Yu Spik In Inglish?

Esta va para los angloparlantes: extensa entrevista y reseña a Diego Agrimbau en el Buenos Aires Herald por Mariana Marcaletti. Disfrutenlan.

Comics, just the way they are

If an artist’s work is chosen out of 170 entries from all over the world, then there must be something special about them. In comic writer Diego Agrimbau’s opinion, his trademark is recovering a tradition, renewing past tendencies and not releasing the same production twice. “Except for the fact that I have done them, my comics have nothing in common. They share a personal taste, I explore realism and science fiction, but my stories are quite different if you compare them,” he tells the Herald.

From space crafts flying over a ruined planet (Planeta extra) to teenage adventures in the Flores’ neighbourhood (El campito), his narrative moves between the international world and the local, the future and past, prediction and history, reality and fantasy.

“It was a deliberate choice to make science fiction and realism converge because I have always written science fiction tales, and I have also enjoyed reading literary stories and watching films”.
His sources of inspiration, he says, come from acclaimed playwrights Roberto “Tito” Cossa, Carlos Gorostiza, and Mauricio Kartún (his former teacher when Agrimbau studied to be a playwright); and also moviemaker Adolfo Aristarain and Argentine actors Federico Luppi, Rodolfo Ranni and Ulises Dumont.
The diverse influences he mentions filter through his comics, which he likes to define as nothing more and nothing less that pop art.

“Comic is a pop genre. I am against some people’s efforts to make comics more serious, to elevate them to the status of literature, to receive proper appreciation. Above all, comic is pop art, a manifestation of popular culture, and it must be defended for what it is: with superheroes, ridiculous characters with embarrassing clothes, weird hairstyles, that’s what comics are all about. If we deny that, we are being hypocritical. We cannot replace Superman with Maus, because we are both things.”

PLANETA EXTRA: AN UNWANTED FUTURE. Earlier this year, along with, along with cartoonist Gabriel Ippóliti, Diego Agrimbau won Planeta De Agostini’s international comics award for his science fiction comic Planeta extra. Thanks to this recognition, they were granted 20,000 euros and the publication of the comic, which is scheduled to be released in October in Spain and France.

In dark shades of brown, Planeta extra looks like any US science fiction film or comic, with futuristic flying objects, apocalyptic remarks and pollution threatening to bring life on Earth to extinction. The Tetamanti family share a suburban middle-class apartment. They still run a business, unlike the wealthy, who have migrated to one of Jupiter’s moons, named Europe, and the poor, who have no choice but to stay behind and scrape a living. At one point, the Tetamantis must decide whether to stay where they are, or move far away to make a new start. “The characters are in a mid position, they find it hard to leave, even if they are not the ones having the worst time, for they are not completely excluded from society. The Tetamantis are is a representation of the middle-class: they live between two options running out of money and joining the rank of the poor, or climbing the social ladder”.

In his view, this is exactly the situation Argentines went through after the economic meltdown of 2001. “Many of my friends and relatives went into exile in Europe to escape the Argentine economic debacle. When I travelled to Spain and France a few years ago, I met again with people I hadn’t been in touch with for a while and it was quite surprising. Although their social status had improved, they felt homesick and lonely.”

Affected by that experience, he wondered what it would be like to create a comic told from a Third-World perspective. “Science fiction doesn’t mean the same in the industrialized countries and in an developing countries like Argentina. So, we came up with the idea of a science fiction story deals with our future, seen from the point of view of a poor country.”

The type of science fiction Gabriel Ippóliti and Diego Agrimbau chose have other distinctive traits. “Our intention is not so much to reproduce the genre exactly as it is, but rather to revisit and update the kind of science fiction from the 80s, with those unforgettable rockets and flying crafts, treated with Argentine realism.”

True, there are certain elements of Porteño sainete that give the story a bit of local colour. Quique, for example, is the typical kind of Italian immigrant who speaks lunfardo just like playwright Enrique Santos Discépolo’s characters, and he is the breadwinner and head of a large family. He overprotects his daughter, who is planning to elope to Europe with her boyfriend to Europe (the moon) despite her father’s complaints. This branch of realism of Planeta extra is then fully-developed in Agrimbau’s El campito.

El campito: a decisive past. “What I find more interesting about El campito is that the decisions we make, say, fifteen years ago, will affect the rest of our lives. For instance, if you used to be close to one friend instead of another, this is bound to influence your college course choice, your profession. This type of small choices, randomly made in a board game, in real life have an impact on the future.” El campito’s story can be summed up in a nutshell: three boys idle away summer afternoons in a plot of land near the Flores railway station ( El campito). There, they play a creepy game: finding the belongings of whoever is run over by the train. Two gangs fight one another, a girl has a fling with one teenage boys, they all quarrel with their parents, spend long leisure hours and so on and so forth. In short, anything you can imagine about teenage life.

“I believe that anyone who was between 12 and 15 by the end of the 80s can relate to it because of the cityscape, the social picture, and the generational traits. At some point, we have all played in a neighbourhood yard, outdoors; we have all watched Robotech on television... Along with cartoonist Hernán Gutiérrez, we thus reconstructed our childhood and pubescent years: Heman’s images, Rubik’s Cube, Play Mobiles, Diego Armando Maradona.” These elements are out there in the story, not in the main storyline but in the background, helping depicting characters and places, the times they live in.

“The history of Argentina was there as context. I have fun out of ordinary events, everyday facts instead of history as politics. On the other hand, I am interested in other ways of presenting history in the tale. For instance, the boy’s bedrooms, the decoration, the toys, the posters, the pictures, every single thing was an introspective reconstruction designed to bring memories back and think about ways to represent them.”

