November 23, 2014

Interview with Sebas Martín

Sebas Martín (Barcelona, 1961), the author of Aún estoy en ello, has talked to about his work, same-sex marriage, comics, politics, love, sex, life, and so on. I will always appreciate this plentiful, interesting interview he has granted.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: What did you do the day of the same-sex marriage law approval? Did you live a huge celebration on the streets such as Salva and his friends do in Aún estoy en ello?

SEBAS MARTÍN: Almost… I was somewhat less expressive, but I do remember me and my circle of old friends joining for a home dinner to celebrate it. Along came institutional and associational events I was invited to, where we all congratulated one another. It was a great day and a great achievement for people like me, who still had experienced the customs of the Francoist regime in its death throes: peepholed-door gay clubs, social dangerousness law, and so on. I have no intention to get married (at least for now, LOL), but the right to do so puts me on the same level than the others.

SGF: The final sentence of your comic is: “After all, it did seem things were changing…” Nine years (it seems like it was just yesterday!) after the same-sex marriage law approval, do you really think things have already changed? Is there still a lot to do?

SM: Things have changed because laws have to be like the mirror of the current society. Firstly, a law must make a righteous deed legal, and then it is a matter of time that society in general makes it normal. Let me paraphrase my own comic and say: we're still on it. While it is true that the LGBT fact can be seen as something ordinary in the big cities (a law considering homophobia as a crime has just been approved in Barcelona), you cannot say the same in the question of smaller cities or rural communities. And these rights are, apparently, in constant danger of being abolished. We must not forget that one of the election promises of the PP[1] during their last campaign was to abolish same-sex marriage. There are still not only pending issues, but we also cannot drop our guard about the work done.

SGF: I am totally ignorant about the status of the Spanish gay-themed comic domestically… Is it a rising value? Do you have multitude of followers? Or is it a minority, selective audience?

SM: The number of followers is constantly increasing, though it is still for minorities as it may be considered a genre comic. The problem with gay comics is the same as mainstream comics. In Spain, the comic has always been considered a second-rate literary genre, and it was only until very recently that it has attracted attention from the world of culture. If a comic book artist is like a pariah (sorry for the comparison) in the literary creation world, then a gay-themed comic book artist is a female pariah. However, I cannot complain: While it is true my target audience is more limited than others, it is also really devoted.

SGF: And how does the Spanish gay comic work beyond our borders? In your case, are you an internationally-recognized author?

SM: The places where comics work best are, generally, French-speaking countries, since they consider comics a very important part of their culture. However, it is also true that these countries are suffering a wave of conservatism, and that does not help too much if you are gay-themed work author. Regarding the Spanish gay comic abroad, it is almost completely unknown. Well, I would even dare to leave out ’almost’. I think some work by Nazario[2] was translated long time ago to some other language, but I have no news about more Spanish gay-themed comic authors having their work translated (I may be wrong, anyway). I think Ismael Álvarez and David Cantero[3] have done something, but I am not sure.
I took my first steps internationally---with modest results, I must confess. Some of my work has been translated into French, English, German, and Italian. Eve my contribution to the comic album Historia de Sitges ("The Sitges Story"), which was Machos al sol ("Machos in the Sun"), was translated into Croation, since I gave the copyrighs to an LGBT association in Croatia for a very underground publication.
In addition, I have been invited to comic conventions in Angoulême and Helsinki, and given lectures in Berlin and Paris, and I am still surprised to be the speaker or guest of honor beyond the Pyrenees.

SGF: In the very first pages of Aún estoy en ello we can see a manifestation against gay marriage, where you portrayed a series of characters, all of them representing the most conservative population of Spain, giving their reasons why they do not admit it. One of them bears a suspicious resemblance to Rouco Varela, a member of the Catholic Church in Spain who has shown his opposition to this law in the most emphatic way. Did you have fun working on these two pages of the comic? Or, were you in an enraged mood and the result was a kind of settling of scores?

SM: Well, it was a settling of scores and I was enraged---but it was very funny, LOL. I believe these suspicious resemblances came from deep inside my guts. And the ‘pearls of wisdom’ the protesters let out are taken directly from actual statements that I read in the press or heard on the TV news. I had a very good time working on those pages, but it was also a kind of little catharsis.

SGF: The stable, long-term relationship is represented in Salva's parents in the comic. However, these characters do not show any complicity or affection for each other. What is your opinion on LTRs? Do you believe in them? Or, do you think, as Rafa says, that marriage is an outdated, anachronistic institution?

