Friday, June 26, 2009

Comic About Basque Whalers

This note was published at EiTB:

Basque whalers: heroes as classic as American cowboys

Igor Lansorena

Guillermo Zubiaga, a Basque comic book writer, publishes a comic about the adventures of Joanes, a Basque Whaler.

For Guillermo Zubiaga, a Basque graphic artist living in New York, the Basque whalers represent a heroic age, a "western" period particular to the Basques' own whimsicalness, comparable to the figure of the cowboy to the Americans, the vikings to the Scandinavians or the samurai to the Japanese.

For this reason, it is Guillermo's intention to keep their memory alive "as one of a number of very important symbols" for the Basques when he publishes The Flying Whaleboat, the first episode of a series of 3 comic books featuring the adventures of Joanes, a Basque whaler. "It is my opinion that the figure of the Basque whaler as well as the story behind his more than 3000 mile transatlantic exploits, is worthy of heroic praise," Guillermo says in an exclusive interview for

"One can't help but to wonder what kind of epic poems would had the classic Greco-Romans written would they had the knowledge of such deeds among their own folk," the Basque artist adds.

Guillermo had dreamt ever since college about creating something with a Basque theme specially for the American market. He first considered a compendium of Basque Mythology or conceiving a new take on the battle of Orrega but eventually decided resolutely on the theme of Basque whaling which he discovered through an article in the National Geographic by Selma Huxley.

The Basque comic writer had always been mystified by the whole aspect of the ancient whalers as their memory echoed along the entire Basque coast, reflected in the innumerable coats of arms of many Basque villages. The National Geographic issue confirmed to Zubiaga's mind that the content itself was a jewel when it came down to establishing whaling as a centerpiece of the story-line for a graphic novel. What is more, for Guillermo there was also the disputed early presence of Basques in the Americas which remains shrouded in mystery.

Guillermo finally decided on the name Joanes after the 1584 last will of Joanes de Echaniz, one the oldest written documents in North American history, and because the name is frequently repeated in historical records, Joanes D'Etxeberry's chants "Balearrantzaleen otoitzak," to folklore, Aita Barandiaran's story of the whaler Joanes Balaztena.

Han-Solo from Star Wars and the "Man with no name" played by Eastwood in Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns", two anti-heroes, were willful inspirations for the portrayal of Joanes.

The narration of Joanes the Basque Whaler was conceived as a single story of approximately 100 pages, but Guillermo decided to better adapt it to an American public, in a series of 3 episodes of 32 pages each. He has already finished the first one, The Flying Whaleboat of Joanes, and has already started penciling number two, entitled The Island of the Whales.


If Guillermo were completely free and had all the means, he would love to create an idea for Marvel of a story with Wolverine, his favorite hero in the American comic book universe. "During 1936-1937 as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War, as a foreign agent; the Canadian international brigades come immediately to mind, in Euskadi, fighting along the Euzko Gudarostea on the iron belt, or liberating Paris with the Gernika Battalion," Guillermo says.

If Zubiaga had to cite some of his influences in terms of his writing and drawing style within the American comic book industry as well as among their European and often south American counterparts, he confesses there are so many he is afraid to leave any out.

"Neal Adams, Mike Mignola, Klaus Janson, Frank Miller, Bernie Wrighston, Pasqual Ferry, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Kubert, Adam Kubert, Jimmy Palmiotti, Adam Pollina, Alan Moore, Dave Cockrum, Scott Lobdell, Will Eisner, Goscinny, Uderzo, Stan Lee, Victor Mora, Francisco Darnís, Jordi Bernet, Horacio Altuna, Milo Manara, Richard Corben, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, and the list truly goes on an on, since there is really a humbling assemble of talent", Guillermo says.

Regarding the authors and works who have had a more direct influence on Joanes the Basque Whaler, Guillermo mentions Second Century A.D. Lucian de Somastata, François Rabelais' Pantagruel, Rudolf Erich Raspe and Gottfried August Bürger's The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

Center of Basque Studies

The comic book will hit the shelves next July 24th at the annual convention of the North American Basque Organizations. It has not been an easy road, though. Since the Basque comic book writer had some contacts in the industry through his professional involvement, he thought he would be able to find an outlet for his work but he was somewhat mistaken.

Most of the comic book editors were not very interested in such an atypical theme. This did not stop Guillermo, who decided to give himself a year's deadline before considering self-publishing. He then met Joseba Etxarri, director of, who put him in touch with the University of Nevada and the Center of Basque Studies to participate with the annual NABO in advocating his book as a platform for a new outlook on Basque-American awareness.

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