Influenced by the 80s European cartoonists such as Miguel Ángel Prado, Agrimbau and Gutiérrez adopted a realistic aesthetics. In order to make El campito as closely faithful to the original setting as possible, they took photographs focusing on specific details to make the story more believable. “Our intention wasn’t to be completely faithful with reality because then we should have done a documentary. We needed to find some balance between how much we wanted to reflect reality and how far can we intervene the material to improve the story. We paid a lot of attention to signs, traffic lights, a lot of objects that would remain unnoticed to the passerby. When you stare at something in particular, a lot of narrative possibilities come up.”

Given its realistic nature, El campito looks like an autobiography despite Agrimbau’s efforts to make clear just the opposite. “It isn’t an autobiography, I used to play soccer at El campito as the protagonists or I would go for an ice cream at the same store they used to go, and that’s it. There aren’t any other similarities between my life and theirs (the characters). The spot is real, and the fact that there were many deaths by accidents is also an actual fact.”

Formal experimentation. Apart from choosing different genres to tell his stories, Diego Agrimbau also plays with form to experiment on innovative ways to write a comic. In general, his productions lack the traditional voice off, the narrator who explains the episode at a special box located on the top of a frame. Instead, he prefers action and dialogue.

His contribution with cartoonist Lucas Varela for the newspaper Página 12’s comic magazine Fierro, is a special case of formal experimentation that is supposed to change in every issue. In Afasia, a woman is lonely at home and her thoughts are expressed though adverts.

“I’ve been toying with the idea of a comic without balloons but with text included in advertisements. It is connected with a personal wish: I wanted to develop stories that are more focused on the way they are told than the content. I mean, paying more attention to “how” the plot goes on, instead of “what” is actually happening. So, form is privileged over content. The words written in the posters is like the absent voice off.”

Over the following publications at Fierro, they will keep on looking for new formal ways, following with a girl with a mental illness as the main protagonist. Next time, the disease they have chosen is claustrophobia.
His interest to break some formal rules of comics is also applied to his writing, which borders social criticism about the world. Exploiting his concern about the boom of advertisements in the current society, his book Fergus was released in France a month ago. “He is a detective specialized in advertisements, he researches into cases somehow related with ads. He lives in a city where commercials are even more present than they are nowadays. So, he searches for the wolf man, a living human being who is a company’s brand. There is a firm that modifies people (who are willing to accept it for a great deal of money) in order to become a business’ face, it is as if I would become Kellogs’ Tony tiger. It’s consumption society to its greatest extent”.

Planeta extra, El campito, Afasia, Fergus, all his books do share something in common despite the author’s assertion that they are utterly different.
They are the result of Agrimbau’s decision to explore a problem from the point of view of somebody who doesn’t judge comics from a literary, cinematic or visual arts viewpoint.
He says that comics must be accepted just the way they are. But this doesn’t mean that tradition must remain unchanged.
On the contrary, his books are an update ontradition, playing with the narrative possibilities and formal expression means of comics.

Illustrated novels: a new concept?

Diego Agrimbau’s productions have been labelled as “illustrated novels” by his publishers instead of “comics”. In Agrimbau’s view, it reflects two meanings.
“On one hand, a illustrated novel is a comic with greater artistic intentions, it tries to be better appreciated by “higher” art forms such as literature and fine arts. When the word “comic” sounds derogatory and comics are underrated, the expression “illustrated novel” is coined to add some force. I’m not enthusiastic enthusiastic about the concept, I think comics are not supposed to be different from what they are, they don’t have to disguised as literature or visual arts to be recognized. It’s a comic and that’s enough.

“Another meaning of “illustrated novel” is as a format, which is more interesting. In Europe, illustrated novels are not a kind of comic but an extension: long books (over 90 pages) finish in one go: they are not serialized, breaking with the “to be continued” tradition. They are like novels in the sense that they have a beginning, a development and an ending. This kind of narrative attracts different readerships and allow special treatments. Some genres are especially suitable for illustrated novels, such as autobiographies, stories in which the author’s presence is ubiquitous, as is the case of integral artists, who write and draw cartoons. On the contrary, daily publications make team work necessary because there’s a deadline to beat.”

Comics workshop

Although at present the EAH (Escuela Argentina de historieta) and OLA (Artes integradas) are the main schools where comics are taught, Diego Agrimbau — like comic writer Carlos Trillo (El loco Chávez, Cybersix) — gives comic writing lessons for those interested in learning the specifics of developing storyboards in the language of comics.

“The main difference between writing comics and writing literature, theatre or films is that you have to learn how to use serialized language; you also have to bear in mind that you are telling stories through images. So, you must know what a shot is, a frame, a sequence, a balloon, double pages. When it comes to developing comics there’s a wealth of techniques, and this is what my workshop is all about, or at least most lessons. Teaching grammatical structures and how to create characters is also special because these aspects are different in comics if we compare them with other media. Still, there’s a lot that in common among different art forms. For example, various contents I have examined when I studied playwriting can be adapted tfor use in comics”.


Peter Parker said...

Mirá que da para hablar este Campito.
De los cómics más costumbristas que he leido y más allá de que se desarrolle en un barrio de Bs.As., hay situaciones y personajes muy similares a las que vivimos en nuestra pubertad ochentera.


Grupo Belerofonte said...

Si, yo creo que es uno de esos libros simples en apariencia, pero que permiten mas de una lectura.