We all have heroes.
Within Comics, my own holy trinity are Moebius, Toppi and Munoz.
Moebius and Toppi are gone now.
This is what happened in Kendal on the twentieth of October 2013.
Encounters with Munoz
I made my way slowly, along the deserted morning streets of the Northern English town, avoiding, as well as I could, the rain that ran in thick rivulets from rooftops, awnings and blocked gutters.
As I crossed the river I glanced toward the mountains, and the oppressive, grey raincloud behind. I tucked my chin closer to my chest and walked on up the rain slick cobbles toward the Town Hall.
The doors were open to the commanding building, and the dampness in the air seemed to stir and lift the musty scent of age from the timbers and tiled floors within, as though history were beckoning me to enter.
The double spread of the majestic stone staircase welcomed, and I climbed the left hand flight, passing the portraits of numerous, unfamiliar, notaries lining the wall to the assembly room; home for the day.
Timber floorboards echoed the sounds of the footfalls of the few creators present in the large room at that early hour, the vaulted ceiling throwing back the noise, accompanied by a steady rhythm of drumming, as the rain increased its strength from above.
Hanging my coat across the chair back I rubbed tiredness unsuccessfully from my face. For a vacant moment I stared at the patterns the rain was making on the multi paned windows set high in the walls, and the thin sunlight that struggled to illuminate the room within. ‘I need a tea.’ I muttered quietly to myself and headed for the kitchen behind the stage area.
Standing alone, at the far end of the room, a grey overcoat draped over one arm, stood a man. Glasses perched high on his nose, he met my gaze and nodded. Smiling, he sipped from his cup and replaced it on a saucer he held in his other hand.
I returned the smile and flipped the handle to the water boiler, watching the swirl of steam-shrouded liquid flow into the cup, and drawing courage to introduce myself.
One of the talented young guys from the table next to mine entered and proceeded to pour himself a drink, tipping an unrecognising smile to the silent gentleman at the far end of the room, while quizzing me as to how things were going.
As the young guy bit into a biscuit, I found myself slowly walking toward the quiet man, still standing unassumingly on the other side of the room. I held out my hand and uttered a question, the answer to which I already knew.
That we should have the likes of José Munoz in our UK Comics culture, I have absolutely no doubt. How we should achieve this, I have absolutely no idea. But the fact that we must experience his work, and other monumental artists such as Toppi, Mattotti and Breccia, in foreign language editions, and the rare English translations championed by the indefatigable Paul Gravett , is nothing short of criminal.
The works of creative giants such as these are the very building blocks to a serious appraisal of what the Comics medium can achieve – and we as a comic reading nation are all the poorer without them.
But, with the rain drumming on the windows, and the pale light of a Lake District Sunday morning illuminating the worn linoleum around us, I chatted with a gentle man whom had been, simply, one of my heroes for many, many moons, and whose work has had some of the most direct effects upon my own.
He asked my name, and if I was exhibiting. I told him that I was, and intimated the profound effect he had made to my decisions whilst young, to pursue comics as a hobby. He declared his pleasure at having been asked to attend such a prestigious event, and I was struck by his genuine graciousness, bearing in mind the apparent lack of familiarity that had greeted him the previous day, during the signing sessions.
We parted company as the room opened to the interested of Kendal, and I said goodbye with an elation I hadn’t felt since childhood.
That surreal, chance encounter with one of the true legends of sequential art promised to be the most exhilarating experience of my whole Kendal visit…
Thirty minutes later, as I sat at my table. Behind my paltry wares, still pondering the ‘once in a lifetime’ nature of what had occurred so shortly before, I heard an exclamation…
I looked up. Eight feet away José Munoz stood, pointing at me.
He came straight across the busy aisle, one hand outstretched, the other open, offering introduction to the splendid looking lady at his side.
‘Please.’ He said. ‘My wife.’
And what followed was probably only a moment, but which felt like a lifetime, as I was introduced to the great man’s wife, and we talked of comics.
The state of Comics as a whole, his own Comics specifically, and what the future held in store for the ever developing medium on which he, himself, held such an influence. Of the stronghold that DC and Marvel had drawn around the art form and how we sensed a breaking down of the barriers that had held so many promising artists back in the past.
We spoke of his own books and the various attempts made by Catalan and Fantagraphics to launch his work to the English speaking world, and their ultimate failure due, purely, to lack of profit.
And of his standing in Europe and his home countries and the fact that, despite all we had discussed, he still managed ‘to make a living’. At this he smiled, knowingly, and winked, then turned his interest to my table, and the book I was displaying.
His first comment revolved around the fact that the book was in black and white – a fact that seemed to please him, and at that moment I was glad that I not succeeded in producing the colour book I had struggled with over the previous few months. He nodded and spoke to his wife in Spanish many times as he flicked through the pages, and she quizzed me in broken English about… but I was lost for words.
I picked examples of everything I had on the table and squared them as he quipped, laughing, that my name denoted some form of English nobility. I laughed back, feeling about as much like a peasant as I have ever felt – Being as close to the presence of a king as I have ever been.
I gifted him the stack of my wares, paltry as it was. Claiming it as some poor repayment for the gifts he had bestowed upon so many, over the years.
He accepted courteously, and without hesitation. Then, as he and his wife said goodbye for the second time that morning, she instigated the one memory that, should I ever wish to try, I shall never be able to forget as long as I live.
She took my book from Munoz’s hands and turned to the front page, searching. After a second, she looked crossly at me and waved a finger.
‘Ah!’ she said. ‘You must sign.’
“To José – Mal Earl 2013.”
‘Was that José Munoz?’ said the young man.
‘Yeah.’ I said.