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.

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