Valentina Benivegna talks with Spanish author Luis Bustos about his creative process, his experiences of working in the Spanish illustration industry, and the journey of inspiration for his Spanish-language graphic novel Endurance, the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in Antarctica in 1914.
How would you describe your work to somebody who doesn’t know it?
There are two faces to my work, the serious one and the funny one, and they are very different from each other. I have worked on a dramatic graphic novel (Endurance) and I am currently working on another one, but at the same time, I work for the most important satirical and political magazine in Spain called El Jueves. I write both for adults and for children. What I write for El Jueves tends to be more for adults and more of a social commentary. But I enjoy writing for children as well. For example, I have created a fun character, Zorgo, who is a mad doctor who wants to conquer the world.
What is the next graphic novel you are working on?
I am working on a story about a boxer called Versus set during the same year as Endurance, 1914, which is based on a short story by Jack London. It’s a flipbook. One side tells the story of a mature boxer, and on the other side, you can read the story of his adversary, who is much younger. It’s in black and white, because I see it as a sort of continuation of Endurance (also in black and white). I don’t have a publisher for it yet, as it’s still not finished. I am also working on another project, Residuos, a space adventure. It’s a collaboration I am doing with the writer David Muñoz. And finally, another thing I am working on is a comic strip for a music magazine, about the music industry.
Speaking of Endurance, I found it really intense and gripping. Being a graphic novel, it could be a great tool for children to learn the history of the expedition. Do you think it’s suitable for a young audience?
I think so, yes. It’s a very positive story. My only concern is that the language can be slightly harsh at times, but not excessively. So I would recommend it to an audience of 8-year-olds and older.
What were you like as a child? Did you always want to be a comic-book author? How did you start?
As a child, I have always loved comics and have always been drawing. I used to buy tebeos ‒ the Spanish word for comics, after the first Spanish comic magazine ‒ all the time. Then gradually I started working on fanzines and magazines with friends, and slowly I became a professional.
Did you attend an art school?
No, I am self-taught. I worked as a graphic designer in a studio, but as a comic writer, I don’t have an academic training.
Is it easy for you to live off your job as a comics writer?
Absolutely not. I still have to work for the graphic studio. But for other artists it might be easier. If you work for El Jueves, which is a weekly magazine, you would have a steady income. It’s a very popular magazine, with peaks of 100,000 copies sold each week. You are lucky if you work for them. However, working on a graphic novel is harder, because it’s not well paid and involves a lot of work. It takes at least a year and half to two years to complete one graphic novel.
How do you find working in the Spanish illustration industry? Is it stimulating?
Yes, definitely. The industry is obviously in crisis, as it is everywhere else, but we are enjoying a very good creative moment. There are many young women who are starting to draw and be published. For example, a graphic novel by my friend Mireia Pérez called La muchacha salvaje was recently published. It’s very interesting because she only started drawing two years ago and in 2011 won a very important graphic-novel award. There are also many more women who are starting to get published. Ninety per cent of the authors at El Jueves used to be male, but now I would say that the majority are women. They offer a different vision, and I think that creatively this can be very stimulating.
What were your inspirations as a young artist? Your favourite comics?
I mainly have two influences. One is the Escuela Bruguera, which was a publishing house that published comics for children. And then there are the superheroes: Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, etc.
You have also written a superhero story, haven’t you?
Yes, my first professional job was about very strange superheroes called Rayos y Centellas. They were a superhero group in an alternative Spain where Franco lost the civil war and the republicans were in power. They had some very weird powers. One was called Doctor Happiness, a robot with a human brain. Another was a girl called Sismica, with only one eye like a pirate, who had the power to move the Earth. There was also a child with mental powers and a missing arm; there was a very skinny Russian called Boris Bovril who could turn into a super-strong man; and then there was a gay companion called Protón. The enemies were military fascists and there were many pop culture references of the 20th century as well as extraterrestrial encounters and temporal paradoxes. There were only three issues, which have been recently published digitally and can be downloaded for free through the Koomic website (www.koomic.com), so anyone with an e-reader can download and read them.
You’re a very versatile author. You have done everything: comic strips, picturebooks, graphic novels, illustrations for magazines and schoolbooks. What’s your real passion?
For now, it’s graphic novels. But I love short funny stories when I both illustrate and write them.
Do you think that comic books are gaining strength now or is the audience diminishing?
I think there are more readers now and that’s good, but we’re going through a time where the magazines sell a lot less than they used to. There is a wider variety of readers and stories; it’s not just fantasy or superheroes anymore. There are Persepolis and Maus and comic authors like Juanjo Sáez whose drawing style is completely childish. Some people might call it ugly and anti-commercial, but he’s been very successful. He’s graceful in a different sort of way, and the way he tells the story is very interesting.
What would be your advice to a young artist who wants to start as a comic-book author?
Only one thing. You have to work a lot. Some people think that inspiration comes suddenly, out of the blue. But in Spanish we have a saying that you have to beat the inspiration out of you, work hard for it. That’s the only way you can find your voice, your style. Trying to copy the artists you love is a good way to start. When you try to copy artists you love, sometimes you can’t copy the original exactly, but the mistakes you make are going to become your style. And you will only find out by working hard. That’s my only advice.
Special thanks to Instituto Cervantes for helping to facilitate this interview.