Joaquín Segarra Pérez is an artist in the full sense of the word. But he is also a tireless creator and a born fighter. He has been painting and doodling all his life, but also playing with words. When he had been studying Fine Arts for a few years, he abandoned his conventional studies and the mythical fanzine Kastelló was born. Nine years of life and 101 issues are the result of the intense work he carried out in the 1990s.
The last issue was not the end, but a new stage. His characters, cartoons, vignettes, stories and poems can now be seen in his blog Un Planeta llamado Acapu
Why did you choose to sign with Acapu?
The truth is that I don’t know. That name, Acapu, came about when I was 13 or 14, playing secret agents at home with my siblings: I made up a secret code and my name according to that code was Acapu. And it was I think a couple of years later when I started to sign some of my drawings like that.
And after a while it became a fixed thing… I don’t know, sometimes I think that I didn’t choose it, it just came naturally one way or another. Five or six years ago I found out that there is a tree that grows in the Amazon jungle with the same name: Acapu. I like the idea of having my drawings signed by a tree…
How did your relationship with doodling and illustration begin? Because I’ve seen that when you had a year and a half left to finish your Fine Arts degree you left everything for Kastelló. A semi-professional publication, how did your environment take it, do you regret it, what happened to you?
Well, since always, I always remember myself drawing, I think it happens to many of us drawers, that when we are children we are already there with the pencil, or the pen, the crayons… looking for a piece of paper to copy some cartoon character, in my case it was Mazinger Z, or Ruy the little Cid, Heidi, Marco… At school I was the one who drew, and I remember in high school filling the blank spaces in the books with faces and more faces (I love drawing faces), and with outlandish characters, and trying to make graphic jokes… I also started to paint, when I was 16 or 17, in oil on small tiles… And when I saw that high school was coming to an end, the choice was clear, although I hesitated between Architecture or Fine Arts… that was my choice, and that’s where I went. What happened as the courses went by was a mixture of disenchantment and personal transformation.
I was lucky enough to share a flat during those years (I’m from Castelló, and I studied at the Faculty of San Carlos in Valencia) with people who made me discover a whole world that I didn’t know about until then: music and literature that made me rethink my universe. I’m talking about music groups like Barricada, Leize, Bruque, Extremoduro… and writers like Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Unamuno, Ortega, and also the sociology and psychology that came out of Freud’s psychoanalysis: Erich Fromm, Carl Gustav Jung, Wilhelm Reich… And the poetry of Neruda, Celaya… I don’t know, it was a cocktail that led me to a very strong crisis, where my desire to dream and fight for a better world clashed with pure and simple reality.
Title: Kastelló 76
Authors: Luán Mart, Elvis Pérez, Asdinjo, Alimotxe, Álex Estrada, Bartolomé Ferrando, José Tarragó, Vicente Muñoz, Claudia Parentela, Fabián Sotolongo, J. Lópeza de León, Carlos Andújar, Luis Pozo, Ragedi Rawney and others
It wasn’t easy, my family didn’t take it well, but in the end I got the understanding that allowed me to start that Kastelló adventure, together with Enric Cervera, one of my flatmates who, apart from being a computer expert, had a tremendous sensitivity and a very critical attitude towards the society we were living in at the time, the 90s.
In short, we were a fine artist and a computer scientist (Andrés and Pere, also critical people and also computer scientists, contributed their part in those early days) who combined very well to produce a fanzine on a monthly basis, a fanzine that, as time went by, grew to the point of shaking the comfortable cultural foundations of our city, Castelló, and also connected with the rich and varied underground scene of the Spanish state at that time.
Keeping a publication up to 101 issues is not easy, what do you remember of those years, and as everything has an end, why did Kastelló disappear?
No, it’s not easy… you know this because you know an expert on the subject, J.R. Mora, I met him at that time. Making a fanzine is a whole story, it involves so many things… it’s not just the content (drawings, texts, layout…), it’s also the printing, getting the money to get it off the ground, coordinating with the collaborators, the mailing… ufff.
In Kastelló, from issue number 4 onwards, we got fully involved in the option of financing it almost entirely through advertising. It was the hardest thing of all, at least for me, I’m not very good at being a commercial agent… but even so we managed to gather a good number of advertisers for each issue, mainly pubs, cafés… which allowed us to publish almost monthly and with print runs that ranged between 300 and 1,000 copies per issue.
And we maintained that line until issue 87 (9 years after we started), which was when Kastelló disappeared, although in the following years I published a few more issues until I reached 101. Let’s see… it was a tremendous experience, you go out into the street with your art, and this is where I answer one of your previous questions: I have never regretted leaving Fine Arts to put body and soul into Kastelló.
