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Thursday, December 14, 2006

FURTHER REASON TO LOVE THE COMICS BIZ: THOSE CRAZY SPANIARDS

Here's an incredible story from my operative in Eastbourne, the UK; when I get the source of the news item I will post it:

Spanish Comics Convention Scandalized by Live Sex Performance

The Granada Comics Festival, a relatively unassuming comics
convention taking place in the southern Spanish city of Granada in
mid- March, became an unlikely lightning rod for scandal and
frontpage news across Spain, when convention promoters staged an
expensive awards ceremony to purportedly honor the convention and its
guests; a purpose that seemed questionable by the time the stage gave
way to a performance of live sex and re-enactments of the WTC
attacks, amongst other controversial activity.

The show took place in an auditorium in El Sacromonte, the city's
historic section known for a Moorish influence that predates the
Spanish crusades. Attendees took their seats and faced a breathtaking
view of La Alhambra (one of Europe's largest tourist attractions)
through the glass walls behind the stage, the ancient Moor fortress
glowing orange in the night sky and setting the stage for what most
expected to be a relatively tasteful presentation of various comics-
related awards.

Though rumors had circulated among some of the convention exhibitors
and guests that the show would prove controversial, few had any idea
of the extent this would prove to be true. "We heard rumors of some
kind of sex show at the awards," said Scottish cartoonist Lorna
Miller, creator of the alternative comic Witch. "But if I had known
exactly what was in store I wouldn't have gone."

The ceremony began in standard enough fashion, with an emcee prepping
the crowd with jokes about the Spanish comic-book industry before
handing out awards. Soon, however, the emcee was joined on stage by
Alejandro Casasola, the founder and director of the convention, and
the two presented awards to several local politicians and civil
servants who were responsible for providing the funding and other
assistance necessary to stage the convention.

One crucial difference between many European comics conventions and
American conventions is government funding. In Europe, many arts
festivals -- like the 7th annual Granada Comics Festival -- are
subsidized by the government and open free to the public. The
relatively small Granada event, taking place outside under two tents
in the heart of the small city, included only a few dozen exhibitors
and a small handful of prominent guests (including Hate creator Peter
Bagge and Spanish cartoonist Miguelanxo Prado).

Nonetheless, the centralized location and free admission resulted in
over 50,000 visitors during the event's four days, a number
comparable to attendance at the San Diego Comic-Con International,
regarded as one of the U.S.'s largest conventions of any type (Unlike
Granada, however, entrance fees to Comic-Con start at $45.)

Rumors circulated throughout the convention that the festival's
organizers had been growing increasingly frustrated by their
relationship with local authorities. The perception was that
government interest in the convention was waning despite steady
growth for the show over its seven years of existence. One source
told the Journal that funding for this year's convention had come at
the 11th hour, forcing organizers to go out of pocket to cover
expenses that came due prior to the convention opening. Amongst the
organizations that helped fund the Granada Festival were the city
council and the Youth Institute of AndalucĂ­a, and representatives for
both were on hand at the awards ceremony to graciously accept the
formal "thank yous" from Casasola, commending the convention's
cultural value to the city and youth culture in general.

This vocal support from local officials, however tenuous to begin
with, quickly turned into fear and then disgust and outrage. As the
show's emcee was about to begin giving out the comic awards, a dozen
or so men (and one woman in a burka) suddenly stormed the auditorium
dressed as Afghan terrorists, firing what appeared to be real weapons
and shouting angrily in Spanish. Although it was quite clear from the
outset that the men were actors posing as terrorists and shooting
blanks, the deafening sound of automatic weapons, coupled with the
heightened sensitivity worldwide to terrorist activity, clearly
frightened more than a few of the audience members. "Have you ever
heard what [real gunfire] is like? It's loud," stated Miller,
sarcastically adding that, "I really love it when I go out for a
night's entertainment and sit shaking like a quivering fool trying
not to have a full-blown panic attack."

The terrorists took the stage, led by an actor looking uncannily like
Osama bin Laden. Bagge's fear became most pronounced when the
terrorists -- who had already taken the emcee backstage, stripped him
to his undergarments, and strapped what looked like a bomb to his
chest before bringing him back out -- began demanding the names of
the award-winners, so they could be brought onstage and shot. Bagge
figured that, as a featured guest of the convention, he was going to
be one of the award recipients. He was right.

"I was dragged by the collar to the podium by one of the
'terrorists,' who then pointed a Russian grenade launcher at my head
and barked insults at me in Spanish," said Bagge. "I then was tied by
the wrists to the other award recipients, and was told that were all
going to be killed once the show was over."

Each award-winner at the show was thrust in front of the podium and
given the opportunity to say something. A few demurred; Bagge earned
the biggest laugh. Clearly confused by what was going on and with and
a grenade launcher to his head, he shrugged his shoulders and
blurted, "Gracias?"

Another award-winner, the publisher of the Spanish-language edition
of Art Spiegelman's Maus, clearly got into the spirit of the event.
Accepting the award for "Best Foreign Graphic Novel," the publisher
was dragged to podium by the terrorists and, with weapons pointed at
him, stated in Spanish, "The Jews deserved it!"

By this point, most everyone in attendance understood that everything
taking place was an act, but that didn't seem to fully mitigate the
uneasiness and anxiety that permeated the crowd. Bagge, who was
warned in advance that he was in for a night of controversy, still
was not prepared for what took place. "I have to tip my hat to them
for not only freaking me out, but for scaring the living shit out of
me at times," he said. While on stage, he reported that "I watched
members of the audience either flee or cringe in horror, though a few
jumped up and down while snapping photos and shouting with glee."

