Yellow Submarine was my first subtitled movie. I saw it at the Maryland cinema in plaza Urquinaona, Barcelona, with my parents and, at first, several things stopped the possibility of giving myself away to the pure madness of that initiation trip. I don’t know how old I was: older than seven, probably, but not much older. I might have been the only child in the room and something –what was it? Maybe having to watch a film in a foreign language, with the meaning of that unknown phonetics revealed as image footnotes?– gave me the feeling that I shouldn’t be there, that I was sneaking into an adult party I hadn’t been invited to. Now that I think of it, back then, in the real world, the Beatles had already split up, but they were my favourite band and I didn’t even imagine that band members could go their own separate ways. My love for the Beatles was based on the possession of only two tapes: With the Beatles and Help! (the film of which I would end up seeing at the same Maryland cinema, an experience that made me reach the picturesque conclusion that John Lennon had to be, no doubt about it, Chinese, because he had squinted eyes and in a scene from the film he joked around doing kung-fu fighter moves). I didn’t even have the Yellow Submarine tape.
It was a bittersweet experience because I felt out of place, but also because the images from the early scene based on Eleanor Rigby made me (even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics) really sad. And, besides, when the submarine of the title immersed itself in the deep, I have to confess I was scared: it was all so different from the cartoons I was used to that I thought anything was possible. Thus, the perspective of some sea monster appearing on the screen terrified me. Those were the days in which fear was such a pure thing! I remember another day, in front of a newspaper stand in Castelldefels, when the only mentioning of the title of one of the books included in the collection Joyas Literarias Juveniles de Bruguera –The Phantom Ship by Captain Marryat– made me jump several inches up in the air. By the way, talking about foundational traumatic experiences, I have another one related to the Beatles, precisely: for a long time, at home we had a black and white TV set with only one channel. One day, one of my dad’s extra wages allowed him to purchase a portable TV with UHF!!! The moment we switched it on, I saw the last bit of the last episode of the Beatles animation series produced by studio Rankin/Bass between 1965 and 1969. I was never able to watch it again until some decades later, when my friend Marisol Salanova managed to heal the wound by sending me some downloaded episodes, who knows from where.
I wouldn’t like to sound as a cheeky kid (or ex-kid, because at this point, if I’m still cheeky it must be as a cheeky old man) when I say that my childhood years were peppered with different forms of graphic synthesis: those seen and not seen Rankin/Bass Beatles were important (and quickly mystified) of course, but before them there were Rocky and his Friends and Jay Ward’s George of the Jungle, although what Yellow Submarine had to offer was, definitely, something else. It was a lysergic rainbow trained to create worlds, moving to the sound of such perfect melodies that they seemed to precede the birth of humankind, pure joy in motion and pure sense of pleasure turned line and colour. I think that it even included colours that don’t exist. But, well, that first day I couldn’t give myself away to that carousel because, as I said, there were things that made me sad; an ominous feeling that something dreadful was coming, and also a deep melancholy brought about by that Nowhere Man who lived in an absolute white space.
When I watched Yellow Submarine, Trinca magazine, which was a vehicle for modern things, was no longer sold in newspaper stands, but it could be found in second hand bookshops. And there, all of a sudden, pop (which in the beginning had appeared, on the Maryland cinema screen, as something ambivalent, between Fascination and the Abyss) revealed its most comfortable side. And it did so on the pages of Peter Petrake, a hero created by Valencian Miguel Calayatud in his debut in comic book form after some first steps illustrating children’s books that already predicted a future of excellence. Line, perspective, design and colour (things that I, back then, wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint) conspired to present an overwhelming display of Full Colour Printed Happiness. I remember a first experience with the Pleasure of Recognition: when seeing those cartoons I thought, with the inaccuracy of the eyes of a child but discovering the secret truth of an undercurrent of affinities, that it was exactly like Yellow Submarine… and that not only did I love it, but I could understand it perfectly as well. On the other hand, the trio of villains united in one only shape, black and with six legs, I thought was a reference to the ‘Hermanos Malasombra’ from Los Chiripitifláuiticos… Pop in capital letters entered my life thanks to Miguel Calatayud (and, yes, also thanks to the illustrations of José Ramón Sánchez, although future jobs of his –the first PSOE campaign– make me associate him with the foundation of a Social Democratic Sensitivity more than with a pure game of form and joy).
Like the animated Beatles, Peter Petrake became a revenant too: in 2009, El Patito Editorial compiled all the character’s material in an album with a foreword written by the great Pedro Porcel and accompanied by a text by Calatayud himself: Peter Petrake. De los Años 70 al siglo XXI. In the book I discovered something I didn’t know: that the author’s graphic boldness was punished by a great portion of conservative cartoon readers –those that deemed realistic drawings superior to humorous ones (in case that adjective could apply to the art displayed by Calatayud)–, whom, in the surveys made by the magazine, used to condemn this pioneer form to the last position in the list, to the bottom of the ranking. In Calatayud, although this affirmation might sound controversial in some circles, can also be found the beginning of the explosion of forms that years later would turn Valencian cartoons into a vector for modernism: Sento, Mariscal, Daniel Torres, Mique Beltrán and many others come from there.
This Cartoon has been Stolen from the fourteenth page of Las Máquinas del Doctor Destruction, Petrake’s first adventure, the original plan of which was indeed aborted due to the angry reactions of the readers, received as letters to the editorial office. On it, a sinister robotic device is bewildered when he sees the presence of his victim doubled. A doubling, a threat to the world’s rational order, an apparently inexplicable formal surplus. This means a double child for the machine, the same thing that Calatayud and Petrake meant for the supposed guardians of the essence of a cartoon that, in fact, lived in a never-ending mutation towards the future. In Petrake’s adventure, the machine explodes and weapons become flowers. In the real world, Petrake was condemned to having a fractured and irregular existence on the pages of Trinca, a publication that would end up disappearing as well… like anything that comes before its time. However, neither the magazine nor Calatayud sow their seed in a wasteland..