April 18, 2017

Interview with Javi Cuho

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Where does this project come from? Is it usual a short-story collection structure in the comic world?

JAVI CUHO: Las horas perdidas comes from the idea of recovering different short stories that were already written and just waiting for an opportunity in a drawer. I do not know whether a structure like this can be regarded as usual in the comic world, but other examples come to my mind, such as Osamu Tezuka’s Under the Air (“Kuuki no Soko”).[1]

SGF: Why did you choose this title?

JC: There is a certain irony behind it. When I was writing the stories I was thinking that they would never ever see daylight and, therefore, I was losing my time—though things did not turn out this way, eventually.

SGF: Regarding you are a writer, not an illustrator, why are your texts always published in no other literary formats than comic books?

JC: I am a fan of comics as well as an inveterate supporter of this wonderful means of storytelling. I just love it and cannot think of any better way of explaining my stories.

SGF: If there is any common denominator amongst the four stories, it is (in my viewpoint) the impossibility that the lovers face to reach complete happiness in their couple relationships, for different reasons each. Would you say that this is your personal belief? Is this idea constant in the rest of your work?

JC: This is an interesting reflection. I believe in couple relationships, and human relationships in general; they are recurring topics in my work. No matter if the story is set in our times or a fantastic world, this is an issue that I am crazy about and always return to, one way or another. In all my stories there is a certain melancholic, somehow bittersweet air which has to do with my personality; looking to the future optimistically, but inclined to turn my head so as to remember my past.

SGF: From the first story to the last one, there is a journey from a tragic story to more hopeful ones. Was there any intention to leave a good impression on the reader with this order?

JC: No, there was not. The story order came up quite naturally. Although they are not chronologically ordered, “La solución final” was the last story that I wrote and always conceived as the last one.

SGF: What was so alluring in the Nazi Germany pictured in “Balada para mi muerte” so that you decided to set a homosexual love story in a period like that?

JC: It all came from the figure of Marlene Dietrich and the story behind the song “Lili Marleen.” The rest, such as the characters and events in “Balada para mi muerte,” were evoked by the story of this topic.

SGF: Geert represents absolute unconditional love, though a kind of starry-eyed. However, Colton shows that he is not worthy of, frightened by social and political reasons. According to you, is Geert the model of the proper lover, or is he rather blind?

JC: I see Geert entailing a fascinating duality: on the one hand, he embodies the idealization of unreal love but, at the same time, the most realistic vision of the heartbreak that you feel when the one that you deeply love just does not merit it.

SGF: At first sight, “Dos+1” seems the most lighthearted story of the comic book. Curiously enough, it may be the most appealing one to discuss. Here, a somehow bored homosexual couple decides to change their sexual routine by having a threesome. What is your opinion about such a controversial topic?

JC: Who am I to judge a thing like this? Jove forbid! [Laughs.] The important thing is that everybody should pursue their own happiness. Thus, if a couple is happy in an open relationship or having a threesome, as long as the one does not hurt or cheat on the other, so be it! However it may be, I am not intending to defend anything with this story.

SGF: It is Óscar the one proposing the threesome idea since it was a tip that he learnt from television. To what extent do you think that we are determined by advertising messages nowadays?

JC: I think that we all are conditioned by our environment and its pressure on us. In the case of César and Óscar, the television message is just a thinly veiled excuse to try something that they both are attracted to and did not dare to confess.

SGF: In “La promesa,” my favorite story, you focus your attention on a topic that—if I am not wrong—is rarely mentioned in homosexual comics: the gay elderly. Regarding that you were a writer in your twenties back then, what led you to this issue? May the reader suspect the beginning of a love story between Jaime and his nurse Héctor in the last panel?

JC: Thanks, it is one of my favorite stories too. I felt a special, once-in-a-lifetime magic when I was writing it. The elderly issue has always concerned me, especially in the LGBT context. I have always wanted to return to it in a future project. The story ending is open to the reader’s interpretation. Who knows what this pair is doing now! [Laughs.]

SGF: Do you think that Jaime and Ígor could be friends if the latter found out that his father Esteban had cheated on his mother with Jaime? Or, do you think that the son does suppose that Jaime and his father had had a love affair?

JC: It is an intriguing point. . .But I am afraid that we will never know the answer. [Laughs.]

SGF: In “La solución final” you deal with fears, insecurities and personal frustrations pushed to the limit. Have you ever suffered from insecurity, or even rejection from others, due to your physique, and, like the four friends of this story, considered suicide to put an end to your suffering?

JC: Of course, I have felt insecure because of my physique or other facets concerning me. We do not get out of bed keenly each and every day, so this is not an issue that I am, or have been, immune to. Despite everything, I have never considered suicide as a solution to any of the problems that I have ever had.

SGF: How important is friendship for you?

JC: Friendship is everything to me; besides, you can find it in everyone, including your partner and relatives. I would be nothing without my friends’ love.

SGF: If in “Balada para mi muerte” and “La promesa,” homosexual relationships happen to be troublesome because of social reasons, in “Dos+1” and “La solución final” the affairs of the heart have much more to do with personal, sexual, or psychological issues. Now that the LGBT community is enjoying more freedom and equality of rights with regard to the rest of the population, why do you think that we still make things so complicated?

