February 29, 2016

Interview with Nazario

One of the greatest honors since the opening of this blog: ground-breaking LGBT artist Nazario (Castilleja del Campo, Seville, 1944) has discussed with us his comic book Alí Babá y los 40 maricones, as well as his long lasting career, unforgettable friends such as one-of-a-kind Ocaña, sexual behavior, open relationships, censorship at present and in the Franco regime, other experiences in the world of art. . .Extremely touching is his remembrance of the love of his life: late artist Alejandro Molina.
Definitely not for prudes. . .Do not hesitate and enjoy the speech of this contumaciously bold, hopelessly square peg and terribly cuddly human being.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Do you remember your early years in the comic tagged as underground? How was the comic book universe when you began? How different was your style from the type of Spanish mainstream comic then?

NAZARIO: In the 60’s/70’s the trend was sci-fi comic for adults, and adventure stories by French authors were translated. In Italy they were interested in Crepax’s Valentina or Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese, though I preferred comics such as Lucifera or Belzeba. Anyway, my biggest interest was French comics (e.g., Barbarella, Jodelle.) When I discovered American magazine MAD, I found a wide field of possibilities which would have influence in my dedication to comic. Then Zap Comix showed up, and everything changed. Crumb’s sassy scripts, and Clay Wilson’s messy, baroque drawings, plenty of sex and violence, started to define the way that I was going to lead as an illustrator.
The press started to use the term underground to classify us in the American trend, though our situation was a way really different under the strict censorship of the Franco regime. This censorship rules were applied to our comics, so I had to publish my most salacious stories in France; and in Spain I had to publish my own editing La Piraña Divina (“The Divine Piranha”) secretly.

SGF: You are usually considered the father of the Spanish underground comic in general terms, and the Spanish gay comic in particular. What do you feel about these labels? Do you think that they are fair, or excessive? Were there no Spanish underground or gay comic authors before you started to work in comics?

N: When I met the young illustrators in Barcelona, people who would take part in our publications later, I was coming from Seville with a portfolio full of drawings. I was a bit elder than my colleagues, and a kind of mature artist. From the very beginning I got interested in comics as an instrument to denounce the repression that women were suffering first, and later the repression that gays had suffered and were still suffering due to the religious, patriarchal education.
By those days, the only openly gay illustrations that I knew were by Tom of Finland.

SGF: Do you feel recognized in Spain? If not, which do you think the reasons are?

N: My work as an illustrator committed to freedom of speech and homosexual liberation, as well as the usual scandals with my publications and exhibitions, make average educated people know my work. Curiously, it may be the comic world—an atmosphere where I never felt fully identified with—where my work is not very much appreciated. I have never received an invitation to give a lecture about my work in any of the hundreds of comic book conventions held throughout the country. However, universities and museums have really got interested in my work.[1]

SGF: And beyond the Spanish boundaries? Are you a renowned author abroad?

N: Just Anarcoma was edited in English (in USA it was sold in sex shops only), French, Italian, German and Swedish. The rest of my work has not packed quite a punch internationally at all—except for the serial publication of Alí Babá y los 40 maricones in France.

SGF: The concept of Alí Babá y los 40 maricones reminds of Francisco Ibáñez’s 13, Rue del Percebe. Curiously, though you and Ibáñez are two legends in Spanish comic, your styles are really different. Ibáñez is a mainstream author for all audiences, while you are a cult author for a much more specific reader. Did you conceive Alí Babá y los 40 maricones as a way to deprave Ibáñez’s work? Did you get the inspiration from a real neighborhood—yours, for instance?

N: In 1977 I published three series of two pages each in Por Favor magazine[2] under the name Sábado, sabadete en los Apartamentos La Nave (“La Nave Apartments when Saturday”.)[3] It was the first time that I used the room scheme created by Ibáñez. It consisted of eight rooms where I portrayed the ordinary life of different groups: lefties, gays, lesbians, dopers, a young married couple, a traditional family, a young loner and a boarding house room. Years went by, and in 1990 I got around to repeating the room scheme to represent a variety of gay types: the young student in the attic who still has not accepted his homosexuality; the usual couple in which the one is promiscuous and the other is faithful; three friends sharing a room: the swishy, the Tom of Finland-type, and the office boy; and besides, the pub run by a kind of madam, where some neighbors meet a motley group.

SGF: Lola, the Alí Babá pub owner, is surrounded by gay men that she wants and tries to seduce, but they obviously reject her for being a woman. Is she inspired in anyone that you have ever known?

N: She works as a counterpoint among so much campy. If I had chosen a man, he would have been a problem in the relationships issue; a woman avoided problems for me instead, as there would be no rivalry with other fags to see who scores a misled good-looking man, or a hunky drunk.

