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José Muñoz:

2007 Angoulême Grand Prix Winner

To celebrate the winning of the 2007 Angoulême Grand Prix award by artist José Muñoz, and to coincide with the opening on February 10 of Luces y Sombra (a major exhibition organised by Beeld Beeld at Tweebronnen in Louvain, near Brussels, Belgium, till April 15, 2007) the following articles are reprinted 20 years after their first appearance in Escape #10 in 1987. First is a biography by Paul Gravett documenting how José Muñoz met his writing collaborator Carlos Sampayo. This is followed by an appreciation of the work of Muñoz and Sampayo by friend and cartoonist Oscar Zarate.

Sampayo & Munoz

BIOGRAPHY:
BY PAUL GRAVETT

March 1971, Ezeila Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Artist José Muñoz and writer Carlos Sampayo met for the first time thanks to the departure of their mutual friend Oscar Zarate. They promise to get together the following week. It will be three years before they see each other again.

In 1972, owing to the political situation in Argentina, both of them move to Europe. In the summer Sampayo leaves for Spain, where he writes scripts, but not his own; he’s writing copy for advertising agencies. Muñoz has been drawing comics but not his own; he works as a studio assistant to Solano Lopez. In December he breaks with Lopez and moves to London, where he washes plates, reads Chandler, cycles in Regent’s Park and draws detective strips for an Italian comic.

1973 and both of them approach 30. Hugo Pratt, one of Muñoz’s former teachers in Buenos Aires, advises him to, "Do something of your own." Sampayo meantime quits the advertising world, travels in Africa and returns to Spain to hack out eight books in a year for a commercial publishing house.

May 1974, London. Muñoz is bound for Spain and Zarate suggests he look Sampayo up and try doing something with him. From their second meeting in Castell de Fels near Barcelona, they begin a remarkable creative friendship that has endured and matured over the years.

Their first character is Alack Sinner, a former New York cop who quits the police force, disgusted by their corruption, to become a private eye. In one episode Alack Sinner meets Sophie, a Polish anarchist, who in her own stories gets caught up in a revolution in Mexico. The lives of the people who frequent Sinner’s favourite watering hole, Joe’s Bar, fill another series of short stories.

Paul Gravett, 1987

Alack Sinner meets Munoz & Sampayo

MUÑOZ & SAMPAYO - AN APPRECIATION:
BY OSCAR ZARATE

Whenever I read-look at a comic strip that really interests me (which doesn’t happen very often), I realise that what is in front of me cannot be translated into any other visual expression but a comic strip. The story is using, exploring and pushing the language of comic strips, creating an exciting visual event and an exchange of experiences that I am part of. If this sounds rather defensive, it’s because it is; what I am defending is the potential of an incredible language as an art form.

But the reality, I feel, is that what ninety percent of comics communicate is irrelevant. Why irrelevant? Because I cannot detect any critical involvement of the creators in what they are producing. I can detect the hands that make the story and the drawing, but not the idea behind them sustaining that frame, nor the personal emotions or commitments towards that frame, towards the story, towards the language.

Comics have certainly developed some extraordinary visual sophistication and ever more pleasant pretty artwork. As the pictures get more stylistically pretty, we are gradually being pushed into a corner where visual amnesia rules. The lives of these picture stories are ephemeral because they don’t provide a challenge, they don’t carry the possibility of an exchange between creator and reader of a certain feeling, an idea, a sensibility. Just mindless pretty pictures. I don’t respect any comic strip, no matter how attractive, if I can’t feel any commitment from the creators towards each frame. Without a position all is lost.

Comic strips are a visual graphic language which allows us to explore our emotions, to deal with our ideas and communicate them. When a new story by Carlos Sampayo and José Muñoz comes my way, whether I like it or not is just a question of taste and that’s not important. What is important is that in every story they always have a very strong clear point to put across and a clear idea of how they want to express it. They demand more of their audience than most. They demand an exchange from you, your concentration. Your expectations of how to read-look at a comic strip have to be updated. Their stories repay a second reading. Each frame has a world of its own, operating on different levels. One level is the actual story, but behind all the levels they are creating another story - a mood. You are involved in the world of Muñoz and Sampayo.

Alack Sinner

Theirs is an oppressive black and white world. Muñoz’s drawings, his characters, settings, small details that people his frames, are not their to fill the frame with apologies. They are a vital part of the story. Sometimes they are the story. Every visual element, even the smallest one, is a protagonist that fights to be listened to, gradually becoming a threatening presence that haunts you, full of screams, the most articulate way to express the overwhelming sense of anxiety that permeates their frames, their stories, our way of living. Muñoz’s black and white unleashes unique images, because they come directly from his experiences and his dialogues between his heart and the black ink. Above all they are expressed with passion.

