astiberri: comics and more comics
Seeing as we were at the Getxo Comic Fair last December, we decided we’d have a word or two about editors Astiberri with our old china Fernando Tarancón. Since 2001 they’ve published quite a lot of home-grown and international work.
Even though it’s become a bit of a “oh no, here we go again” as far as the comic industry is concerned, we did ask Fernando about the supposed crisis being suffered by the world of comics at the moment. He, like our good selves, dismisses the notion. It’s just a small industry, that’s all.
“What’s more, in the last while whole mountains of stuff have been published, and the market has been flooded. Is it not a bit of a contradiction to be speaking of a crisis and saturation at the same time?”.
The next question we asked was about how Astiberri started and about how they decided to get involved with the world of comics. Though it’s not in crisis, it is a very small world and not very profitable. The main reason is really clear:
“We love comics.” Before he kicked Astiberri into action – and nowadays as well – Fernando worked in the Joker comic shop in Bilbao:
“You get to know people there, you talk to some heads, you comment on other stuff with others... There was a gap to befilled in the world of comics. Well, De Ponent and Sins Entido were there but the first lot were more artistic and the second lot were more into the design and drawing. Our format is the most novel-like, what’s called “author-comics” mostly. We probably wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for Sins Entido and De Ponent, but we would have been different anyway. We looked really closely at the idea of setting up a company, we did our research and decided we’d give it a whack.” And he then told us what happened after that:
“We’ve lost money on some projects but we’re still going forward. We started as a micro company and now we’re a small company. There are four of us and a designer. We all have other jobs outside the publishers and some of us dedicate more time than others. We don’t make a living out of Astiberri, we’re losing money (laughs).”
Astiberri has published in Catalonian, Basque and Galician as well as in Spanish. This has mainly happened in kids’ comics. We asked him how it hadgone with the different languages:
“We started off with Mitologika in Basque (a comic based around Basque myths) and it went well for us, both in Spanish and Basque. But the rest of them haven’t really worked well. Some publishers can make their publications quite expensive and with that money and the subsidies they get from the Basque Government, they manage to keep their heads above water. We don’t want to go down that path. The subsidies given are quite meagre, quite laughable really, and we don’t want to sell our comics at high prices. In Catalonian things have been better, Blankets sold really well and so did Otsoak Ormetan too. That sold well in normal book shops as well, not only comic shops and that didn’t happen with the Basque and Galician versions. “ We see that the success of a language is quite relative. The effortthey have made has been in kids’ comics:
“We really feel that the kids’ thing is vital. What was on the market was really rubbish. In literature and stories for kids the quality is really good, but not the comics. It seems that the prejudice that kids that who read comics are half-stupid remains a reality and we wanted to publish quality material for kids. It hasn’t really worked out, it’s not easy to break into the world of kids’ comics, and it hasn’t really worked out in Basque, Catalonian or Galician. What was published was clearly for kids but it was also suitable for the adult market, and it seems that finally more adults than kids have bought it.”
Before Getxo we had Durango and that’s where we first met up with them. They presented a book about Habeko Mik magazine there.
“Habeko Mik magazine was really important for comics, both in the Basque Country and throughout the rest of the State and it seems that nobody recognises this. Juanma collaborates with us and is up at Deusto University – that’s where the co-edition sprang up.” Even though they published something in Basque and they brought out the Habeko Mik for the Durango fair, they publish at national level and maybe they felt a bit out of sorts there:
“I think that the world is a bit closed on itself and provincial. A bloke wanted to buy a comic by Luis Duran at one of the stands there and whoever was there told him – No, he’s a fascist – and believe it or not, if one of the authors we publish isn’t Luis Duran, a personality well known in Basque Culture, a person who has won Basque literature awards and everything. At Durango we asked for three stands but they only gave us one. They still haven’t explained why, we were prepared to pay for them. The thing is that what the fair really is is not too clear: the Basque Book and record Fair? Produced in Basque or about Basque subjects? It’s quite hard to establish that. There you have the whole TMEO affair, and it wasn’t one or the other. And if you think TMEO have nothing to do with Basque culture, you’re having me on. And in the end, of course, TMEO is at Durango.”
Finally, we asked Fernando about their plans for the future:
“What we know is that author-comics have worked for us so far and that’s what we know most about. So, we’ll more or less stick with that. We hope to start moving on the international scene as well, in France and Portugal, selling publishing rights and the like. Fortunately, we have already achieved a certain status as far as quality is designed and people know us because we publish a certain type of comic. What I mean is that when we publish something new, our readers expect something from us. We hope expectations.”
We have'n doubt that will be the case and we’ll keep our eyes out. From past evidence, it’ll certainly be worth it.