February 4, 2013

'Valentia' and the Graphic Arts in Spain: Paco Roca, Javier Mariscal and Beyond

Inside cover art from the graphic novel Valentia (2012).
Last fall I went to an exhibit at Valencia's ever so hip MuVIM (Museu Valencià de la Il-lustració y de la Modernitat) and had a revelation: comics. That is, I realized that comics or graphic arts can be truly brilliant, an important art medium unto itself. The specific exhibit that brought about this conversion was on none-other-than one of Valencia's most talented rising stars, graphic illustrator Paco Roca, the "Dibujante Ambulante". Wandering through the exhibit, awed by the ingenuity and variety of Roca's works, I became a fan. No, that doesn't really capture it. I bought several of his books, would attend one of his book signings, and have developed a minor obsession with the entire medium of graphic novels and what seems to be a flourishing community of talented artists coming out of Valencia, as is best illustrated (pun intended) by the latest Roca collaborative project, the multi-authored "100% Valencian" book Valentia (2012). More on that to follow, but I'm getting ahead of myself. What I want to share with you here is a glimpse of this vibrant community of Valencian artists and their amazing visual contributions to Spain's wealth of art.

MuVIM hosts excellent rotating exhibits in the Sala Parpalló.

For the "Dibujante Ambulante" exhibit about Roca, they did an amazing job
putting you the visitor inside Roca's work, surrounding you with it.

Following the exhibit, I bought a bunch of Roca-related items at the awesome Librería Dadá:
one of his books, a new Valencian fanzine (brilliantly) called "arròsnegre" to which he contributes...
okay, and I also finally bought a book on my other art obsession, the Valencian street artist Escif.


• Paco Roca, Arrugas (2007), and Memorias de un hombre en pijama (2011)

Francisco Martínez Roca, a.k.a. Paco Roca, a native of my beloved adopted town Valencia, has been producing graphic illustrations since the mid-1990s, though it has only been in the last five years, and particularly with the animated film Arrugas (2011), that he has risen to a certain international fame. The movie, which received high critical acclaim, is about a group of retired "ancianos" who've been put in a retired home. One of them battles with Alzheimer, and the plot centers around his and his friends' efforts to avoid detection of his illness and being banished to the dreaded second floor, where themore troublesome "lost cause" clients are put. The movie, based on Roca's 2007 graphic novel Arrugas (which means "wrinkles"), is a nice example of his ability to blend humor and social commentary together into a sweet story, and animate it with stunning and imaginative visuals.

The MuVIM exhibit gave me an idea of the breadth of Roca's activities...

... and the long, winding history of a graphic artist. People who work in this
area really have to be creative and open-minded about the projects they take on.

It is a credit to Valencia's MuVIM that it was one of the earliest to
feature the Arrugas film, supporting a local artist.

This drawing by Roca in the MuVIM exhibit explains his motivations
for tackling the Arrugas project: how the elderly ("ancianos") are ignored
by society and treated as if they are uninteresting and invisible.

But Roca is not a one-hit wonder. Some of his others works worth buying taking a look at are Emotional World Tour (2009), Memorias de un hombre en pijama (2011) —one of my personal favorites for how it narrates the life of an Everyman guy who works from home (in his pajamas)—, and El invierno del dibujante (2010). They are incredible. Critical, but not bitter. Humorous, but yet very serious about the subjects they explore. Vivid, the way they bring to life and visualize abstract conceptual subjects. Universally relevant, he picks topics that we can all relate to and weaves in both big and small concerns. I would be selling his work to you all wherever he were from, but the fact that he is from Valencia has me bursting with pride. His work is a cultural treasure and I hope he continues to enrich the world with his unique, special vision.

Here you can see an example of how Roca creatively illustrates what it is
to lose one's memories with the onset of Alzheimer's.

Pardon the photo's blurriness, but I hope you can still appreciate the wit and playfulness
with which Roca parodies capitalism and its malicious affects on society.

These two pages on "tupper" (tupperware leftovers) culture in Spain are why
I had to immediately buy Memorias de un hombre en pijama. Brilliant!


