Left: Gringos Locos by Olivier Schwartz (art) and Yann (script), original French publication 2011, collected 2012. Right: El invierno del dibujante by Paco Roca, original Spanish publication 2010.
If you’re the kind of Anglophone comics fan who prides themselves on keeping up with European comics I bet you’ve heard of the former; and no matter who you are I bet you haven’t heard of the latter. They’re both about a vanished era in cartooning, the high-water mark of the 1950s, when comics (in the West) were at the peak of their pre-television popularity as a mass medium, and when several waves of cartoonists all over the world were plotting to revolutionize their small corners of the medium.
Gringos Locos tells the story of a holiday/research trip that Jijé, Franquin, and Morris (together with Will the founders of the Marcinelle school of Franco-Belgian cartooning) took to the U.S., and particularly the Southwest, with lots of references to the classic Western BDs they would go on to produce. It’s a romp through the back pages of French comics, with lots of slapstick and verbal gags that wouldn’t have been out of place in the pages of the artists themselves. El invierno del dibujante (the winter of the artist) is about the failed attempt by five classic cartoonists of the Golden Age of Spanish comics — Cifré, Peñarroya, Escobar, Conti, and Giner — to break away from the children’s-comics publisher Bruguera and create a comics magazine aimed at grownups. It’s a downbeat, even somber mood piece reflecting on the legacy of Franco-era censorship and suffused with regret for what might have been. (It reminds me a lot of It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, which is meant as high praise.)
Both comics, I think, reflect the positions not only of their respective national comics scenes in the 50s — BD was going from strength to strength, flush with money and optimism, curious about the world and in love with America, while tebeos (Spanish comics) were introverted, cautious, terrified of change and strung along on minuscule budgets as the publishers gorged themselves on the profits — but of their current ones. BD remains commercially-focused (the many great French indie/arts scenes aside), consummately professional, slick, and a bit heartless; it’s like reading a mid-level Hollywood comedy, if such a thing existed anymore. And tebeos are still trying mightily to catch up, to prove that they’re grown-up and sophisticated, still starved of money and still attempting to recover their own history. The most successful comics in Spain are still aimed at children (and were originally published by Bruguera), and everything else is essentially an indie/arts scene. Which has its own compensations.