Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh, Miguelanxo, what have you done?

Miguelanxo Prado, Institutes Cervantes, 15th October

I wasn’t aware of Miguelanxo Prado’s work and have never been a huge fan of comics, so this event might seem like an odd choice! But I’ve always been interested in comics, surrounded by people who hold them up as I do my favourite novels or films, and for me, this festival is all about satisfying curiosity and discovering new things as well as supporting writers whose work I already know. So, into the breach went I…

The Institutes Cervantes on Deansgate is a beautiful building, a space for meeting and learning. The event was held in a bright room with high-ceilings, refreshments and friendly faces ready to welcome the audience. As we waited for the event to start, headsets were given out to those of us who needed translation into English and a projector screen showed an illustration of a workspace: pencils, paper, paint and two autumn leaves. As Miguelanxo Prado welcomed us, I was immediately struck by his passion and enthusiasm for comics, not just as a means of expression, but as an important tool for communication. A wonderful introduction described drawing as alchemy, conjuring up images of the first people to draw on a cave wall with charcoal – a series of lines could become a horse; lines becoming signs. Just as words in literature are a series of signs that tell a story, provide information or create a picture in our minds, so too are the lines drawn on a page.

Prado, born in La Coruna, first entered the world of comics in the 1980s, having studied architecture and dabbled in painting. He worked for several magazines, including Comix Internacional and Zona 84, creating science fiction stories and progressing to Orwell-inspired tales of a not too distant future marred with recognisable financial and social problems. He talked of feeling early on in his career that he owed a debt to society, that being able to work as an artist was a privilege and that he should use it to tackle social issues and try to ‘give something back.’ The tone of the work shifted to more satirical, everyday situations, with Prado admitting that lawyers and judges were an easy target for him. In 1992 he published his best-known work Trazo de Tiza (‘Streak of Chalk’) which won several awards including the Alph’Art at the Angouleme International Comics Festival. Prado has since worked on a number of different projects, collaborating with artists such as the writer Neil Gaiman (Eternal Nights, 2003) and composer Nani Garcia (on the animated film De Profundis, released 2007), and even did some character designs for the cartoon series of Men In Black.

He cites Stanley Kubrick, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and cubist artists as influences, and this is evident in his interest in the conflict between individuals and the collective structure of society, his dreamlike visions (he used the term ‘hallucinatory realism’) and the use of angles and visual composition in telling a story. Whilst the subjects can be serious, there is always humour in the work. An appreciation of the absurdity of life informs Prado’s work from the initial idea to completion. He demonstrated this sense of humour with some entertaining and confessional anecdotes about his own moments of stupidity.

Throughout the talk, Prado showed slides of his work, and it was clear that here is an artist who enjoys exploring different ways of expressing himself. Some images were bleak, all stark greys and harsh angles; others were filled with beautiful washes of colour. We were treated to a first glimpse of a new work that is about the relationship we have with memories. The idea that we are what we remember – that if we were to wake tomorrow having remembered everything we’d forgotten today, and having forgotten everything that we presently remember, we would be entirely different people – is now planted firmly in my head (just as I had emerged from the cinema having seen Christopher Nolan’s Inception with a renewed fascination with dreams and the extent to which memories are true). That such philosophical notions are explored through a series of illustrations and a brief amount of text showed me that comic books are works of art and literature, and that there is - and should be - a place for events like this in literature festivals.

For Prado, the beauty of comics lies in the fact that you cannot be passive. You must read the images as you read the text, and you have to engage with the story because the narrative continues in the gaps between frames. As I excitedly rambled about this idea over dinner following the event, it turns out it’s nothing new to comic enthusiasts. But this was when it really clicked for me and I “got it”. The gaps between each frame tell a story of their own; the pictures must tell you about movement, time and mood; the text has to tell you something else but blend seamlessly with the picture… It seems like a beautiful and complete way of telling stories, and capable of just as much as - if not more than - novels and films.

Prado’s enthusiasm was infectious and the 90 minutes flew by. I had my Eureka moment, I’ve found my ‘in’ and have already started stockpiling friends’ comics. Oh, Miguelanxo, what have you done?

Alex Herod is Deputy Editor of For Books’ Sake. She has just finished her MA (Performance Works, Leeds Met) and is keen to meet writers, makers and do-ers through her Collaborate Here project.

No comments: