Sunday, December 27, 2009

Comical Politics

The Laughing Right and the Action-Packed Left: Part 1 of 2

This is the first part of a two-part ramble inspired by Allan Holtz's comments regarding a small-circulation conservative-commentary strip. In this post I wonder, “Why is it so hard to create a successful conservative satire strip?” Next time I ask, “Why is it so hard to create a successful liberal action hero strip?”

[Prefatory note: In these posts I use the generic terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they are understood--or misunderstood--in modern popular American discourse. I don't pretend to follow classic definitions of these terms. Americans threw those out the window long ago. Furthermore, since I've never lived anywhere but in the USA I can't speak about anyone else's varieties of liberalism and conservativism.]

It's easy to name topical comic strips from the last 50 years with a liberal slant. Pogo, Doonesbury, and Bloom County spring immediately to mind. Yet despite the overwhelmingly conservative bent of American media, only one conservative strip has gained much of a foothold: Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore.

Mallard has been successful in readership terms, but it's hard to call it funny. Funny isn't what Mallard Fillmore is about. A typical daily is a frontal attack upon something Tinsley doesn't like. Though presented in strip format, Mallard Fillmore is less a conservative take on liberal strips than it is an extension of the old-fashioned partisan political cartoon. Liberal strips can be equally partisan--during its heyday Doonesbury was frequently run on the opinion page--but they usually follow story strip traditions, peopling a world with a cast of characters and presenting commentary within the context of a storyline.

Setting aside this matter of form, if American values are as reliably conservative as the media claim, why haven't the last few decades produced as many right-wing satire strips as left-wing? The knee-jerk answer is to blame the “liberal media,” but that's as useful as saying “the devil did it,” especially considering that the conservative giants who own modern media would probably love to have a few more strips on their side.

The Leftersons, produced for small weeklies, regularly ridiculed liberals for being liberals. (Source: Holtz)

I think a key point is that much American humor concerns the Little Guy putting one over on the Big Man. Americans have always pictured themselves as Little Guys. Both liberal and conservative “Little Guys” delight in seeing someone in power cut down to size, be it a boss, a politician, or a millionaire. This kind of humor is rooted in dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire to find a vaguely-defined “better life.”

A similar dissatisfaction underlies liberal criticism. Liberal satire suggests that while things may suck right now, we can improve them by changing the power structure. On the other hand, American conservatives think the power structure is fine as it is; problems arise when malcontents insist on messing it up. This puts conservative satirists at something of a disadvantage. You can't collect laughs at the expense of the Big Man if you share the Big Man's views.
Holtz says George, another minor weekly, alternated politics with generic gags.

Another factor is that modern American conservatism holds certain core assumptions as inarguable. This is a visceral, not an intellectual, position. A bumper sticker I once saw sums it up: “God said it. I believe it. That's that.” American political conservatism interlocks so well with religious fundamentalism because both take certain questions (e.g. the Bible is God's word, American wars are just wars) off the table. The possibility that following these core beliefs may have caused serious errors can never enter the discussion.

Contrast this to American liberals, who in their quest for societal justice tend to analyze and question almost everything. This isn't to say that liberals don't have their inarguables. Liberals don't like to consider whether racial and gender equality really are desirable, or whether some people are born superior to others and will inevitably rise to wealth and power. But for the most part liberals thrive on intellectual debates rich in analysis and nuance. Faced with a war liberals want to dissect its origins, morality, and consequences. To conservatives the mere fact the war exists trumps everything. They want to talk patriotic duty and to rally the home front in support of the troops.

On reflection one realizes that an analytical, nuanced world view provides more satirical ammunition than an absolutist view. A liberal satirist has more things to talk about. Liberals can attack a war from a dozen different angles. Pro-war conservatives are limited either to defending the conflict (seldom a great source of jokes) or attacking the liberals for objecting.

An amusing aspect of Mallard Fillmore's direct commentary approach is that this parody, from America (The Book), could easily have been the real thing.

