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In his role as a chronicler of modern urban life, the Frenchman Honoré Daumier captured the effects of the industrialization of Paris in the mid-19th century. Images of train travel are frequent in his work. In the painting that illustrates our cover, “The third-class wagon” (1862), the artist illustrates the deprivations suffered by train travelers in a third-class wagon. His contemporaries appreciated the universality of the subject, its ability to offer an overview of human life, with all its miseries and imperfections, joys, sorrows and vicissitudes, with the prospect of fatalistic resignation.
The same could be said of Miguel Det’s contemporary work, beyond talking about minibuses instead of trains and Lima asphalt instead of French railways. “The Fall of Lima: La Peste”, the title of the first installment of his graphic novel conceived as a trilogy, is a remarkable cross-reference, be they plastic to philosophical, to accompany the almost lysergic journey of a professor of ancient literature, an expert in Greek and Middle Eastern myths, surnamed-ironically-Lima, in the trance of looking for the woman he has lost.
Whoever follows the work of the notable cartoonist knows that his work is marked by both the poetry of Martín Adán and the aesthetics of the restless Huamán Poma. In this new installment, these references are taken to the extreme: Det thinks of the city as Martín Adán would, and appeals to the eternal wandering of the Ayacucho chronicler to explore it. “In principle, we could say that this is the story of a sentimental journey, without a defined direction, adrift, which serves as an excuse for a search within the human condition of the protagonist,” explains the cartoonist.
Indeed, at each milestone of his journey, Lima – the character – armed with a bottle of rum, submerges or rises through different levels of consciousness, depending on the subject of his reflection or his state of mind. For the surprised reader, his tour of the city, by bus or on foot, is crossed by reverberations, shared meanings, images, philosophical ideas or ancient religious cults, which intersect to reinforce or reject each other. Crossing a symbolic forest, halfway between the hanging Babylonian garden and the hypocritical “garden city” of Lima, the protagonist of his story tries to give meaning to different moments scattered in his life. “Like Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, my character tries to get paradise back, but he’s not sure how,” he says.
Lima is the name of the city, but also of the main character. Curious unfolding …
It is part of a search, a find and a misguidance of a character whose fall also corresponds to the decline of the city, in a broader political and social sense. “The Lima that left” on the one hand and, on the other, the character who falls as a result of his own tragedy, of his alcoholism.
In your book, you dare to paraphrase Vargas Llosa, wondering when Lima got screwed. What is your answer?
She’s probably always been screwed. But that’s where the cross-question comes immediately: when did I get screwed? Precisely the answer is discovered in that Sumerian myth on which the entire dystopian narrative has been based: the archetypal story of the hero, his fall and his resurrection. But at the same time the story occurs during the pandemic, so it could be said that the fall is multiple fall: the city, the character, the plague. It is a physical but also a cultural erosion.
Your story begins with a woman talking to her therapist. And one of the issues they address is release from guilt. One could say that, in “The Fall of Lima”, women are empowered and men lose their position in the face of changes …
The reading is correct. I did not want to reduce these relationships to how other types of comics usually present them when heroic characters work: The good and the bad, the victim and the perpetrator, the one who saves and the one who condemns. In this story there are no redeemers, saints or sinners, because there is no guilt here. They are situations that occur and that one tries to tell in the best way. I was interested in emphasizing in women their capacity for healing and empowerment, but also for self-destruction. I couldn’t afford a Manichean view of things.
I think there is no better adjective for your work than “baroque” …
How does your work dialogue with aesthetics and baroque thought?
In truth, I would have preferred to get a little closer to Botticelli’s classic ideal, to its clarity and cleanliness. Achieving its stylized line was my intention when I started as a cartoonist. That is why I always had an interest in the Pre-Raphaelites. However, I have not found any other way to express myself and refer to the complex reality than through the baroque.
Do you want to be Botticelli and end up emulating Caravaggio?
For the gloomy, yes. It’s what I ended up doing. In my work, the abundance of lines shows a complex reality, but at the same time they hide it, they cast shadows on it. The leaden sky of Lima also seems to correspond to that planned cover-up. Lima can be as ignorant and ignorant as it is igneous (laughs). So ready to light up, despite its humidity.
In your graphic work, the minibus is the ideal space for a multiple dialogue. As in Borges’s “El Aleph”, one can find all the knowledge there.
Exactly. There you find all the voices and all the stirred bloods, converging, complementing each other. These voices and presences suggest content that contextualizes the anecdote. It is something that I discovered casually, without intending to. Nor did I set out to move around a table to take notes on beer bottles. They are things that appear as a result of the conversations of drinkers, of the boredom by the repetition of the subjects. You take out your notebook and take notes. The bus is an extraordinary place not only because it offers you involuntary models, but because it allows you to prove yourself as a draftsman, the speed of your stroke, the patience you develop from the moment the car starts to move until when it stops.
The minibus has taught Lima residents to relate to each other, to maintain a proximity at the same time marked by daily violence …
It is the tension between the collective and the individual. More than being a community, we tear out the spaces, we put our elbow in. For my narrative, the minibus is an important place, to which I always return.
How much does “The Fall of Lima” have of personal narrative, of your own breakups, of your pub crawl?
It couldn’t stop being like this. When they ask me how I happen to draw myself drinking on the cover, I take it as a joke. It is public that I am very given to drinking. I am not an alcoholic, I consider myself a hard drinker. That has allowed me to experience the slowdown in time typical of hard drinkers. Suddenly, you find yourself on the sidelines of a life that flows very quickly. And you contemplate it from that distance, in its true magnitude.
One would say that the drink would make it difficult to take that distance lucidly.
What happens is that before it was assumed that alienation is associated with dementia, only. And in truth, alienation is probably as necessary as hope. A drinker neglects to be concerned and aware of what one has to do. In that moment there is a certain kind of alienation, a singular imagery.
I have heard that you are leaving the country, is it true?
Not in the immediate. Probably in a year. Let’s see how it turns out. I have some projects in mind in the United States. But, at least for me, because of my theme and my style, there is no way to leave Lima. Probably long periods here and some shorter there.
In your graphic novel there is a particularly poignant scene. Lima is interviewed on television and at the end, the host tells her producer: “I told you not to bring me drunk on set again, even if it is the next Nobel Prize.” How many Nobel prizes in Peru are lost due to lack of opportunities?
It is very sad. This issue of moving to the United States has allowed me to know cases of very capable people who had to take all their talent abroad, because here they cannot find a place to ensure a minimum existence.
A special case is that of cartoonists …
And very bright. I am thinking of Martín López Lam, for example, who had to go to Spain. Or Julio Ángel Carrión “Karry”, who has won every imaginable award, even in Iran and Kazakhstan, but here no one knows him beyond the circle of the House of Literature. The cartoonist is a very demanding and silent job, it demands solitude, isolation. We are given a certain opacity, too, which doesn’t help either.
On Wednesday December 22, starting at 5 pm, Miguel Det will sign copies of “The Fall of Lima: The Plague” at the Ciudad Librera bookstore, at Calle Plaza Bolívar 161, Pueblo Libre.
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“The Fall of Lima”, the new comic by Miguel Det: “Probably, the capital has always been screwed up” | INTERVIEW