JC: If you are asking why homosexual people are so complicated to ourselves, I think that the answer is quite easy: we all, homosexual and non-homosexual, are human beings, and human beings are REALLY complicated. [Laughs.]

SGF: Are not gay men made for a monogamous behavior? Or, is fickleness a feature inherent in human nature, regardless sexual orientation?

JC: I believe that emotional monogamy, whatever the relationship may be, is not natural or healthy. Mind the fact that I am talking about emotional monogamy, not only sexual.

SGF: There is a couple pattern repeated in the four stories: the one is taller, stronger (physically) and more protective than the other. With the exception of “Balada para mi muerte,” also the other three couples are interracial, o at least the one’s skin is darker than the other’s. Whose was the idea: the illustrator Andrea Jen’s, or yours?

JC: Andrea and I worked hand in hand on the character design, but this was not something preconceived or agreed in advance. As I do in all my projects, I always inform the illustrator who works with me the way I imagine the characters, but it is the illustrator who always adds the finishing touches and makes them their own in the end.

SGF: How do you like Andrea Jen’s illustrations?

JC: It was a pleasure to work with Andrea. Although we have no plans for a new collaboration, let’s see what the future brings. I would love it myself.

SGF: What are you working on now? Can you tell me about your next projects?

JC: I am working on the sequels of my comics Lost Kingdom and Sandstorm, as well as a new project that I hope it will be taking shape little by little.

[1] A collection of short stories by the “God of Manga” (1928 - 1989) drawn between 1968 and 1970. Supernatural, hard-boiled, mystery, romance, science-fiction and sex (in some of its weirdest ways)—all mixed-up in this rare cocktail. Curiously enough, the protagonist of the first story, “The Execution Ended at Three,” is a SS officer, just like in Las horas perdidas. In my opinion, a flawless work of art.

April 12, 2017

Love Socially

On Javi Cuho & Andrea Jen’s Las horas perdidas (“The Lost Hours”)

Let’s get back a literary genre that here in spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com we just have a weakness for: the comic book. Here you have a yaoi-style collection (published in 2010) of four delightful stories—the index calls them hours—around one of our favorite topics. . .Do you feel it in your fingers?, do you feel it in your toes? Yes! It is L-O-V-E. [Sigh.]

After a short fragment from Federico García Lorca’s downbeat, evocative poem “Meditación bajo la lluvia” (“Meditation in the Rain”) we dive into “Balada para mi muerte” (“Ballad for My Death”), which is the perturbing name of the first story—Hour I. Here, we find ourselves in Germany in the early 1940s. Colton, a rough alcoholic SS officer wearing an eyepatch, is smitten with Geert, a captivating cross-dressed singer in a shitty clandestine cabaret. Colton has wife and children, but Geert falls on deaf ears: he is always willing to share his bed with this horny specimen—

Trouble in paradise: François, a member of the cabaret staff, is also in love with Geert. Like Taylor Swift in “Blank Space,” François gets drunk in jealousy, though his method to get rid of his rival is far away from the Pennsylvanian blonde’s swanky style. One night that Colton is sleeping with Geert in the cabaret, François reports the local to the authorities. The damaging devotee warns Geert and tries to persuade him to leave Colton and run away with him. Nonetheless, Geert stays with his stud when the police enter the stage on cue. What the ambiguous artist might have probably not expected was Colton’s response in this Catch 22 situation: the alpha male hands his wimpy victim over to the police. C’est la vie!

Geert gets sentenced to death because of his unnatural demeanor and, ironically enough, it will be Colton the officer to lead the firing squad. Geert says goodbye to the world by singing “Lili Marleen.”[1] This catchy, lovelorn tune was the song of the moment, and their song too. After the shooting, Colton is getting more monomaniacal by the minute, drinking alcohol while the song is unstoppably echoing in his mind. . .

Miracles happen when you believe—or rather when you are smashed—, and Geert appears in the shape of the perfect angel. His comeback from the beyond aims to declare the obvious thing: he was so passionately attached to Colton, morally superior to him (and the others), that leaves the one-eyed Aryan in the most wretched state in this vale of tears.

Geert was freedom in its purest form. Alas, he finally had to pay dearly for it in an envious, intolerant world. At the end of the story, Colton’s pathetic pursuit to his vanishing lover and his cruel dead end in a rain of feathers entail the icing on this pitiful cake.

Please, do not let this tale snow you over. The next story—Hour II: “Dos+1” (“Two+1”)—is a funny one. Meet Óscar and César in a placid Saturday night in today’s Barcelona. This hot couple is wearing their sexiest thongs in their apartment while waiting for their date. Yes, you have read it right! Following the advice that they heard on TV, a threesome may be a suggestive way to spice up their sexual life, and the chosen third one is a guy that they met on a dating website whose only picture is showing—his cute butt!

It must be said that they start off on the wrong foot: Óscar looks a bit hesitant at first. However, when César tries to phone the anonymous guest to cancel the date, Óscar flatly opposes. Then, César sets out a role-playing game in order to relax and get aroused in the meantime. It lies in imagining a situation in which Óscar is working in the office and welcomes an unexpected provocative visitor played by his frisky partner. His identity? César suggests Dani, the new boy in Óscar’s office that he is talking about lately. All of a sudden, his companion loses his temper: this boy has recently become a pain in Óscar’s ass. (He also does not seem to approve Dani’s drug abuse). Wrong choice, indeed. A quick change of strategy leads César to pull a big black dildo out of the couch cushion. Yet again, Óscar is not excited at all, and he is about to throw in the towel when the doorbell rings. . .

