I must have been around eight when El televisor, a special series from Historias para no dormir that was broadcasted independently, was premiered, since the regular series had stopped being shown on TV in 1965, the year the second season ended. In that nightmare set during Spain’s economic development times, Narciso Ibáñez Menta played a fanatic television watcher that turned, little by little, a bit more mad until he ended up sitting in front of the TV set, all alone, after having kicked his family out of the room to end up being devoured, in an effective off-frame, by the creatures emerging from the cathodic tube. It was nine years before David Cronenberg shot Videodrome and five before Iván Zulueta explored the vampire-like nature of images in the still unsurpassed Arrebato. When the broadcasting of El televisor finished, my parents said something horrible that stabbed me like a knife: “Well, our Jordi almost ended up becoming a madman such as this one!”.
My particular Proust madeleine to retrieve this unsettling memory has been this week’s stolen cartoon, but let me give you some context so you will understand why. I’m worried about why I almost ended up becoming a pathological TV watcher: I look back and, thankfully, time tells me that this danger might not have gone on for very long. I learned to read quite late, when I was six, almost seven. And, adding it all up, I presume that my parents’ comment referred to a period –according to my calculation, a short one– in which my obsessive reading target was… Tele-Programa, the TV guide. Imagine: I must have been a very, very impertinent and smart-arse boy, learning by heart every week’s TV guide to the point that when someone from my family asked when such and such programme would be broadcast or what could they watch that night, I quickly started explaining with all precision all that the small screen placed in the living room was going to show, not even forgetting the test pattern. In my defence I’d like to add that at the time there were only two channels available.
And what exactly does this strange cartoon drawn by Félix Mas with a script by Doug Moench have to do with the activation of this chain of memories? The Tele-Programa of my childhood had nothing to do with the one you can now find at any newsagents: that one was a real a party –a black and white one, of course–, in which you could find all sorts of stuff, from stories in instalments to… photonovels! Among other things, they published an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Island at the Top of the World, based on the real-image film made by Disney of Jules Verne style that was premiered in ouur country in 1975, a year later than El televisor: thus, when my TV guide addiction had already lowered the danger index to the minimum, although not enough so as for me not to recall having devoured the series included on the pages of such a historical publication. Without any doubt, it was in my highest addiction point when Tele-Programa published a photonovel –Italian, I bet you!–, which combined the most affected and feminine aesthetic of the format with a horror and sci-fi content. Today, I would be eternally grateful to anyone able to identify –and retrieve– that material for me. I remember an image in particular: a girl wearing a miniskirt being attacked by a strange ominous substance that looked between a spider web and an alien mushroom. The effect was totally puzzling: as if the kind of things that my mum, my aunts and our neighbours used to read had been all of a sudden infected by a virus from outer space. A crash of two worlds trapped within a photonovel page.
1974 was also the year in which Vampus, the magazine that published Warren’s Creepy material, went from being published by Ibero Mundial de Ediciones to Editorial Garbo. Back then, I wasn’t a reader of Vampus (it was my older brother and his friends who read it: I had enough with “poo-ing myself” just by glimpsing, even from afar, one of its covers), and thus I still wasn’t aware that many of those nightmares were being created by Spanish cartoonists from the Selecciones Ilustradas agency in an studio really close to my own house. At the team, commanded by legendary Josep Toutain, there were professionals from all fields: some of them were perfect for horror stories, but others, who had been devoted to different genres before, such as romantic stories for girls, found the adaptation to the Warren Comics formula quite hard and sometimes this ended up crystallizing in interesting mutations and paradoxes, as is the case with the story this cartoon is taken from: Lecho de rosas, published originally in Creepy number 51, which appeared on the North-American market on March 1973. I’ve been able to discover this story on the 11th volume of the complete Creepy works collected and published –but later abandoned– by Planeta D’Agostini a few years ago, but it’s quite stimulating to think that maybe this collaboration between Mas and Moench appeared on a Vampus that was in Spanish newsagents at the same time in which I was reading that weird photonovel included within the of Tele-Programa or was watching the potential Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come embodied by the Narciso Ibáñez Menta starring El televisor.
Mas, who abandoned cartoons in 1979 to devote himself to painting and to praising female beauty under the influence of Gustav Klimt, was a cartoonist able to draw any style, but he had been best at romantic stories in publications such as Rosas Blancas, Susana or Guendalina, all from Ediciones Toray. This story about a flower seller with a castrating mother that ends up becoming a psychotic murderess was, thus, one of those strange assignments in which Mas was able to remain faithful to his style but allowing to penetrate in it all the darkness of a horror comic book in the Warren style: as if the corniest photonovel started to grow the weirdest spider webs, symbol of a fierce unconsciousness. The very affected blocks of text by the scriptwriter added to the effect. Look at this one taken from another cartoon: “Claustrophobia, the acrid smell of rancid mothballs, tendrils hanging from the cardigan’s sleeves, the bathroom, aseptic and sterile. A complex puzzle to complete. The refrigerating chamber, icy provider of confinement, repressor of freedom… Claustrophobia”. A perfect material to define camp and the survival of all that Robert Aldrich sublimated through the cycle made up of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Legend of Lylah Clare and The Killing of Sister George.
This Stolen Cartoon has been, thus, the Proust madeleine covered in mould guilty to have unleashed all this. When a few years ago I decided to shoot a film called La lava en los labios, I was channelling all this without even knowing it.