SM: See... my characters express opinions which can be far from matching mine. Each one of them thinks in a different way than the others. Salva's parents represent those typical elderly couples based on an affection that has gradually turned into monotony, as many people of their generation. In addition to this, if things between them did not go well, they even could not divorce as a means of escaping. Rafa's remarks about life as a couple are very libertarian, but he eventually asks his boyfriend to marry him in the last pages of Aún estoy en ello. Rita and Salva believe in the GREATEST love and do not find it...There is not a general rule to measure for everyone. Love can last for ever or not. But I do not believe in marriage as an excuse to make it last. You must stay with your partner just because you want to, because all your body asks for it. If not, turn the page of your life story. Years ago, one of my characters said this: “Love is like a butane bottle: When it is out of gas, you have to replace it.”

SGF: Salva is a fervent follower of Sex and the City, a TV series which has usually received criticism due to its gallery of somehow stereotyped characters. Salva's friends seem to represent, each one of them, a cliché linked to the gay universe: Rafa, the bear; Oriol, the drama queen; Rita, the fag hag... Take this opportunity to stand up for stereotypes.

SM: Well, I defend the use of stereotypes because they do exist. You only need to go out and see the people on the street. Society compels to define one’s self by clichés: bears, gym queens, hipsters, tops, bottoms... Perhaps we are generally not so stereotypical (well, the people you can see in a circuit or a kedada[4] are reliable evidence of the existence of stereotypes--and how!), but clichés are useful tools that help tell stories in a way that characters are more defined and you can develop a very specific feature in them. Let’s just say it is a literary license that works very well.

SGF: During the Christmas shopping episode, Oriol defies an old man who talks disparagingly about homosexuals. Oriol defends his attitude, despite his friends' warnings, stating this is the way to earn popular respect. Do you agree with Oriol's behavior in similar situations, or do you think it is better to conduct yourself otherwise, even ignoring the provocations?

SM: You cannot confront anyone who says things you do not like or agree with. It is neither necessary nor worthy. But there are times you hear such nagging things that you can hardly shut up. I do not use to be a troublesome guy--just the opposite! But I am very proud of being the way I am, and if someone questions this by forcing me to listen to their opinion---Well, I am afraid that person will have to listen to mine, like it or not.
I think you should not go the agitators' way, but you cannot let them humiliate you.

SGF: With your permission, I would say that your generosity with Lucas (when you give him such a beefcake as a boyfriend at the end of the story) is so excessive that sounds just like a tall tale--really hard to believe. Were you carried along by the celebration moment of positivity, or do you know of any similar case?

SM: Curiously, things seeming more unreal are, many times, based on true stories in my comics. I know of three very similar cases--handicapped guys, unattractive guys, or both--and they are dating real stunners. And up to this point I remind the popular Spanish saying: ‘La suerte de la fea, la guapa la desea.’[5] (Quite true, by the way… LOL)

SGF: One of the aspects I find most interesting in Aún estoy en ello is the way sexuality is portrayed: You show it bluntly, but without falling into pornography; you do not judge, although there is clearly a rule breaking in the conventional game of monogamy. There are no fixed roles with respect to the top/bottom positions. Do you think homosexual relationships can be too shocking in the eyes of the heterosexual population?

SM: Well, they first make much fuss--and then they confess they work the same. There are very active women and very passive men, and also straight people who live their sexual life openly. The Gay Kama Sutra I created along with Diego J. Cruz has been more successful among straight girls than gay men. Even they ask for my personal dedication! Some confess it is always good to learn new things. You can find very timorous heterosexuals, that is true---but also very timorous gays.

SGF: The episode of the beefcake of Naples in the trattoria seems taken directly from an erotic film. It is now when you shut me up and say it is based on a real experience…

SM: TOTALLY REAL… but my lips are sealed.

SGF: The story of old Román is my favorite. It could well deserve a comic book itself. Have you ever met someone who has lived a similar story in those times during Francoism? Did you do some research? Was the gay-hunt as ruthless as you depict it?

SM: I did research, I met with a group of gay elderly... charming all of them!!! And I have a drawer full of notes to do something set in that period in the future. I am really willing. I also admit it is one of my favorite chapters. It is a humble tribute to all those who lived in a much harder time, when you risked your job and even your life just for loving someone of the same gender. We owe the situation we are in now to many of them, thanks to their struggle and courage.

SGF: Now let's talk about the way you depict the young homosexuals in the comic. Aitor, the cunning, hypocritical young student, makes Salva get fired from his job since he could not get what he wanted. Xicu is eventually (Poor Salva!) a complete nightmare. Both are selfish, manipulative characters. Aún estoy en ello may even be understood as a warning for middle-aged gays to act warily with the younger. Do you feel there is a big difference in attitude between young gay men and gays of Salva's generation?

