Sunday, 6 March 2011

Interview 23

Roberto Barreiro is originally from Argentina and now lives in Chile. In 2001, he wrote Historia de los Fanzines de Historieta en Argentina which traces the history of comic fanzines from his country. From 1998-2001, he was co-creator with Lucas Varela of the comic zine Kapop.

Tell us a little about yourself and how did you become interested in comics and fanzines?

I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1971. I lived there until 2002, the year in which I change countries and went to live in Chile with the girl which became my wife. I still live in Chile and I am a husband and father of two girls. I was a journalist, librarian and now book salesman, so I have always been in the middle of writing one way or another.

My interest in fanzines started in Argentina in 1986, when I was a teenager. I got interested in comics with the apparition of Fierro magazine, one of the best comics "adult" magazines which appeared in those years in Spain and Latin America - and, in those years in which adult magazines in the style of Metal Hurlant appeared around the world. Fierrro introduced a section reviewing fanzines (which started appearing like mad around the time for reasons that I will explain later) and it sounded interesting. It was a surprise when I went to Parque Rivadavia (a open book market which in those years was "de rigeur" for any comic aficionado in Buenos Aires) and found one of those strange fanzines... and whose editors were at the time, not much more older than me.

One thing led to other and for 15 years I was an active observer of the fanzine comic scene, with some minimal participation. Curiously, I didn't produce any fanzines for many of those years. Things like University and trying to work as a journalist (plus laziness, I suppose) were first on my list. But I was an active buyer of fanzines from all those years, amassing a very big collection of them (and not only on comics and not only form Argentina, but also form other countries of Latin America, Spain and even some former zines from the USA like
Murder Can be Fun or Mystery Date).

By the time I was to submit my final thesis for graduation from Communication Studies at the University of Buenos Aires, I decided that it was necessary a history and chronology of what comic fanzines were needed to be published. Having been collecting in Argentina for all those years I realised it was a job which needed to be done. So I finished the thesis, which is the basis (with minimal addenda) of the book published in 2001, Historia de los Fanzines de Historieta en Argentina.

Curiously, only after I finished the thesis did I start a comic fanzine with an artist friend. The zine, Kapop, was published between 1998 and 2001, for six issues. I compiled the series with a professional creator friend of mine, Enrique Alcatena (known for work in USA comic books and many series for the Italian market). Our zine was popular with the fans and the issues sold well. Actually, Kapop magazine prompted my friend to start working with professional comic writers and to begin his own professional career as a comic artist who has achieved certain stature in the field.

My moving form Argentina to Chile put an end to all this. I still get in touch online with many of the people who met for the first time doing zines (and who has became pro editors, artists and/or writers) but I am not so in touch with the actual fanzine scene on Argentina and I never tried seriously to do the same in the Chilean scene. I have continued writing on my blog, Arboles Muertos y Mucha tinta (which means "dead trees and a lot of ink"), working on pop culture topics as old paperbacks, photo novels movies and (of course) comics. Blogs are in some sense a prolongation of the old DIY ethic of the fanzines. It is not exactly the same, but its advantages to me are many.

The blog brings a strange collaboration with the American Publisher of an old mystery photo comic,
Killing. We finished creating one issue of Killing Time, a bilingual pdf free e-zine about those strange old photo novels. The killing Time pdf give me the insight that, even when blogs are good in many ways to replace fanzines, there are things that a publication (even an electronic one) can do that a blog cannot do right. For example, the extension of the articles: long, profound, complex articles on a theme are not read so widely as if you read it on a zine package... and I like to do that kind of articles!!!

...Which brings me to my actual new project: to put an Arboles Muertos Y Mucha Tinta e-zine which can put in a zine package big articles on the same kind of stuff that I write on the blog. Because a review of an old Carter brown book is ok in the blog, but an overiew of the Carter Brown work is better covered on an e-zine. At least to me. Zero issue of the Spanish version is almost ready (no more than one or two weeks before I post the issue). The English version (yeah I am ambitious and I believe that in those times you need to put an English version of these stuff also) is next. I hope that in a month more or less I will put the Zero issue English version and then I will start on issue one.

You wrote a book about the History of Fanzines in Argentina (Libros en Red, 2001) which specifically focused on a history of comic fanzines. For those of us who don't know much about the Argentinian self-publishing scene, when did independent comic fanzines become significant and what was the general context for their emergence?

As you see, I will talk primarily on comic fanzines, but there are many zine scenes in Argentina. The first fanzine form Argentina that I know is a s-f one, made in 1960 and in the 80s and 70s the s-f fanzines were big also. But I got to get into the comic field principally because that's the more than I know.
First of all, you need to understand that, before 1983, there was little zine activity of any kind... because between 1976 and 1983, we had a military dictatorship which was not conducive to any cultural activity.

There were some comic fanzines at the time (
Crash! a critical comic zine was the first that I found and it was published between 1979 and 1983), but after the recover of democracy, it appeared for many people (not only with comic fans) the necessity of creating new cultural ways of expression. You have to understand that between 1983 and 1988 in Argentina there appeared a very profound 'cultural earthquake' in society, which needed new ways to express itself publicly after years of repression. In the case of comics, the key point was the appearance of Fierro magazine, a comic magazine devoted to an adult audience similar to the ones made in Italy, France and Spain at the time. They put in the first issue an open search looking for professionals...and, the feedback was astounding. Too many people trying to create comics. Of course, not all of them were published by Fierro... but they started to create their own fanzines as an alternative way to publish their comics. The scene was alive and well until 1990.

