September 20, 2015

El Jueves #2000

Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves, which provides my civilian job, is releasing its 2000th issue this week. That's +38 years on the streets. While many of my colleagues will surely post announcements for our readership, I'd like to take avail of this occasion to tell my anglophone audience why this matters.

As a quick explanation to Americans I often correlate El Jueves to MAD Magazine, but that is a rough analogy. El Jueves first came out in 1977, in the early days of democratic restoration after Franco's dictatorship. It belongs to a rich tradition of cartoon journals that playfully and defiantly teased and dodged the censorship of an ageing totalitarian society. Its adult-oriented humor and often crude sociopolitical commentary caused many of its first artists to go to court every other week; their names (Ivá, Perich, Óscar Nebreda) are legends of pop culture today. Through the eighties and nineties, as freedom settled in and liberal agendas elbowed their way in, the popularity of such magazines dwindled and ultimately only El Jueves remained. Despite its job being much less hazardous today, and furious bigot reactions being less of a threat than loss of readers to aggregator websites, El Jueves is still frequently sued by individuals and institutions, trolled by the easily offendable, and even seized as late as 2007 for a famous front page depicting prince (currently king) Felipe VI and his wife having sex.

But the strike that makes El Jueves' resilience most admirable is relatively recent. Only fifteen months ago, El Jueves took its costliest blow when RBA, its current publisher, banned a front page cartoon on the abdication of king Juan Carlos I and destroyed all 60,000 printed copies before they reached the stores. This blatant attack on editorial independence caused many contributing writers and artists, including former editors Manel Fontdevila and Albert Monteys, living champions of comics in this country, to quit and found their own magazine. Understaffed and bleeding credibility, those of us who stayed in El Jueves feared that we would just stagger for a few more weeks and die.

Instead, we did stagger, and then slowly stood upright, and then made it another year. Because two things that Spain is thankfully never short of are mediocre public figures to mock, and new generations of brilliant cartoonists.

I only joined El Jueves in 2007 and played a diminutive part in this story. But it played a big part in mine. As a comics fan in my teens I worshipped and emulated the work of then rising artists such as Albert Monteys; fifteen years later I was literally drawing by Monteys' side every week'literally' as in 'on the same page'. My writing owes a lot to what I learned by reading Eljuevians as idols, working with them as equals, and yes, fighting them as bosses. And many of my best friends I either met in El Jueves, or they joined the ranks soon after me. And they're the pop culture legends of tomorrow.

All in all, 2000 weeks is a milestone worth celebrating. So please join us, fill a glass with cava and drink to the health of a Spanish comics magazine this week. More English-oriented news will soon follow.

El Jueves #2000 comes out on Wednesday,
September 23. Print and electronic
versions available.