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25 septiembre 2022

David Guirao: “I like Goya because he portrays reason in front of monsters”

David Guirao (Zaragoza, 1973) has been professionally dedicated to illustration for more than 20 years, especially in juvenile literature. Many of his projects have revolved around the figure of Goya and Aragonese themes. The last one, a comic about San Juan de la Peña that he has illustrated together with the scriptwriter Pepe Serrano.

When did your interest in drawing begin?

Since they put a pencil in my hands, when I was very very small I was already drawing, what I was not aware of was the potential that drawing could have. I simply enjoyed drawing and that is something that has haunted me all my life, the moment of drawing gives me a lot of pleasure, a lot of happiness. Any kind of drawing, even the most boring ones, because I really enjoy drawing.

Any assignment?

It’s very important that the assignment motivates you, but you look for the springs to make it motivate you. You look for the terrain you can take it to in order to find that point and enjoy it. Many times it’s not that they don’t motivate me, it’s the difficulty. When you draw something, the important thing is that you have to know it and when you are asked to do something you don’t know, there is already a difficulty, a fear and a tension that makes the first thing you have to do is to investigate, search… and find the point to be able to draw it. There are times when you come across things that you have to communicate through graphics that you don’t know, and that’s the part that I see as the biggest challenge.

Can you give an example of a project with which this has happened to you?

I’ll give you the example of the San Juan de la Peña comic that Pepe Serrano and I were commissioned to do. When they proposed it to us, I found the space fascinating, one of the elements of cultural and artistic heritage of our land, and that motivated me. I proposed that it should be a didactic guide or an illustrated album, but the brotherhood of San Juan de la Peña wanted a comic and I, who am a regular comic reader, had never made a comic before. It is a very specific language, I enjoy the still image more than the narrative based on sequences… and that feeling made me not sure if I was capable of drawing it. For me it was a challenge because drawing a comic was something I had always wanted to do but I had never had the opportunity. I looked for the option of doing it with a scriptwriter with whom I had a lot of affinity and with whom I felt very comfortable working and that’s when I proposed to do it with Pepe Serrano. We spent two months and we didn’t know where to go, with many doubts… that feeling personally kept me awake for many days. Then it was a real pleasure.

Was it insecurity?

Yes, and I love that feeling of insecurity, it’s important because it makes you not to trust and let yourself be dragged, it’s tension in your head to create something interesting. If you don’t have it, you go on autopilot and things come out very chewed up. That’s a better feeling.

david guirao san jaun de la peña
What are we going to find in the comic of San Juan de la Peña?

Editorial Mira and the brotherhood wanted to have a tool for communication and to engage the new generations. It was clear to them that it should be a comic, but that it should show the history of the monastery, that it should have a didactic, historical and pedagogical purpose… but we did not want to generate a tome full of dates that would turn into San Juan del “Peñazo” (San Juan del Peñazo). The kids want to enjoy reading the comic and we looked for a way to introduce capsules and information every few pages and tell a story that was fiction. We proposed several ideas and they liked a story about two authors who visit the monastery because they want to place there a fictional adventure they have created. It’s a metacomic, you visit the monastery, you intersperse capsules of information and the imaginations of their possible story. There are several narrative lines and that’s why it was a very difficult job. As I said, it was a challenge and that’s precisely what motivated us…

Is it a way to bring Aragon’s heritage and history closer to young people because otherwise they won’t read it?

Exactly, that is what the Brotherhood wanted. And if, in addition, they aroused the curiosity to go to the monastery and see how wonderful the space is, that’s what you get. We believe that as a tool the comic is absolutely useful to enjoy and communicate. It has had quite an impact precisely because it is a language that is introduced into society as another communication tool. A few years ago making a historical comic was not so common and now it seems that it is being done a lot.

Do you think it is a publication that can be of interest outside Aragon?

(think) I don’t know …. I wish. The monastery of San Juan de la Peña is absolutely unique. Its Romanesque cloister is really one of the most important in Europe. It is such a wonderful space that I wish many more people would visit it.

Many of your illustrations or books that you have illustrated have to do with Aragonese themes. Need or taste?

Yes, I have been lucky enough to work for many years with Gozarte, a company that promotes Aragonese art and heritage. I really like the history of our land, the art… and I think we have a very, very broad and interesting heritage. I have been able to work on very famous painters in Aragon, Roman history in Zaragoza, Aragonese legends… I feel very fortunate. I’ve been very lucky to be able to work on those materials and give them that vision.

