Already spoken of in the same hushed breath as Persepolis and Maus, The Art of Flying is a Spanish memoir, the story of a son driven by his father’s suicide to try and understand his father’s life, growing up in rural Spain, eventually fighting in the Spanish Civil War and then the Second World War, before eventually settling down and ending up in an old folk’s home. There is a little bit of tussling at the start of the book as the son slips into the father’s shoes (‘My father – now myself’), but after that we are the father throughout. The opening and close recall Paco Roca’s Wrinkles (the close even going so far as to suggest the possibility of a different graphic novel entirely), as we see what life is like in an old folk’s home. The rest of the time, w follow Altarriba the father, as he grows up on the farm, eyes life in the city, eyes girls (and the rest), and becomes politicised. The Art of Flying is a highly politicised graphic novel engaging rigorously with Spain’s past. But we didn’t like it.
That’s right. We didn’t like it. We know it’s hard, and we feel a bit shameful, not liking something that everybody else appears to like, but there we are. Part of it – the smallest part – is the slightly passive aggressive way in which we are informed how important this book is (via the introduction). Part of it is the artwork: The Art of Flying feels very rigid, very conventional, in terms of its framing. What’s more, the way in which the words are affixed to the frames recalls badly pasted together fanzines from the 80s. Imagine someone typing reams of words on an old typewriter and then gluing them in place above the art with the kind of glue that requires a brush. The Art of Flying is a tremendously wordy read. Certainly this reader felt less is more a good long time before the end. Rare indeed are the times when the art is left to speak for itself (when the art, to labour a point, is allowed to fly).
All told, the book feels drier than a typical graphic novel, more academic, more ground bound. In the past we’ve commented about the fact that one of the thing great things about nonfiction graphic novels is that the form helps to introduce you to stories and histories that would otherwise have remained unfamiliar. The Art of Flying tells its tale in such a way that this reader at least was left feeling it was a book best left for those with an exceptional interest in the history of mid-20th century Spain.
Any Cop?: Not for us but the reviews would seem to indicate that this one has its audience.