Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

This is the fourth part of a four-part series on the pulps under totalitarianism. Read more: Pulp Scifi Under German Totalitarianism | Pulp Scifi Under Russian and Soviet Totalitarianism | Pulp Scifi Under Japanese Totalitarianism

Like most European countries Spain has a tradition of science fiction and proto-science fiction which predates the genre's 20th century establishment. A brief glance at Spain's entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction shows that science fiction in Spain before 1900 was not unknown, even if Spain did not produce a Verne or Wells.

This gap in the Encyclopedia's coverage reflects the common view that science fiction was not published in Spain before the Spanish Civil War, and especially not under Franco's rule. However, there was Spanish science fiction published between 1900 and 1945, during the pulp era, and it was still a genre that attracted a number of writers over a period of decades. Most Spanish science fiction published during this era had the pulp sensibility of action and adventure being more important than characterization and narrative style. But the genre did develop in certain ways.

It might be thought that a line of demarcation for Spanish pulp science fiction, as with so much else in modern Spanish history, would be the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). You might think hat the pulp scifi published during the Spanish Republic (1931-1936) would be significantly different from that published under the fascist regime of Gen. Franco (1936-1939). But the dividing line is actually earlier, in 1929. (Why 1929 and not the Civil War is a question that I'll leave for Spanish historians to answer).

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

Before 1929

As a general rule the science fiction of the pre-1929 years is fairly literary; the author's intent was to produce intelligently-written fiction which aspired to more than to mere entertainment, if not Art itself. Salvador de Madariaga's La Jirafa Sagrada (1925) is set on the African island of Ebony in the 70th century, and examines a matriarchal African society existing centuries after Europe sank into the sea and the white race was exterminated. De Madariaga's intent is to satirize modern Spanish culture, politics, and academic scholarship.

A. Ibanex Barranquero's Jerusalen y Babilonia (1927), a utopia, is set in a distant future when sunspots have rendered much of the earth uninhabitable and the Spanish have created Jerusalem, a Catholic Republic utopia. And Jesus R. Coloma's Entre dos Continentes (1928), set in the future, depicts the Spain and Portugal formed into the United States of Iberia and digging a tunnel beneath the Strait of Gibraltar, only to be confronted by the International Zionist Conspiracy, which foments a holy war between the Muslims of North Africa and the Christians of the U.S.I. Barranquero's intent is to warn the Spanish reader about the dangers of Jews and Muslims — it's reprehensible to modern sensibilities, but a seriously intended political message on Barranquero's part.

However, from 1929 on serious science fiction dwindled, and the pulp sensibility took hold. Salvador Mestres' "Guerra en la Estratosfera" (1937), a sober adaptation in comic strip form of H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come (1933), is a rare exception. More typical of the science fiction of this era is Jesus de Aragon's Los Piratas del Aire (1929), in which Abdahalla-Fan, a Yellow Peril, threatens all of India from his dragon-shaped airship. With the help of his gorilla co-pilot, Abdahalla-Fan kidnaps an Englishwoman, forcing a heroic English pilot to pursue him to his Mt. Everest base.

Not coincidentally, prose science fiction became rare in Spain after 1929. What replaced it were comic strips, comic books, and pulps. The Spanish comic book industry essentially began in 1933, and the high points for the Spanish pulp industry were 1930-1934 and 1941-1946. Science fiction was a popular genre in both media.

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

Professionalism and Scifi Comics

The post-1929 era also saw the rise of professional science fiction writers. Before 1929 there were some Spanish writers who published science fiction over long periods, most notably Jose de Elola, who under the pseudonym of "Colonel Ignotus" published seventeen novels, from 1918 to 1935, about Mari Pepa, an inventor of high technology in Seville in the 22nd century, and who uses her creations to visit the planets of the solar system and have adventures among the aliens on those planets. But the establishment of the pulp and comic book industries allowed writers and writer/artists to concentrate largely or entirely on science fiction as a genre.

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

Comic book writer Jose Canellas Casals spent years writing primarily science fiction comics, from Los Vampires del Aire (1933-1934), about a gang of criminals using flying suit technology, to "Zimbra y los Dragones Humanos" (1938), about a scientist revived from suspended animation to fight an alien race of Dragon Men, to Mario del Mar (1941-1942), about a Spanish inventor who creates a technologically-advanced submarine and uses it for exploration and adventure. Writer/artist Francisco Darnis had a similar career, from Lost Race adventures ("Las Hazanas de Nick, Pecho de Hierro," 1933-1936?, "En Busca de un Mundo Perdido," 1934-?) to Planetary Romances ("Tom el Dominador del Universo," 1934-1935) to straight science fiction ("El Vampire Polar," 1940-1941, involves a pair of Spanish explorers who use a Nautilus-like submarine to fight an alien vampire who has a high-tech base at the North Pole). And Jose Jordan Jover was able to make a long career of the comic "Roberto Alcazar y Pedrin" (1940-1976), about Lost Race Queens to Yellow Perils to gorilla assassins to King Kong clones.