In that year, Argentina suffered a devastating hyper-inflationary crisis (for example, think of Weimar's Republic account of inflation and you get the picture, with things doubling price in only a couple of days!!!). And, then, there was a change in the economic paradigm of the country, which became a prime example of the return of the neo-liberal school, opening up the importation of everything - including comics. Since paper is expensive in Argentina, the local magazine industry could not compete with the cheaper imports from Spain. As a result, the marginal sales of comic magazines fell dramatically - all the comic magazines in Argentina fell in less than 6 years. And of course, the fanzine scene disappeared for awhile.

Around 1996 that changed: a new generation of zinesters started doing new comics in their own zines. The difference from the first comic 'fanzine wave' was that this generation only had zines as a way to express themselves. The 'first wave' had the possibility to graduate from zines to pro magazines. Now you cannot do that unless you work in other countries. So this 'second wave' scene was more diverse and comic producers much more self-conscious of their work.
A second economical crisis in 2001-2002 crashed the neo-liberal system. So the cheap imports were not there anymore... and many of those old zinesters became editors of small publications, bringing comics graphic novels from Argentina comic artist (many of them who had honed their skills years ago in the 'second wave' of zines) with pro quality, exchanging the logic of confrontation of the system with the logic of the quality of the product. There are a new wave of zines in Argentina but I don't know much of them since I don't live there now, so I would prefer to pass on talking about them.

Which publications and/or artists do you think were key to shaping the field historically?

I will list these title by title:

Crash!: The first comic zine, made between 1979 and 1983. An information and investigation magazine, with very good notes on comics from Argentina and the world.

Comiqueando: Appeared for 12 issues between 1986-87 (with a enviable regularity). They were the first info magazine to talk about the comics made in USA in those years in a laudatory way (which was strange in those years because comics fandom of the time considered USA comic books as cheap escapist stuff, with less quality that the comics published in the adult comics of the period). In the 90s Comiqueando (now a more pro magazine) emerged as the comic magazine for all fandom, with a very influential voice during in those years and who opened space for the diffusion of the 'second wave' of comics fanzines. It is still published but is not so important as was in the 90s.

Poco Loco, O no, HGO, Surmenage: were fanzines published in the 80s ('first wave') who based his stories and aesthetics on the Fierro and the adult comic magazine mold. Full of post-apocalyptic adventures, self-conclusive stories and realist artists. Many future comic professionals started working on those comics and the quality of the work was very good.

Squonk, Todos somos felices, Agujero Negro: were fanzines (of the 'first wave') which wasn't based on the Fierro aesthetic, trying to do a more underground style of comics.

Arkham: Only one issue and with stories very much in the adventure mold but it was important because it was the first appearance of Cazador. A couple of years after that magazine Cazador was brought back in a comic book which became the only comic character who was successful in the 90s with the local public.

Catzole: the most prolific (16 issues) of the second wave of comic fanzines. Their editors were of great importance to the new generation of comic zinesters, because they were active defenders of the zine as a way to publish independently. They have became successful artists, filmmakers and/or animators.

Falsa Modestia: the best humor fanzine of the 90s. His author, Gustavo Sala, has become one of the most successful strip artists for one of the largest Argentinian newspapers. His Dadaist humor still continues and similar to what he did in the fanzine.

8. Arkanov: a very interesting anthology magazine with short comic stories interconnected with the place in which all happened: the s-f city of Arkanov. The guy behind the series was the writer, Diego Agrimbau, who has became a pro comic writer in those last years.

Moron suburbio: a strange mix of "Pulp Fiction", social commentary and strange geographies, that fanzine was an interesting commentary on reality on the 90s.

Oceano y charquito: the most similar to a girl (but not grrl) fanzine on the comic scene. Two girls doing a strange, cute and fascinating humor/perzine mix.

Historietas reales: it is actually a blog, with several contributors doing a weekly strip about real stuff that happened to them. Of course some are better than others, but the experiment has been successful and has receoved recognition from the mass media.

(prozine) was one significant publication from the the late 1990s. Could you tell us something about the subjects covered in the comic fanzine, the artist and your role as a co-editor?

We published Kapop between 1998 and 2001, six issues in total. We wanted to do the magazine on comics who we wanted to read. We wanted a professional-looking style to the magazine, and trying to do stuff who were at the time forgotten. For example, an Asterix-like comic, which sounded like it was outmoded at the time. Or, delving into pulp style fiction. I believe that we got an interesting mix of cool graphic design (thanks to co-editor and artist Lucas Varela, who happened to be also a graphic designer) and clever and easy to read ADVENTURE comics (which is not so easy to do really: EASY TO READ IS NOT EQUAL TO MEDIOCRE). Plus we got to publish stuff from other people who were interesting to us, some new guys some established pros.

In doing the magazine we divided the work up fairly evenly: I wrote the stories, Lucas drew them. Lucas also designed the mag and I was in charge of distribution and payment, going to comic book store to comic book store to do this and going to every comic show in town putting up our stand. As I said before, it was very good received and it was the first step for Lucas to get into the professional comics.