Federico del Barrio is one of the great renovators of the comic book industry in Spain, an author who since Madriz does not stop mutating and transforming to better adapt to the story he wants to tell. Faced with the narrative development, Del Barrio is committed to finding the poetry of graphic novels by relating his work with music. Together with Hernández Cava, he made some of the best graphic novels such as “The Perverse Artifact”. With “Silvestre” his evolution makes a giant leap to find ways to play with the codes of the cartoon. Today his approaches to the world of written stories are timid, dedicating himself especially to the world of illustration. We review his career with him.
Q: What were the readings that inspired you to become a comic book author?
Federico del Barrio: Reading comic books from an early age was creating in me a familiarity with this language. Every Sunday my father bought me one of those Bruguera weekly. I remember especially “Pulgarcito” Years later, it was my mother who gave me the first “Tintín”. I felt a great emotion every time I got a new album from the collection. I loved the cartoons. I read and watched at the same time. This mixture of sensations, of words and drawings, became something so habitual in my life that very soon I dedicated myself, as a game, to imitate those cartoons that I liked so much. At no time, however, I thought I was going to be a cartoonist. I did it just for fun. But that hobby was accompanying me throughout adolescence. So, in the long run, my level was improving. In any case, the idea of publishing seemed unreal. Only when I had some academic and technical training, I dared to try my luck in the professional world. Always as a second or third job option, since, in those times (the 70s), I was determined to pursue a career in writing and making songs. Of course, Moebius and Hugo Pratt seemed insurmountable, but Bob Dylan was my model.
So, at all times, even now, I have kept some distance from what, in fact, is my natural form of expression, absorbed since childhood.
I have to point out that if it hadn’t been for a person who put me on track, so to speak, in this business, now I don’t know where I would be. I am referring to Rodri (Rodrigo Hernández, author of “October 34”), who was preparing a project on the Spanish civil war in graphic novels and needed collaborators (I think I found out from a press announcement). He taught me how to handle the pen and brush, and made me discover authors like Toppi or Battaglia, whom I studied, following his advice. Thanks to him I met the Dhin Club, where middle professionals met and turned out to be flesh and blood. Then I learned that Raúl had started the same way, although we never met.
Q: There are two crucial names in your later career: Madriz and Felipe Hernández Cava. How did the relationship with the screenwriter start?
Federico del Barrio: He was introduced to me by Jesús Moreno, who was in charge of the graphic design of the magazine (Madriz), in the long gone basements of Gran Vía, where Mario Ayuso’s shop, “Madrid Comics”, had become a great place to meet friends and be catch up.
Q: Madriz was a magazine that opted for experimentation and interaction with other artistic disciplines. How was the atmosphere in the magazine?
Federico del Barrio: The truth is that the magazine was Felipe’s house. We would meet there and see what other colleagues had done. On the deadline days, Raul and I used to meet to go together. It was exciting. Every month, different. One more step. That, at least, we tried.
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Q: To what extent did the figure of Hernández Cava set the guidelines of the authors when looking for their limits?
Federico del Barrio: A great thing Felipe would do was to encourage the artists. He filled us with confidence in ourselves. The fact that, month after month, an author with his career welcomed us into his house and value, sometimes with enthusiasm, what, at least I did without knowing very well what it was, it was an incredible injection of force. One realized that there was a more free and elevated air to be breathed there than in the usual fan corridors. The cartoon, that game, was, at last, a serious game.
Q: In spite of your demonstrated capacity for graphic virtuosity, you seem to look for maximum graphic synthesis from the beginning, a path that will accompany you throughout your entire career.
Federico del Barrio: From the beginning I have assumed that the graphic style is a variable. I follow in this regard the teaching of Moebius or Breccia. However, it has taken me many years to feel comfortable with drawing. Only continuous practice has allowed me to achieve certain security. Although, of course, I am far from being a virtuoso (but I thank you for the compliment). In any case, it is true that I tend to simplicity when dealing with certain issues. “Silvestre”, for example, needs absolute simplicity and clarity. On this, I have always had a phrase in mind, I think from Frank Lloyd Wright: “clean lines, clean surfaces, clean intentions.”
Q: In your stories of the period there seems to be a greater intention to create atmospheres and sensations rather than linear narratives.
FdB: It was a path that I had undertaken long ago, in my years of initiation. I was very influenced by music (I should rather say the guitar), and I didn’t find great differences between making songs and drawing comics. As I was saying, everything I had learned in life I turned it into my work.
Q: In your work there seems to be the will to generate poetry through the cartoons.
FdB: I remember that I was determined to refute the definition of graphic novels as a narrative medium. It seemed restrictive and it did not reflect all of its possibilities. Keep in mind that I had spent much of my youth reading and writing verses, which had developed a great appreciation for the words. As for the image, I knew it could be as I wanted, less redundant with the text. Redundancy was a killer. Although, now, in denigrating it, I feel a sudden affection for it.
Q: Throughout your work you have given the speech bubbles a variety of forms. It is interesting to see how in all your long works, both in the series of “Amorós” and in the album of “Lope” or in “The Perverse Artifact”, you place the text outside the vignette with an arrow that indicates its destiny. Why this choice? Are you looking for a reader not so specialized in media codes?
FdB: I started using this solution in the latest issues of “Madriz”. It had the advantage that the image of the vignette could be composed cleanly and everything was clear and without excessive readability problems. I considered the page as a design problem that had to give functional answers. In no case I thought about what kind of reader could approach the comic. What interested me was that, whoever that reader was, he/she would find the reading easy and enjoyable.
Q: “Amorós memoirs” show the affection that Hernández Cava shows for the booklet and his constant search for the reconstruction of memory. Spain prior to the civil war and its conflicts are very present throughout the work. How was the process of documentation of the work in your case?
FdB: Felipe himself provided me with some documentation and I searched more on my own. Luckily, next to my house, there was an old postcard store that suited me very well. I took pictures of the buildings in Madrid that appeared in the script and tried, above all, to imagine what this city would be like before.
Q: Short stories are particularly prominent in your production. How is the experience of developing such a wide and complex work?
FdB: If I tell you the truth, the hardest thing for me was to maintain the same graphic tone chosen at the beginning of each book without getting bored. On the other hand, the continuous repetition of the protagonist or the other main characters, in various planes and angulations, was tedious and complicated. One had to make a three-dimensional mental image of each one and know them as well as if they were people. But that’s the cartoon. At least, this kind of cartoon.
Q: What do you think are the advantages of the graphic humorist over the comic artist?
FdB: In general, the comic artist is forced to model the characters in multiple situations and maintain the continuity and credibility of the story. The cartoonist is more free. He/she lacks ties. You can do what you deem appropriate every day. Of course, always within the limits of his/her your drawer.
Q: We live a certain vindication of the work of the press humorist. Do you think it is a job that has enough social considerations?
FdB: I have long neglected social consideration. Like everyone else, I would like to be appreciated, but, to this day, it is enough for me to know that there are two or three people to whom my work can temporarily brighten life.