SGF: What happened in 2007 when a government website considered Alí Babá y los 40 maricones as a recommended reading? Could you please explain it to the current reader? What did you feel about it?

N: One day someone suggested me to search on the web Alí Babá y los 40 maricones. I was not aware at all, and I just could not believe what I was reading. The socialist administration recommended the teachers to read it and keep up to date about what homosexual relationships are, and the Right Wing distorted it all, accusing the Ministry of Culture of corrupting school boys when making them read it. Bishops, journalists, radio stations and the whole right-winged mass media, from Castile to the Argentinean Pampas, asked for excommunicating each and every single member of the depraved socialist administration. I was all confused, as nobody from any of the two sides got in touch with me to ask my opinion.

SGF: Alí Babá y los 40 maricones is dedicated to Ocaña. Could you please explain the reader who Ocaña was and what he meant in the society of that time?

N: Ocaña meant a wake-up call in Barcelona 1970s. He was a stirrer and a revolutionist who, endowed with superb dramatic qualities, knew how to connect with his audience, striking a chord with them. Wherever he was (Las Ramblas,[4] a political meeting, the premiere of his films, a party or La Modelo),[5] Ocaña was never gone unnoticed; as striking as provoking, he proclaimed boisterously his sexual orientation and everybody’s right to live their lives freely and enjoy their own bodies as the most beautiful gift that Nature has given to us.[6]

SGF: Do you miss Ocaña? Do you think that we are in a time of political correctness that shouts out loud the need of many other Ocañas?

N: My life consists in giving up, healing my wounds and burying friends. With every dead friend, some places in my memory and irretrievable feelings are cut off inside me. Fortunately, I am easy going and try to accept getting older—something that never worried me much—and loneliness, a new situation in my life, something that I always tried to avoid by living with friends, in communes or as a couple. Today censorship is something unavoidable; repression wears new masks and crouches on the net or social networks, or is disguised as counter-terrorism. Today Ocaña would hold parties campaigning for revolutionary political groups, asking out loud through Las Ramblas for the support of immigrants, street vendors, neglected elderly, alcoholics frozen to death on the streets, or prostitutes’ free use right of their own bodies. . .Gays have been discriminated for centuries, and now we need to support every weak, vulnerable minor group.

SGF: Continuing with the political correctness issue, in Alí Babá y los 40 maricones you quote Kavafis, Mario Mieli and Marquis de Sade, three authors related to homosexuality, and (especially the latter two) polemical and controversial. Why did you choose these authors? Do you feel somehow identified with them, beyond the homosexuality topic?

N: Since its appearance in 1973, I treasure Recherches magazine number 12, “Trois Milliards de Pervers: Grande Encyclopédie des Homosexualités,” on which Deleuze, Foucault, Genet or Guattari collaborated, among others. Since it was published in 1979 in Spanish, Mario Mieli’s Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique (original title: Elementi di critica omosessuale) shines close to Tom of Finland’s complete works in my library; and, since my tender years, the books by Marquis de Sade has given pleasure to both my imagination and my cock. Kavafis, who is not my favorite poet, has been lying on my bedside table for long. As my creations are somehow a part of me, the logical thing is that they read and discuss authors closer to me.

SGF: I deduce from your description of Ernesto, the college boy in the attic, a certain criticism on the romantic, chaste homo saving himself for Prince Charming. Is he a type of homosexual that you dislike? Do you defend promiscuity against this attitude?

N: I had a friend who was the victim of a terrible disquisition: he could never have sex with someone he was not deeply in love with, since sex and love are two separate things for him. The boy in the attic suffers from immaturity, and a terrible repression above all. He refuses to have sex with a man that he likes, but he later masturbates while thinking of this man. As far as I have named my autobiography Un pacto con el placer (“An Agreement with Pleasure”), you can easily understand that, in the question of men, I consider myself greatly fond of at least—if not addicted to.

SGF: Tom and Tito are portrayed as an open relationship, whether Tito likes it or not. Tom cheats on him whenever he can, and Tito finally finds out and accepts it, though not his pleasure. Do you think that every homosexual couple will always fail in monogamy? According to you, is Tito submissive or permissive? Is Tom a morally guilty man, or just hopeless?

N: I fell in love with Alejandro[7] the very moment I met him, and, after a 36-year-long relationship, and more than a year since he died, I am still in love with him. I found too hard to overcome jealousy, dependence and exclusiveness. He was even more sexually active than me, and, if we had sex three times a day and later I discovered him having sex with another guy, then I pondered, if he was able to fuck for a fourth time, why should I stop him? Little by little we were meeting other men who occasionally came home to fuck with us both. We had sex with the same boyfriends for 15 or 20 years. We had an open relationship and, after some years, when any of these men finally chose me or Alejandro, we both still welcomed them home without incident. With the couple Tom and Tito I somehow tried to mock the concept of ordinary couple as a copy of the straight marriage.

