, in a small room, is a man translating Mr. Prado over the airwaves.

“I consider myself to be a creator of the twenty-first century,” Prado says. “It’s very difficult to justify the figure of ‘the artist’.”

The translation is interesting- it isn’t always clear, as you can tell from the above statement, what he's saying or implying. Prado’s messages come through most powerfully, however, through his visuals. On his whiteboard, he draws a simple line image of a horse. He describes how the first creatures to draw on walls- our ape ancestors- recognised each other’s images. Still today, no other animals will recognise, he explains, the image of a creature as representing the creature itself.

Prado, who learned to draw in his twenties by “reading like mad”, released his first book in 1982. George Orwell’s work, he says, inspired the SF comic. Through the projector, he shows us a scene of a man being attacked by a dog… interesting. A Clockwork Orange inspired the story, the visuals- featuring dark, strange buildings- nodding to Cubism.

He shows us a plethora of images on the screen behind him- large, vibrant scenes, void of text captions. (There are “American English” translations for a small amount of his work, Prado says, but not these pieces.) There’s a comic version of Peter and the Wolf. Here’s a story about a giant squid. Following this is a scene of Hitler using hypnotism to turn people Nazi. For some reason… this makes me think of sausages.

The images he shows us are caption-less- the Spanish text removed, presumably to avoid distraction. Prado has, however, created comics with no words, allowing purely the visuals to tell the story.

We are the first people, Prado says, to see his new images. His work-in-progress is a story set in a mountain village, in which no-one has any memory of anything. “Without memory,” says the artist, “our characters would change. We couldn’t look back to compare, or evaluate. We’d be stuck in a vicious circle.”

It’s then that I realise I can smell sausages cooking somewhere in a nearby room of the building. God-damn, I’m hungry.

Prado says he likes to “test the limits of what can and can’t be done” in the field of comics. This testing has landed him with a few lawsuits over some of his satirical strips, which has only helped to further his career. “Chroniques Absurdes”, his subsequent comic, could be described as the only available courtroom-based comic book. Describing it as “psychotherapy” and “a chance to get rid of all the ghosts”, the book featured doctors, lawyers and “perverse happenings and the absurd” to allow us to laugh at ourselves.

Prado goes on to tell us that in Spain, girls “have a name for not being very good drivers”, getting disapproving murmurs from the female members of the audience, and that he flattened all four tyres of a woman’s car after she took his parking space. He also admits to coercing a shop attendant into selling him some reserved vegetables out of spite, after seeing a pretentious-looking woman order the “grillos” moments before.

“In Manchester, you won’t know this type of woman,” he says. “Fairly elegant, overdoing… giving too much importance to one’s appearance.”

They do exist here, mate, I write in my notebook.

Prado sketches a rich-looking woman who resembles Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatians.

Over the microphone there’s a rustling sound as Prado doodles, as if the translator has a pencil and is having a go himself.

“As you can see, she has hair like Margaret Thatcher,” Prado says. “Effectively elegant, perhaps.” Hmm. Never thought of Thatcher as “elegant”, personally, but he makes sense when he's drawing. Coupled with his images, the narration is surprisingly descriptive.

In the closing Q+A session, when the Cervantes employee jogs between audience members with a microphone, Prado answers agrees that even though we are more likely to imagine that kids are the consumer group reading comics, they are actually the ones missing out. The best artwork, he says, is in the comics for adults.

I suspect that UK adults will take a long time to come around to the medium of comics. There’s a bit of a stigma around the medium- Particularly in Britain- people generally assume that comics are for kids or geeks. But you never know. If people realise the breadth of graphic novels, and start to take a shine to them, the name Miguelanxo Prado might start to ring a few bells.

The official website is in Spanish, so I’ve had to resort to the Wikipedia page for reference:

Here’s blogger Alex Herod’s enthusiastic write-up for the Manchester Literature Festival official blog:

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