Darnís drawing. Photo: Silvia Darnís
Francisco Darnís, Jabato generation
I think that the most interesting chapters in the biographies of the authors are those that come directly from the memories and voices of the people who lived with them.
I met Silvia Darnís a few years ago in a forum I came across through some links where vignettes by different authors were collected. Silvia was one of those people whose passion for comics was immediately obvious.
I remember she asked me about my surname and if I had any relation with the scriptwriter and writer Víctor Mora, for me it was just another anecdote of a simple coincidence of surnames, but some time later I found out that her love for comics went far beyond a hobby, they were a big part of her life.
Silvia is one of the two daughters of Francisco Darnís Vicente, the cartoonist of“El jabato” (Barcelona 1910-1966)
Almost a year ago now, Silvia agreed to let me send her some questions, and finally, after several attempts, we were able to talk on the phone.
This interview is as accurate a transcription as possible of the audio of that conversation, which was recorded on the evening of Tuesday 20 October 2009. I have only altered the order of the questions and answers, polishing a few slang phrases and interruptions to make it easier to read, but I have respected the colloquial tone of the answers.
This text will be updated over the next few days with the documentation that Silvia has been kind enough to search for, order, scan and send.
When Francisco Darnís died, Silvia was 14 years old and her sister Natalia was 12, but she clearly remembers the magical routine of her father’s work.
Interview with Silvia Darnís
What memories do you have of your father’s work?
Many, it was the distraction of when we came home from school in the afternoon, at snack time, we would go to his studio where he had the drawing table and there we would watch how he drew, how he consulted the books, and well, ….. It was very interesting because you could follow the script he had for drawing that week.
Every Saturday we would go with my father to the publishing house, he would hand in all the work of the whole week and pick up the script for the next booklet.
The script consisted of four or five typewritten pages, and he was also given the A3-size sheets with the different vignettes (squares) drawn, that is, the size of the vignettes for each page of the next booklet, and he had to fill them in.
Sometimes he also did extra work, when Jabato colour, axtras and so on came out, but I don’t have much memory of these jobs any more.
One of the most curious things I remember is that, normally when someone draws a character, the first thing they do is draw the character and then fill in the rest of the cartoon, the backgrounds. Well, he didn’t, he would start in any corner of the cartoon drawing a jungle… or the boat… and then he would draw the characters… El Jabato… or Taurus… or the Noodle of Miletus, that is, first he drew the background and then the characters, he would surprise you, it was surprising, it was surprising.
We are talking about a time without digital image archives, where did the references and models for the setting of the cartoons come from?
Darnís consulting his photo library for the book “Dibujo de Historietas”, Editorial Afha (1974)
He was also very interesting, when he needed to create new characters he would conscientiously document himself in his library, in the little room where he drew he had a very extensive library and there were encyclopaedias of all kinds, from natural history for animals, arts and crafts…to…I don’t know…the history of dress, of costumes throughout life by region and by country…everything.
And constructions, architecture too, of course, he looked for all the information about the period he was drawing, he was very neat and truthful in this. If there was a man in a skirt, it was because at that time men wore skirts…it was very interesting and even more interesting when seen from our eyes as children.
He always worked at home, as far as I remember he never wanted to go to work in the editorial drawing room, he preferred to organise his daily work according to the timetable that suited him, and that way he could enjoy another of his favourite hobbies, listening to music. For us, it was normal for our father to always be at home.
Did you have an inker at that time?
Yes, let’s see, at the beginning of everything… everything… he inked all the characters, first in pencil and then with Indian ink and nib because of course, Rotring didn’t exist at that time (laughs). The thing is, a booklet a week was a lot of work (they were usually six pages long including the cover)
If you have observed his drawings, they were very meticulous, it took him a long time to do them and he didn’t have time to ink everything. So he inked the faces of the main characters, especially the faces. All the faces that have been published are his, both in pencil and ink, and the rest were done by other inkers because he didn’t have time to do everything.
I think they were inkers from the publishing house, the name I remember most is Jaime Juez, but there were more, I just don’t remember them. Although I can mention them all because there are people who know them, I have documentation of many people who we could call Jabato fanatics who know everything inside out.
Some guys… Javier Garriga and Ramón Coll got in touch with us because they wanted to publish a book for the fiftieth anniversary… and in that book there is the life and miracles of the Jabato, from the time it was born until it finished, everything that was published is reflected, in which publishers, dates, what the notebooks were like, in which collections… everything, it’s admirable!