In the wink of an eye, Óscar hides in the bathroom while César opens the door. In César’s view, the website boy happens to be a delicious blond guy in scarce tight clothes. For Óscar, he turns to be the most unpredicted dread. When César goes for Óscar into his hiding place, the latter confesses that the guy is the so called Dani!! What can they do? Óscar does not want to have sex with a coworker, but Dani is sooooo sexy tonight. Once again, César has an idea: he persuades Dani to get his eyes blindfolded as a game. This way, Dani cannot recognize Óscar—though his voice sounds familiar to him—and the three of them can therefore have a great time smoothly.

Dani starts the party by displaying his XL dick. Bad move: Óscar and César argue about who is going to be the first one to ride it. Dani is getting bored. He stands up. . .and falls abruptly on the table. What happens?, ask Óscar and César in their most petrified mode. A doctor from the emergency room will give them the answer: Dani has had an overdose (too many exciting pills for one night), but he is out of danger now. And this visit to the hospital brings an end to the sassy experiment.

You might be thinking that César and Óscar have already learnt the lesson, but right this moment Óscar recalls another tip from TV: fetishism. And the charming bearded doctor is in a stunningly white medical uniform. . .  

We leave all this vaudeville behind and get into Hour III. “La promesa” (“The Promise”) is probably the most beautiful story of the collection. Barcelona, December 25, 1970. At dawn, two long-haired gorgeous men have to say goodbye after spending all night long making love in a room of the inn “Flor de Loto” (“Lotus Flower”). The blond one is sorry about the nuisance of waiting for next year to meet his better half again. But a promise is a promise. . .

Time flies and we are now in 2010. In a retirement home the old folks are enjoying a Christmas Eve party while the new nurse, Héctor, is anxiously checking his cell phone every so often. His boss Gloria tells him off, but there is an explanation for this behavior: Héctor’s inflexible boyfriend Luis is giving him an ultimatum.

By the end of the night almost all the presents have been given. There is still one waiting under the tree, and the label reads: “Jaime.” Who is this Jaime? The young blond man that we met in that hotel room forty years ago, who has turned into a sulky, lonely resident. It will not be long before Héctor and Jaime become friends. Jaime tells him about the dark-haired, blue-eyed enigmatic man, Esteban, and how they became lovers when they were young and met every summer holidays. . .until they grew up.

Some time later they come across on one Christmas Eve. They are adults now, but the feeling is still the same. They promise to meet every Christmas Eve, and they will for the next 30 years. The first scene that we have mentioned above was the last time they met; in 1971 Esteban did not swing by the inn. No explanation. Due to the fact that they had to be cautious (Esteban had wife and children, and Spain in the early 1970s was not the most suitable place to come out—Well, I guess no place was good in those days), Jaime had no data about Esteban: no address, no phone number. But Jaime’s unyielding will compelled him to book in the inn every Christmas Eve and wait for Esteban in the same old room. It was useless; Esteban dropped in never.

Tonight Jaime is particularly uneasy. This will be the first time that he does not make his appearance in the inn: the doctor does not allow him to leave the institution. Never mind. Héctor, touched by his words, will help Jaime leave the place secretly and go to his yearned locus amoenus.

When they arrive, things are definitely different. “La Flor de Loto” closed down months ago and there is a show girls club instead. A helpless Jaime, angry with himself, is resolved to surrender and drops in the snow the only picture of Esteban that he has been keeping all these years. And this is the key moment when Fate lends one of Its mighty hands. Just when Jaime and Héctor are about to leave the place, an odd bearded cross-dressed prostitute who picked up the wrinkled picture identifies Esteban as the man who was there not long ago. The prostitute also tells them that he suggested him the train station inn to spend the night.

As quirky as it sounds, Jaime recovers his young years’ strength and runs like the devil towards the station. Héctor can’t hardly follow him! There, Jaime looks everywhere and yells Esteban ceaselessly. Of course, such behavior attracts the security guards’ attention, and when they are taking him out, a man calls Jaime. Our desperate friend instantly recognizes him as Esteban. However, the guy looks too young to be his missing lover. So weird—There is an explanation after all: this is not Esteban but his son Ígor. He promised his father before he died to find Jaime and give him a letter. OK, but why was Esteban absent since 1971? Sadly, he suffered an accident which left him disabled. My goodness!

Now that Jaime has solved all the mysteries around his soulmate, he has nothing to do in Barcelona and that gloomy institution. He is determined to buy a little house on the beach and live there for the rest of his life. This was their dream. Jaime talks Héctor into becoming his personal nurse. Héctor’s continuation in the nursing home is rather unlikely regarding his demeanor tonight, and Luis has just broken up by text, so. . .what would you do if you were in Héctor’s shoes? A bright Christmas sunrise seems to smile at the two of them.

