26 February 2015


Marcos Farrajota's introduction to Portuguese comics for š! #20 'Desassossego'.  

Marcos Farrajota

Everything we do, whether in art or in life, is a defective version of what were our initial ambitions*.

I’ve spent so much time in front of the computer to write something original about Portuguese comics that my eyes are burning. About this specific form of art we can only say that it will be good to us if we are good to it. And yet comics are silly, a bargain, a form of torture, a useless effort devoid of causes or consequences that offers us neither glory nor any sort of personal reward. In Portugal, as in other parts of the world, making comics is a solitary process, an activity with no class consciousness and with no affiliations or allies—fuck social networks, which are totally irrelevant to someone sitting at a table trying to mix and balance images and text.

Nowadays, the world belongs only to stupid, insensitive, and hectic people. The right to live and to thrive is acquired through the same strategies and processes that qualify someone for internment in a madhouse: inability to think, amorality, and hysteria*.

I asked António Kiala** for his opinion. He answered with his customary rage: “What makes Portuguese comics distinctive from others is the history of their own country, which has always defaulted to states of slavery and colonialism, and which, on account of its peripheral location, didn’t find it that hard to nourish a light version of fascism (everything is light in our country) for almost 50 years. Its mixture of Catholicism and good behavior (without which people would be cast into the Inquisition fires) transformed a docile and illiterate nation into nauseating humus; nevertheless, that didn’t prevent the occasional appearance of some rare talented authors who excel due to their genius.” It has to be this way; otherwise, the word “genius” wouldn’t even exist. The geniuses are few but good! And short. And a bit dark, though the thought of any so-called genetic purity is ridiculous—only the naïve and idiots put their faith in eugenics and thoroughbred horses. As a matter of fact, many of the authors selected for this edition of kuš! are quite tall, and some of them even have blond hair—they could be mistaken for Latvian. What they have in common is the fact that they don’t conform to the cliché of male, heterosexual, Caucasian cartoonists—though one’s color of the skin or sexual orientation is irrelevant when one does not have the talent or the need to express him or herself.

Because I am the size of what I see and not the size of my own height* (Alberto Caeiro).

I was asked to write about Portuguese comics. A pointless task. What’s the use of naming authors or books if not even the Portuguese people know them or give them any credit whatsoever (including the ignorant assholes in the comics scene)? What’s the point in name-dropping if their work is inaccessible to almost everyone? Oddly enough, if you, kind reader, venture into a Portuguese bookshop, you might even find two recently reprinted works from the seventies—Wanya by Augusto Mota and Nelson Dias, or Eternus 9 by Vitor Mesquita—but you will laugh at their naïveté. In the eighties, not a single book worth talking about was published. Only in the nineties did Portuguese comics begin to be published abroad—specifically História de Lisboa by A.H. Oliveira Marques and Filipe Abranches, and Mr. Burroughs by David Soares and Pedro Nora, both in French. Then more books began to propagate at the start of the new millennium, some of them 14 years after their first Portuguese edition, such as the Pedro Burgos’s works, and Pedro Brito’s with João Fazenda, in France, Poland, and Italy.

In Portugal, 25 years ago the popular comics market diminished, but its authors remained well-aligned with the spirit of the times, figuring out homeopathic dosages to track popular styles, and always maintaining irreproachable technical quality. There were great masters of realistic drawing in the 30s (Victor Péon, Fernando Bento), “big nose” manufacturers in the 60s (Carlos Roque, António Fernandes Silva), mass-media political satirists (Nuno Saraiva since the 90s), and artisans of superheroes' underwear (Jorge Coelho in this century). However, I’m not interested in writing about them and their professional dramas—the reader may read about them in Quadradinhos: Look on Portuguese Comics, an anthology published in the context of 2014’s Festival of Treviso.

Life is not worth living. Only the contemplation of things is worth the effort. To be capable of contemplating the world without living would bring us happiness, the same happiness we experience when we dream. Bliss excluding life!*

Portuguese comics have not developed in a linear flow, but rather with constant interruptions that offer no hope of a future and, on the other hand, do not allow the past to build up into a coherent and consolidated narrative. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (1846–1905) became the first real precursor of national cartoonists by publishing exemplary newspapers and satirical albums, and he even made an attempt of an autobiographical comics exercise with his No Lazareto de Lisboa (1881). But nobody followed his example… Carlos Botelho (1899-1982) is perhaps the only exception, with his style that mixed up chronicle, autobiography, journalism, and satire, and one wonders how the hell he survived publishing a full-page comic every week in the newspaper Sempre Fixe! Although the New State fascist regime had taken power two years earlier, censors allowed the publication of some of his most subversive drawings, notably including the one representing Mussolini and Hitler, half-naked, being expelled from Paradise. (The Italian dictator plays Eve’s role and his name is “Mussolina.”) Internationally renowned comics experts do not consider these two cartoonists part of the world’s comics heritage, because they didn’t receive any international recognition (that would have been impossible, since they came from a completely isolated country), so: keep playing with Krazy Kat’s (even though she’s female) and Calvo’s willies!

