As Santiago Garcia points out in his introductory essay to Fantagraphics’ latest anthology, Spanish Fever, Spain doesn’t have that long a history when it comes to comics. Under the fascist regime of Franco, creative self expression was strictly censored, meaning that whatever comics were produced served only as propaganda to support Spain’s totalitarian government (unless you were Esteban Maroto and found a wily British publisher as a vehicle for your personal erotic fantasies). It was hard for a medium as intentionally provocative as comics to establish itself in such a landscape. But when Franco died in 1975, most of his repressive policies went with him. From then on, comics thrived.
Compared to its European neighbors, Belgium and France in particular, Spain has a lot of catching up to do where the graphic novel and comics are concerned. The oldest and most revered of Spanish cartoonists are barely older than Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns, and they have no rich cultural history of their own to draw upon, no Hergés, Ditkos, or Kirbys to look back at for inspiration. But Spanish Fever shows that you don’t need to have a host of predecessors to make a medium your own, and Spanish cartooning is now as strong as that of any other nation.
The anthology showcases the best of Spain’s new wave of artists, offering a panorama (the collection’s Spanish-language title) of a scene often ignored by U.S audiences. “Too few American comics aficionados know that right now Spain enjoys a thriving scene of art comics, mini comics, and graphic novels,” say the folks at Fantagraphics, “which, in addition to being published for American readers, are finding audiences throughout the world.”
The narratives contained within the pages of Spanish Fever are as emotionally challenging, conceptually confusing, and exceptionally drawn as any you’re likely to see elsewhere. So now you have no excuse not to know the names of Paco Rosa, Miguel Gallardo, Anna Galvan, and Sergi Puyol. Spanish comics have arrived at the cutting edge, and it looks like they’re here to stay.