In Bellas Artes I learnt a lot, but there was something false, predictable, self-indulgent, alien to reality, and with Kastelló everything was different. It’s true that the means were precarious, that especially at the beginning the aesthetic was very much in line with the typical radical fanzine of those years (black and white and making the most of every space), and that for most people it was nothing more than something nice and fun. A far cry from Art in capital letters.
For me that was art with all the letters, with capital letters or lower case, but much more courageous and authentic than what we were doing in Fine Arts.
It’s true that in the faculty we felt very much in the latest wave because we had studied the artistic avant-garde of the 20th century, we knew what Dadaism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art were, and we flirted with the most post-modern post-modernity, but… oh, and social justice? and the exploitation of the minority over the majority? and the roles they were inculcating in us to fit into capitalist society and be artists who were complacent with the established system? With Kastello we made a leap, no longer a great leap for Humanity or for Art or for the unmerited Milk powder, no.
It was a leap for those of us who lived it. I noticed that excitement among the people who, in those first issues, participated in the elaboration of the issues and shared ideas and tried new things and went out to distribute the copies, and to talk to collaborators, associations, collectives…
We were doing something new and we were doing it in the same place and at the same time when normality tried to make us believe that nothing new was possible. But… of course, right from the start it wasn’t easy, some people put their university careers, the expectations of their families and their environment before any adventure. In short: in the end I was alone in the jump. And sustaining it on my own was a tremendous effort. I also recognise that I had my mistakes, and sometimes we don’t realise the pitfalls, the details that little by little put the brakes on that first enthusiasm…
And, in the end, I recognise that while my environment was becoming more comfortable, seeking its place within a system that I flatly rejected, I became more and more entrenched in my truths and in the end I couldn’t cope with it all.
The last years of Kastelló were the ones with the most recognition in the underground scene, because the experience allowed me to improve and each issue was a small work of art, thanks to the writers, poets, cartoonists, columnists, etc. who over the years had joined in from different parts of the country (and also from abroad) and managed to give shape and strength to the pages of Kastelló. I’m not going to mention any of them, because I don’t want to forget anyone, but they were people who, each in their own way, opened new doors to criticism and artistic expression… I was very proud to be their editor, and I was lucky enough to share good times with most of them and learn a lot, perhaps those personal experiences were the best part of that fanzine adventure.
But those last years of Kastelló were also the ones with the most wear and tear in terms of my relationship with my closest environment, including my family. And what marked the end of Kastelló were the misfortunes on a personal level. The death of my father, together with that of one of my uncles, and also the death of Alimotxe, one of Kastelló’s emblematic collaborators and an exceptional guy… Well, it was “demasié pa’l body”, at that point I was very fed up with everything, very frustrated, and in the end I decided to call it a day, to avoid greater evils.
In short: it was a very intense time and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, although I know it’s unrepeatable. Those were the years when the internet was beginning to be heard as something distant and was gradually becoming part of everyday life, it had nothing to do with now, in those days the only way to publish and reach people was like that: printing copies, ink and paper.
In that context Kastello was possible, and it made sense, it was one of the many swansongs that took place in Europe at that time. Swan songs of that means of communication, the printed and combative fanzine, and of everything that the struggle on the streets meant at that time for many people. But when the 21st century began, everything started to be very different… And I, I confess, I didn’t know how to adapt, far from it. I had given too much of myself, and I was very tired.
Looking over your CV I deduce that you are a hustler, you have combined the creation of the Acapu imaginary with jobs as a security guard, orange picker and bingo valet and even ahairdresser’sassistant .Is it so difficult to make a living by drawing? Why?
I’m not as forward as it may seem, no… I’m quite reckless when it comes to certain things, but in general I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to making a living, my world is that of letters and drawings, books and paintings, reflections, imagination… but I feel quite lost when it comes to that, finding a job, or keeping one…
Most of the jobs I’ve done have been very temporary, in that I’m very much in line with the reality of work for so many people… but if I survive it’s mainly thanks to the solidarity of my family, because earning a living by drawing, or writing, or editing, or painting pictures, yes, it’s very difficult, I couldn’t tell you why, it’s something very common in everything related to the arts, it also happens in cinema, theatre and music.
In the end very few people can make a living from this. In that sense I’m very resigned, I keep sending CVs back and forth, taking part in competitions… but I don’t think I’ll be able to earn a regular income from my work at this point. The only thing left for me is to continue drawing, writing, trying to improve every day, even though
the incentive to be valued professionally doesn’t exist, I continue to work as any professional does.
And in the midst of all this work, combining your cartoons with your other occupations, you even have several books such as “Ancla tu mirada” or “Las palabritas de Julia “.On top of that, you also write short stories and poetry. Are you superman, how do you organise yourself?
No. Not even close. I don’t have any superpowers, I wish I had… Maybe it’s just that I like everything to do with writing, drawing, painting… and for some years now I’ve got into the habit of keeping a regular rhythm, although sometimes it’s interrupted by other occupations that bring in some money, in general I’m always thinking about a new cartoon, or a new phrase that defines a social reality or that turns around the discourses that come to us from above.