Now the clock strikes Hour IV, and we reach the last story: “La solución final” (“The Final Solution”). Four friends (Miguel, Julián, Pablo and Rafa) are spending an evening on the beach. It seems a joyful event at first glance. Actually, they have met to commit suicide. Why? According to their speeches, they are not particularly happy with their own lives. The four of them have different physical imperfections which have made them socially rejected anyhow. They feel so bitter that even call one another by the cruel nicknames that people use for them. The plan is to drink all at once a poisonous potion provided by Rafa, who is a chemist, at the end of the day. However, Miguel is so itchy and disgusted that swallows it all of a sudden. Then, his friends are compelled to drink after him. As this is their last night alive, they are determined to have fun drinking vodka and swimming naked in the sea.

At daybreak we find the four bodies lying on the sand beach. All dead? Not yet, as they start to wake up. . .Not all of them: Julián does not open his eyes. Miguel starts panicking, and when Julián finally wakes up Miguel inevitably confesses his caring love for his friend. Besides, Pablo receives a phone call announcing that he has got a part. At last! Pablo was working as an accountant, but his real dream was becoming a professional actor. Still, he had always been turned down because of his obesity.

Things run smoothly this new morning. Does anyone remember the potion? The four pass out and fall on the sand right away. This is the end? No way! A little playful boy with angel wings wakes Julián up with the help of his water gun. Confused, Julián wonders whether he is in heaven now.

Rafa stands alone by the seashore. Julián asks him for an explanation. At the last minute Rafa saw things clearly, and the potion that he handed them was not poison. Rafa understood that they had one another after all, and their friendship was too important so as to kill themselves. Life is hard, but not so much with the love of your friends. And they happily hug one another and get into the sea on this shiny brand-new day: their new birthday.

We find a leitmotif in Las horas perdidas: Society plays an influential role in the four stories. Colton relied heavily on a political regime in which he took part and, after realizing it is making him unhappy, finally wanted to escape; Óscar and César decide to improve their sexual life by following a trend; Jaime and Esteban had to live their love story apart from society, and others’ opinions have conditioned the four friends so much that they have lived miserably so far. If there is a key message that the author Javi Cuho (Barcelona, 1981) seems to teach us, it is that the only way to Happyland is by releasing yourself from social impositions and trying to follow your own drives, beliefs and feelings. Look at that!

As this is a comic book, the touchy, sentimental texts by Cuho are wonderfully illustrated by Andrea Jen. Her sensibility, sense of humor and attention to detail are really praiseworthy. We would like to highlight her character design in some examples:
o   The sweet delicacy of Geert
o   César with his saucy leather belt necklace
o   The (extremely) romantic charm of Esteban, and
o   Jaime as an old-but-still-sexy man

Also her polished style gets Super Deformed sometimes, providing a really wisecracking atmosphere that reaches its peak in “Dos+1,” when depicting César and Óscar’s never-ending, almost schizophrenic changes of mind. Doubtlessly, Jen’s contribution to this comic makes the read a priceless experience.

[1] One of the most famous songs of the 20th century, and a total hymn for the World War II soldiers. Lale Andersen was the first lady to record it, but a huge amount of varied singers has made their versions since then (Connie Francis, Amanda Lear, Spanish singer Marta Sánchez, and a long et cetera), though we can firmly state that the most mesmerizing one was superb Marlene Dietrich’s.

November 8, 2016

Interview with Hecheres Beltrán

Here in spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com we appreciate the honesty displayed by the author of Billete de ira y vuelta, Hecheres Beltrán (Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1978). Considering his words, writing the novel must have been a way to exorcise demons from the past. We hope that the reader who is suffering or has suffered from bullying pays close attention to this interview, as it is the speech of someone who was a victim and is now recovered from all that emotional pain. In sum, an inspiring story.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Up to what point can you say that Billete de ira y vuelta is an autobiographical novel?

HECHERES BELTRÁN: This novel is full of autobiographical elements, but not entirely. I was a bullying victim myself, hence my need to tell a story connected to this subject. In my case, and in the time that I had to suffer from bullying, it was shame that made me conceal from my people what was happening to me.

SGF: Do you feel that there is much contemporary LGBT literature on school bullying, or is your novel one of the few examples?

HB: School bullying is a social issue rather recently regarded. In the past, bullying was disguised by adults responsible as things that kids come up with. Not until the people who have undergone it could tell the consequences that this abuse causes has society become aware of the magnitude of the problem. From my point of view, the visibility that has come from the popularization of the internet, where every kind of cases and experiences has been shown and/or denounced, has played an essential role as well.
It is also necessary to make clear that bullying is a problem that affects us all, since it can come from any given circumstance: race, gender, physique, sexual orientation, etc. I do believe that there is much literature on several of these circumstances, but literature on gay bullying may be scarce due to the fact that LGBT visibility is a rather new thing too. There have always been different sexual orientations, but their integration and normalization in society are still in progress, therefore it is reasonable that there are not many books on this subject.

SGF: How much do you understand Javier’s outlook and reactions?

HB: I totally understand his outlook because his experiences are based on my own ones, and his feelings are taken from what I was feeling in those days. The only thing that distances me from the character is his anger, since some time ago I left it behind and forgave everyone who hurt me. It is not healthy to keep all those hard feelings inside yourself. Hate will never let you be happy; I understood it once, and carried out an amazing acceptance exercise that made me get rid of negative feelings which did not lead to anything good.

SGF: What role does Billete de ira y vuelta play in your work?

