The writer and scriptwriter Salva Rubio (Madrid, 1978) has been commissioned to bring to the comic, along with the illustrator Cesc Dalmases, the novel by Javier Sierra ‘The Immortal Pyramid’ (2022), a work that dives into the Egyptian secret of Napoleon and his passage through the country when he was still a young general, in 1799.
This work will be the theme of the lecture to be given at the V International Occult Meeting, which in this edition focuses on the mysteries of Ancient Egypt, on November 12 at 12:00 noon in the Auditorium of Zaragoza.
How was the work of turning ‘The Immortal Pyramid’ into a comic book?
The truth is that it was a pleasure. It was something, first of all, very surprising because I was commissioned at the beginning as a scriptwriter, without a draftsman. I was contacted by Norma Editorial to be in charge of it. And the truth is that I did it with great pleasure and also with great care because, obviously, ‘La Pirámide Inmortal’ is a very big work, with a lot of scope, many characters, jumps in time… it was a technically difficult job, so it was hard for me. My intention was always that Javier would recognize his novel and that nothing of what he liked would be missing in it.
This novel has two very powerful ingredients, one is the figure of Napoleon and the other is the Great Pyramid, what is it like to work with these ingredients?
It is a wonderful material for a screenwriter because the story you are going to write always depends on the scope of the characters. And in this case, Napoleon is one of the most fascinating people to ever walk the Earth. It was difficult because it’s a time when Napoleon is not yet Napoleon; I mean, he’s a young general who is asserting himself and trying to prove such a crazy and absurd idea as leaving France and invading Egypt. Not only was it strategically important, but in Javier’s novel he encounters a whole supernatural espionage plot that ends up making him who he is. It is a wonderful plot and a plot that any writer or screenwriter would want for himself.
Ocultura this year is focused on Ancient Egypt, what does this universe arouse for a scriptwriter?
I have a degree in Art History and, always, the first thing you study when you do Art History is Egypt. I remember it very fondly because it was really an important moment for me, which was the beginning of my career. The first thing you do is to immerse yourself in that universe of pharaohs, pyramids, temples… and of course there can’t be a better beginning. So it takes me back to that stage.
It’s not the first comic book adaptation you’ve done, you also scripted ‘Max. Los años 20’, a work that comes from ‘El Tango de la Vieja Guardia’ by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, is it complicated to bring the novels to the language of the cartoon?
I have worked with Arturo and lately also with Antonio Iturbe, who did ‘La Bibliotecaria de Auschwitz’. They are three authors -with Javier Sierra- who sell a lot and make quite complex novels. It is difficult, but for me there is a key question I always ask them when I am lucky enough to meet with them. One of the first things I ask them is: ‘What is the most important thing for you in this novel, where is your personality, where is what you have put more emotionally as an author? I’m going to work around that. And the truth is, they’re always relieved, I see them breathe and say, ‘okay, right question.’ There are sacrifices to be made, there are plots to be cut, there are parts that are very cool but don’t translate well to the comic, which is a visual medium. But now, with that part saved, let’s say we all work happier.
And what was the point at which you configured the adaptation of ‘The Immortal Pyramid’?
In this case, it was more about the relationships between characters. That is to say, on the one hand, the idea that Napoleon was a rather inexperienced young man, a novice, who had a lot to prove and, on the other hand, there is a chemistry between him and the protagonist, Nadia, which obviously had to be maintained. Then, the novel has many jumps from one place to another and from one time to another, and there what I asked for is to do it in a more traditional cause-effect way, more often. That is one of the weaknesses of the comic you asked me about before, it is very difficult to make jumps in time because it implies changing the design of characters or using codes such as color changes, but they have to be so evident that the audience understands them at the first time and that is complicated.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of comics as a medium compared to novels?
The greatest strength, if we want to call it that, is the visual, of course. In a novel, you have to imagine everything and, although we have an important visual vocabulary thanks to cinema, the cartoonist and the colorist will give you their own vision and that’s always good. And what we can call weakness, which is not a weakness either, is that the novel does precisely that; it has no word limit and can spend as much time as it wants on descriptions, environments, talking about characters… and, many times, a vignette already gives you all the information.
It will also depend on the style and personality of the artist, won’t it?
Of course it will. In this case, Cesc -Dalmases- is a very talented person who has a lot of flexibility, and that’s important. That is to say, maybe another author would have found it more difficult, but he handles fantastic pages just as well as the more realistic ones. And, above all, he jumps very well from one environment to another. Just like the colorist -Roger Surroca- he has really done a great job because there are so many environments and there is always a way to invite us in, whether it is the most scorching desert or a tavern at night in the middle of Cairo.
Speaking of Egypt and archaeology, in your bibliography there is also ‘In the Footsteps of Indiana Jones’, what led you to embark on this adventure?
The same thing that led Javier -Sierra- to accept to be the prologue of that book, which is an inordinate love for the universe of Indiana Jones, for the character and, above all, because we lived it in a time of childhood that, of course, marked us a lot. I have the theory, which is being confirmed by the people I talk to, that Indiana Jones was for many people a gateway to culture. I mean, you saw ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and suddenly you see that there are pyramids, tunnels and temples and you want to know more, what that civilization is, who the Egyptians were. I consider it a gateway to a taste for history and culture.
This year, in your case, has been very busy, I think you have published five comics?
I think so. There is still one more to come out. This is half because it is true that I work a lot and half because editorial calendars are like that. Maybe, in 2023, I won’t publish anything, but if the publisher decides to publish it on a certain day of a certain month, you either get it together or not.
We have yet to release number two of the biography we are doing (with Sagar) of Jacques Brel. It comes out before the end of the year. It’s a privilege because the publisher accepted a rather crazy idea that we put on the table, which was to do a biography in three volumes. The normal thing nowadays in the world of comic biographies is to do one very large volume and that’s it. The proposal we made to him was that Brel had lived three lives and we had to do a different biography for each of them; how he became a singer, the years of his success and then the years he spent in the Marquesas Islands. He liked the idea and will publish one a year. The truth is that he is a very peculiar character, with a lot of will to live, very contradictory but very nice to write about him.
It’s not the first time you approach the world of music in your work. You have also written books like ‘Extreme Metal: 30 years of darkness’, why did you dive into this style?
The explanation for why I do so many different things, as I was saying, is that I am an art historian and, deep down, everything I do in comics also comes from there. In the case of music, I also took music history courses, I discovered music that I didn’t know at the time and they fascinated me and I think there are figures in all the arts whose lives are unknown, peculiar or different and are worth reading about. In the case of Django Reinhardt, the story of how he became the best guitarist in the world, despite having two useless fingers, is very powerful to tell. What I go looking for is that, the person behind the artist.