Still catching up, blog-wise…
In early September my wife and I flew to Madrid. I was invited as a guest to a comic book convention in Avilés (a small town on the northwest coast of Spain). Because there’s no airport in Avilés, it was much easier to arrange to fly in and out of Madrid. I bought Spanish Eurail Passes prior to our leaving the United States.
My wife, Kent, had never been to Spain. The comic book convention was a great excuse to get her over there. I visited Spain (Barcelona & San Sebastian) during Franco’s reign in 1970, then lived in Madrid in 1980 while designing the “Conan the Barbarian” movie. So it had been 28 years since my last trip there.
A lot had changed. In 1970 Spain used to be sort of like Europe’s Mexico; a cheap and sunny place to head for your vacation. Not any more! Since joining the EU Spain has changed dramatically. It is now a first rate world class nation. Its travel infrastructure (airlines, trains, buses, highways, subways) is much better than that of the United States. The treatment we got on our bus trips was better than treatment in First Class on any American airline. Free movies, meals and drinks on a bus! Nicer seats, too! Everywhere we went it felt like the decisions the Spanish government made were based upon the question, “What would be the best thing to do in regards to our people?” (as opposed to the US, where the question seems to be “What would be the best thing to do in regards to our corporations?”).
The Atocha Metro Station in Madrid is a good example of what I’m talking about. As you walk up some steps to access another part of the station you face a gigantic wall. Here, it would probably remain just a wall — maybe with some paint if we were lucky. At Atosha Station this wall is a mass of soothing blue. It looks as if water is constantly dripping down in vertical streams all over the entire wall. It’s not water, though — it’s lights. They’re soft blue lights designed to look like water dripping down a window. It’s hard to express the overwhelming feeling of peace you get when you face this colossal wall.
Elsewhere in Atosha Station is another surprise — a huge, tall rainforest oasis with lots of live turtles in its surrounding ponds. In a metro station!
Honestly, after being in Spain, coming back to the US was like returning to a Second World Nation. Hopefully, President Obama can repair the damage of the previous eight years and steer us back on to the right course.
After a couple of days in Madrid we took off for Avilés. Or, we tried to. My ignorance of and carelessness in regards to the fine Spanish rail system nearly stranded us. Fortunately, our Avilés liason, the amazing Jorge, talked us down out of our tears, depression and panic and facilitated our getting to Avilés in good time. We arrived very happy (which Jorge said should be our only goal).
Now, I’m torn here. I have never enjoyed a convention more than the one in Avilés. But I worry that if I tell everyone how amazing this show is, that it will be flooded with mobs of conventioneers and ruined. Our generous hosts gave my wife and I such a great time, though, that I’d feel guilty not thanking them publicly for their hard work to make the convention in Avilés such a fantastic experience.
Here’s a typical day. We rise in the morning, get dressed and go down to our hotel’s first floor dining room where there is a breakfast buffet for the artists. After that we are free to wander. We could wander about Avilés or wander up the town’s incline to a large white tent., on the way passing a huge sculpture devoted to comics and reading (the sculpture gets added to each year). During the day there are about twelve dealers set up inside the tent. They primarily represent bookshops that sell comics. At the end of the tent is a table set up for interviews, press conferences, etc. Nearby the tent is a large building that houses an auditorium for the more formal presentations. In the auditorium lobby is a beautiful display of framed original comic art.
At lunch time the artists are collected and taken to a nice restaurant. After lunch we’re free to do whatever we want. The convention is designed to be small so that the fans can truly meet and interact with the guests and that the artists can hang with each other, too, if they’d like. I had fans of mine show up from several countries. In Europe fans are not accustomed to paying for sketches drawn at conventions. There is no obligation to any of the guests to draw for their public, however. It is entirely the artist’s own decision. If the artist decides to do drawings, fans will wait politely and patiently for hours and hours to get one.
Knowing that none of these drawings would end up on Ebay the next day (the Spanish fans are far too respectful to pull something like that) and with no pressure whatsoever to produce, I decided to sit and do drawings. It was fun, because I could do this almost anywhere. I usually sat with other artists at cafes or sketched inside the convention tent. While I was drawing fans would buy me food and drinks and other treats (I never had to pay for anything to eat or drink in Avilés! I became quite the connoisseur of Spanish beer). I did lots of drawings; I drank lots of beer.
Speaking of which…in the evening the artists would be rounded up once more and taken for dinner at a nice Avilés restaurant. Now, normally, I’m not a big seafood eater; I rarely touch the stuff. But the seafood throughout Spain was SO GOOD that I ate practically nothing else.
After dinner we’d usually return to the tent. The amazing Rita, a bar owner from Bilbao, has a long bar set up in the tent. Sometimes she brings musician friends in to play. All manner of drinks are available from Rita’s bar and Rita herself (as well as several other fans) are generous sources of other pleasures (Did I mention that Cuban cigars can be purchased legally in Spain?). As long as people are drinking, the bar stays open (usually until morning — this is Spain, after all!).
You might ask what my obligations were to the convention in Avilés. They were:
1) Show up.
2) Do a one hour Q & A in the auditorium. An astounding translator, Diego, was provided and the convention itself put together an amazing variety of images representing every aspect of my career (I have no idea where they dug up all that stuff of mine).
3) Meet the Mayor of Avilés and his fine staff.
4) Be there for the closing ceremonies (where I received the George Perez “Coolest Guest” Award).
5) Have fun.
I made it a point to speak Spanish everywhere I went. My decision to do so became a testament to the patience of the kind people of Spain. Whatever I couldn’t say I would draw or gesticulate, all with a healthy and infectious sense of humor. The Spanish people seemed to happily put up with my apparent lunacy and the mangling of their beautiful language. Slowly but surely (and with my wife’s help; she speaks pretty darn good Spanish), my Spanish started coming back to me — even some of the verb forms!
My hosts in Avilés could not have been more gracious, as evidenced by my wife’s reaction to attending the show. My wife Kent almost never goes to conventions, mainly because she can’t stand them (no interest, really, and a lot of the people who turn up at the shows just creep her right out). But the second day in Avilés, she turned to me and said, “I’m REALLY having fun here! These people are SO NICE!” (So nice that I volunteered to give an impromptu talk at the local art college one afternoon. The students were incredibly bright and receptive and we all had a good time).
Indeed, everyone we met in Avilés was unbelievably friendly and nice. We made so many good new friends; fans and fellow artists alike. Thank you, city of Avilés! Thank you, Jorge! Thank you, Diego! Thank you, Rita! Thank you to everyone involved with the convention! Thank you to all of the artists, friends and fans who showed up for this terrific show.
Other projects involving Spain are now in the works. I am really looking forward to my return (as is my wife). Next, I’ll tell you about some of the other Spanish cities we visited.