Of all of them, which one do you choose?

It’s very difficult to choose something. A work from last year comes to mind that has had quite a powerful impact outside Aragon as well, an animated short film I did with Fundación Goya in Aragon on the occasion of the 275th anniversary of Goya’s birth. Schoolchildren could see in 10 minutes what Goya’s life was like, his way of working, painting, his way of creating… I enjoyed it very much. It was a medium that I was not very used to working in.

Goya has been one of the characters you have illustrated the most.

Yes, with Gozarte we made some didactic guides. It is not easy, it has a dark, dense part… but it is also important that the kids realize how a genius sees such dramatic things as war or what causes war, corruption, the lack of professionalism of great aristocrats. These kinds of things are very well reflected in Goya and it’s good for the kids to discover that art is not only for portraying, but also to denounce what moves and worries a creator.

That’s what you did with the reinterpretation of Goya’s Ferdinand VII in the Plaza del Pilar.

Yes, yes (laughs). It was a very difficult job, something almost immediate, intuitive and in the street and in record time. When you asked me before about the commissions, I have to say that I thought a lot about this one. I’m not used to painting in front of the public, I’m embarrassed to be seen drawing, I take my time to draw. Besides, when I was proposed the portrait I wasn’t very motivated, I didn’t like the character. Precisely that was the challenge, to find a point, as Goya did, who did not have a very good opinion of him. I suffered because it was sunny, windy, it rained… but I had a great time.

What was your feeling when you finished the painting? I think it was one of the most controversial reinterpretations.

I think people know the character, Goya’s vision of the character and I think they were very much in agreement. I wasn’t looking for controversy. When I see a portrait of Goya, I don’t see the portrayed, I see the portrayer: I see Goya. I don’t care about Ferdinand VII. It was a criticism of a character who was a bad professional, selfish and harmful to the country. I like Goya because he portrays reason in the face of monsters; it is thought, lucidity in the face of characters who behave in a corrupt or monstrous way.

Recently the Prado Museum has created an island in Animal Crossing dedicated to Goya and the black paintings. Do you think that only new languages such as video games and the short films we were talking about before are the way to reach young audiences?

What I see in today’s children is that they have a very broad audiovisual culture and are receptive to all kinds of literal, textual and audiovisual languages. I think they are ready to receive all kinds of images, I don’t think they reject images that don’t have movement, they accept illustrated books. I think it is fantastic that the Prado Museum adapts to new forms of communication and languages to reach new audiences. They have to find the resources to make it interesting to visit and to enrich your experience. It is true that when you go to see a museum there are a lot of symbols and languages inside a painting and you don’t get them all… if the museum offers you some guidelines or ways to understand it, you will enjoy it much more. To enjoy more any means of expression you have to know it, and what you have to do is that the entities promote it.

Which museums in Aragon would you choose?

In Zaragoza we have some very powerful ones. The Pablo Gargallo is absolutely wonderful, because of the Renaissance palace, but also because the work is spectacular. The Roman Theater is wonderful and the IAACC Pablo Serrano is very diversified, with works by Pablo Serrano and Juana Francés, and other contemporary artists. In Zaragoza there is a very good museum offer… you can visit all of Goya’s engravings in the Goya Museum!

What is the current state of illustration in Aragon?

Here there are very good illustrators and creators in general in the world of young people’s literature, which is above all what I do. There are good writers and illustrators, a good channel of large bookstores that take great care of the production of those of us who work here and libraries that value the works of those of us who work in the sector. There are also teachers who bring young people closer to what is done in our land.

In addition to working with major national publishers, you designed a Valencian falla. What was that story like?

Projects that come and go… When I was a child I was very fond of fallas, and a few years ago a fallero artist contacted me. I was surprised that they called me, but we were working and the following year I made a giant falla. It was a very cool experience, a team effort. For me it was spectacular to see my work created in a gigantic volume, it is one of the biggest projects I have ever worked on. I don’t know if the Valencians would like it very much or not, because in fallas there are different styles and that is a whole world that caught me without knowing it, but it was a very interesting experience.

What project are you working on right now?

I just finished a book project with Ana Alcolea, almost three months without leaving home, a very hard work, a super nice book that is about books, writers, bookstores, characters … in theory it comes out in the spring. I feel liberated but I have to work on a project about Territorio Mudéjar, a didactic guide to bring it closer to schoolchildren, I am in the documentation phase.

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