Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Making James Joyce's Life into a Graphic Novel. an Interview with Alfonso Zapico

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Making James Joyce's Life into a Graphic Novel. an Interview with Alfonso Zapico

Article excerpt

Question: You began working on James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner about five years ago. Did it ever cross your mind that the book would have such a huge impact?

Answer: No, I really had no idea. This feels like a lottery win. When I began the artwork for James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner, I wasn't even living in France yet, I was living here in Asturias, in Langreo. I had just done Cafe Budapest, which is about Palestine, but I did it at home--I used the internet and didn't go anywhere. James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner was a step further. In a way, the book started out as a test to make me get around. It was quite easy to travel to Ireland and across Europe, so I decided to try and see if I was able to create a sort of travel sketchbook, if it was important to have a first-hand experience of the places you want to put in a book. It came out well, but it could have gone very wrong. As an author, every time you create a book, you expect something to happen, you're hopeful, you're eager to reach readers. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't, you can't really explain why some books do well and others don't. It's the same with awards--I could have well not won the National Comic Award and James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner would still be the same book. However, then it wouldn't have reached so many readers, the Niemeyer Center wouldn't have organized the exhibition, it wouldn't have gotten this far. I don't know, maybe the success of the book is as much a result of chance as of the creative process.

Q: I would dare say James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner is a bio-comic. How would you describe La ruta Joyce? And Pasos encontrados?

A: Look, as graphic novels are so popular now, James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner has sometimes been described as a graphic biography. They said, "This is not a novel, but a biography, so it must be a graphic biography".

La ruta Joyce is a hybrid book. It has a bit of a travel sketchbook. Still, it is not a proper travel sketchbook because the drawings were not made in situ, but from notes, memories, references... I'd say it's more like a travel guide than a travel sketchbook--a travel guide through four cities from the perspective of James Joyce and the creative process behind James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner.

Pasos encontrados works as a little journey in time and in space. In time because the exhibition covers most of my career as an artist, and in space because it takes on James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner and La ruta Joyce--that's why we have included these four cities, that's why the exhibition is divided into four sections.

Q: James Joyce is rather unlikely to come up when one thinks of a contemporary writer whose life seems ready-made for fiction. Why did you choose to do a graphic novel on him? I was wondering if you may have drawn some inspiration from David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb's biography of Franz Kafka, which was first published in France in 2007.

A: No, I didn't. I saw it later. The truth is that James Joyce. Portrait of a Dubliner wasn't modeled on any biography, at least not in comic book format. I did rely on Ellmann's book, (1) which is a very dense, detailed biography, but also quite peculiar and very human. I laughed a lot reading it; it has so many moments of comic absurdity.

Certainly there are many authors who had a life of adventure, like Ernest Hemingway. I've been told all sorts of things, that I should do a book about Miguel de Unamuno, about this, about that. However, I like James Joyce because he is a free spirit and a paragon of creativity and artistic generosity. As a person he was rather selfish; however, as an artist he was very generous, he devoted practically all his life and energy--even sacrificed his health--to creating for others. Also important are Irish culture, so literary and yet so oral, and the city of Dublin, which provides a fabulous setting for any story, written or drawn. …

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