Thursday, March 31, 2011

La ciudad de los puentes obsoletos

When people imagine the hoity-toity life of a young, single woman in Buenos Aires, they think of romance and excitement. I’ve been asked, excitedly, what exactly I do during the weekend. Well, this past Saturday, my night was completely devoted to a beautiful and engrossing….graphic novel.* I went to a book release for La ciudad de los puentes obsoletos by Federico Pazos and then spent the rest of my night reading the comic. The book release was an exhibition/book signing/concert/party. At first, I thought that it was only an exhibition, so I was a bit disappointed that I finished looking at the wall of art and then had nothing to do. But then a few awesome bands played and Pazos signed my book.

La ciudad de los puentes obsoletos is beautifully drawn. The characters’ appearances match their odd back-stories. Some of the characters are drawn in a very abstract way, while others are drawn more realistically. The variety in noses, in particular, drew my attention. Some of them look like tubular roots, others are shaped like right triangles or noodles. Pazos uses only one or two colors (brown, turquoise, crimson) and black and white per section of the book. The change in dominant colors shows a change in scene. When the main character Paco arrives in Astromburgo, the principal color is crimson, but he’s swept into a drain, swirling into a brown-tinted world.

While I was waiting in line for Pazos to sign my newly purchased comic, I admired the quality with such intensity that the person behind me asked me “You are really obsessed with that book, aren’t you?” La cuidad is published by Común, a publishing company owned by Liniers. I haven’t studied the editorials enough to recognize their various publishing styles, but I imagine Común’s claim to fame is its use of high-quality paper and ink. Instead of just signing the book, Pazos drew on the entire dedication page. My inscription reads “Pero cómo? Y el sindicato?” This is probably some sort of political reference, but I didn’t get it because I avoid politics like the plague.

I stayed a little while longer after I got my book signed, and then took the bus, reading the entire way home.

*(P.S. World: This is not because I do not have a social life, it is because I really like comic books. Thank you.)

The first image is from La Editorial Común. Photos are from my copy of La ciudad de los puentes obsoletos.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Terrific, Terrifying, Titillating Tuesdays

It looks like Tuesday is going to be the busiest day of my week. In the morning, I have Laura’s “Sequential Art: Comics, Culture, and Market in Argentina” a seminar about Argentine comics between 1960 and 1980. I have a few hours to kill and then I go to Diego Agrimbau’s “Taller de Guión de Historieta,” a three hour workshop on comic creation. (Yes, I do have courses with a husband and wife in one day.) On Tuesdays I will be discussing comics in Spanish for FIVE HOURS and shuttling between Constitución, the Centro, Flores, and Barrio Norte. *Whew*

Laura’s “Sequential Art” class was supposed to be offered next semester, but the UBA (Universidad de Buenos Aires) screwed up and put it on the schedule for this semester. About ten students signed up for it and Laura decided to teach it because, as she said, our little faces were bright with excitement. We talked about comic creation process (drawing, coloring, writing), art schools and correspondence courses for drawing, and the intersection between intellectualism and comics. One of the most interesting topics we touched on was the representations and role of women in comics. The class is mostly comprised of women (unusual in the comic book world), so I think this topic will come up quite often. I felt especially prepared for the course because I had read part of Laura’s book: El Oficio de las Viñetas, about the Argentine comic book industry. Anyway, it seems like it is going to be such an interesting class and provide an important background for my research.

After that class, I made the trek to Diego’s taller de guión in Flores. Diego’s class is designed for people who want to dedicate their life (or at least most of their free time) to the art of comic writing. At first, Diego asked us if we had experience writing…everyone but me said yes, and one guy pulled out his portfolio and showed us his published work and unpublished graphic novel. Needless to say, I was intimidated until we started talking about our experiences, and then I realized that most people were on the same level. Diego then told us about his entire career as a writer—how his day is structured, his published work, failures and successes, and the creation process. The “onda” or “mood” of the room was very good because there were only seven students. They all seemed whole-heartedly interested in the program and very respectful of the teacher.

One of the most interesting things we talked about was how to come up with ideas. Diego asked us about our idea generation process and asked us if we had difficulties. He then told us that although some ideas come naturally, we might have to force them. To do this, we played a brainstorming game where we came up with common associations (“Martian-Mars,” “Secretary-Office”) and then switched them (“Mars-Secretary,” “Office-Martian”) and wrote a plot summary. We were also encouraged to keep a journal of ideas to draw on in the future. I don’t know if I will ever write comics professionally or even get something publish (so complicated!), but I think Argentina is the perfect place to begin studying.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I wanted to attend my second “Guión” class at the EAH (Escuela Argentina de la Historieta) before writing my impressions of the school. The EAH, like many other artsy schools in Buenos Aires, is located in San Telmo, a neighborhood characterized by struggling, impoverished artists and international tourism. The class is taught by a film/comic book studies professor and has about ten people in it. Most of the comics we use as examples are mainstream (Watchmen, Sin City), while famous Argentine comics aren’t discussed at all. Ah, well. I guess if I am going to experience the Argentine comic culture, I must be open to learning about all parts of it.

As a class, “Guión” is a good introduction to analyzing and writing basic stories, although we are learning at a relaxed pace. The first week focused on synopsis and the second on character creation. During the first week when we discussed our interest in the class, most people said that they took the course because they had created stories that they wanted to realize in comic form. Most of these students’ ideas (from what I can tell) are for long epics. Because of this, they seem to be frustrated by the emphasis on short, simple stories and want to learn how to create their masterpieces. One of the most important things my professor said on this topic is that you shouldn’t take big stories and squish them down into little ones. A good idea that you’ve had for a few years can wait a few more until you learn how to write. He asked us, “Do you think Watchmen would have been good if Alan Moore wrote it when he was 16?”