Before the awards were handed out, the terrorists illustrated their
disgust for Western culture by burning photographs of the Virgin
Mary, Federico Garcia Lorca, and McDonald's, amongst others. A
particularly chilling moment took place after the terrorists knocked
the top off the stage's podium. The podium had resembled one of the
sections of Stonehenge, with one shorter, horizontal column resting
atop two taller, vertical columns. With the top removed, the
resemblance of the two standing columns to the World Trade Towers was
lost on no one. When the Osama lookalike casually tossed a paper
airplane at the columns and -- despite the flimsy prop barely
brushing against one column -- both dramatically burst into flames, a
conflation of uncomfortable gasps and moans from the audience could
be heard among the cheering, trigger-happy actors jumping up and down
on stage in mock-triumph.

Amazingly, the most controversial part of the show had yet to begin.
While all the award recipients were being tied up together on stage,
the Osama bin Laden character had been sitting cross-legged on the
floor, casually reading random comic books scattered on the floor.
His initial look of disgust and disapproval slowly metamorphosed into
one of mild amusement and ultimately wild elation. The actor suddenly
stood up, revealing what was essentially the "moral" of the
production: Comic books had made him see the light about Western
civilization.

"'Osama,' who'd been reading some of these comics that he was going
to burn, suddenly declares, 'These comics are great! I've been wrong
all along! Hooray for Western civilization!,'" said Bagge.

Music began filling the auditorium, and the woman wearing the Burka
onstage drew attention to herself for the first time by pulling it
over her head and revealing herself to be completely naked. One of
the terrorists also stripped, and within moments the woman, kneeling
in front of him, began performing oral sex on him.

Over the course of ten or 15 minutes, the couple progressed to full
intercourse, scandalizing much of the audience. By this point, all of
the local politicians and civil servants in attendance had left in
disgust along with other random audience members.

With the fornicating couple still on full-display, the show kicked
into its last act. "Suddenly we comic-book people were all right in
'Osama's' book, so the terrorists untied us all," said Bagge. "Then
a
chorus line of go-go dancers come out and the terrorists all start
singing the theme song to the Spanish version of 'The Making of the
Band,' while the fornicators, who still occupy center stage, go at it
doggy style."

Whether in spite of or because of the controversy, Bagge was
impressed. "The juxtaposition of all of these elements was sheer
brilliance. It was the most mind-blowing extravaganza I've ever seen
in my life; I hope [Eisner Awards Emcee] Scott Shaw! is taking
notes!," he quipped.

Others were not so entertained. "Yes, it was shocking," said Miller.
"But only in the way all bad taste is shocking. It's easy to shock.
And you know who gets shocked the easiest by sex and violence? Anyone
who has experienced both at the same time without wanting to."

Miller's distaste was shared by the local authorities, who denounced
the show as "vulgar, disgusting, and insulting," and were meeting to
discuss withdrawing funding from the comics festival as a result of
the show. "We wish to separate ourselves completely from this," one
official told a local newspaper.

Casasola defended the show to local media on artistic terms, stating
that "Comics are about provoking, transgressing, and breaking rules,"
but some questioned Casasola's motivation. One source who wished to
remain anonymous told the Journal that Casasola's motives were more
about politics than artistic expression. "[Casasola] had all but
given up on the future of the fair, and this was his way of going out
with a bang and getting back at the politicians he was struggling
with," the source said.

Some speculated after the show that Casasola had gone as far to
divert this year's funding to pay for the awards ceremony, adding
insult to injury for the local politicians, though, Casasola and
others denied it. The production, which was directed by a well-known
independent filmmaker in Spain, Bajo Ulloa, also featured nationally-
recognized actors in the roles of Osama bin Laden and the ceremony's
emcee, while the fornicating couple were successful adult films stars
in Spain. The high-profile of many of the cast and crew led to
speculation that the show was a very expensive production, one that
Casasola, who earns no money from the convention and makes a living
as a private eye, could not have afforded without utilizing the
festival's funding.

Remarkably, city officials had yet to reprimand Casasola at presstime
in any substantive way, although local religious figures had asked
citizens to pray for those in attendance. No criminal charges were
filed, and contrary to overwhelming speculation following the
ceremony that funding for next year's festival would be swiftly
pulled or that Casasola would be immediately removed from his
position, no decisions have been made after several hearings and
there remains a chance that not only will the show go on next year,
but Casasola may even be running it.

"I have to say that Alejandro [Casasola] is the ballsiest guy I've
ever met," said Bagge. "We were tied together onstage while all of
this lunacy was going on, and for a guy who was probably going to be
crucified for this, he was amazingly indifferent. He doesn't have a
clue how to book a flight or stage an art exhibit [a billed
exhibition of Bagge's art at the festival failed to materialize due
to organizational mistakes], but he puts on one helluva show."

5 comments:

Spicey kitten said...

Wow.

Wendy said...

What a stupid twat.

A comics convention is not the the time or place for such utter bullshit. This was one man's selfishness put higher then the patrons who each year probably looked forward to the one convention they could afford to go to each year.

Asshole.

eddiesezz said...

Thanks for helping me with my vacation plans for next year!

J said...

I liked this quote:

"I really love it when I go out for a night's entertainment and sit shaking like a quivering fool trying not to have a full-blown panic attack."

Although, sadly, it was taken out of context. Miller went on to say, "Honestly, folks, I may never be free from it's grip, but I'm just so glad to be off of Special-K ... one day at a time."

Satyrblade said...

I see that '60s-style shock guerilla theatre lives on in Spain! Impressive, though in really poor taste.

Why is it that I can't shake that scene at the beginning of Chasing Amy? I suspect someone on the planning commitee was watching that film and thought "Hmmmm..."

It certainly beats the awards ceremonies at American fantasy conventions... with a Gwar-sized sledgehammer.