Comics Beyond North

by Juan Canela

From a photo novella distributed in episodes around Cairo to an imaginary propagandist comic book, Francesc Ruiz’s projects create unexpected spaces for resistance and communication

Francesc Ruiz, Gary (cover of the Paris issue), 2013


1. Gary is in Bogota, following the trail of Sukia, a comic-book series created by Renzo Barbieri and originally published by the milanese house edifumetto from 1977 to 1986. He and his friend stop and look across the street: “gary, look! There’s the comic store!”

Once inside, gary says, “They have several issues of Sukia. look, here’s the Colombian edition published by Cormeran. Wow!! it’s issue number 134!! That means they’ve published the whole collection here, and Sukia is a success. And look, they have other translated edifumetto collections.”

Gary has been travelling around other cities, such as milan, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona, all the places where Sukia has been published. gary himself is one of the main characters of Sukia, which belongs to what is known as ‘erotic italian fumetti’, a phenomenon that enjoyed great success during the late seventies and early eighties. The comic chronicles the adventures of a vampire member of the jet set (physically based on ornella mutti) and her gay butler gary. Together they travel the world, uncovering the most unlikely mysteries and maintaining active sex lives – this is a source of constant competition between sukia and gary. more than 60 percent of the content is homoerotic, and as such Sukia is clearly ‘closeted’, sold in kiosks as an erotic ‘heterosexual’ comic. With 165 issues and a circulation of tens of thousands of copies sold across Belgium, france, spain and Colombia, Sukia is, without doubt, one of the longest running and popular comic series in LGBT history. Yet, because it hasn’t been translated into english, it has been omitted from the canon of LGBT comics by the Anglo-Saxon-dominant field of cultural studies, even though it has had a huge impact globally.

This latest Gary adventure is a recent project by Catalan artist francesc Ruiz (Barcelona, 1971), who resurrects gary, accompanying him on this travels. The artist himself has lived in the five aforementioned cities, and, as in other Ruiz projects, these new comics base their plot on real, lived experiences. Gary is proposed as a vehicle to recover the comic and claim Sukia’s – and gary’s – legacy within LGBT culture. The project deals with the distribution of pornographic comics, but also with the dissemination and popularisation of the sexual-liberation ideology of the seventies.

Francesc Ruiz, Gary (from the Bogota issue), 2013

2. One flower talking to another:

‘“You look triumphant! Who have you been with?”                                          “With the psychoanalyst.”
“Are you seeing him again?”
“No, now he comes to me.”’

The flower drawings are found in the Gay Flowers comic strips published by stefania sala in the seventies in a magazine run by FUORI! (United Italian Revolutionary Homosexual front). Used back then to disseminate, using humour, some of the ideas about gay liberation at the time, they are now part of FIORI!, another project by francesc Ruiz that showed in garcia galería madrid last year.

Ruiz reintroduces here the original comic strip and rhythmically repeats it along the paper, almost as if it were a musical variation, altering or replacing the texts contained in it with quotations by italian philosopher Mario Mieli (1952–1983), a fundamental theorist of LGTB themes in the seventies, a founding member of FUORI! and author of Elementi di Critica Omosessuale (Homosexuality and liberation: elements of a gay Critique, 1977).

Francesc Ruiz, FIORI! Psicoanalista, 2013

“The discovery and the progressive liberation of the transexuality of the subject will take us to the negation of the polarity between sexes and to the utopic achievement (in the revolutionary sense of the utopia eutopia) of the new man-woman that will be more probably woman-man.”

Mieli’s revolutionary thinking impregnates all the drawings and becomes their main protagonist. Within them, Ruiz reveals aspects of mieli’s life and develops his ideas and theories, connecting alchemy, coprophagy and transexuality.

3. Tintin, Donald Duck, samir (a children’s magazine character conceived by the nasser regime) and Crushed Citizen (a skeletal and demoralised government drudge who appeared in the comic book Flash until it was banned by the mubarak regime in the 1990s) walk together through the streets of present-day Cairo.

These are four of the main characters in the history of egyptian comics and represent four important eras in the history of the country: Tintin symbolises the colonial past of Egypt; Donald Duck the American influence in the area; samir, a middle-class child, the ideals of the 1952 Revolution and, finally, Crushed Citizen the decadence of the regime itself.

The characters are also the protagonists of The Green Detour, an Arabic-language photo novella produced by Francesc Ruiz in 2010 during a residency at the Contemporary image Collective (CIC), Cairo. Each of its nine sequential episodes was available at a different distribution point throughout the pre-revolutionary city. Collating all of these was the only way to follow the entire story, which charts the adventures of the unlikely friends through the city and reveals the history of the comic in egypt, as well as the political situation in the country at the time.

The scattered distribution of the project took the reader from one place to another, starting at the CIC and continuing to the French library, the Egyptian Museum, Tahrir square and the American University before intersecting with presidential cars at the exit of the Parliament and perhaps with some of the demonstrations that took place there. Participants also uncovered some lost illustrators, went to the publishing house where samir is published and to The Rooftop studios, with views across the city, before taking a taxi to arrive in time for a puppet show and finally winding up at the second-hand books market.

The Green Detour was presented at the CIC in October 2010, three months before the start of the revolution. in many ways, the work reflected the pre-revolution situation of anxiety and discontent. And in other ways it anticipated the events to come.

Francesc Ruiz, Wasim 1995, 2014

4. Mounted along a wall, thirty-two comic covers with a childish aesthetic and playful colours show different moments of Morocco’s recent history as well as holidays and events from the official and religious calendars, from Ramadan to the celebration of pan- Arabism or the green march. This is Wasim, a project produced by francesc Ruiz in collaboration with salah malouli earlier this year and shown at MACBA Barcelona Contemporary Art museum.

Morocco does not have much of a history of producing comics, but it’s a place where comic books have been widely distributed and read, thanks to a french-Belgian presence from the north and a lesser known pan-Arabic influence from the east.

Wasim is a fiction about a hypothetical weekly comic book for children used as a propaganda tool to transmit values and the ideology of Hassan ii regime to children, something not so different from disney comics; but Wasim introduces us to new ways of understanding history and hegemonic narrations of history.

Francesc Ruiz, Gary, 2013 installation with comics and photocopies

5. Francesc Ruiz uses comic books as aesthetic, narrative and intellectual substrate, as well as historical and operational material. Through comics as a description of the real, he generates – by creation, alteration, restoration or assembly, among other possible pathways – stories that reveal the gears through which social and individual identities, sexual identity or even the identity of the city are constructed.

Ruiz understands the comic as a cultural material, one that, like cinema, allows us to realise a series of manipulations, montages and edits. A derivative comic can offer both meta-commentary on the original material and new alternative narratives. Ruiz’s interest in pornographic comics is related to their capacity to connect in a very direct way with public desire, transferring it into a fantasy space and generating new narratives in which various subcultures can be made visible. His anomalous, alternative and damaged distribution models sometimes make use libraries or kiosks but also open distribution channels of indeterminate timing and location. spaces of resistance, sometimes invisible, are created, and these are necessary for communication that is not threatened by repression and suppression.

The four projects outlined above belong to an important line of inquiry in Ruiz’s practice, an ongoing investigation about the space generated by the comic exclusively from the south, a genre that escapes any nomenclature developed from the academic contexts that perpetuate Anglo-centric hegemonic research.

It seems urgent to make visible these genuine narratives from the south, so that they can connect with each other, push in non-conformist directions and propagate new ways of spreading knowledge away from the established, hegemonic modes of communication.

ALL IMAGES: Courtesy of Estrany-De la Mota Galler

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