HB: For the moment I can say that every one of my books is a world. They are dissimilar to one another, and largely due to my constant attitude to learn new things. I like getting into different genres, learning their ins and outs in order to produce, with varying degrees of success, the stories that strike me later. None of them is my number one; they all are important parts of my life and witnesses to my internal process (maturing), and external process (style polishing).

SGF: What does Madrid mean to a Spanish young gay small town boy?

HB: Freedom. Eclecticism. Diversity. Learning.

SGF: After witnessing the father’s homophobic attack against Javier, the mother asks her husband whether he must be hiding something. What did you mean by that?

HB: Fear is a very difficult thing to explain, as it is a very primeval instinct which has helped us keep alive for a long time. But homophobia is not the only fear, there are many others, such as, in this case, the need to give an explanation to the mistreatment that a father metes out to his own son before a frightened mother’s very eyes; the demand for an answer to such behavior towards the one who is supposed to be your main, absolute priority. That is what I meant.

SGF: When the novel seems to lean towards the romantic genre, it suddenly takes a turn and dives into the thriller chasm. I would even dare to say the horror chasm. Would you say that your novel affirms the idea that violence only begets violence? Could it be said that Javier is a monster created by abusers such as Rayco, Alejandro, or his own father?

HB: While I was writing, I bore in mind references such as the film PacificHeights (1990); those stories seeming to lead one direction and then turning the whole thing around. Also Psycho (1960), for instance: a movie about a theft at first, and then a psychopath shows up in an astonishing twist which everybody knows. I wanted to produce something like that; that is the germ of the plot structure in Billete de ira y vuelta.
From my viewpoint, violence does only beget violence. And resentment, hatred and every kind of worthless, unwholesome feelings. But above all, the novel intends to reflect the avenging feeling, which beats inside us even though we are not aware (or we do not want to be), and blows up with certain triggers. That is why the protagonist eventually behaves like his attackers.

SGF: If you were in Javier’s shoes, would you accept the mother’s invitation, or would you flatly refuse to set foot in there again?

HB: I have been in Javier’s shoes [Laughs]. I gave life to him and suffered a lot with him. This novel was the beginning of a cathartic process in which I gave up negative feelings, as I have already said. You need to be at peace with the past, and it may take a long time to achieve this. You must accept invitations when you are ready to face what may happen when you stir up the past. Although you never can tell what is going to happen, feel up to find out at least; otherwise the situation can get worse. In answer to your question, regarding the way that Javier is presented in the novel, no, I would not.

SGF: It is understandable that Javier distrusts Manuel at first. Do you think that it is possible to fall in love with someone who took part in your humiliations? Can you come to forgive so much?

HB: You can forgive even more than that. Fortunately, love is mightier than any other feeling. I believe that this can truly happen, otherwise I would have not written it.

SGF: When he was a child, Javier explained his teacher the abuse that he was suffering and she tried to play it down. I feel that many teachers have acted and go on acting like this. Why do you think that they act this way?

HB: The answer is similar to the one that I have given before: there was no bullying awareness in the past. “There have always been bullies; they will get over it when they grow up,” this is what people used to think. But nobody spoke about the consequences that you could suffer after being bullied. Until today. In my opinion, teachers must pay attention to this kind of things and act accordingly. An attitude of looking the other way and downplaying is not only a mistake: it is similar to non-assistance to a person in danger.

SGF: What is your opinion about the current situation? Do you think that they are really applying zero-tolerance policy in Spanish primary and secondary schools?

HB: I feel that we still do not give it the importance that it deserves; not only in Spain, but worldwide. If we did, there would be no bullied children’s suicides, for example. But I think that now we are aware of the fact that it is a problem and it must be main objective in the country’s education policy.

SGF: Regarding the quote by Balzac which you end the novel with (“In revenge, the weakest one is always the fiercest”),[1] would you say that Javier was the weakest one in the story? His revenge is dreadful—

HB: Exactly. Javier was the weakest among his classmates, who did not act individually but as a group. And the weaker you feel in humiliation and under threat, the more destructive your revenge will be.

SGF: The Canary Islands mean to many gay people, both Spanish and foreign, a vacation spot or even a place of residence. How true is this image of a gay-friendly place?

HB: The Canaries (just as the rest of Spain) has changed too much in this sense in the last 30 years. The novel is written upon the memories that I have from what I lived when I went to school, at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s. But the current situation is the same; they publicize gay-friendly tourism not only for economic reasons, but also because the islanders have become more tolerant. Even in big cities such as Madrid there are homophobic assaults these days, therefore it is not a problem localized in a community, but globally.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects about?

HB: I keep writing, of course; it is a basic need for me. However, I am a kind of superstitious and never like talking about unfinished projects. Call it a writer’s habit.

[1] This is the original French version: “Dans la vengeance, le plus faible est toujours le plus féroce.”

