[This has taken forever to write, but I promised I would do it, and I have some pictures to get up!]
Our arrival in Barcelona coincided with the morning, a time period The Beat is all too unfamiliar with, but it gave our arrival a suitably surreal context. We were greeted at the airport by the Barcelona comicon’s guest relations department, I guess you could say, David Macho Gomez, his assistant, Herman, and Ana. (Sorry I don’t have last names, or even correct spelling for most folks, but it was a week without name badges.) After the traditional local greeting of a kiss on each cheek, we were off in a cab with Ana. The morning sun afforded a fresh, spring-like view of the city, which reminded me immediately of Los Angeles, right down to the oil wells outside the airport, looming hills, palm trees, and obviously busy harbor.
Ana had come along as a guide – we were staying at an apartment swap in El Born, the old part of Barcelona, near El Gotic and Las Ramblas. Anna showed the cab driver a map of where we were going and he responded with utter confusion, reaching for what was evidently the Thomas Guide of Barcelona – a well-thumbed book of maps. I wish I could somehow convey the manic nature of this ride to our destination. The driver kept up a steady monolog in Spanish, as Ana kept quietly and doggedly trying to point to the spot on the map – his monolog was frequently accompanied by his taking both hands off the wheel and pointing to spots on the map, and punctuated, alarmingly enough, by Hanna-Barbera like sound effects – sirens, bells, whistles – that seemed to be emerging for no reason from the cab’s dashboard. You really had to be there.
The cab driver’s bafflement at how to get to one of Barcelona’s best known tourist destinations was our gain, however, as he took what turned out to be the wrong way into the center of town, the seaside route, which gave us a spectacular view of the southern side of Montjuic, the Griffith Park of Barcelona. Embedded in the hillside was an enormous, fantasy cemetery, made up of both ancient crypts and statues and what seemed to be more modern Gaudi-esque monuments. Next door to it was an old fort with some guns aimed out to sea. Scenic? Yes. The cemetery – the Cementario Montjuic, apparently – was to be our major quest for the next few days.
I’m going to dispense with most of the touristy aspects of our trip. A few notes: the Barcelona metro is awesome, the trains come every four or five minutes, and it gets you where you want to go. Buy a 10-trip pass for a shade under €7 and it way cheaper than any American subway. Spanish coffee is awesome, distributed in small, rocket fuel blasts of espresso or caramelly café con leche. We found a super breakfast place in el Born, called Espaseria on Espaseria, oddly, between Placa del Palau and the church of Maria del Mar. Some of he best croissants I ever had, super coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice and a friendly staff – awesome breakfast and I will always remember it. Also — and I don’t want to belabor this — Barcelona is absolutely one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been and everyone who gets a chance should go BUT do be careful of pickpockets and the like! Just be mindful and you’ll be fine.
We did go to the Sagrada Familia of course, Gaudi’s famed unfinished post-Modern cathedral, and it was mind boggling. (I should note that my camera got some condensation in the lens or something that ruined all my pictures, plus my batteries went dead. Thank you technology!) I’m sort of glad I live in the era before its finished, as walking among the breathtaking columns and carvings surrounded by modern work equipment is an experience like no other. I will note that we didn’t hear or see ANY signs of actual WORK going on, except for one lone jackhammer in the museum area, but maybe it was lunch time. (Barcelona lunch lasts from 1 to…whevever.)
On the debate over whether to go up in the tower or not, I come down firmly on standing in line for 30 minutes or so for the €2 ride to the top in an elevator. (You used to be able to walk up stairs for free, but the terrorists have won again.) Frankly, the elevator ride was welcome. What I liked about it was the chance to get up close and personal with some of the bizarre decorations and carvings. The walk down is not for the faint of heart, a spiraling stair that goes on endlessly, sometimes without a rail, and others veering over steep drops into concrete ravines and miles of lumber, but the good part is that there are little stone alley ways and ramparts where you can explore a bit, and it’s like being in Gormenghast Castle, basically. Afterwards, stop by a café for a gelato as a reward for making it down. Hazelnut en Español: avellana. (Note: In Barcelona they speak Catalan not as well as Spanish, and the signs are in Catalan. It’s extremely similar, just different enough to make you wonder what’s going on. For instance, Sometimes the convention was called the Saló, others the Salón—what’s the Dif? Salón is Spanish, Saló Catalan.)
We didn’t get to do the Gaudi tour or go to Park Guell, alas – maybe some other day if we ever return.