Unable to attack a status quo they support, conservative cartoonists wind up attacking attackers of the status quo for daring to attack it. It's rather a second-hand sort of humor. It definitely lacks the satisfying immediacy of a good right to the Boss's chops.

Another galling restriction on conservative cartoonists is that many earlier traditions in America-first humor were based overtly on racial or ethnic prejudice. Times have changed, and today even many conservatives find that kind of humor distasteful. Racially motivated criticism has reinvented itself as (safer) economic criticism: yesterday's shiftless “Negro” has become a resource-sapping Welfare Queen; the old “Brown Tide” threatening racial purity is now an army of economy-wrecking immigrant laborers. Old standby religious prejudices are equally tricky. Ridiculing Jews clashes with the religious conservative's obsession with protecting Israel. Blasting Catholics irks Hispanics who, though part of the Brown Tide, provide support for conservative positions against abortion and homosexuality. No wonder that conservative humor's safest bet is to attack liberals for being liberals.

Just why it's bad to be a liberal is left vague. Questions of “why” would introduce nuance into the discussion, and liberals might seem to have valid points. The conservative media's most awesome achievement during the past forty-some years has been to recast the very word “liberal” into a badge of shame which even liberals take pains to avoid. The perception of “centrist” has been driven so far to the right that today's wishy-washy liberal is given treatment once reserved for ultra-left Godless Commies.

As American business and government have merged into a corporate super-state, actions necessary to maintain profits--outsourcing manufacturing, curtailing social programs, narrowing individual rights--increasingly hurt small-town voters who form the traditional conservative base. Embracing the notion that someone is ridiculous simply because he bears the “liberal” badge makes it possible for conservative Little Guys to rally to defend the very people who are foreclosing their homes and sending their jobs overseas.

The upshot of all this is that the conservative cartoonist attacks not the liberal's issues but the liberal's credentials. A viewpoint is ridiculous simply because a liberal holds it. That's how we get cartoons like this “Mallard Fillmore” daily:

To a conservative cartoonist this panel may make some kind of sense. “Hate crime” is just a fancy label for somebody hurting someone a liberal likes. But people are always hurting other people, so trying to categorize and prioritize the hurts is typical liberal silliness.

But just beneath the surface this joke equates the commission of hate crimes--crimes motivated solely by racial or ethnic prejudice--with the natural forces that drive carnivores to eat weaker creatures. In other words, it's natural for heterosexuals to murder homosexuals. I suspect if the point were presented in this way even some rock-ribbed conservative Little Guys would holler. By carefully remaining on the surface the conservative cartoonist avoids too much analysis. That means endless variations on one joke--”aren't these liberals silly!” And that just ain't funny.

Next post: why it's damned near impossible to do a liberal action hero comic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Technique Talk--2

Mouthing Off
When posting a story from the Golden Age Speed Comics, I was fascinated by the anonymous artist's shorthand "surprised mouth," which he used several times in the story. It looked like this:
The mouth is a black oval with a similar, smaller shape cut out of the bottom. Depending on how you look at it, the smaller shape represents either the tongue (I believe this was the original intent) or the lower teeth (in which case the guy is missing a few). This led me to ruminate about the stylization of mouths in "realistic" (i.e. non-cartoony) comic art.

Like cartoony art, realistic comic art is mostly shorthand and caricature. The main difference is that realistic art seeks efficient ways to suggest how things really look (more or less).

Realistic comic artists have developed more abstractions for the mouth than for any other facial feature. It's no wonder. The mouth is a very complicated structure. The expression muscles push and pull it all over the place. Talking changes its shape radically. What's more, the construction of the lips and the corners of the mouth are far more complex than they seem. Comic artists, pushed by personal style, deadlines, and skill limitations, develop their favorite way to say "mouth" with a minimum of hassle.

