Gar­cia Lorca’s life retold

Biography recre­ated as graphic novel

The Observer - - World -

Eighty-two years have passed since he was mur­dered by a rightwing fir­ing squad, but Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca re­mains doggedly true to his fa­mous apho­rism that “a dead man in Spain is more alive than a dead man any­where else in the world”.

Lorca’s plays and po­ems have en­dured on syl­labuses and stages, af­ford­ing their au­thor a post­hu­mous fame only com­pounded by the last­ing mystery sur­round­ing his own end. Now the writer has been rein­car­nated as the hero of a graphic novel that cor­rals his life, loves and ex­pan­sive cre­ativ­ity into its 100 pages.

The Life and Death of Fed­erico Gar­cía Lorca – a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the his­panist and Lorca bi­og­ra­pher Ian Gib­son and the il­lus­tra­tor Quique Palomo – is an at­tempt to in­tro­duce the au­thor of The House of Bernarda Alba and Gypsy Bal­lads to a new au­di­ence.

Over the course of eight months, the writer and artist worked to pare down Gib­son’s 700-page Lorca biography and rein­ter­pret it as a comic book for those who may never have read the plays or po­ems.

“It was try­ing to tell the story as lu­cidly and as en­gag­ingly as pos­si­ble in the hope that some­body might some day read a poem or go and see a play,” says Gib­son.

“It’s a very grip­ping story and the fact that Lorca was ob­sessed by death and had pre­mo­ni­tions is very dra­matic and I think we’ve not done a bad job.”

For Palomo, the chal­lenge went far beyond trans­lat­ing chap­ters into sim­ple sketches. “Be­fore I even spoke to Ian, I thought, ‘Crikey! How can I change some­thing so long and so packed in de­tail into the lan­guage of comics?’ As an il­lus­tra­tor, I didn’t want to re­duce it all to a se­ries of head­lines: ‘This is what hap­pened that year; this is what hap­pened the fol­low­ing year’.”

The so­lu­tion was to iden­tify the most no­table and memorable events in Lorca’s short, but in­tense, life and build on them, adding lay­ers of de­tail.

Or, as Palomo puts it: “No one knows whether Lorca ate a lot of fried eggs or not, but th­ese things lend a cer­tain truth­ful­ness and stop it be­ing a mere suc­ces­sion of his­tor­i­cal facts.”

The book chron­i­cles Lorca’s trav­els and ad­ven­tures in Madrid, New York, Cuba and Ar­gentina, but it is firmly rooted in his child­hood in An­dalu­sia and the cus­toms, sto­ries, songs and po­ems that per­me­ate his work.

Like the biography, it of­fers a por­trait of what Gib­son calls Lorca’s “spirit of gen­eros­ity” and his de­fence of the marginalised and for­got­ten, be they women, black peo­ple or those who, like the poet him­self, are gay.

Al­though Lorca’s sex­u­al­ity was once a taboo topic in his home­land, Gib­son and Palomo were de­ter­mined not to pull any punches. “He’s gay and it’s taken a long time to get the Spanish to ac­cept that – in­clud­ing his own fam­ily,” says Gib­son. “His re­la­tion­ship with Dalí and other peo­ple is quite ex­plicit, as is his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“It was ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult and I had prob­lems when the biography first came out in Spanish; it caused a furore among all his old cronies. It had been put in the cen­tre of the pic­ture when it hadn’t been put any­where. It ap­palled peo­ple, but overnight it be­came ac­cept­able. It’s strange, but Spain is like that.” Gib­son, who has ded­i­cated his life to the study of Spain’s lit­er­a­ture and his­tory, is not sur­prised by Lorca’s en­dur­ing ap­peal.

“He’s a kind of com­pen­dium of Spain. He’s got ev­ery­thing: the pas­sion; the ob­vi­ous things like the red car­na­tions and bulls that has ap­peal for the for­eign reader. But of course he goes way beyond that.”

Lorca, he adds, was a coun­try boy “who be­came a kind of sur­re­al­ist”, a poet, a pi­anist, an artist and a the­atre di­rec­tor.

And then there is his death. His mur­der and dis­ap­pear­ance in Au­gust 1936 made Lorca ar­guably the most fa­mous martyr of the Spanish civil war and a sym­bol of the ram­pant anti-in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism and in­tol­er­ance that char­ac­terised Fran­co­ism. The fact that his body has never been found has come to rep­re­sent the buried and un­set­tled legacy of the civil war and sub­se­quent dic­ta­tor­ship.

“Lorca is world fa­mous and would have be­come that even if they hadn’t killed him,” says Gib­son.

“It was said that he is fa­mous be­cause he was a vic­tim of fas­cism. That did help to cat­a­pult him to fame but it wouldn’t have been en­dur­ing had the work not been ex­tra­or­di­nary..

“He’s still a dis­ap­peared per­son and for me, he rep­re­sents all the dead of the Spanish civil war and all the hor­ror of the war and the dic­ta­tor­ship.”

‘He’s gay and it has taken a long time for the Spanish to ac­cept that – in­clud­ing his own fam­ily’ Ian Gib­son, bi­og­ra­pher


Gar­cía Lorca, above, was mur­dered by pro-Franco rightwingers in 1936; his life is told in a new il­lus­trated biography, left.

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