Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Spanish Tebeo*

Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Spanish Tebeo*

Article excerpt


It seems difficult to speak about comic art in Spain without considering what tebeos mean to Spaniards. This term is not simply a Spanish translation of bande dessinée. It refers to a special kind of comic strip aimed at children, which appeared in the late 1920s. Tebeos were the only available mass medium in Spain after the Civil War (1936-1939). In this contribution we want to analyse tebeos as an editorial, social and cultural phenomenon, with the aim of demonstrating that 'tebeo-culture' survived even after the collapse of the 'tebeo-industry' in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, we will examine the question of the cultural legitimacy of comic art in Spanish society.

Publishing strategies and reader expectations have shaped the many faces of comic strip throughout the world. Although the internationalisation of the market has led to a general mixing up of forms and formats, trademark national characteristics persist, and find new means of expression, such as, to cite only the most obvious, American comic books, Franco-Belgian hardcovered albums, or Japanese mangas. In relation to Spain, the tebeo will forever be the brand name stamped upon national production.

The term 'tebeo', which became current in the 1920s, refers to the magazine TBO which appeared for the first time in 1917.1 This magazine announced its claim to be an entertaining weekly magazine for children very clearly in its subheading: 'semanario festive infantil'. From the 1930s onwards, it was so popular that its name came to designate a kind of magazine made up predominantly of comic strips and aimed at children: the tebeo. But it was not until 1968 that the term made its entry into the dictionary of the Real Academia Española [Royal Spanish Academy] (DRAE).2

The adoption of the generic term 'tebeo' corresponds to the establishment and growth of a powerful publishing apparatus, whose goal was to reach the illiterate urban masses3 by reducing costs and setting out to offer quantity to the detriment of quality. And so the tebeo that dominated the market in the 1930s squeezed a great deal of content into a minimal amount of space. Everything in the tebeo is small-scale. It offers a vision of the world in miniature. Moreover, the publishing establishment and then the Franco regime intended the tebeo for a junior readership. Right from the start, then, the tebeo was perceived as easy-reading matter, for those of a modest background, children and teenagers, with publishing formats modelled on other popular cultural products that came into being with mass reproduction: pulp fiction and cheap novels. But unlike the comic book in America, mangas in Japan or the Franco-Belgian album, the formats adopted by the Spanish publishing industry were relatively short-lived. The industry did not survive beyond the 1970s, even though a strong 'tebeo culture' still exists in Spain, influencing the choices of comic-strip readers.

The tebeo went from the status of object of mass consumption to that of reject - worthy only to be used as cat litter - before finally achieving that of collector's item. Spanish society now takes a different view of this object that belongs to a distant past. It now takes its place amongst other odds and ends in the collective memory, closely associated with the Franco period, the post-war era (the 1940s and 1950s) and the economic development of the 1960s and 1970s. It is reasonable to wonder whether this nostalgic view does not preclude any possibility for comic strip to develop outside the social and cultural space within which the ninth art was confined by the tebeo industry in Spain in the twentieth century. Admittedly, the tebeo heritage enables Spain to take pride in having a tradition and an expertise in relation to comic strip, from the point of view of readers and authors as well as publishers. But, paradoxically, this same tradition also inhibits the recognition of the ninth art and the development of activities that would allow for the integration of comic strip into cultural circuits that enjoy literary and artistic legitimacy. …

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