For some reason, on a male character a "full mouth"--that is, a mouth with both upper and lower lips completely drawn--appears effeminate:Drawing the lips too round or too full can detract from the "man's man" look realistic artists usually strive for. Impressionists Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff circumvented this potential pitfall by drawing a thin upper lip in shadow, reduced almost to a line, while indicating the lower lip only by the shadow it casts on the chin:
This soon developed into a formula that served realistic cartoonists for decades: two parallel lines, a long thin one on top and a short thick one below.Frank Robbins took this to an extreme. Toward the end of his newspaper career, his characters wore two lines of equal length and thickness, often spreading across the entire face.Profile mouths followed a similar evolution. Again a fully-drawn mouth is complicated and liable not to look sufficiently masculine:
Once more cartoonists eliminated the outline of the lower lip and reduced the upper lip to a line with a hint of thickness.
Once this approach was streamlined, this became another formula used by countless strip and comic book artists.
Note how the overhang of the upper lip was beginning to disappear. Frank Robbins took the abstraction one step further by getting rid of the lip profile altogether. The mouth became two short dashes floating in space:
An alternate approach was to draw the profile of the jaw as an unbroken contour with the mouth lines superimposed:
Yet another variation (frequenty used by George Wunder and the later Caniff) was to combine the lip overhang and the lower lip into a single unit. Unlike in the previous example the lower lip was differentiated from the chin:As time went by and the "manly school" moved from newspapers to superhero comics, the more realistic approach taken by contemporary magazine illustrators influenced some cartoonists. However few challenged the thin-upper-lip-no-lower-lip formula. Carmine Infantino's illustration-inspired mouth dared to show the outline of the upper lip. However the lower lip remained an indication:
Infantino was pretty much alone in this respect until the revolution headed by Neal Adams brought photographic realism to comic books. Wallace Wood was the only other notable upper-lip man. He developed an odd "half-upper-lip" which featured the septum but not the rest of the lip. This indication became a cliche with Wood, and was dutifully duplicated by his many imitators.
Wood also increased the size of the lower lip shadow, often modeling its edges to further sculpt the lip. It was an "illustrator-y" version of the Caniff mouth. It's also worth noting the unique mouth Jack Kirby developed in the 1960s: he drew the top shape of the upper lip, resulting in this:
Having mentioned Kirby, I must nominate him as the perfector of the open superhero mouth. Two thousand artists have drawn variations of this mouth ten thousand times. It fairly bursts with drama and action, yet bears no relationship whatever to a real mouth. The perfect shorthand!There don't seem to be as many open mouth stylizations as there are for closed mouths. I suppose it's because in superhero comics most open mouths are shouting, and the Kirby mouth fills the bill. John Romita did develop an unusual schtick, however, which I don't think anyone else used. This was his gritted-teeth mouth:I conclude this ramble with the oddest open-mouth abstraction I know. It brings us back to the Golden Age, when superheroes still smiled a lot. I first saw the mouth on Jerry Robinson's Robin, but it enjoyed a certain popularity in the forties before going extinct.Note that the black semicircle representing the open mouth doesn't connect with the the upper lip. The upper teeth are created entirely out of negative space. It's a fascinating trick, but it had a flaw: colorists often didn't get the idea, and colored the teeth pink like the rest of the face. The result was a face with two mouths, one open and one closed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

English Comic Strips

Oh, não! It's the Bionic Englishwoman!
A friend with a lifetime's collection of odd stuff enjoys feeding me things he can't imagine anyone wanting. Last week it was MULHER BIÔNICA, which is to say, The Bionic Woman in Portugese. This roughly 8"x10" 36 page full-color booklet was published in Brazil by Ebal (Editoria Brasil-America) and bears a 1979 copyright.

This interesting comic reprints two stories from Look-In, an English comic paper from the 1970s which specialized in TV show tie-in strips. A little Googling revealed that Look-In began running Bionic Woman in 1976. The Ebal booklet's artwork is by two well-known British illustrators with credits on both sides of the Atlantic. The first, "The Bionic Woman vs. the Black Dragons," was drawn by John Bolton:

Bolton's work, showing influences from Frank Bellamy, is very nice, with many interesting color effects. While there's a lot of movement in his panels, Bolton often pulls the camera back during action scenes, robbing them of immediacy.