Anyway, Thursday we went to the convention’s opening day. The convention was set in the Fira de Barcelona, at the base of Montjuic, basically a series of exhibition halls and so on. This was my first European convention, but after talking to a few people, I picked up on the fact that the content is similar to Angouleme, but the big difference is that this show is set in one place, as opposed to Angouleme, which takes over an entire town. Basically you can see everything easily in Barcelona.
Thursday the show was pretty peaceful, to be honest. There were a bunch of school kids, evidently on class trips (!), the first difference between an American show and the Saló. In fact my impression was that the Saló actually had all the elements of am American comics convention – publisher booths, signings (firmas), dealer’s selling cute toys and purses, organizations, and even a few indie publishers and a Stormtrooper or two (but only a few – this was a far distant outpost of the Empire.) But there were many things missing – nothing to do with movies, or TV were seen except for a few banner ads for HEROES out on the plaza.
I should throw in here that I’m sure I missed many of the fine points of the show due to the language barrier. I didn’t run into many people who spoke fluent English. I know enough Spanish not to starve to death or pee my pants, but not enough to understand subtleties, alas. So I’m sure I’m making some gross generalizations and inaccuracies in my remarks – I invite any and all clarifications in the comments, but any mistakes I make are from dumb ignorance and not malice.
There were a few video game booths, as I observed earlier, but on this day the demonstrators were just standing around. There were no lines or crowds, and even when things got nuts, there were more kids looking at comics then playing with a Wii.
There were also signings by the guests from around the world. Unfortunately, I missed most of the people I wanted to see because I didn’t know where to find the signing schedules – turns out that as in America, your best bet is to check out the publisher booths. Ah well, now I know how it rolls.
The American guests included Amanda Connor, Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Sacco, JG Jones, Howard Chaykin and Alex Robinson, along with editors Nick Lowe, Will Dennis and Marc Chiarello. Of course, with so many of them being our regular homeboys and girls in the US, it was one big fiesta. I should also mention that after the “setbacks” we experienced, it was great to have friends around to help out, and Jimmy in particular was a rock. David Macho and his staff were also immensely helpful and together they helped make the whole experience a big happy memory.
I used to run into Joe Sacco at the café when he lived in New York, but it was nice to catch up with him in a different clime. He mentioned working on his Gaza graphic novel for the last three years with two to go, surely an example of the “graphic novel” lifestyle!
The one element this show had that American shows don’t – and this is a real shame – was exhibitions on various topics. There was priceless original art by everyone from Eisner to Guarnido just sitting on walls for everyone to see. In all honesty, the art exhibits at this show were the equal of any domestic cartoon museum. I have no idea how they got all the art put together, but the presentation was top notch in all cases.
I don’t know if I hit them all, but there was a show of black and white noir art that was outstanding, a great Blacksad exhibit that included a Blacksad statue and more proof as if any was needed that Guarnado is one of the best painters working in comics. Interestingly, his pencils, while solid and likable, are quote ordinary– it’s the painting where his work comes to life with such charm and dash. His animation background is visible in how he characterizes the animal faces. Blacksad was published in a few award winning volumes by now bankrupt iBooks, maybe someday another publisher will bring them back in nice English versions.
Another exhibit spotlighted Víctor de la Fuente, one of many Spanish master craftsmen. His work in a variety of genres was simply delightful – the definition of a cartoonist who draws whatever he’s asked with verve and fidelity and craftsmanship lifted to the level of art. Another display talked about the history of comics in Valencia. I was surprised to see Sergio Aragones hanging on the walls, as well as Mariscal, who was represented by a page from Raw in the early 80s. (Oddly enough I ran into Gary Panter a few days ago and he told me that Mariscal is now one of the most successful designers in Barcelona with a whole studio behind him, and he deisgned the mascot for the Olympics in ’92.)
There was also an Asterix display saluting Asterix artist Albert Uderzo on his 80th birthday. There was a long line to get into this display on Sunday, and once I got in I could see why – the art consisted of tributes to Uderzo and his great creations by a variety of Europe’s finest cartoonists, including a bunch with only one name, like Gipi. I wasn’t familiar with that many except Milo Manara and David Lloyd. Yes, Milo Manara drawing Asterix. (Very bad picture at left.) I suspect these pages will be collected for print somewhere, but I don’t know the details.
Okay that is enough for Part 1 of this Travelog – Part 2 tomorrow!