From Comics to Graphic Novels: 20 Years of Auteur Comics in Spain

The appearance of independent publishers such as Astiberri helped to transform the reception of comics and the appreciation of their creators, who have more readers and museums interested in their work.

By Rosa Barahona Malvar

March 7th, 2021

Immersed in its own change of form, which had begun in the mid-1990s, the comic strip was taking giant steps forward in Spain. Three friends set up the publishing house in Bilbao that gave shape to a new format, the graphic novel, which would forever change the conception of comics in Spain.

This format would allow the author to create without thinking about anything other than his creation. That is why the 20 year anniversary that Astiberri celebrates in March is a good starting point to review the explosion of the author’s comics in Spain, to which they have contributed in a singular way.

«The first time we talk about an auteur comics movement in Spain was in the 1980s,» says Fernando Tarancón, founder of Astiberri and Joker, the Bilbao bookshop where it all began. «But it is a movement with more professional than artistic demands that aims to free the author from the slavery of the industrial process.” Paco Roca, Astiberri’s own talismanic author and the driving force behind the concept of the graphic novel in Spanish – capable of crossing the barrier of the general reader and spreading around the world – agrees. 

«There seemed to be no limits to format or subject matter.» The speaker is Cristina Durán, National Comic Prize in 2019 for El día 3 together with Miguel Ángel Giner and Laura Ballester, who has been at the head at various stages of prominent professional associations of illustrators. The conditions were also the same, forcing those who wanted to dedicate themselves to comics to make a living in what Héloïse Guerrier, editor of Astiberri, calls «the Franco-Belgian paradise». Guerrier was part of the team at Ediciones Sins Entido, which has had an exquisite impact, together with Ponent, that tried its luck in the new format at the end of what Tarancón calls «the wasteland of the nineties».

«Back then everything was @ hotmail, and foreign imprints had no way of differentiating a publishing house from a large group from a small one,» says Tarancón. «What we did during that decade was to try out the format. We already published graphic novels, but in parts.” «The comic public was not willing to spend what they would spend on a novel,» adds Bernárdez.

A before and after ‘Blankets’.

For Astiberri, there is a before and after the publication of Blankets, by Craig Thompson, in 2004. «We were thinking of publishing it in installments, but suddenly the author announced that he was coming to Spain, and we decided to take the plunge.

«The generational change in the press also helped a lot in the perception of comics, but above all it helped to be able to reach general bookshops. «When I received my first contract from Astiberri, tears came to my eyes, it was a fair contract,» says Durán.

Astiberri sells its titles in some twenty countries, «when before we had to cry to get a foreign publisher to sit down and listen to us,» compares Guerrier. The creation in 2007 of the National Comic Prize, which has since gone to six works produced by Astiberri, helped a lot. 

What remains to be done? «Comics have even reached museums, and they have the respect they deserve today,» answers Roca, who considers that «perhaps we would lack, in order to be on a par with novels, a major best seller, something that sells 200,000 copies, to make the comic industry powerful, because even today most publishers subsist and if they catch a bad moment, they are left by the wayside,» says Roca. «A publishing house is air, what it has to do is allow a work to pass from the author’s head to the reader’s hands in the best possible way,» adds the co-founder of the publishing house, together with Laureano Domínguez and Javier Zalbidegoitia, who would be joined a few years later by Héloïse Guerrier.

«The Astiberri family», Paco Roca calls them.

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