The second story, "The Martians," is drawn by the prolific John M. Burns. His comic-book approach is more dynamic than Bolton's. Action scenes jump from the page. Burns does insert giant character heads into too many pages, though this being a TV tie-in I suppose that's forgivable.

My biggest gripe with Burns (other than his customary sloughing off of backgrounds) is that his bizarre color choices render some panels nearly unreadable. I've seen other work by Burns with equally chaotic color schemes, so I presume that color just isn't his bag.

In my opinion most English comic-paper stories suffer from shallow, diagrammatic scripts. The comic paper format is largely to blame. Most papers ran major full-color features on the front and back pages of each weekly issue. This limited story development within a given episode. Frequently a false climax was built into the bottom row of the first page to carry readers to the continuation on the back cover. Another climax concluded that page, to encourage the kids to buy the next issue.

These factors, combined with space taken up by big heads and "poster" scenes, encouraged rudimentary stories. The greater page-counts given features in comics magazines like 2000 AD were a big step forward.

Another thing that strikes me about comic-paper features is their slapdash panel arrangements. We haven't seen layouts like this in the USA since the Golden Age: overlaps, tilted panels, odd shapes with starburst and lighting-bolt borders. No doubt this was intended to make the paper as exciting as possible on the newsstand. Printed one after the other in a book like this, the loud layouts quickly tire the brain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Sight Unseen--6

If It's Drawn Like a Duck...
Time is rushing past at a furious rate...I've passed a major birthday since my last post. I'm trying to work out keeping up with several of these outside projects at once, but my damned job keeps interfering.

On October 2 the first Long Beach Comic Con will be held at the Long Beach (California, USA) Convention Center. It looks like they're trying to make it a big deal. Typically for comics conventions these days, there will be a handful of comics people and lots of movie, TV and gaming exhibitors. If you're in the area drop by the Pacific Comics Club / Tony Raiola Books booth (#123) and you might run into me.

I'm not sure how "unseen" today's offering is. These and similar photocopied model sheets were circulating around the studios twenty-umph years ago when I was working in TV animation. By now I'm sure they've all seen print somewhere. Nevertheless, there's always someone who hasn't seen what everyone else has, so here are some lovely lessons on How to Draw a Duck.

First up are two Carl Barks sheets describing how to draw Donald for the comics. I still smile at his dig at artists over-using silhouettes in their strips.

Next is an undated general full-figure model sheet crammed with pointers on proper proportion.
This sheet of heads dates from 1944. Nice expressions and some unusual angles.The last two sheets are cleanup notes covering the little details that make the difference between a near-miss and a dead-on duck.

Perhaps some of you Disney experts can identify the artists on these sheets. There's nothing quite like a well-drawn duck!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Perils and Pitfalls of the Golden Age

It's Like Comics on Speed!
If you haven't been following John Adcock's fine blog Yesterday's Papers, here's a good reason to begin. John is running excerpts from a series of rabid anti-comic book feature stories first published circa 1945 in The Southtown Economist. This Chicago newspaper began documenting comics' contribution to perversion and juvenile crime long before Dr. Wertham published his first article. It's a fascinating look not only at the persecution of comics, but also attitudes about propriety in the waning days of World War II.

John's first story is here. The second installment dissects a "Captain Freedom" story from an issue of Speed Comics (No. 35, November, 1944). Which is what prompted this post. While John turned up an image of the book's cover, by lucky chance I have scans of the whole issue. Without attempting in any way to steal John's thunder, I would like to present the entire story, "Revenge of the Insect Giants," to provide context while you read the Economist article.

In the story a villainous beekeeper creates giant killer bees to take revenge on a tormentor. Captain Freedom must intervene to set things right. The newspaper article doesn't mention that the beekeeper is a stereotype "hayseed" locked in an ongoing feud with a neighbor. When not feuding, Jabez Mather, the beekeeper, is growing, for no apparent reason, some giant bees. A bee escapes and stings the neighbor's bull to death. It's good news and bad news: the bull was about to maul Captain Freedom's pals, who are vacationing with the Captain's alter ego nearby.

