Olmos Takes Batman to Barcelona

Though many American comics fans have never made it there and many more still may never have heard of it, the Barcelona Comic Con is a big deal. Known to native Spaniards and other European comics enthusiasts as El Salón Internacional Del Cómic De Barcelona, the four-day event kicking off on May 29 covers a wide range of comic books, from European originals to manga to indie comics.

At this year's show, the American comics crowd will make a big splash, as luminaries including Scott McCloud will be in attendance. The con will also serve as the launch party for DC Comics' "Batman In Barcelona: Dragon's Knight" - a one-shot special seeing simultaneous publication in three countries, created by Mark Waid, Jim Lee and artist Diego Olmos, who spoke to CBR News about the story's highly touted launch.

"Spain has a big tradition in publishing and love for American comic books," Olmos told CBR. "But it's also a very diverse market that sees editions of manga, French BD and comic books created in Spain. The enthusiasm the [Batman] project's announcement has generated has been spectacular, much more than I expected, and the media - TV, radio and mainstream newspapers have talked about the project at length. I had never answered so many interviews!"

"The Spanish comics scene is... peculiar," added Olmos' agent, David Macho Gomez, who helped organize the book's creation. "I think Spain is the country that publishes more translations of foreign books, being DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image or almost any other American publisher, and of course, the European and Japanese ones. But the industry is not in the same shape when it comes to Spanish creators and their work created for Spain. For example, Diego has an amazing series called 'H2Octopus' that hasn't met the success we all think deserves, but hopefully 'Batman in Barcelona' will help change that."

If Diego Olmos wanted for a stage that might launch his name up a few notches in the minds of readers at home or abroad, he couldn't have asked for better helping hands. With a cover by legendary artist Jim Lee (who will also be on hand at the con) and a story by the hugely popular Mark Waid focusing on Batman's battle with a brainwashed Killer Croc in the streets of Barcelona, "Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight' carries a high pedigree.

The high-profile nature of the book aside, Olmos' first and foremost goal in taking the gig was to return to the Dark Knight after an absence of a few years. "I think I still had 'things to say' with Batman, even having drawn him before in 'Batman: Gotham Knights,' because I was hoping to be able to do it in a special project like this one, and more with a self-contained story like this.

"Also, being able to work with two big creators like Mark Waid and Jim Lee, well, it's something that doesn't happen every day."

Speaking of things that don't happen every day, "Dragon's Knight" holds the unique status of getting a simultaneous release in America, Italy and Spain on the same day, May 27, with separate editions serving the language needs of each market. But of course, regardless of the language, the book's main focus is the city of Barcelona itself. "The idea has been, since the beginning, that this was a showcase of the town and also of its Con, something I hope it's going to happen," Gomez said. "The Spanish edition is going to be a hardcover, almost like a European album in size, and it's going to have ten pages of extras (approved by the kind people of DC, of course) created for the Spanish and Italian editions -- and also for the one in Catalan, since Catalonia has its own language, it wouldn't be fair for the people that prefers Catalan as their vernacular language to not get their own translation, right? Anyway, between those extras the book is going to have an intro for it written by Jordi Hereu, mayor of Barcelona, and that is not exactly 'small potatoes' in a town with more than 1,600,000 people. Also, it's going to have a nice 'making of' by the creators of the book, a 'genesis of the project' explaining how the project came to be, the architectural research. Thanks to Barcelonan architect Paloma Joga for her invaluable help on Diego's and [colorist] Marta [Martínez's] own research, which played a big part in all of it."

It was Diego Olmos' status as a Barcelona resident that helped him tap into the city's famous gothic architecture in order to provide an all-new playground for the Dark Knight. "Knowing Barcelona's architecture so well has been really helpful, but even with that it has meant a quite an exacting labor of research and field work because the town is one more character of the story and we really wanted to capture all those marvelous Gaudi buildings and the work of other big architects with as much accuracy and respect as possible," the artist explained. "It's true that Barcelona has a lot of gothic architecture, but in the story almost all the buildings and monuments we show are from the modernist Catalan artistic movement, a very unique and local style and style part of the bigger modernist style of art from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries."

Of course, being a Batman comic, "Dragon's Knight" doesn't skimp on action. "I've had a lot of fun drawing Mark's script. I think it has the perfect mix of superhero action, images full of impact, and more 'real life' moments with which I've been able to stop and enjoy showing Barcelona and its different environments," Olmos said. "I've had a lot of fun with the part where Batman fights Croc on the Sagrada Familia cathedral, and same with the scenes where Bruce and the female lead of the story chat relaxedly."

And with an intelligence quotient considerably smaller than that of Batman, Killer Croc won't be the only villain in tow, as the leather-skinned serial killer gets brainwashed by another of the detective's foes to believe he is the legendary dragon slain by Saint George far in the city's past. That villain? The Scarecrow. "I've tried to portray Scarecrow as a manipulative and twisted individual, a brainy villain that would serve as a contrast to the version of Killer Croc we've tried to show in this story, brutal, very physical, completely chaotic and violent," Olmos explained. "And there's a moment when the Scarecrow tells Batman the story of Saint George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon and Mark asked me to draw that with a different style, basing my art on a classic representation that would be identifiable with the legend. After doing some research and weight different options, I decided to show it mimicking the Romanesque period style of art, because aside of being very iconic and illustrative, it's also very easily recognizable as something old and medieval, very fitting to portray something legendary."

In sharpening his own spin on the Dark Knight, Olmos drew on a raft of major influences from Batman's artistic past. "Being honest, there's a lot of versions of Batman from a lot of different creators that may have influenced me when doing the art for the book, from the elegant Neal Adams' Batman to the mysterious and pulp Batman David Mazzuchelli did, to the brutal and epic Batman in Frank Miller's books. There is a lot of creators I admire and that have maybe influenced me even at a subconscious level: Michael Golden, Gene Colan, Eduardo Risso, Mike Mignola, John Paul Leon... But my preferred Batman of all time would be the one drawn by Trevor Von Eeden in the '70s. Anyway, I hope that my Batman is personal enough to have things of all those creators but without looking like their work at all."

"Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight" hits comic shops in America, Italy and Spain on May 27th. For more info on the Barcelona Comic Con, go to http://www.ficomic.com/ and click on the English flag to translate.

For more Diego Almos, check out the following pages from his own series, "H2Octopus."

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