VALENTIA: 1 ciudad, 34 autores y 23 historias (2012)

One of Paco Roca's more recent works is a collaboration with a larger group of Valencian illustrators and graphic artists on the book, Valentia: 1 ciudad, 34 autores y 23 historias (2012). I cannot more highly recommend this book, especially as a souvenir for any expats or exchange students sentimental about their time in Valencia. ("Valentia" is the old Roman name for Valencia.) As the title explains, it is the brainchild of 34 authors, a mixture of relatively known and unknown writers and illustrators in Valencia. And it is "cien por cien valenciano", which is to say that not only are the contributors "Valencian", but the topics in the 23 different stories all center around the city... stories about falleros, the Turia fountain at the Plaza de la Virgen, the Miguelete tower, the dragón del Patriarca, the "rat penat" of Jaume I, neighborhood tales about Ruzafa and Benimaclet, football-mania and Valencia CF, and (of course) cooking paella. Needless to say, graphic illustrations of Valencia's many iconic sights and city images feature prominently throughout. If you are smitten with Valencia, this is possibly one of the best keepsakes you can buy to take back home with you.

I love this illustration of all the contributors to Valentia!

The story, "La fuente del Turia", by Ana García and Maríá Lorenzo
is inspired by this well-known Valencia landmark.

Abraham García and Miguel Delicado's story, "El hombre de los puentes",
features various bridges along the Rió Turia, such as la Peineta shown here.

Any truly Valencian creation will have the mandatory paella image stamped
somewhere on it, though I particularly like this inside cover illustration of paella.

I was excited to learn about a book signing with the many authors. Here you can see
Paco Roca and Alberto Sanz signing, or really illustrating my copy!

This was what Roca drew for me. Awesome! His story, "Quiero ver mi dinero",
was an adorable and timely short story about an old man who insisted on his
bank showing him all of his savings, literally showing him the piles of euro bills,
because he was worried that they might have lost it all in the crisis.


• Javier Mariscal, Chico & Rita (2010)

Should you think Roca is an anomaly, I want to mention another important, talented living-legend and graphic artist from Valencia: Javier Mariscal. He is older and more internationally established than Roca, and works on artistic projects well beyond the world of comics. Long well-known in Spain, I first learned about Mariscal from the animated film, Chico & Rita (2010). Produced by the cool-as-shit Spanish director Fernando Trueba and nominated for the Oscars in 2012 for Best Animated Feature, Chico & Rita tells a wild and rich story of a jazz pianist from Cuba whose life cross those of numerous famous Hispanic personalities of the 1950s and 1960s. (Hispanofiles, you should all check it out just to learn a bit about the famous Hispanic musicians that appear here and there throughout.) While the story and music is nice, what really grabs you is Mariscal's distinctive style of illustration. Vivid, bright, and hypnotic.

Alongside Chico & Rita, this "Bar Cel Ona" logo is probably
one of Mariscal's most famous works.

As I said, Mariscal has a much longer history than this film. He became famous in 1979 for his now-iconic "Bar Cel Ona" tourism logo. In the late eighties he opened a workshop, Estudio Mariscal, from which he has worked on a variety of projects collaborating with numerous other artists and designers. In 1992 he designed the mascot, Cobi, for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, an Olympics that were really a turning point for the city and Spain in the eyes of the world. Not all of his projects are international in scope. In 1995, Mariscal worked with school children in Valencia to design a collective mural in defense of the use of the Valencian language in public schools. With the success of the movie version, he's just released a graphic novel version of Chico & Rita (2012), too.

Cobi, the official 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics mascot

Mariscal and the defense of Valencià language collective mural/protest in 1995

Lightning doesn't strike twice. Mariscal, alongside Paco Roca, is proof that Valencia is clearly an incredible place for cultivating the graphic art imagination. Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's fallas. Or it could be the big bright sun, the vivid light. Whatever it is, it's working!


• ... and beyond: El Víbora and Valencia's Futurama shop

Paco Roca drew this cover for El Víbora in 2001.
The real secret to success of artists in Spain, and really anywhere, is having a solid infrastructure to support and sustain them. (The same holds true for Spain's gastro-revolution... the secret to Spain's culinary success is its delicious basic food ingredients.) Which is why I close by mentioning a couple of graphic art institutions in Spain and in Valencia.