But then the neighbor finds his bull killed by "this bee stinger." Not even pausing to wonder that the stinger is two feet long, the distraught neighbor grabs a shotgun and shoots up Mather's beehives. To Mather this is the last straw. He runs to his "bee laboratory" vowing revenge.

Mather dispatches a giant bee to kill his neighbor. Captain Freedom hears the man's dying scream and confronts the giant bee. However the creature expires before the Captain can attack. The bee had left its stinger in the neighbor, and drops dead.

The kids try to spy on Mather but they're discovered and trussed up. As the article's horrified writer says, the mad beekeeper paints the youths with nectar so his bees will kill them. Just why they deserve death isn't clear.

Neither is Mather's sudden elocution upgrade. While his neighbor was shooting at him, Jabez had said things like, "Ye be shootin' up my beehives! I'll git ye fer this!" As he slathers on the nectar, the new improved Jabez intones, "First I anoint my victims to make a decent dish...soon giant bees will hatch and have a royal feast on these nectar-smeared kidlets!"

When the Economist claimed that Captain Freedom bashes through the barn door with his head I thought they'd simply misinterpreted bad drawing...but by golly the journalist is right! Hearing the kids' screams the good Captain head-butts his way into Mather's lab.

He's met by several giant bees. The Captain is outnumbered but Mather is taking no chances. He throws a convenient jug of nitric acid (a must-have on many New England farms) at the battling hero.

Sadly, Mather's aim is poor. Instead of frizzling Freedom, the acid splashes the giant bees. "My beauties!" Mather emotes. "I have destroyed my beauties!" An attempt to run is cut short as Captain Freedom tackles the bee-keeper, delivering a righteous speech: "Save your song, you dirty killer! Save it for the jury!"

But the heinous hayseed will never need to comb his hair for a trial. A blow from Captain Freedom knocks Mather into the beehives. The bees swarm from the smashed hives and promptly sting the farmer to death. Just in case we don't know that's what's going on, Mather cries, "YEEOWW! I-I'm being s-stung to d-death!"

Captain Freedom chases the bees away with a smudge pot. It's too late, though. A caption tells us: "But--DEATH...comes for the bee-keeper. Ironic death!" In case we slept through the two previous panels, Mather helpfully recaps them, briefly lapsing into Cowboyspeak to do so: "I'm c-cashing my chips! My own bees stung m-me to d-death!" Exhausted by approaching death, Mather is unable to maintain his lofty villain dialogue. When he launches into a last-minute self-justification, it's in his own voice: "I'm not really a killer like you said, Mister...just was aimin' to settle accounts with that no-account Hiram!"

This statement evinces enough sympathy for the Captain to murmur, "Take it easy!" as the bee-keeper expires. Though this ought to be the story's ending, there's a half-page, balloon-crammed anticlimax. This is the exchange The Economist describes. Captain Freedom, having read the last caption and liked it, paraphrases it for his funerary speech: "He died the same way he killed his neighbor--IRONIC JUSTICE!"

This, too, should have been the end of the story, but the kids still need to stage a leave-'em-laughing finish with Captain Freedom's alter ego (the kids don't know publisher Don Wright is Captain Freedom). And that, finally, is the end.

The end of another grisly, mind-rotting comic story. Another attack on our children's minds and morals. Not even a rousing memo from General "Hap" Arnold could counteract this story's evil effects. In fact, immediately after reading it I ran out, smeared two neighbors with Sioux Bee honey, and blasted their beehives with a shotgun I found in my garage next to my jug of Nitric Acid.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Julio Ribera Interviewed (1971)

A Moment in Time
A 1971 Interview with Spanish Cartoonist Julio Ribera
Another interesting find resurfaced from the endless mire of my garage: issue #5 (April 1971) of ¡Bang!, a Spanish prozine dedicated to comic art. ¡Bang! was one of several professional-quality European comics-related magazines to pop up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I believe France's Phenix was the first. These magazines enjoyed a different relationship with comics creators than similar American projects, due probably to the overall higher regard artists enjoyed in Europe, as well as the somewhat greater maturity of the magazines' producers. The mags not only presented historical articles and interviews, but often new material by established creators. It was a heady time for European comics.