SM: It is not exactly a question of generation. In the gay universe (and in the hetero universe many times also), youth is a rising value that seems to override any other. The other day, when discussing a political issue with someone ostentatiously younger than me, he replied I am a "fat, ugly old lady"...Weight reasons in political issues, don't you think?---In the gay universe (not always, but often) the young tend to domineer the and 200 years ago. In the case you mention, the different attitudes between Salva and his friends and young people are that the latter do not value what they have, since they found it all done, and the point of defending LGBT rights seems to them a thing from the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

SGF: Salva is a huge Corto Maltese fan. I can see in Xicu certain features similar to Corto’s. Was it on purpose?

SM: Absolutely. Everybody searches for their fantasies. Unfortunately for Salva, although Xicu may look like Corto just in appearance, he lacks of the romantic, adventurer nature of Hugo Pratt's creation. Never mind...

SGF: I find priceless Xicu’s explanation on people’s outlooks about the difference between a gay tourist and a gay resident in Ibiza. Do you think there is still such a hypocritical attitude?

SM: I heard this statement from a guy of Ibiza. Not someone living in Ibiza in that time, but a lifelong resident, someone whose surname is Marí or Tur, the most popular, traditional family names in the island. And now I recall one of your first questions, where you asked me if there was still a lot to do. Keep in mind that there are tourist places where the only aspect the residents consider in gay visitors (no matter if they have been crowds for decades) is their money. However, they do not like the idea of having gay relatives. It is amazing to know the large number of citizens in Sitges, one of our first national gay destinations, who still denies this situation and claims “there are just a few clubs for people like this, and that is all.”

SGF: Talking about Xicu, he is quite an irritating character. The fact that Salva, a homosexual going through a midlife crisis, could withstand all the humiliations just for sex and fear of solitude reflects a certain masochistic aspect in relationships. To what extent does the story of Salva and Xicu represent your own view of relationships?

SM: I have seen things like this in several couples. When I broke up with the partner I lived my longest-lasting relationship with (12 years), an acquaintance told us he did not understand why, since it is better to be in bad company than alone in this world. And there are many people who think so. Sometimes, gays seem to be women of the 1940s: Society instilled in them a dreadful fear of being single. Life as a couple is wonderful, but only if it is fulfilling. You live and share with that someone, you do not put up with. If so... out! And if your love dies ’of overuse’, as Jurado[6] sang, then try to find another...or not. You have to learn to be okay with yourself in order to feel comfortable with someone.

SGF: Anyway, I think that, despite Xicu's annoying behavior, you are not too harsh on him. He is a repressed guy ready to conquer the big city, get the most out of a freedom he has not enjoyed in his small town; but his immatureness will cost him dear, and he will finally have to give up his constant-party dream and go back home with his tail between his legs. I have the feeling that you somehow feel affection for him, understand him...

SM: Yes, because he is just an immature guy. He is not a vicious son of a bitch: He just cannot do better. Xicu is one of those guys (and we all have met lots of them) who are very true and loving when you meet them in the loneliness of their town, and then they come to the big city and see so many hot gay men on the street. And as they do not want to miss a thing, then you cannot stop the inevitable… In a dialogue finally deleted in the script, Oriol said to Xicu: “Okay, so you were not a slut in your village just because you didn't have the chance.”

SGF: What are your current projects? What are you working on?
SM: I am ending up the second part of Kedada, the new adventures of Peluche, and making a cookbook to win over beefcakes, LOL. Meanwhile I make flyers and posters and take part in all the collaborations I can make some money with. I am making exhibitions from time to time. I do not know how I can find time to do it all...

SGF: And finally, a doubt... In the last panel there is a man with a camera. Who is he?

SM: Oh! It is the photographer Guillem Medina, a good friend of mine, who asked me to appear in and helped me in several works. He was one of the first cameo appearances I made. Now all my friends ask to appear in, LOL.

[1] PP: Partido Popular (“Popular Party”). It is the political party which won the last general election. Thus, it forms the current national administration in Spain.
[2] Nazario (b. 1944) is considered the father of the underground comic in Spain. His most popular creation was Anarcoma, a transvestite detective.
[3] Ismael Álvarez (b. 1978) and David Cantero (b. 1972) are two of the most outstanding, celebrated Spanish gay-themed comic authors nowadays.
[4] Kedada: a gathering arranged through the net.
[5] Sorry, but I do not know any equivalent expression in English. It could be said: ‘The beautiful covets the luck of the homely.’
[6] Rocío Jurado (Chipiona, Cádiz, 1944 – Madrid, 2006) was the perfect example of the Spanish popular folk singer. Her fans used to call her “The Greatest” because of her powerful, over-the-top performances. Sebas Martín mentions here a line from “Se nos rompió el amor” (“Our Love Broke into Pieces”), one of the most popularly demanded songs of her repertoire. 

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