November 1, 2016

Pay Back in Anger

On Hecheres Beltrán’s Billete de ira y vuelta (“Rage Trip Ticket”)[1]

The protagonist of this 2008 novel is Javier, a young gay man from the Canary Islands living in Madrid for the last ten years who accepts his mother’s invitation to visit hometown for some days. At first blush, you may think that it will be a lovely personal event for the sonny. Well. . .nothing further from the truth: Javier is actually scared about going back home. Why? Just keep reading—

When he flew to Madrid, Javier left behind a history of abuse by his classmates. In primary school, he had to suffer Rayco’s cruel mistreatment; in secondary education, it was Alejandro the source of all evil. (Things have been developed as expected for these two scummy bullies: at present Rayco is involved in an issue about minors used as drug dealers, and behind Alejandro’s dazzling façade—he got married for money—the perfect example of an inveterate cheater is hiding.)

In addition to this, Javier’s family was not particularly empathetic towards him. His siblings hardly paid attention to him; when they did, it was hell. Moreover, his father used to hit him and insult him, calling Javier fag all the time, and griping that his son did not act as a regular boy.

Since Javier’s memories are full of abuse situations, both physical and psychological, he currently undergoes hard consequences: Javier is claustrophobic (a pretty bad feeling when taking a plane, or even the subway; that is to say, when trying to pop out with total freedom); besides, he distrusts people, what prevents him from socializing naturally.

But not everything goes wrong for Javier. Dancing and swimming meant a new lease on his life in Madrid, and now Javier has become a good-looking man, far from the image of fatty campy nerd from his past.

For his surprise, revisiting the island helps Javier live three awesome meetings:
·       First, his joyful reunion with Muriel, a good-natured Argentinean woman settled in the Canaries who had (unsuccessfully) tried to become Javier’s close friend: for the record, she was the first person who took him into a gay bar;
·       Secondly, his brother Sebastián, now grown into a gay-friendly straight man under his girlfriend’s decisive influence (she has a gay brother herself);
·       And last but not least, Manuel, a former classmate who made Javier sing the blues in primary school, but now he has become a hot surfer mad about Javier the very moment that he takes a look on our visiting hero.

Nonetheless, evil boils over in the sizzling festive atmosphere on the black-sanded beaches of the Fortunate Isles, and so Javier himself will check out that homophobia is a tightly rooted concept in not only town residents’ minds, but also a few of his own relatives’—some things are painfully impossible to change.

Javier’s response to the sudden end of what might have supposed a beautiful love story turns into another pretty darker thing. Whether Javier acts fairly or not, justifiably or not—it is up to the reader’s view. I just want to say that I find hard to remember any other novel’s grim, sore, harrowing conclusion such as this.

This disconcerting narration by Hecheres Beltrán means an impressive depiction about the tragic effects of one of the most dangerous plagues of our time. Sadly, bullying is not new: there have been lots of LGBT people enduring abuse and humiliation (in school, at home, etc.) throughout history. Nobody should turn a blind eye on this social problem, and reading Beltráns book is an excellent means of consciousness-raising.

[1] The original Spanish title is a play on words: the author puns on the terms ira (“anger”) and ida (“departure”), altering the usual expression billete de ida y vuelta (“round-trip ticket”) for just one consonant. Thus, we could not find any other translation better than the one proposed.

August 8, 2016

Interview with José Carlos Andrés

Please join us to celebrate a party where the center of attention is not the birthday child this time, but the clown: José Carlos Andrés (Madrid, 1969) has talked to us about his book Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown, as well as his experience as a clown and storyteller, his social vindications, the new kinds of families, or the importance of education for children.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Is Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown your first experience in LGBT literature? Where does the project come from? How familiar are you with the LGBT universe?

JOSÉ CARLOS ANDRÉS: In my view, the story Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown can be labeled (labeling is so exhausting!) as children’s literature. However, there is a potential audience that I would like to aim at: the grown-ups, since the children—if not swayed by their adults—do not question same-sex parenting families.
The story came from the need to introduce to every audience the existence of other types of families, and there are only a few key things about them: love, affection and respect.
That is why the story begins with something that I have been claiming for years: a polite use of vocabulary in our society. Why is clown pejorative, and not lawyer? Are some professions more respectable than others? And, are traditional families more respectable than the others? I want the readers, no matter their age, to enjoy my stories, but also question things at the same time.
Regarding my familiarity with the LGBT universe, I must say that this is part of my life and my culture.

SGF: Why is it published as a bilingual book? Did you intend to cross borders with this book? If that is the case, do you know how it has been accepted abroad?

JCA: Publishing the text in English and Spanish was a decision of Nube Ocho, a publishing house very committed to diversity themes. When same-sex marriage was legalized in Chile, its administration purchased a big amount of Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown books, interested in the portrait of a same-sex parenting family. It is also selling pretty well in Mexican bookstores. Yes, the text is bilingual, but it is actually succeeding in Spanish-speaking countries.

SGF: And what about Spain? Is Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown highly-regarded? Did you expect more of it?

JCA: I know, and the publishing house also knew, that this is not the kind of book that conquers the market. But it was necessary, and the fact that we are right now talking about the story is a sign of this. You could hear good reviews on the story even on a very conservative radio station! This is not a best seller, but the people who have read it say good things about it.

SGF: The story depicts a same-sex parenting family. As far as I know, you use to dramatize your books, so you can see the audience reaction before your very eyes. How does this story use to be accepted? Is there any difference when it is an adult audience instead of children?