This fascinating interview with Spanish comic artist Julio Ribera makes one aware just how heady a time it was. In 1971 Ribera was 44 years old, having enjoyed a significant career first in his native country, then in France, to which he'd moved in 1954. When Henri Filippini conducted the interview, Ribera had just begun working for Pilote, the legendary weekly which was then hosting a new generation of creators destined to rock the comics world: Giraud, Gigi, Mézières, Druillet, and more. Ribera seems unaware that he was on the verge of his own Golden Age. The work he'd do during the next thirty-some years would eclipse anything he'd produced to that point.

His best-known work was the s-f/fantasy series Le Vagabond des Limbes. Dargaud published English versions of two volumes 25 years ago, but in France no fewer than 31 volumes have appeared. Dracurella, a lightly erotic comic fantasy, also enjoyed a long run. Buoyed by success, Ribera and his long-time scenarist, Christian Godard, founded their own publishing company, Vaisseau d'Argent, in 1988. Unfortunately the company folded after three years; the team moved on to Dargaud and Glénat. The last work I know of was Montserrat - Souvenirs de la Guerre Civile, done in 2007 when Ribera was 80 years old. It drew upon Ribera's childhood during the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately I've never seen a copy; from the excerpts on the Web I gather that Ribera was as capable an artist as ever, although his approach was more realistic than the combination serious-cartoony approach that was Ribera's trademark.

From what I can tell Ribera is still alive, though he doesn't seem to be active any longer. What a heckuva careeer of which to boast! I hope you enjoy this snapshot in time as much as I did.

Julio Ribera interviewed by Henri Filippini

( From Bang! No. 5, 1971. Translated from the French into Spanish by Carlo Fabretti; translated from the Spanish by Smurfswacker.)

Henri Filippini: You have a long career behind you. Could you sketch it for us in broad strokes?

Julio Ribera: Gladly. I must say I've always been drawing: when I was five I was drawing in the margins of account books. I started working for real with the artist Pedro Alférez, who had a small publishing company back then; he was the first to give me a paying job. After that, in 1945-46, I went to Ediciones Plaza: it was there I made my debut in the business. I was one of the mainstays of the girls' magazine, Florita, where I created a character, a girl named “Rosy,” and another character called “Pirulina.” I worked with Vicente Roso, was exciting. “Rosy” was a big success, and when I moved to France my friend Buxadé kept the character going. Around 1950 I drew the adventures of “Pepín y Sulfato” for Yumbo, which marked my entry into the realm of fantasy, which I'd always enjoyed. Afterward I did “Duke” for the magazine Detector, which also published American comics.

It was about then I got into realistic science fiction, with the series “Flying Saucers,” 10-panel features that I had to turn out every two weeks...then came the great adventure...moving to France in 1954. France, where it seemed that artists were paid a lot more. My first work was for the publisher Chapelle; a western in the monthly Zorro, “Pistol Tom,” in issue 20. [SmurfNote: Ribera may have misspoken; I believe this strip was actually called “Pistol Jim.”]

H.F.: Was it difficult getting started in France?

J.R.: A little, but a lot of my compatriots were trying the same thing back then. After debuting in Zorro, I did illustrated albums for Bias, for example “William Tell.” Nicolas Goulon gave me work in A Tout Cœur, a romance monthly along the lines of Nous Deux.