SGF: To what extent do you think that the gay universe portrayed in Alí Babá y los 40 maricones is still present? Do you think that some changes have happened, and for better?

N: After the big shake-up which the discovery of AIDS meant, the increase in the rate of homosexual couples and the legalization of same sex marriage and adoption, I feel that the gays portrayed in this book are still archetypes and have not evolved at all. Today I should increase the number of apartments to try to picture other types who push the boundaries somehow: activists, agitators, crusaders committed to breaking the rules imposed and copied from stereotyped heterosexual relationships.

SGF: There is a noteworthy evolution in the comic; in the first strips you depict bareback sex, though in the last ones you highlight the use of condom in order to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Was it an imposition by the publishing house? Was it a personal choice in regards to raise awareness among your readers?

N: I always tried to leave my creations free to fuck the way they wished. But there was a time in which I collaborated in “Póntelo, pónselo”[8] campaign first, and the campaign for HIV positive gays later, and it made sense to me that I could use my creations to support. There is a chapter in which La Borrega discovers that he is HIV positive, and I made the other characters show support for him.

SGF: What is your opinion on the current Spanish gay comic? Would you highlight any author or work in particular? Do you know any author who considers Nazario as an example?

N: Since I stopped illustrating comics to work in painting, I left the comic book world. I got interested in just a few graphic novels, and critics announced that these have made comic books achieve artistic maturity (putting comic on the same level than literature, just to depreciate the artistic interest of comic itself); they seem to me short-sighted and vague.

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

N: I spent more than a year building my website, and three years writing my autobiography—one of its chapters, La vida cotidiana del dibujante underground (“The Ordinary Life of an Underground Illustrator”), will be published in May—; I have spent a lot of time scanning most of my comics to share freely on a hosting service, but I have eventually got censored. (Later, I created the blog nazariocanalla.blogspot.com, where I host them now.) I finished the 3rd part of Anarcoma, whose script I had sketched for years—1st and 2nd part had been summed up to be published in one book; La Cúpula publishing house is prolonging the project to edit both parts together—. I dream of being able to post in a blog the book La Barcelona de los 70 vista por Nazario y sus amigos (“Barcelona in the 70’s Seen by Nazario & Friends”), adding more pics and videos. After last year’s exhibitions of Turandot in the University of Seville, and another one about Censorship in Bilbao, a photography exhibition about Plaza Real,[9] and another one of works by me and Alejandro, I am preparing an audiovisual event about my pictures, photomontages and videos on Plaza Real through the years. I also need time to work on a script for a film on the atmosphere of Plaza Real and surrounding areas in the 70’s/80’s. This continuous frenzy lightens the grieving, traumatic absence of Alejandro, my boyfriend for 36 years and husband for five days.

[1] Nowadays Nazario’s work is exhibited in several Spanish museums, such as Reina Sofía in Madrid, or Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville. He has also been awarded with Pablo Picasso Prize or Ministry of Culture’s Medalla de Oro de las Bellas Artes (“Fine Arts Golden Medal”), high honors in the Spanish cultural world.
[2] A humor magazine published from 1974 to 1978. It was considered a politically committed publication during the last period of the Franco dictatorship and the early years of the Transición Española.
[3] From Sábado, sabadete, camisa nueva y polvete (When Saturday, a clean shirt and a quickie): Popular sassy saying about the old days Spanish custom of changing clothes and having sex once a week on Saturdays.
[4] Iconic street in the city of Barcelona.
[5] Penitentiary center located in Barcelona.
[6] In addition to Nazario’s brilliant description, you can also see Spanish filmmaker Ventura Pons’s extraordinary documentary Ocaña, retrato intermitente (1978)—highly praised by Academy Award winner Fernando Trueba—for further information on José Pérez Ocaña (Cantillana, Seville, 1947 – 1983).
[7] Alejandro Molina (1951 – 2014). He was an artist, particularly devoted to sculpture. Although he was from Andalucía, his work is much more related to the city of Barcelona, where he designed the festivities decoration in Plaza Real for several years. Nazario and Alejandro met in 1978, and from that moment on they lived a beautiful story, unusual according to the traditional love relationship pattern, such as Nazario pictures it in this interview.
[8] Use it, make your partner use it: Motto of a popular media campaign for the use of condom to prevent sexual transmitted diseases among teenagers in Spain in the early 1990s, quite controversial due to the Catholic Church protest.
[9] An outstanding square in Barcelona, adjoining Las Ramblas, located in the tourist Gothic Quarter. 

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