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Memories of My Spanish Childhood

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(The following is a post by Juan Manuel Perez, Reference Specialist, Hispanic Division.)

Detail of a cover of “Capitán Trueno,” 1950’s.

One of the fondest memories I have of growing up in Spain during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship was reading my favorite comic books, “El Capitán Trueno” (Captain Thunder) and “El Jabato” (Young Wild Boar). For many years, Trueno and Jabato were the most popular and influential adventure comic books in Spain. Now, thanks to reeditions, they are as popular as ever, even sixty or so years after their creation. Just like the members of my generation, millennials today are hooked on them.

I fell in love with these comics when I was young by reading my older cousins’ issues. Then, my mother started buying them for me on Saturdays, market days. I counted the days until market day. When I was older, my mother would give me some money so I could buy them myself. I remember looking through bookstore windows with my friends to see if we could catch a glimpse of the most recent issue. The covers were really beautiful! I remember reading the books in the hallway, in my room, in the kitchen, under the shade of our fig tree, with my friends in their houses and before school. Everybody read them, even grownups – although they may have not admitted it.

Detail of a cover of “Jabato,” 1970’s.

What attracted children and young adults to these comic books were the adventures and the sense of justice. No matter how bad the situation was for our heroes, they would always come out on top through tenacity, persistence, strong will, and, yes, the bonds of friendship. Both comics demonstrated that friendship and loyalty were the glue that bound the characters together and the key to victory when facing adversity and enemies. Equally appealing were the adventures, which always took place in the most exotic places. The comics encouraged our imaginations to run wild.

As the stories always ended with cliffhangers, we were all addicted to them and couldn’t wait for the next issue to be published. Many times my friends and I would play “storming the castle” with kids from a nearby village. To simulate Trueno’s stories, we’d pick a “field of honor,” usually a big rock (the castle) on top of a small hill located nearby. But it wasn’t always easy to settle on who should play Capitán Trueno because everybody wanted to be him. Somehow we would still play and end up sweaty, bruised, and very, very tired. But we were always ready to pick up arms again for the cause.

Detail of an inside page of “Capitán Trueno,” 1950’s.

“El Capitán Trueno” was created by Víctor Mora (1931-2016) in 1956. The stories were set in the Middle Ages. The main character was El Capitán Trueno, a brave and adventurous Christian warrior who belonged to the nobility. He was always accompanied by Goliath, affectionately known as “Cascanueces” (Nutcracker), a bumbling and humorous giant of man with a patch over his left eye. Goliath was incredibly strong and had a huge heart, with a big appetite to match. He laughed a lot and provided some of the funniest moments in the stories. Crispín, the youthful companion, was always happy and cheerful, and last but not least there was Sigrid, a Viking princess, who was also Trueno’s love. Contrary to the feminine image typically presented as domestic ideal under the Franco dictatorship, Sigrid was the captain’s equal, fully engaged in all his adventures. Together these characters presented an image of optimism and happiness, frequently filled with smiles and laughter. For children and young adults living under a dictatorship, it meant a lot to have an escape from some of the grimmer realities of everyday life. The heroes’ adventures took place in Tibet, the United States, China, as well as in fantastic underground cities and moving palaces in some remote countries. They faced all kinds of scary enemies and creatures such as werewolves, carnivorous plants, and sea-monsters. Trueno also appeared in the stories of King Arthur, Richard the Lionheart, Genghis Khan, and other real or mythical figures. In one adventure, our heroes even traveled in a hot air balloon (during the Middle Ages!) to show that there was no concern about space or time.

“Capitán Trueno” was published in the cuadernillo format (a small horizontal notebook) until 1968, with only the cover in color. In 1969, Editorial Bruguera, a major comic book publisher in Spain, started Trueno Color, a bright, shiny vertical magazine in full color. This is the format that I know best. The Library’s recently acquired collection (Volume 2 (1957) to Volume 13 (1968)) is a reedition by Ediciones B, which bought the rights from Editorial Bruguera in the mid-1980’s.

Detail of an inside page of “Jabato,” 1970’s.