I’ve been writing stories since I was 16, and poetry since I was 18, and I’m now over 40. There comes a time when it’s my everyday life, like drinking or eating, I’m used to looking for different points of view. I don’t resign myself to the official discourse, to the repetition of nonsense that constantly invites us to submission.
For me, creativity is a form of resistance, of active resistance, because today the chains of the slave are above all mental chains, and a good antidote is to have a well-trained mind, so that it does not allow itself to be shackled. And I know that in order to connect with those who read me I have to practice a lot: there are days when I can’t think of anything, but I find a moment to just draw something, some faces, or some lines, or nonsense doodles, or paint with Photoshop a cartoon that I drew on paper months ago.
Although, I imagine the answer, being a cartoonist and illustrator involves a lot of personal sacrifice.
Yes, of course it does. There are days when I’d lie on the sofa and watch a film, or, in short, do nothing, but I don’t allow myself to do that, only on a few occasions when I’m very tired or very discouraged, but in general I always look for a way to face the blank page, or the screen, or I take a walk to let the ideas air… Yes, I have very little social life, partly by personal choice and partly because when one’s finances are that tight.
In the end, going out for dinner with friends, for example, becomes a bit of a mission impossible. A pencil and a sheet of paper is still a cheap material (oh, don’t let Rajoy or his successor read this, he’ll raise the VAT on pencils and paper…) and with the light of the Mediterranean there’s no need to spend a lot on light bulbs either. In short, it’s a question of doing what you can with what you have.
I can’t resist asking you which of your cartoons or characters you are most fond of.
Of my cartoons… it’s always the same: my favourites are the least successful, the fewer “likes” or retweets, or times they’ve been shared, or comments or etcetera, those are the ones I’m most fond of. And sometimes it happens that you spend hours shaping a cartoon, polishing the script, taking care of the details, looking for the colours… and having a good laugh while I do it (because yes: I have a great time with my humour cartoons, they have to make me laugh, surprise me when they occur to me and at least make me smile when I see it finished) and in the end I publish it and it goes unnoticed.
Anyway, the ones that fly through the net at full speed also have that place in my heart, especially some that are very special to me, but the others, the marginalised ones… they are my weakness. In the case of the characters… it’s different there, because the character I feel most comfortable with and the one I find most likeable and most legal and most everything is the character that has the best acceptance when he or she goes on stage.
It’s a character that I don’t think has ever appeared in Mi Lápiz, but in my blog he was quite common for 2 or 3 years, now he appears less often, but I laugh a lot with him. He’s the Cactus, the character who says all the outrageous things I think and don’t dare to say. I prefer him to say them, hehehe. And the Cactus lives in the desert, which is the image I often have of the world we live in: a wasteland of humanism, a stupid world where war prevails over peace, money over goodness. Even so, he always finds a way to laugh his head off.
He is a very affectionate character who gives kisses and hugs, but… he is a cactus! he’s a cactus, with his spikes! That’s how I feel so many times… and how many people feel: we want to give the best of ourselves but when we are careless, our spikes stand on end.
As a veteran cartoonist, I’m sure you’ve got into some trouble, tell us about it.
Not that I remember. There were more in Kastelló’s time, but I got caught more as an editor. In a couple of cases above all, with a cartoon that a contributor did where he parodied the New Acropolis courses (we got a letter from a law firm, threatening to sue us if we didn’t give them the name of the contributor who had signed under a pseudonym (we didn’t give them the name, of course) and that was the end of the matter.
And with some poems by another contributor, entitled “Apologia del terrorisme” (they were in Valencian), I don’t remember very well, but I think it was the poet who finally backed down and changed the title. Although I was fine with it. Other cases resulted in vetoes of Kastelló in certain places. At this stage, when I’ve devoted myself more to graphic humour, I don’t remember anything special, apart from losing the odd follower or derogatory comment.
What have cats taught you, why do you have the section Gatuneandoin your blog?
A lot of things, above all to ignore many humans. There was a cat, who lived in the house of a girlfriend I had years ago… he was a gentleman cat, very calm but also very dignified and very intelligent, it was the first time I felt very clearly that a cat is not just a cat, he is above all someone, he is people, like you or me. Gatuneando was born a few months ago, as a result of a failed project for a publishing house. In the end, what could have been a book became a series for the blog.
You like to play with language, with acapaphorisms, but, at the same time, they are critical. What is humourfor you as a concept? Are humourists necessary in life?
Yes, I am very critical in much of what I write and draw, because of what I said before about creativity as an antidote to mental chains? And humour is an escape valve for me. I don’t mean it in the sense of escape, because humour allows you to laugh at what can plunge you into misery, it allows you to be there, in the middle of hell, without ending up completely crushed. In my case, this comic side has been with me since I was a child, and without it I wouldn’t have survived, or at least I wouldn’t have survived with a minimum of mental equilibrium.
