Garcia Lorca’s life retold
Biography recreated as graphic novel
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.