Modest studio where Francisco Darnís worked in summer
Did he have any other hobbies?
Music was what he liked most, he had a record player, a tape recorder, one of those huge tape recorders that used to exist in the old days, and he recorded tapes of the concerts he could catch on the radio, recorded them and then played them on the tapes. He was passionate about technology, if he had lived through these times he would have gone crazy because he was fascinated by all the new things, also photography, he loved taking photographs, …we developed them at home…he did everything himself, he even built his own enlarger. He was self-taught and self-taught in many areas, he was always very restless and creative.
There are people who, even today, still maintain that “El Jabato” was a simple copy of “El Capitán Trueno”, although not everyone agrees with this. Even Wikipedia highlights this controversy in the first line of its entry on the character.
What is your opinion on this?
Captain Trueno was Bruguera’s main comic, then… there was another comic, now I don’t know what it was, I don’t remember… I know they talked about it when we were in Andorra when they did the Salón del Cómic.
I think it was El Cachorro that was ending and then they wanted to take advantage of the pull of Captain Thunder and create another character to replace the collection that was ending, that’s when they proposed to Víctor Mora to do another character, the two characters are very similar but they are very different.
El Jabato and Capitán Trueno shake hands
For example, Captain Thunder was a knight who belonged to the high nobility… he was a crusader and, let’s say, he “earned his living” fighting, so he met Sigrid, who, although she was a Viking queen, was still a “barbarian queen”. El Jabato, on the other hand, was a farmer who was forced to fight to avoid being made a slave, was an outlaw of Rome and fell in love with a Roman noblewoman, the daughter of a senator.
Is it clear then that at that time they exploited not a by-product but rather the genre that was being consumed?
I think they took advantage of the time we were living in, the Franco era, it still represented a bit of rebellion, but there was no “competition” between the two characters, it was created to take advantage of the pull and fame of Captain Thunder, it was a character that replaced another comic book, the publisher took advantage of a time when they published I don’t know how many thousands of comic books which, compared to what is published and read now… it’s amazing, before all children read and learned through and with comic books
Víctor Mora took the opportunity to make a similar character in terms of the story and the set-up of the booklet, but with a completely different message in terms of personalities, character and period, the characters are very different.
Trueno was a noble gentleman, “a handsome one”, to put it one way, who went on adventures. El Jabato, on the other hand, was a protagonist who was a fighter by force, a humble farmer on whom adventure was imposed.
El Jabato’s heroism, in short, was simply a struggle for survival in order not to live in subjugation, while Capitán Trueno was born in a different way, he was a crusader warrior who dedicated his life to adventure without any other worries.
And now the always thorny issue, the management of the rights. How are you handling this matter?
At the moment it’s “embastat”, that is, not exactly “embastat” (laughs)
We have been in contact with Ediciones B since 2006, since when they have known us and recognised our mother, who is still alive, and us as heirs to the El Jabato character. Thanks to Francisco Tadeo Juan from Valencia, editor of Comicguía, who was looking for us hard and contacted us, we knew about reeditions of El Jabato also through friends and acquaintances who by chance saw books or notebooks of El Jabato and asked us and said: “Hey, what’s going on, why don’t you go and see what’s going on?
And that’s how, after a lot of research, we decided to get in touch with the publishing house, we were the ones who introduced ourselves to them, they told us, they didn’t know of our existence. Fortunately, we are now recognised and every time there is a new edition, we are informed or consulted…
But we want to clarify everything with the publishing house, with Víctor Mora and with us because, of course, they have been publishing and re-publishing for a long time, for many years, and we have been kept in a corner because they didn’t know we existed.
In a corner, do you mean that they’ve been reissuing and you haven’t received any money for the rights?
No, no, no…no…well, we have to say that Victor Mora did remember us a long time ago but that’s not what I mean, it has been more “emotionally” by not letting us know when new things were being done, or presentations, or shows, or anything, the most sentimental part is what has been left behind, a feeling of ostracism.
Document of transfer of rights to the publishing house Sopena signed by Darnís in 1941 (Source)
Have you already reached some kind of agreement with Ediciones B?
Yes, from 2006 Ediciones B recognises us… they have known and recognised our father’s copyright and us and our mother as heirs, but until 2006.
At any point do you consider other claims?
No because…let’s see…it’s something that…if you don’t live in this world…for us, the comic book was very different than for the boys who read it because we had it at home. It wasn’t like you were waiting for the next comic book… once our father died, we thought: “this is over” and it didn’t even occur to you, especially at our age, that it could be reprinted until one day you finally found out.