Yes, comedians are absolutely necessary, and besides, there are so many different ways of doing humour: black humour, candid humour, humour that throws a superserious truth at you in the form of an impressive joke (or the other way round), elegant humour that laughs at itself and the world while giving you a friendly handshake, or humour that makes you laugh while showering you with kisses and hugs, or humour that doesn’t seem like humour but when you’re careless you’re there with a silly, grateful smile on your face.
I don’t know, we humans need humour to survive, to be able to see the funny and unexpected perspectives of the world we live in. Because life is not serious. It’s a laughing thing, in reality.
I realise that you make a cartoon almost every day, how do you manage it?
For me it’s a habit now. Making vignettes is almost like breathing. Although there are days when inspiration withdraws like a bad thing and there’s no way. In cases like that I don’t force myself, because in my case I don’t have the pressure of having to publish one every day. That’s why I admire people who are publishing every day in a newspaper, I would like to have that pressure, and I think I could handle it, but I know it’s very complicated.
My experience is that I have days where I do two or three vignettes, and then I come up with ideas for three or four more, or periods of one or two weeks where it’s a whirlwind of ideas.
Then there are dry and completely sterile days. I insist: don’t force yourself, with this imagination thing, it’s better to be calm and quiet, because if you’re careless, ideas come out like wildfire. These last few months, for example, I’ve had very few ideas for white humour cartoons, but I had many prepared from more prodigal times, so those who visit the sites where I publish haven’t noticed the drop.
I’m more of an ant than a cicada, I think it’s because I come from a family of farmers, and I carry in my genes that “ay ay ay, save for when there isn’t any”, and inspiration is like the weather, you don’t know when there might be a drought or hail, so you have to take advantage of the days of good rain and good sunshine.
How do you see the current political panorama, and is politics a source of continuous inspiration?
Oops… For me, politics is above all a source of bad blood. It really is. There are days when it disgusts me, just like that. I have times when I try to turn it into something friendly, something laughable, but there are times when I question everything and I ask myself: “Why do I have to put a funny mirror on this dump of scoundrels?
Lately I’ve been finding a certain balance with the series “We’re nobody…. Or are we?”, where the characters are tiny, we can’t identify whether it’s a man or a woman, or whether they’re wearing a tie or a helmet, or whether they’re young or old, the people we are, the people we are, beyond the roles, and I try to be elegant in the written forms, and blend them with the drawn forms, to achieve that distance that allows me to talk about so much… in short, so much shit as there is in everyday life.
I see the current political panorama as being just as bad as it was two decades ago, and as it was four decades ago. For me it’s a problem of the system, which is an exploitative system. It is designed to squeeze the most out of the most. But the responsibility for this situation does not only lie with those at the top, with those who take advantage of the situation to live in luxury. It is also the responsibility of the majority, silent or complaining, and it is also our responsibility because we can change the situation.
It is true that the system is designed to make us obey without us realising that we obey. We are brainwashed at best, and brainwashed at worst; but that is no excuse for passivity. It is no excuse for complicity with those who keep us always on the brink of destitution, economically and morally. In short, I am not very optimistic, because I see the majority still anchored to the dream of winning a lottery, or of not being trampled too much by the rest of the herd.
But I don’t want to be a victim or part of the pessimism that leads us to deactivation, to apathy. In that sense I am optimistic, optimistic that, if we want to, we can be people, and not sheep…. On the other hand, I do not believe that the current situation with the so-called “emerging parties” challenging “the usual” is the solution, the panacea, although it is a good sign that people and collectives have emerged who are capable of acting in a way that is so different from what we are used to.
I don’t know, I’m sceptical, but we’ll have to keep our eyes open, at the very least the immobility that was imposed after the transition is wavering. And that, although not much, is something.
Does every effort have its reward?
I don’t know, I wish it were like that, but there are so many people who put a lot of effort into their work and don’t get the opportunities… these last few years, moreover, it’s more complicated, there comes a point when you feel like closing the shop and giving up, it’s very complicated, very much so.
Anyway, as long as there is a chance, you must not give up, and there is a reward when you enjoy what you do, and also when you know that you manage to transmit emotions, thoughts, concerns, ideas to other people. This reward is not enough, of course, because people don’t live only on air, or on the satisfaction of making an effort and doing our work well and connecting with other people. For the moment, although I have my little slumps, I still want to keep learning, not to be satisfied with what I have done or to sleep on any laurels, but to keep discovering new ways of expressing myself, to keep recycling myself, to keep evolving.
As long as I can, I will continue to do so. When it’s impossible, then at least I’ll have the peace of mind of having tried. There is already a very intimate reward in bringing out the best in oneself and sharing it.