The Lighthouse

By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0 (HB/Digital edition)

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist regime still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994.

As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips featuring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and – with Juan Miguel Aguilera – devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

Roca’s earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history: El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 (his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali) and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro. These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles – adapted into equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie Arrugas.

More wonderful stuff you’ll want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday newspaper strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from Las Provincias and El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and grasp of human nature, Roca makes animated films and hosts his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime, elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – celebrating the solace of imagination, which recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

Spain: as the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and this wounded youngster has no intention of being interned… or worse. After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and, after passing out, finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, Francisco finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The elder’s good humour is infectious and gradually infects even battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days, the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually, sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and starts sharing Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting and is supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, production art and sketches – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and a perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.