JCA: This is a very good question! When I have told this tale I have found a wide range of responses in adults—“Not suitable for children!!”—. From satisfied faces to expressions denoting: “What am I doing here?”
But this is our society. I am not surprised, that is true; I knew what was going to follow after telling this story: for children, this is a nice story, with some funny situations, but for some parents—phew! They had some trouble.
The best thing that happens many times is that, after finishing the storytelling, lots of people come to me and give thanks for it: mothers, fathers. . .EVEN GRANNIES AND GRANDPAS! Something is changing. We are doing something well.

SGF: Is children’s LGBT literature important to you? Do you think that we give importance enough to LGBT education for children in Spain?

JCA: Literature is the most important thing to me: it is my job, my vice and my vocation.
I think that we must not use the LGBT literature for children label. It is literature for children dealing about certain issues—Normal issues such as death, divorce or same-sex parenting families. These issues are still all taboo for many people. However, these issues do exist, and children need that we talk about them.

SGF: Would you highlight any LGBT work for children that you like, or even used as a reference in Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown?

JCA: There are two wonderful illustrated books in which two women fall in love, or there are families of two fathers and two mothers: La princesa Li / Princess Li and El lapicero mágico / The Magic Pencil, by Luis Amavisca.[1]

SGF: Do you believe, as you say in the book, that doctors and clowns are “the most necessary professions in the world”?

JCA: Of course I do! “One heals the body and the other heals the soul.” Although there is another group left: teachers.
In this little story there are many vindications: love in the family, love between two men, opposition to the use of certain words with offensive purposes, dignifying and valuing a profession that our society considers minor (or even worse!), love for a vocation that is your job—I have gone overboard!! [Laughs]
My father was born in 1920; my mother, in 1925. They did not understand that I could proudly say that I was a clown. For them, I was a teacher (that is also true), but a clown—
Saving lives and making people laugh, along with educating children, that is what our society needs. We all know people who have lots of money, but no education. And without health or happiness, what is the use of money?

SGF: There is an intention to dignify the profession of clown throughout the story. To what extent do you think that this occupation, your occupation, is still denigrated? In your case, have you ever felt the need to defend your vocation against contempt or criticism?

JCA: In the story I explain how hard being a clown is. Day after day you need to study, rehearse, shape up. . .Like a doctor. Like a teacher. Like an aeronautical engineer. Why are some more highly regarded than others? Is it a question of salary?
A first team soccer player works hard physically for twenty years in his lifetime, more or less. Then he retires. The best clowns reach their peak in their forties (wonderful exceptions aside).
And of course I have had to stand up for being a clown against many people, but that is because not everybody knows my profession or is sensitive enough or wants to understand the huge effort behind being a clown.

SGF: Is there any autobiographical note in the story, beyond the fact that one of the characters is a clown?

JCA: Unfortunately not. It is just fiction.

SGF: The boy’s final decision (becoming a doctor wearing a clown nose when he grows up) reminded me of the true story reflected in the film Patch Adams,[2] starring the late Robin Williams. Did the film or the story it was based on have any influence when writing the book?

JCA: I love Robin. I say it in present tense, since he will always be alive, but I do not think that his film had any direct influence on me, apart from the fact that, when you are writing, every single thing that you have lived, read, seen or heard leaves a trace that you use in the creative moment.
I wrote the story because I wanted to talk about a boy living with two fathers who are in love. That is all. The rest just came up.

SGF: And what about the illustrations by Natalia Hernández? Did you two previously discuss the style, or did she work freely? For instance, why the exclusive use of colors red, black and white throughout the book, or the fact that the three main characters are bald?

JCA: Natalia’s work was coordinated by Nube Ocho, I had nothing to do with it. But when they sent me the sketching—I LOVED IT ALL!!
There is a very nice story about the colors: In 2007 I set up my clown & theater company, El Clan del Clown, and my friend Joseph Sylvestre, from 1024pixels.com designed its awesome website (he also designed my own website). He chose the company colors—a marketing issue that I was ignorant of—: white (from the whiteface clown), red (the most typical color of the clown), and black (usual to outline contours and the clown’s eyes). And then I found that Mi papá es un payaso / Mi Dad Is a Clown shared the same colors. THAT WAS MAGIC.
I guess that the fact that both dads are bald is because baldness is sexy, natural and sweet, isn’t it? Or just most boys’ fate! [Laughs]

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your next projects?

JCA: I can tell you, secretly and exclusively, that I am focused on creating stories for illustrated books. Two new books will be released this year. And for next year there are two more projects.
Not big deal, but I tell you for sure that it makes me happy. Really happy. Like a clown in a party balloon store.

[1] Both bilingual books are also published by Nube Ocho.
[2] Patch Adams (1998), directed by Tom Shadyac. Based on the real story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a revolutionary doctor who founded the Gesundheit! Institute, a project of reforming health care system by complementary therapies, in which the concept of “humanitarian clowning” plays a key role. The film was an astounding box-office success in its time.

August 1, 2016

My Funny Medicine Man

On José Carlos Andrés & Natalia Hernández’s Mi papá es un payaso / My Dad Is a Clown

This time in spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com we are happy to take into consideration a range of audience that we have disregarded so far: the children.

This delicious bilingual book published in 2013 tells the story of a little boy and his two fathers. The one is a doctor, and the other is a clown. They have explained the child that they two are really important to society: the one heals the body, and the other heals the soul.

