Santiago García and Javier Olivares form one of the strongest tandems in recent Spanish comics. Both with long careers, their joint works include Las Meninas (2014), anger (2020) and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (2009), recently republished. From this adaptation arises, precisely, the idea to carry out his most recent work: War of the Worlds (Astiberri). The science fiction classic written by HG Wells, which inspired Orson Welles for his famous radio show, has been made into a film on multiple occasions —the last one, in 2005 under the direction of Steven Spielberg— and was even the basis of a well-remembered musical version performed by Jeff Wayne.
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In all its incarnations, the story of the alien invasion has shown that it can be adapted to very different contexts and offer relevant readings of each historical moment. However, in this immediate and urgent comic, García and Olivares go a little further: What if we were the invaders? In their response, both address issues such as racism, the rise of the extreme right or immigration policies.
Where did the idea of turning around come from? War of the Worlds and reinterpret it from the point of view of the Martians?
Santiago Garcia: anger It was a book that revolved around war, but the protagonists are the ones who wage war. War of the Worlds, however, is a book about those who suffer from war. I think it makes sense, because it’s something we were thinking about while doing anger. It is not that it is missing in the work, but I wanted to talk about the people who suffer from the war, who are not soldiers or heroes, but are also there.
This thematic continuity with anger It seems obvious to me: it is the same vital and artistic concerns that can be seen in War of the Worlds. But the way in which they introduce topical comments, reflections on immigration, racism and the concept of otherness is surprising… In this regard, there are a series of questions that I don’t know if they would have been in the work if Santiago hadn’t lived in the United States. , because they refer to their society and its problems.
Santiago Garcia: Totally. It has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been living here for eleven years, and that makes me understand certain things. The sense of belonging, and what cultural hegemony means, what it means to be an immigrant and how people treat you. Imperialism and colonialism are not things of the 19th century: all the power structures that we have today come from there. All this is worrying me more and more and, in recent years, with the universal rise of the extreme right, much more. Until now, we saw Western democracies as a model to follow, a refuge from authoritarianism and a kind of wave that serves as a vanguard, dragging the others towards the horizon. That is changing because authoritarianism is creeping into those societies.
How do you bring those concepts to life? War of the Worlds?
Santiago Garcia: There is a discourse that the extreme right is increasingly using to exalt the grassroots, which goes back to the origins of the country and the war of independence: the discourse of heroic resistance. The individual hero who stands up against tyranny and the invader, who fights for freedom. It is something that is in a number of movies, series… I realized that adapting the novel as it is was reproducing this discourse, which is controlled here and now by the extreme right. Also, in War of the Worlds, the invader is the definitive Other. Aliens are the perfect monster of contemporary culture because you can’t have any kind of guilt complex, they are just the absolute enemy from a biological point of view. There is no need to negotiate: just exterminate them. It’s them or us. And that today is a fascist discourse that justifies resistance to progressivism, tolerance or diversity. The great replacement theory goes along these lines, and it has a biological background. However, if what we count is how we invade others, what we are putting at the center are our own imperialist and destructive practices. And we are shedding the excuse of resistance. We are not the heroes: we are the destructive force that destroys everything in the name of a future that, in reality, we are also destroying.
In his comic it can be verified that the treatment that the Martians receive from the terrestrials is inhumane, and there are very hard situations. Javier, from a graphic point of view, how have you approached these issues?
Xavier Olivares: In each chapter we follow the story of one of the members of the main family, and it has a different visual tone. This is something that is defined from the very moment that Santiago hands me the script. The first part, which tells of the invasion, is the most obvious: there is a direct match with the original work and with the first film adaptation by Byron Haskin (1953). I was interested in clearly separating the Martians from the terrestrial ones, and I also wanted to pay homage to the Victorian world of Wells by giving them this look. It doesn’t make sense, but it seemed to me that symbolically it was important. Just like the color green, which I wanted to be very intense, without nuances, because color is an important element to talk about racism. However, we kept them humanoid so as not to lose the empathic capacity with them, so that they were not balls of hair or gelatinous masses. The second part is very different: there I had to recreate the polluted and unhealthy atmosphere of the planet, but also the atmosphere of the concentration camp. The planes become very frontal, so that the reader is at ground level. The third part has another tone, more circus, inspired by the drawings of PC Russell in Killraven (1983), which I had not read, but which were an influence on Santiago.