In terms of homework, we apply what we learned during the class to a personal project. Our first project was to come up with a story. While other people in my class created alternate universes and detective adventures, I wrote about a woman that wants to buy a Furby for her daughter. I probably have the most boring and unoriginal story and am stuck with it for the entire semester. Blergh. Maybe it will be a test of skill to see how awesome I can make it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This is going to be one busy year...

I met with my research adviser on Thursday at the Petit Colon, an old fashioned café. We had only emailed before, and although we had been able to communicate, our conversations had never been personal. They were purely business due to my inability to communicate well over email in Spanish. Well, after talking for two hours I don’t think I could have found a better adviser. She not only knows everything about Argentine comics, but was friendly and welcoming. We talked about her work and my project. These are the things that I will be doing this year:

  • This semester I am going to take “History of Media,” which includes TV and photography, and next semester I am going to take her “Sequential Art” seminar about comics.
  • I am going to work in the archives in the Biblioteca Nacional, scanning old comics and writing about my findings.
  • Helping her prepare for the Viñetas Serias conference in September and then attending the conference.
  • Meeting every comic artist/writer EVER. She is friends with all of my favorite writers.
  • Going to shows about comic books…apparently there are different ones every week!
  • Classes on guionismo (comic book “directing” aka writing) with her husband, Diego Agrimbau, and at Escuela Argentina de la Historieta.
  • Reading everything from her giant library of comics.

Laura always ends her emails by telling me to prepare myself for all the work to come. Given this list, I will be quite busy this year.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

¡Que casualidad!

So, as I mentioned a post or two ago, I bought about a gajillion comics including El Asco by Diego Agrimbau. I really enjoyed the comic, so I looked Agrimbau up online and as it turns out, he teaches classes about comic writing. I sent him a message inquiring about the course and he wrote me back.

Today I met up with Laura Vazquez, my research mentor/leader/professor, to talk about her work, my project, and our expectations. (The meeting went really well and she is really interesting, but I will write more about our meeting later, this is just a short post.) We were talking about classes I asked Laura, "I was thinking about taking a class with Diego Agrimbau. Do you know anything about him?"

She smiled at me and said "Um, he's my husband."


Monday, March 7, 2011


Within my first day in Argentina I bought $40 worth of comics. When I told my friend Anna, she replied "If you hadn't purchased any comics within 48 hours of your arrival in ANY place, I'd be worried. If there is one thing that you most definitely are, it's a comics hoarder." I plan to die buried underneath all my comics, so I obviously need to start buying now.

I walked down Corrientes, a street known for its abundance of bookstores. Librería Diogenes on Corrientes and Callao is my absolute favorite because they have a large selection of discount comics. Obviously, these comics aren't the best quality. Some are printed on newsprint while others are bound with cheap paper covers. I've read three of the seven comics, so far. My favorite is Estupefacto by Lucas Varela.

Carlos Trillo begins the prologue to Estupefacto by saying "We call someone crazy if they don't think like the rest of us. And Varela doesn't think like me. Or like anyone else, it seems." Varela has a morbid sense of humor and a litany of amoral, repulsive characters. Paolo Pinoccio, a lecherous wooden marienette, takes great pleasure in tricking other fairy tale characters. Most often, he dies and goes to hell, always managing to escape through some intricate plot. Estupefacto features a number of short comics. "Ese Placer de Morir" tells the story of a rabbit who dies, goes to heaven, comes back to earth when saved by doctors, kills himself so he can return to heaven, and ends up in hell. "Scatter: Un Amor de Mono," probably one of the more ridiculous comics, deals with a relationship and eventual marriage between Elvis and a satanic monkey. These stories are as ridiculous as they are terrifying. Varlela's true strength lies in his artwork. All of his stories have a dominant color pallette. "Scatter" is drawn in orange, red, and white, while "El placer de morir" uses blue and purple. The color scheme give a distinct feeling to each comic, allowing Varela to give the impression that each comic happens in a different world.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back in BA

I arrived in Buenos Aires this morning at 7:55 am completely awake and alert, despite only having slept for 3 hours. All the worries that arose from my travel preparations have completely disappeared. I am the most calm I have been in months. Although these statements may come off as bragging, those that have interacted with me in the past few weeks may be relieved...I am no longer consumed by stress and could probably hold a normal conversation without mentioning my nervousness.

The most exciting part of my stay so far has been reuniting with Pedro (an Argentine friend) and his mother Amanda. I haven't seen them in 20 months, but it feels as though I returned from a short vacation. The city, however, feels much different. I once considered myself a master of the public transportation network, navigating the Guia T (bus guide/map) like a pro. Now I can't even remeber the route for the 92 bus. But apparently the only thing that has changed is me. I asked Pedro what the major differences in the landscape were, and the main thing he remembered was that the once one-way Santa Fe became a two-way street.

The main thing I am focusing on today is re-learning Buenos Aires. Pedro helped me find and use an ATM. Amanda, Pedro and I took the bus to visit an apartment she just purchased. I bought a new Guia T and have been using it to look up the apartments I've found online. By tomorrow, I should be ready to go outside by myself to register for classes. Graphic novel writing classes.