Excerpt from Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro autobiographical comic "No Lazareto de Lisboa"

The magazine Visão (1975–76), open to psychedelia and antiauthoritarianism, appeared shortly after the April 25 Revolution. It prescribed to “light” anarchism (Kiala dixit), with a tendency toward a crabbier version of Maoism, and it didn’t go far… It wasn’t until the appearance of the postmodernist magazine Lx Comics (1990-91) that we fully understood the multiplicity of the form’s possibilities, but nobody cared. Meanwhile, Lisbon’s first institutional comics library (Bedeteca de Lisboa) was founded, leading the “indie” generation of the nineties to an editorial boom, with repercussions in the media, in which, suddenly, everything seemed possible. But that work began to decline to the point that nowadays it is almost completely forgotten, even though the library still holds the largest national comics collection, for consultation and domiciliary delivery, located in the same yellow building since 1996. The Portuguese comics scene has been going through an existential crisis since 2005 which, at least, is a period no longer than the historical transitions and intermissions mentioned above.

This existential crisis shouldn’t be problematic, since by now we’ve long lived in a world without God or any sort of center. It is impossible to aggregate the artists participating in this book in one single affinity group because they all have different ages, aesthetics, and artistic trajectories. Even though I know almost all of them quite well, I wasn’t aware, for example, that Marta Monteiro was doing comics. It was David Schilter who “discovered” this fact, and it was also he who suggested Joana Estrela (ok, she was wandering through the Baltic countries at the time), and, most importantly, it was kuš! that published Amanda Baeza’s first book.

And thus we come across a total mystery: why is this issue full of dissidents? (Is there another word we can use to qualify these authors?) Of course there’s the fact that some them are connected to organized collectives, such as Chili Com Carne (Daniel Lopes, André Lemos, Francisco Sousa Lobo, Rafael Gouveia), Oficina Arara (Bruno Borges) or Clube do Inferno (André Pereira)—a manifestation of a phenomenon, collectivism, that is totally incomprehensible to the Portuguese people —but most of them are “lone wolves” like Cátia Serrão and Daniel Lima. There are “wolves” full of persons inside them, such as Tiago Manuel, who is likely to surpass Fernando Pessoa with his 25 heteronyms project—last year, his Belgian Marriette Tosel was nominated by the Society of Illustrators! And there’s Paulo Monteiro who, despite his institutional work with Beja’s Comics Library and corresponding comics festival, exhales through the pores of his skin a kind of poetry that deeply impresses foreign publishers—he is the Portuguese author with the most foreign editions of his first and only book!

Internationalization is a recent phenomenon. For a long time, Portuguese artists didn’t join the big party of exchange that was the nineties alternative scene; we felt comfortable and happy eating animal fat and potatoes from the countryside and you had to come to Portugal to have contact with the art being done here. The genius artist creates for himself only and waits for the others to ask to see what he is doing… Of course, he is also moved and feels grateful for the interest shown in his work and for the challenges proposed to him. The seclusion to which he is condemned is, after all, equivalent to the sufferings of Arthur Dent,*** who was, for many years, left alone on an abandoned planet somewhere in the universe.

Actually, the answers to everything I was incapable of writing about Portuguese comics are, in fact, hidden in the wise words Dent mutters to the first intelligent creature that appears in front of him during those years of exile, Bowerick Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. I quote: Whh...? Bu...hu...uh ... Ru...ra...wah...who?

*Quotes from the The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa.
**Kiala is an Angolan university professor of Sociology, residing between Lisbon and Belfast, and one of the cofounders of Mesinha de Cabeceira, a zine and “think tank” of Lisbon’s underground scene during the nineties.
***Attention! We’re now entering the zone of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

Marcos Farrajota works at Bedeteca de Lisboa (the Lisbon comics library). Since 1992 he has been publishing the zine Mesinha de Cabeceira and books of Portuguese and international artists in Chili Com Carne and MMMNNNRRRG labels. His work is published in the form of comics, articles and comics scripts, in zines, magazines, anthologies and solo books all around Europe.

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