In 1958 Mora created the comic book “Jabato,” which is similar to, but not the same as, “Capitán Trueno.” For example, “Jabato” is set during the Roman Empire and the hero is an Iberian farmer of humble origins. He is accompanied by Taurus who, like Goliath, is a giant of man, very loyal, serious and who rarely smiles. Comic relief is provided by Fideo de Mileto (Spaghetti of Miletus, in translation), an incredibly thin (hence his name), harp-playing Greek poet who always sings off key and gets on everyone’s nerves, especially Taurus’s. But he is a faithful and loyal friend. Claudia is Jabato’s love. She is a patrician and secretly a Christian, which makes her an enemy of the state. And like Sigrid, she is her own person and equal to the other characters. Jabato’s adventures also take place in the most exotic and exciting places. And the enemies he has to face are just as bad as those that Capitán Trueno faced. And, like “Capitán Trueno,” Editorial Bruguera started Jabato Color in magazine style in 1969. This, too, is the format I am most familiar with and the one acquired by the Library in 18 volumes.

The irony is that the creator of the two most successful comic books in Franco’s Spain, Victor Mora, was a communist. He used his stories to fight tyranny, fascism, injustice, and intolerance. It was common in Trueno’s stories that after he had defeated his enemy, a council would be created to govern that region, as a reference to a democratic government. (“El Capitán Trueno. De la ilusión al mito. De la il-lusió al mite” (Captain Thunder. From Illusion to Myth), p. 59). Ironically, the censors never picked up the themes of the comic books, although they had suppressed some of Mora’s other works and Editorial Bruguera was always in the eye of the storm (Vicent Sanchis, Tebeos mutilados. La censura franquista contra la Editorial Bruguera (Mutilated Tebeos. Francoist Censorship against Editorial Bruguera)). One wonders now if Claudia represented Víctor Mora, secretly a communist and, therefore, an enemy of the state fighting against the dictatorship. Mora was more than a creator of comic books; he was a writer of note with many awards and accolades. The Library has thirty-five of his books.

Detail of a cover of “TBO,” 1926.

The third comic book that I read a lot, if not as tirelessly as the other two, was “TBO” (pronounced “tebeo”), perhaps the most popular comic book of all. Created in 1917 by three partners, “TBO” featured various characters in short stories, much like a newspaper comic page. The stories were primarily directed at children and young adults, but everybody read them, even grown adults. It became very popular for its biting humor and sometimes social criticism. “TBO” had a precarious run after 1937 due to the dictatorship’s censorship, and the editors struggled to keep it alive. But from 1952 until it ceased publication in 1983, it became so popular that at times 300,000 copies were issued each week and its name “tebeo” became synonymous with comic books. Every comic book in Spain is known now as a “tebeo.” An entry in the Royal Academy dictionary defines “tebeo” as: 1. children’s or juvenile publication whose theme is developed in a series of drawings; 2. adventure series told in the form of graphic cartoons.

The Library’s collection, recently acquired along with Capitán Trueno and Jabato, is known as “TBO de siempre” (The TBO of Always) in 12 volumes, and it is a selection of issues from its long history. The collection is incomplete as it is missing vols 1, 2, and 5.

If you’re interested in learning more about Spanish comics, we recommend reading the following:

You can find more titles in the Library of Congress online catalog by searching the following subject headings:
Comic books, strips, etc.–social aspects–Spain
Comic books, strips, etc.–Spain–history and criticism
Illustrated periodicals–Spain—history–20th century

Comments (5)

  1. Entrañable crónica sentimental de la adolescencia de toda una generación de españoles. Muy bien documentada y preciosa. Increíble la relación de los cómics con la censura de la dictadura. Enhorabuena Juan Manuel!

  2. Great (hi)story!
    Interesting how popular culture often manages to encapsulate memories and history, the private and the political…

  3. Comics are good entry ways for children to read. You often meet parents or guardians who don’t want children to read comics or Nancy Drew or that witchboy Harry Potter.

    But comics, as this Spanish memorialist makes clear, led him a lifetime of reading. Here are some Spanish language comics of which I was completely unaware but sound very similar to Asterix or TinTin but more socially conscious.

    All of which put me in mind of Saint-Exupery, about whom BBC recently did a podcast on “The Forum”, author of The Petit Prince and many airplane adventure stories like Vol du Nuit set in Spanish America. Saint-Exupery was brave beyond measure yet thoughtful, anti-fascist and moral. There is a fascinating chapter about him in H. Stuart Hughes’s classic The Obstructed Path: French Social Thought in the Years of Desperation.

  4. Enjoyed reading this blog about comics and how reading them can lead a young person to explore another world.

  5. Thank you, Juan Manuel, for sharing your knowledge, insights, and love for comics. I appreciate having the opportunity to learn about comic books from another country!

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