Do you mean to say that when your father died you had no awareness or suspicion that his work could have this repercussion?
None, not at all, for a very simple reason, because it was simply our father’s work and that was it.
You didn’t think that it could be a work, that it was art or that it could be republished or that it could be recognised, no…no…no
What do you think would have changed if you had lived all that today?
It would have been completely different, because now the awareness that there is regarding the ownership of any creation is something that is the order of the day, but in those days cartoonists were… well… they asked you what your father did for a living, you told them that he drew and they looked at you as if to say “Well, what a way to make a living…”
So you made a living as a doctor, a carpenter or a painter (laughs) but not drawing and for us that was a job and we didn’t think about anything else and when our father died we had enough work to survive because there was no social security or anything else. Nobody remembers anybody, it was as if today someone made a living doing graffiti. Is it considered a profession?
Publishers don’t give a damn about cartoonists
Do you think publishers intend to honour the legacy of cartoonists’ work?
Well… no, look, the only people who remember and recognise cartoonists are people like you, those who write in the forums, those who collect the comics, those who search and search and search and search and search and are interested in the reprints, the books… but the publishers? … the publishers don’t give a damn about them, the only thing they’re interested in is business.
In this case, because it was the fiftieth anniversary they have reissued El Jabato, it has been because of the pull of the fiftieth anniversary of Capitán Trueno.
Note that this is the fiftieth anniversary (during 2009) of many comic book characters and they are taking advantage of this occasion, everything that exists from the Bruguera publishing house, now owned by Ediciones B, is being reissued, because now, let’s say… they have made a comeback, but if they don’t see business, the publishers, all of them, ignore honouring cartoonists.
The big publishers make an investment with the aim of making money and I understand that, at the end of the day that’s what they’re there for and that’s their objective, but well, it doesn’t stop you from feeling a little hurt that they forget about people.
In other words, there’s a comic fair and there’s an exhibition of everything published by Bruguera and Captain Trueno, El Jabato, etc. and they don’t take you into account and you can’t be there and enjoy it, after all, he was our father.
Or my mother (who is now an old lady), who nowadays doesn’t know anything about it, but ten years ago I remember that when she saw a Jabato in a kiosk or in a bookshop she got very excited.
The Darnís family, from left to right: Rosario, Natalia, Silvia and Francisco
Because of course, for her, her husband had been dead for so many years… she thought that she would never see this again…pffff…never see it again. Then you find out about these reeditions, exhibitions and these memories and this little bit of warmth that they could have given is what has been missing and it’s annoying. The truth is that it’s quite annoying.
Is there any tribute or exhibition in sight?
Yes, after the exhibition held at the Andorra comic fair, we’re going to Almería in November, Diego Cara is organising a tribute and they’ve asked us to come and he’s also writing the bible in verse there (laughs)
There are many people who are behind Jabato, if you go to the El Jabato website or look anywhere on the net you will be amazed, any fan or follower knows much more about the life of the character of El Jabato, much more than us, thanks to the net many things will be preserved.
Everything published on the internet will survive and will not run the risk of being forgotten or disappearing in the hands of some madman as happened with the library of Alexandria. Unless, of course, in the future some kind of censorship of comics is revived. (laughs)
A passage of censorship
Finally, as a curiosity, and taking advantage of the fact that we are talking about this issue, an example of how Darnís’s work also had to suffer absurd censorship:
Original page, first edition, 1970s (click to enlarge):
The same censored page, (click to enlarge)
Updated 26 December 2016. Jaume VivóThe author, from the Societat Catalana d’Egiptologia, sent information about the exhibition “Ancient Egyptian comics“(mentioned in a commentary) held by this group in April/May 1998, at its headquarters in C/ Aragó, 305 (Barcelona), at the presentation of which, by Joan Navarro, Natalia Darnís was present with her mother.
In 2004, this small exhibition on “The comics of ancient Egypt” was updated. It was exhibited in La Massana Còmic (Andorra), where it was very well received. There was also an interesting meeting between cartoonists and Egyptologists.
- L’antic Egipte at “El Jabato”
- Exhibition of comics in La Massana (Andorra)
- PDF with the exhibition panels (5,75 MB)
One of the exhibition panels
Acknowledgements and list of sources consulted
Sincere thanks to Silvia Darnís for patiently putting up with all the work I’ve been giving her during these days.
Natalia and Silvia at the tribute“Jabato 50th anniversary“, La Massana Cómic 2009
Other related links:
Biography and publications