Shock gives way to praise for Madrid bombings comic

MADRID (Reuters Life!) - A journalist, a police officer and a bereaved aunt are among characters who tell the story of the 2004 Madrid train bombings in an unusual format: a comic book.

Drawings which feature in a comic recounting the Madrid 2004 train bombings and subsequent trial, are pictured in this undated handout released June 9, 2009. REUTERS/Panini Espana/Handout

The project to create a graphic novel on bombings that killed 191 people and wounded 1,857, initially shocked some Spaniards, who feared it might trivialize the most lethal al Qaeda-related attack in Europe.

“We’re aware this is an issue that transcends the usual comic reader, but we want to get a bigger audience because we think this is of wide interest,” Antoni Guiral, one of the writers of “March 11. The graphic novel” said in an interview with Reuters.

Its authors have had to overcome popular ideas about comics.

“A lot of people have told us ‘how dare we do something humorous’. But a comic isn’t necessarily funny, the graphic novel is a form of communication like cinema,” Guiral said.

The novel’s writers and artists were at pains to avoid traumatic images of the dead and wounded.

The comic strip uses artwork on display in Madrid during March 2004, such as Picasso’s Guernica and Rene Magritte’s “Clef de Champs,” to portray the terror and panic of the attacks, and the pain and grief of survivors and the families of victims.

“We make no concession to people’s morbid curiosity. We have looked for symbolism,” said Guiral.

The idea to create a cartoon strip about the attacks on four packed, early-morning commuter trains came from a similar graphic novel on the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

The story is based on information from the bombing trial, which concluded the Islamist group which planned the attack was inspired by al Qaeda.

The novel starts with the sentencing in October 2007 of 21 people for involvement in the attacks. It continues with flashbacks by fictitious characters in the days up to March 11, 2004, and events after, such as a police raid on a Madrid apartment during which some bombers blew themselves up.

Victims group leader Pilar Manjon, whose son was killed in the attacks, said she thought of comics as something for children until she saw the cartoon strip.

“Reading it, I saw part of my life reflected,” she writes in the novel’s prologue.

To research the comic, authors spoke to railway workers who treated the injured, family of victims, police, psychologists and the assistant to the prosecutor in the case.

The comic has met a poor reception among some Spaniards who believe Basque guerrillas ETA were behind the attacks. Official investigations have ruled out their involvement.

“People who believe in the conspiracy theory don’t like it, but we already expected that,” Guiral said.

The authors planned to launch the comic in Madrid but met a chilly reception due to the subject nature.

“According to the publishers, there wasn’t a good response at a few places where we tried to show it,” Guiral said.

The novel had its debut at Barcelona Comic Salon in May. The authors plan to try again in Madrid during September.

“We are going to present it in Madrid, because we have dedicated this book to the victims, family members, friends, injured and also the people of Madrid,” Guiral said.

Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Translation by Andrew Hay, editing by Paul Casciato