I had a lot of my friends from Spain around me: Longaron, Sommer, Parras, the same time I worked for La Semaine de Suzette. I also did a series of illustrated novels for Opera Mundi and Hallandier: “The Mysteries of New York,” “Tragic Queens" you can see, it wasn't bad for starters. Afterward, in 1956, I moved to the Bonne Presse, where, after doing a short story, “La Barrage,” I created the character “Tony Sextant, Chevalier de l'Espace,” in collaboration with the writer Aquaviva. The series lasted until 1960, when Bayard, the magazine it appeared in, folded. In 1958 I created, also for Bayard, a story for little children, “Lolo and Mandoline.”

H.F.: After this auspicious beginning, how is it you abandoned juvenile magazines for the daily newspapers?

J.R.: Very simple: in 1964 there was a slump. La Semaine de Suzette went under, Lisette, which I also worked for, changed their short, nobody was giving me any work. I was even thinking of changing professions. Fortunately, the monthly Amis Coop gave me some work and let me work with complete freedom. Thanks to them I could experiment and figure out what did and didn't work. I spent a lot of time looking for a more appropriate style. I'm glad to be able to express in this magazine how indebted I am to the editors at Amis Coop.

Finally, after six months of absolutely nothing, I decided to try my luck with the daily papers. I got my foot in at France Soir: they desperately needed an artist to picturize the TV serial Belphegor. It was quite a race for several weeks. I had to turn out a page a day, the idea being to follow along with the serial. After that, I did an adaptation--also for France Soir--of the movie Viva Maria with Jeanne Moreau and Brigitte Bardot. It was published all over the world: it was a sort of advertisement for the movie. Then I did a few series for “Amours celebres [Famous Romances]” and “Le Crime ne pais pas[Crime Does Not Pay].” In 1966 I created the character “Capitaine Tempete,” adapted from a novel by Richard Bessiere, which appeared in the “Fleuve Noire” collection.

H.F.: And Pilote marked your return to comics?

J.R.: Yes, but without many expectations. Goscinny is very tough and doesn't accept many scripts. It's a lot of work for not much money. But I hope this works itself out and that Pilote will trust me with other stories in which I can express myself freely.

H.F.: How about erotic comics? Have you thought of trying them out some day?

J.R.: Yes, I've thought about it, particularly after the Frankfurt Fair, where I saw a lot of work along that line. I think one could do better by avoiding the subjects they're presently using. It's essential, as in a film, that the mise-en-scène should be at the highest level [SmurfNote: Not sure of my translation here; Ribera seems to say that story and art quality must be much better].

H.F.: Are you up on current Spanish comics? What do you think of their present state of evolution?

J.R.: I've always thought that we could have great artists in Spain, especially if they were allowed to do what they wanted. I think that what's going on today is very encouraging. I really like Giménez, Maroto, Sió...and I want to say that I have a special fondness for Buxadé, a master of the Western, who because of that has been able to publish in the United States. Right now he's visiting with Fred Harman; I wouldn't be at all surprised if he revived Red Ryder. There's also Blasco; he's a classic, the real thing.

H.F.: And among the French?

J.R.: The Pilote crew is exceptional: Giraud, Gigi, Alexis, Mézières, and Druillet, too...Loro...and among my colleagues at the France Soir I really like Pecnard and Popineau.

H.F.: What do you think of the movement that's producing publications about the comics, like Phenix and ¡Bang!?

J.R.: It's terrific; it means that people are talking about comics, that people are interested in them. This helps to sell comics, and as you know, for an artist it's important to sell more and more.

H.F.: Do you have anything to say in conclusion?

J.R.: You could say that I was born with comics, I live with comics, and I'll create what I love until the day I die. You can do anything with the comic strip, so long as you find editors who can understand you. ■

Credits: I found bits and pieces of the artwork for this entry around the Web, but the Rosy sample I copied from one of the remarkable blogs of Joan Navarro. This Catalonian comics expert must have the world's greatest collection of vintage Spanish comics! He presents sample pages on the blog Viñetas. I will never tire of browsing his only quibble is I wish he'd give more historical background. I hope he won't be too annoyed for my "borrowing" Rosy.