And in the final part, which for me is the most novel, we see how an invading culture ends up completely devouring the invaded one, to the point that the children of the Martians stop feeling like such and feel terrestrial, because they have been educated over there. An interesting relationship is created, because it is taken to the field of politics.
Santiago Garcia: The key is to understand that there is no correct or ethical way out of the way the West has organized itself politically. When your model is imperialism and colonialism, and it has always been since Rome, you necessarily annihilate and absorb other cultures and other ways of seeing the world. But, despite the genocides, you don’t completely end them, but you integrate them in some way, through submission and the obligation to live as the dominant culture wants. At the same time, that dominant culture resists integration. The racism implicit in the conquest does not tolerate its purity being perverted by the influence of the Other either. It is a paradox. We can ask ourselves why Mexico is not part of the United States, why they did not invade it. Basically, because they didn’t want to turn Mexicans into Americans. For the same reason, Puerto Rico is an associated state, without senators or political participation. And let us not forget that when the black slaves were freed, the plan of Lincoln and many others was to return them to Africa. It is one thing to want them not to be slaves and another to live with them and have the same rights. That their vote is worth the same as yours. And this is a problem that we have been living with since the white nations decided that the world was theirs to spoil.
But I also think there is another issue in War of the Worlds: It’s a parenting book. Of parents who see everything that is happening and feel fear for their children. Everything that is happening terrifies you, because you realize that the fate of your children may be in the hands of these types of ultra-right movements. There is nothing worse than that.
In this world in which we see this rise of the extreme right and a setback that we did not believe possible in basic rights, what role do you think fiction can play as a shock or awareness?
Xavier Olivares: I believe that this book has to do with a personal concern, but not with the intention of raising awareness. It is a recurring debate: can fiction really change the world? I’m not sure it can be an ideological weapon. And I think that when you approach a work like that, it may not turn out well. But whether we like it or not, these political and social issues creep into your work. Until years ago, one could be more or less an activist or conscientious, but right now there are ghosts that seemed already buried and that make you get involved in another way. We took democracy for granted because it seems to us more humane and more logical, that humanity is progressing towards a fairer world. This has started to crack.
Santiago Garcia: If the question is whether works of fiction such as War of the Worlds have some kind of effect to help change these dynamics, my answer is no, none. But neither is the intention. It is, as Javier says, a personal expression. We are people who make comics and we talk about the things that concern us. Now, if the question is whether fictions change the world, my answer is yes, of course. And, in fact, that is what is happening. All campaigns of the extreme right are based on fiction. All the problems that they are raising, and with which they are winning the culture wars, are based on the fact that they are fictions. Everything is a lie. What is the difference? They are not works of art. They are fictions that are presented as a truth. Even when people know they are lies, they work, because they understand that what is meant is that Democrats, immigrants or whoever is working to destroy our culture. And this connects with what we were talking about before about the heroic resistance. You turn the attacked into an aggressor and then you convince yourself that you have the right to defend yourself, that it is a just war like World War II was. The United States is the guarantor of democracy in the world, but let’s not forget that it is a country that would not exist without genocide and slavery. If you do not want to answer for that, the only option is to invest all your efforts in denying it, and in inoculating racism for decades to the most privileged population, the one that has the power to make decisions, the white middle class, which continues to live better than the others, but who has the perception that he lives worse than before, because inequality is brutal. In the United States it is very difficult to live. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to buy a house, for example, even for people with very good salaries.
However, it is noteworthy that the discourse of those who speak of a great replacement that will replace whites with lower-paid immigrants and, at the same time, reject any measure that improves the working conditions of workers, is bought. We are no longer in the realm of the rational.
Xavier Olivares: Well, as Santiago said, it is the discourse in which the extreme right moves: they are the rebels against the elites. And that is told to you by someone like Trump, a billionaire. That same elite sells you that you have to vote for them to vote against the system.
Santiago Garcia: For that you have to spend decades and decades inoculating racism and religious fanaticism. Here the founding myth is the rebellion against the British king. But there is a second myth, which is the secession war. It is a war that the South has greatly romanticized. The South was rich America. But today there are many states that live on federal funds, because they do not have state taxes beyond sales taxes, which are, of course, non-progressive. Federal money is collected across the country and then redistributed. Many southern states are living off the most progressive states, against whose principles they systematically vote. It is an identity issue. That is why it is so ironic that they are constantly saying that identities must be removed from politics. Do not talk about gender or racism, because that is extremist. But everything they do is identity politics, really.