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Barcelona's comic boom 11/04/2024

Comics, or the ninth art, are experiencing a boom in the Catalan capital and have found a loyal, enthusiastic readership that continues to grow. Comic book shops have increased in number, publishers are printing considerably more comics, and there are more and more fairs and festivals devoted to the genre. Barcelona has become the setting for iconic comic strips and the characters from legendary cartoons can now be found in the most unexpected places: the detectives Mort and Phil have morphed into pedestrian signals at some of the city's traffic lights as a tribute to their creator, the cartoonist Francisco Ibáñez (1936-2023).

 Barcelona International Comic Fair
Manga Barcelona

Barcelona's connection with comic strips dates back many years. Famous Catalan cartoonists have been born or grown up here. They include Francisco Ibáñez (Mortadelo y Filemón (Mort and Phil), 13 Rue del Percebe, Rompetechos), Escobar (Zipi y Zape, Carpanta) and Purita Campos (Esther). The Barcelona International Comic Fair was created in 1981 as a result of the success being enjoyed by comic strips in the second half of the 20th century and coinciding with the rise of adult and underground comics. The event, which is now known as Comic Barcelona, is now in its 42nd year and has become one of the leading comic fairs in Europe, making important contributions to establishing the genre, particularly manga and anime. The growing interest in Japanese comics can be traced back to 1995, when the city hosted the first event dedicated to the genre: Manga Barcelona. Both fairs offer a wide-ranging programme of events, with personal appearances by comic book artists from around the world. They draw larger and larger crowds every year, confirming that comics are riding high at the moment. Since 2013, the city has also hosted GRAF, Spain's most important graphic novel and indie comic fair, which goes beyond the boundaries of the genre to explore the language of drawing, graphic art, narrative and the visual arts.

The city in cartoon strips

Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site

The Catalan capital has inspired a number of comic book artists who have made the city's Gothic, art nouveau and contemporary architecture the scene of crimes, mysteries and adventures. The Dark Knight is one of Barcelona's most famous visitors. He made his appearance in the one-shot Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight (DC Comics, 2009) devised by Mark Waid and illustrated by Diego Olmos. Batman gets out of Gotham City to capture one of his most formidable foes, Killer Croc, who has gone mad and believes he is the reincarnation of the dragon from the legend of Saint George. The reader will find iconic Barcelona landmarks, like the Casa Batlló, La Rambla, the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and the Sagrada Família.

Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective immerses himself in Barcelona in Sherlock Holmes i la conspiració de Barcelona (Norma Editorial, 2012), written by Sergio Colomino with illustrations by the artist Jordi Palomé. They used period photographs to reproduce the places Sherlock Holmes visits in the old town, Ciutat Vella, such as La Rambla, the basilicas of Santa Maria del Mar and Santa Maria del Pi, the Liceu opera house and the Columbus Monument.

Different historical events in the city are also portrayed in graphic novels. La Vampira de Barcelona (Norma Editorial, 2018), written by Miguel Ángel Parra and Iván Ledesma with illustrations by Jandro González, recreates the streets of the Raval neighbourhood, the Teatre Apolo, Montjuïc Cemetery and the restaurant Can Culleretes at the beginning of the 20th century. For his part, Juanjo Sáez takes us to contemporary Barcelona to show us the anxieties of a young, thirty-something man who wanders the streets from Gràcia to the Raval, Tibidabo and the Glòries Tower in Arròs covat (Reservoir Books, 2010).

Bookshops where you'll find great comics

Inside Norma Comics
Inside Gigamesh

The internet, TV- and movie-streaming platforms and videogames are new ways of seeing your comic book heroes. There has been a considerable increase in the number of comics published over the past decades and the city's specialist bookshops, which have been in business for decades, provide ample proof of this and have expanded their premises to cater to the growth in demand. Norma Comics was founded in 1983 by the publishers Norma Editorial. It is one of the most important comic book shops in the world and is located in what is known as Barcelona's geek triangle: the shopping area between the Arc de Triomf, Passeig de Sant Joan and Ronda de Sant Pere, which is a veritable haven for comics, science-fiction, geek culture and all things Japanese. Gigamesh and Freaks are some of the other unmissable bookshops in the area and stock an interesting selection of Spanish and imported comics.

Façade of Continuarà Comics
Inside ECC Comics

Beyond the geek triangle, you'll find specialist bookshops like Continuarà Comics, Arkham Comics, Antifaz Comic and Llibreria Universal, which have become classics, alongside relative newcomers, like ECC Comics, which publishes comics from the DC Universe in Spanish (Superman, Batman, the Sandman and Watchmen) and has opened its flagship store in the district of Gràcia. You'll find some 25,000 titles, including comics from the US and Europe, graphic novels and manga. The Free Comic Book Day has been held on the second Saturday in May since 2010. The initiative originated in the United States and seeks to attract new readers to the comic genre and promote independent comic book shops, which give away titles that have been specially selected for the event. General-interest bookshops, like Laie, La Central and Ona Llibres, also have a wide selection of comic books.


Collecting, second-hand comics and much more!

Mural del Còmic
Fira del Llibre d'Ocasió Antic i Modern
Mortadelo traffic light

Keen collectors will find second-hand and vintage comics at the Fira del Llibre d'Ocasió Antic i Modern – the book fair held every September along Passeig de Gràcia – or at the Sunday fair, the Mercat Dominical, outside the Sant Antoni Market, which is the closest you'll get to a comic book library. Next to the market, you'll find one of the traffic lights featuring the figures of Francisco Ibánez's famous detectives, Mort and Phil. There's one on the corner of Carrer Urgell and Carrer Manso (Eixample) and there are two more on the corner of Ronda Sant Pere and Passeig de Gràcia (Eixample) and at the junction of Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and Bac de Roda (Sant Martí), close to the cartoonist's home. The fact is, the city itself has become a new medium for expressing graphic narratives, as shown by Daniel Torres' mural on the façade of the Norma Editorial warehouse in Poblenou: a sign of the good vibes that exist between the ninth art and Barcelona.

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