The boy is still too young to be sure of what he wants to be when he grows up. He first ponders on becoming a spy, and persuades his Daddy Doctor to tail Daddy Clown just for one day. This way, the boy will find out the huge effort that Daddy Clown needs to make so as to result in an excellent work. He spends a lot of time working out in the gym, and that is just for starters; later in the theater, hours of rehearsal to tweak his performing arts. Andrés highlights a professional clown’s hard training: long sessions of practicing to make his gags perfect and get the audience’s loudest guffaw.

Enthusiastic about Daddy Clown’s job, the little boy has resolved that when he grows up he will be a doctor wearing a red sponge clown nose, making doctor visits fun so that kids may get rid of their usual apprehension. This final choice, the blending between medicine and comedy, can just be taken as a fine example of the 1st class moral, human, altruistic values that parents—whether straight or gay—could use to raise their children.

José Carlos Andrés portrays an affectionate same-sex parenting family with no particular trouble regarding social inclusion; also the boy—or any of his classmates—does not feel odd at all about having two fathers instead of the traditional father-and-mother pattern. We certainly know that we are dealing with a book for children: straightforwardness is supposed to be the name of the game, and things must be presented in a mild, agreeable way—that would be a simple reading to us. In fact, we believe that this book is the perfect illustration of one of the greatest achievements of our time: a homosexual couple raising a child is not viewed as a problem in an urban society in a developed country, so there is no need to demonstrate, persuade, convince, or argue about. Things seem definitely okay.

As is often the case with children’s literature, this charming story is illustrated, with sweet, rare, loving cartoonish pictures by artist Natalia Hernández.

July 11, 2016

The Private Parts of a Private Eye

On Iván Babiano’s La Serpiente Arco Iris (“The Rainbow Serpent”)

Felisa Karr, the private detective that author Iván Babiano introduced to the readers in this 2007 novel, has a different story. Quite a girly beauty, no particular tough appearance, pretty meticulous in respect of her wardrobe, having a soft spot for the color white (a feature that makes her the most dazzling, glamorous PI in Madrid)—Felisa’s female perceptive touch makes her unbeatable in her job.

A series of helpers support Miss Karr in her investigations. Among them, an old bookstore owner, aged Hindu Yhajaira, stands out in this adventure as the cultivated interpreter of the ‘rainbow serpent’ symbol. Felisa also enjoys the assistance of the usual detective’s secretary—a kind of gossipy in this case.

So. . .What makes Felisa’s story so exceptional? Let me tell you her biggest secret. Please lend your ear—: Felisa is actually a transgender detective.

In La Serpiente Arco Iris, the author focuses on the investigation revolving around the murder of Leandro, Lean, the partner of Felisa’s Irish client, Robert Mitch (a nod to the male lead in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter?).[1] Mr. Mitch found Lean’s body home. The corpse signs suggested that the poor fellow had been brutally attacked and raped by several men. Karr finds suspicious the presence of several tattoos throughout Lean’s skin representing a rainbow snake eating itself, a clue about something that even her client himself is hiding. . .Later Felisa will find out that Lean and Robert had an open relationship, and the two of them were regular patrons in La Serpiente Arco Iris.

La Serpiente Arco Iris is a night club chain spread all around the world, with a clear target audience: committed gay men. Committed to—what, you ask? Committed to the society’s own rules. In fact, this is the cover for a cult consisting of a close circle of homosexuals that have bareback sex among their members only in order to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. They found out that Lean had broken the rule the moment he fell in love with someone unconnected with the society, so they decided to eliminate him.[2]

During her inquiries, Felisa will unfortunately need the help of the police. I say unfortunately, as she should meet again some former colleagues from her not so distant young years as a policeman, from inveterate homophobe, unpleasant sexist Lt. Ramón Díaz, to a more delightful reunion: Ángel (the name fits like a glove), an attractive workmate who was always nice to her.

Given that passing herself off as a man is the only means to enter the society and solve the mystery, Felisa will get her long blonde hair cut, and hide her oversized breast. This way, our classy heroine will have to face her old times’ hardest facet: the memory of Felipe Carrillo—her previous self before she decided to look like a woman on the outside.

At the end of the book, Felisa Karr not only seems to have overcome her unhappiest, most traumatic episodes after making peace with her past, but you can also have the feeling that she has made the ultimate resolution on sex reassignment surgery.

The most interesting aspect in Babiano’s book may be the portrait of the sleuth rather than the plot, extremely typical and weak in terms of suspense. A key point in this kind of literary genre is the surprising final twist; here, the villain’s identity is obvious from their very first appearance. Anyway, it is nice to walk hand in hand throughout the narration with Miss Felisa Karr, probably the sweetest, most charming private investigator in Spanish fiction. Anyone would be pleased to be a friend of hers—or take a spicier step forward!

[1] This is not the only cinematographic reference in the book: when Felisa ran into her transgender prostitute friend, its depiction is quite similar to the moment when Manuela (Cecilia Roth) met La Agrado (Antonia San Juan) again after many years in Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (original title: Todo sobre mi madre). Also the atmosphere in the night club reminds of the mysterious private party that Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) attended in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
[2] Regarding the fact that we are dealing with an organization aimed to protect their members from sexual diseases, it is hard to understand why they condomlessly rape the individual who has had sex with someone outside the society. . .