Alack Sinner

All their characters living in New York are peripheral to society; they are unable to understand society; so they react against it. Muñoz and Sampayo had been creating stories about the Big Apple for ten years before they actually visited the city. Their vision of New York may or may not be accurate. Nevertheless I do believe in the world they have created there. It’s a world within another world, populated by human beings from different countries who felt alienated in their own homelands, or were pushed out of their countries, but still feel like foreigners in New York. They bring with them different personal geographical maps in their lives. In a sense Muñoz and Sampayo’s interpretation of New York is the story that underlies much of their work - people in transit encountering each other with different languages, stories, sunsets.

Joe's Bar

The way Sampayo edits his text and balloons seems to mirror the fragmentary nature of many of these encounters - conversations begun halfway, left unfinished. You become aware that what Carlos Sampayo decides not to say is as important as what he says. He leaves room for you to do more than consume a story. He silences in his frames are part of the story; they demand reflective concentration, they demand that you stay with it.

A comic strip is a marriage of words and pictures in a series of frames. Yet there is usually one over-rated partner - the pictures, at the expense of the story-line. This dominance of the visual aspect ensures that the comic strip remains stuck in a narrow, limited, provincial vacuum.

Muñoz and Sampayo are trying to create a true marriage between words and pictures, pictures and words, pushing the language of comics to deal with their emotions, their ideas. There are moments in their work that affect me deeply. What I am witnessing is a formidable comic strip. Today, for me, that is a privilege.

Oscar Zarate, 1987

Oscar Zarate was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but now lives in London. His distinctive and vivid style has established him at the forefront of graphic artists. He has adapted Shakespeare’s Othello (Can Of Worms Press) and Marlow’s Dr. Faustus (Sphere Books) into comic form, collaborated with Alexei Sayle in 1987 on Geoffrey The Tube Train & The Fat Comedian (Mandarin) and with Alan Moore in 1991 on A Small Killing  (Avatar Press).  In 1996, he edited the collection of graphic short stories, It’s Dark In London (Serpent’s Tail). Additionally, he is the illustrator of a number of Introducing… books (Icon Books), including Introducing Freud, Introducing Machiavelli, and Introducing Stephen Hawking. His most recent graphic novel, written by Carlos Sampayo, Trois Artistes à Paris (Three Artists In Paris) came out in 2006 from Dupuis in French, and he is currently working on another with Sampayo, this time for Futuropolis.

Alack Sinner

MUNOZ & SAMPAYO: BIBLIOGRAPHY

ALACK SINNER BOOKS:
1. Mémoires d’un Privé (1977)
2. Viet Blues (1986)
3. Rencontres (1984)
4. Nicaragua (1988)
5. Souvenirs d’un Privé (1999)
6. La Fin d’un Voyage (1999)
7. Histoires Privées (2000)
8. L’Affaire USA(2006)

JOE’S BAR:
1. Le Bar à Joe (1981)
2. Histoire Amicale du Bar à Joe (1987)
3. Dans les Bars (2002)

OTHER MUÑOZ & SAMPAYO BOOKS:
Sophie  (1981, Vertige Graphic)
Sudor Sudaca  (1986, Futuropolis)
Jeu de Lumieres  (1988, Albin Michel)
L’Europe En Flammes  (1990, Albin Michel)
Billie Holiday  (1991, Casterman)
Le Poète  (1999, Vertige Graphic)
Le Livre  (2004, Casterman)

OTHER JOSÉ MUÑOZ BOOKS:
Féminin pluriel (2004, Editions de l’An 2)
La Pampa Y Buenos Aires (2006, Futuropolis)

With Jerome Charyn:
Le Croc Du Serpent (1997, Casterman)
Panna Maria   (1999, Casterman)

With Daniel Picouly:
Retour de flammes (2003, Casterman)

MUÑOZ & SAMPAYO IN ENGLISH:
Sadly, only a handful of Munoz and Sampayo comics have been translated into English, but they reward the effort of tracking them down:
Raw Vol 1 #3 (Raw Books, 1981)
Raw Vol 1 #6 (Raw Books, 1984)
Read Yourself Raw (Raw Books, 1987)
Escape #10 (Escape Publishing, 1987)
Prime Cuts #4 (Fantagraphics, 1987)
Sinner #1-5 (Fantagraphics, 1987-1990)
Joe’s Bar (Catalan, 1987)
Raw Vol 2 #3 (Penguin, 1991)

Posted: February 11, 2007

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Article Links

AngoulêmeBD Festival
Muñoz Interview
Muñoz at BeeldBeeld
Muñoz at Casterman
Muñoz at Bedetheque

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Carlos Sampayo
Euro Comics
Jose Munoz

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Featured Books

ALACK SINNER

Mémoires d’un Privé


Viet Blues


Rencontres


Nicaragua


Souvenirs d’un Privé


La Fin d’un Voyage


Histoires Privées


L’Affaire USA

JOE’S BAR

Le Bar à Joe


Histoire Amicale
du Bar à Joe


Dans les Bars

OTHER
JOSÉ MUÑOZ
BOOKS


Féminin pluriel


La Pampa Y Buenos Aires


Billie Holiday


Le Poète


Le Livre


Retour
de flammes


Panna Maria