Between 1979 and 2004, a subversive monthly alternative comics magazine hit the news stands every month across Spain — it marked the beginning of a new wave of Spanish comic artists and coincide with the newborn Spanish democracy.
Published in Barcelona, by Josep Maria Berenguer and the influential Catalan editor Josep Toutain — the same editor responsible for the boom of the Spanish talent that invaded America in the 70s and 80s in horror magazines such as Eerie and Creepy, this comix magazine, had an indelible impact in the hearts and minds of young adults, eager to read and see something different and daring.
The character of the magazine was intended to be disruptive and irreverent as much as possible. It wanted to be a bastion to the rebels and outcasts — to portrait the streets and what was happening around the people. Originally, Berenguer wanted to name the magazine as GOMA-3, a reference to Goma-2, an explosive notoriously used by the Basque terrorist/nationalist organization ETA during the 1970s. However, the name was rejected by the Spanish authorities and changed to El Vibora.
Back in the 80’s, reading the El Vibora was a synonym of being a sort of a friki (a weirdo, a freak), now, 40 years on, a commemorative exhibition is being held at the National Museum of Catalunya, finally paying the respect that it deserves.
Comix were a social and cultural phenomenon that started in the USA, breaking all rules of commercial comics — they appeared as a response to the superhero driven comics, very much targeted at younger audiences, following strict rules and codes.
On the other hand, Comix were all about uncensored stories of everyday life, sex, drugs, feminism, existential or satirical stories with very strong and bold graphic approaches, usually of low budget and restricted access. Often self-published in low quality paper by artists themselves and with very few copies available.
So, naturally, El Vibora origins were the underground and provocative comix that started to appear in Barcelona in the early 70’s, in the wake of those American subversive magazines.
A generation of young artists, from very different backgrounds, that wanted to tell their own stories, with a critical voice on society and its problems. Artists with very diverse styles like Calonge, Carratalá, Carulla, Ceesepe, Mauro Entrialgo, Isa Feu, Gallardo, Laura, Marta Guerrero, Martí, Jaime Martín, Miguel Ángel Martín, Mediavilla, Montesol, Nazario, among many others. Also names like Max or Mariscal, still in their early careers, saw also their cutting edge style works featured, uncensored and raw.
El Vibora, reached #300 numbers and its circulation peaked at 45.000 copies. Its impact in the Spanish counterculture was huge and its influence is still felt nowadays. Back then, the Spanish market of comic magazines was booming with several different original titles in the stands every month — and with El Vibora, a different and irreverent magazine was showing that the Spanish urban society was changing and becoming free.
In a time when fanzines and adult comix were at its zeitgeist — the magazine was subtitled, with the tongue-in-cheek tag-line “Comix for Survivors”. Its content was often explicit and very violent. The magazine was not only a carrier to promote national talent, but also international and iconic cartoonists like — Daniel Clowes, Jamie Hewlett, Muñoz/Sampayo, Robert Crumb, Charles Burns, Liberatore had their work published regularly reaching to a great variety of people.
By its own right, the stories depicted in El Vibora fought against the political system and economical power — They gave voice to the outcast, often portrayed in many of its stories — the travesties, gays, drug-addicts, radicals and ecologists, a reflex of the marginalized people of that time.
Eventually, comics started to lose their appeal to teenagers, and by the end of the 80’s video games were already a reality in many households. By 1992, the majority of comics magazines in Spain has ceased publication and it was only a matter of time until the first rumours of closing El Vibora were out. The Internet would also soon take its first steps and in December 2004, the final issue of El Vibora is out.
The entertainment industry is changing at a really rapid pace, not only in comics but everywhere (cinema, TV, …), and unfortunately, nowadays, these types of magazines are becoming more and more just collector's items.
Just earlier this month, US based Mad magazine, an icon of juvenile humour, an on-going publication since 1967, was sadly shut down by its long-time owner DC comics, due to a decrease of sales. Mad is undoubtedly an A-list pop culture brand, tied to numerous childhood memories of Boomer and Gen-X teenagers.
It is fair to say that a magazine like El Vibora or Mad has lost its place nowadays. Not only due to the state of the world and the entertainment industry today, but surely also due to the political correctness that invaded the everyday life of everyone.
El Vibora was a punk magazine way too schizophrenic for 2019.