The first I stumbled upon at the MuVIM exhibit, the provocative graphic art porn "adult" magazine, El Víbora. This Spanish magazine was published between 1979 and 2005, and had a huge fan base and was a popular medium for graphic artists just starting out. I saw it included in the collection of works by Roca at the exhibit, and when I made some crude comment about it, my wife pointed out that the magazine was a classic in its day, even respectable (I suppose the way Playboy has become respectable for its avant-garde sexual politics). I'll admit, I'm partly mentioning it here to lure in all of us you perverts (shameful!), but it is also one of those cultural institutions for the graphic arts that an outsider might not know about, but anyone hoping to learn about the "real" Spain of present-day ought to.

Aspiring artists often make their start at the fringe. Paco Roca got going professionally
contributing to these adult graphic art magazines. It seems like porn is always at the cutting edge.

The second kind of infrastructure worth a mention is a local shop "de toda la vida" in Valencia, Futurama Comics. Located across the street from the MuVIM, Futurama is a local institution and been around selling comics to comic fans for decades. If you're in town, help support them by stopping by, browsing their substantial collection of comics, and purchasing some works by local artists such as Paco Roca or Escif (they carry his street art book there).

It's by supporting these kinds of local and (non-local institutions) and art publications (conventional or not) that artists are able to get buy as they grow into their craft, needed especially in an economy like this one. I'm certainly won over to comics and graphic arts. These artists have gained my respect for their creativity and cultural importance, and for the visual magic they've contributed to Valencia, Spain and beyond.

I leave you with this excellent piece of advice on Spanish moms' secret
to the perfect "sofrito" from Paco Roca's exhibit: buy tomatoes at the market,
because the supermarket tomatoes "no saben a nada"!

6 comments:

Sorokin said...

Interersting. I have to admit that I only knew "El vibora". Well, and Mariscal, of course, but I did not know that the comic was so important in Valencia. In spite that Brussels pretend to be the world capital of the comic (BD "Band Dessinées") and has one important museum about it, I am not very fond of this artistic (and industrial) activity. But anyway, you give an idea: I will visit the museum and I will make a post about it. Thanks

An Expat in Spain said...

Hi Sorokin! I think El Víbora is one of those Spanish institutions that any (or almost any) Spaniard would know about, yet an expat could spend years in Spain and never learn about it. Those are the kinds of things I try to foreground on this blog.

I think a blog post about the Brussels comics museum sounds like a great idea. Please post a link here to it when you've written it. I look forward to reading it. I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of comics, but the brilliance of Roca's stories and my love of animated movies has definitely open me up to it as a legitimate and rich art form.

Sorokin said...

Hi Expat! I eventually visited the Belgian Center of the Comic as I said. You can write my report here:
http://diriodeunaburrido.blogspot.be/2013/03/bruselas-la-patria-del-comic.html

Sorokin said...

I mean you can read, of course.

An Expat in Spain said...

Sorokin, I loved it! It's funny how one artist (in this case Hergé with Tintin) can become an entire branding opportunity for a city like Brussels. When I was in Vienna last fall, I had the same thought about Sisi and Mozart.

Here's an idea (to any Valencia readers out there): how about we start marketing Valencia around our famous figures: Sorolla, Calatrava... or Roca and/or Mariscal? Just name a couple of drinks after them ("un café Mariscal, por favor" ... "Quiero un Sorolla"), and then merchandising, merchandising, merchandising (T-shirts, mugs, keychains with their face or famous works)... and the tourists will flood here to consume, no!, literally eat it up!

Sometimes I think, why doesn't Valencia hire me to be its tourism consultant? But I digress.

Sorokin said...

Well, Expat, I think your idea could be interesting. To begin with, we could write to the Vienna Opera proposing them to change the name of the "Sekt-Orange" that everybody drinks during the intermissions to "agua de Valencia". We could even name it in German: "Valencia Wasser", for instance (and, of course, replacing this awful Henckell Trocken that they use to prepare the drink by cava)

Anyway, I support you to be tourism consultant in Valencia.

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