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

One thing that did not significantly change after 1929 was the degree to which Spanish creators were influenced by and responded to the creators and works of other countries. Popular culture is rarely created in a vacuum, and the pulps of the European countries reflect a web of influences, from the United States, Great Britain, and the various European countries themselves. But — not to put too fine a point on it — Spain is exceptional in the degree to which its science fiction was influenced by, rather than influenced, the creators and works of other countries. Even during the Franco years, when Spain deliberately isolated itself from Europe both culturally and economically, Spanish science fiction was imitative rather than original.

This is not to say that these imitations didn't have serious aspirations; Manuel Bedoya's El Hijo del Dr. Wolffan (1917), about the Frankenstein-like Dr. Wolffan and his attempt to create an artificial man, tries to go beyond Shelley in its condemnation of scientific hubris and modern science, as well as make a political statement about Spain's government. But more often, especially after 1929, the imitations were pure pulp, intended only to entertain.

Some of the imitations were in response to specific trends in other countries. As seen in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction's entry on Spain, Spanish authors of the 19th century wrote tales of space travel and Planetary Romances, but both became far more popular in the 20th century, after Wells and Verne and after the many Planetary Romance dime novels and pulps of the other European countries. Child protagonists became common in Spanish pulp sf in the 1930s, long after they had become popular in the pulps of other European countries. Children-going-into-space-and-meeting-aliens pulps were popular in France, so writer Marc Farell wrote the pulp Un Viaje al Planeta Marte #1-24 (1933-1934), about two Spanish boys who take a rocket to Mars in pursuit of the Three Tigers Gang, only to discover that Mars is inhabited by a variety of species. And occult detectives were popular across Europe, especially in the Sar Dubnotal mode, so Spanish pulps published Kram, El Hipnotizador #1-8 (1930-1931) and Khun Zivan, El Terrible #1-16 (1932-1933).

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

One trend that saw particularly heavy use was the crossover. The crossover was a common device in European pulp scifi during the pulp era, both externally (using other authors' characters) and internally (through self-created universes). Sherlock Holmes and detectives Nick Carter and Nat Pinkerton appeared in numerous European pulps, while authors like the Danish pulp master Niels Meyn wove together numerous crossovers between the various pulps they wrote. (Meyn is particularly notable for this; of his nine major pulp series, eight crossed over with the others). Typical among the examples of this in Spanish pulp science fiction is Arizona Jim, a sheriff who appeared in over 250 issues of three pulps between 1929 and 1942. Arizona Jim teams up with Sherlock Holmes, duels with Fu Manchu, and captures Captain Nemo's Nautilus. (Arizona Jim also becomes an undead mentor to his Chinese sidekick in later issues, though that was an original concept rather than one copied from somewhere else).

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

And some of the imitations were of specific characters. Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were popular choices (Jamie Tomas' "El Universo en Guerra" (1935-1937), Edmundo Marculeta's Barton #1-5 (1941-1942), Victor Aguado's Doctor Brande #1-3 (1943), R. del Villar's Ray de Astur #1-7 (1943), F. Hidalgo's Escarlata Kondor (1944), the anonymously-written Joe Dal #1-3 (1945), and Juan Martinez Osete's Red Dixon #1-6 (1945)). Jose Canellas Casals' Mack Wan #1-20 (1933-1934) is about a costumed vigilante based on Alexandre Dumas' Edmond Dantes; Mack Wan's sidekick, Jim, is a boy whose face was mutilated by a gang of smugglers who sell deformed children to circuses-a lift from Victor Hugo's L'Homme Qui Rit. The main character in Javier Montana #1-20 (1940-1941) has a variety of adventures modeled on those of Brick Bradford. Manuel Vallve Lopez's Hercules (Hercules #1-6, 1942-1943) is a Doc Savage-like Basque hero active in Bilbao. F. Hidalgo's Tong-Khan (La Secta de Tong-Khan #1-2, 1943) is the Spanish Fu Manchu. Guillermo Sanchez Boix's El Murcielago (El Murcielago #1-6, 1943) is the Spanish Batman. Enrique Pertegas' Ultus (Ultus, Rey de la Selva #1-14, 1943) is the Spanish Tarzan. Guillermo Lopez Hipkiss' Yuma (Yuma #1-14, 1943-1946) is the Spanish Shadow. And Emilio Freixas' Capitan Misterio ("El Capitan Misterio," 1944-1949) is the Spanish Phantom.

A Peculiar Absence in Spanish Pulps

One unique aspect of Spanish pulp science fiction during this era is its use of Spain itself. The countries with the largest pulp industries-the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and France-all used their major cities as settings for stories. But for the most part the pulp writers of those countries used either a generic urban setting or the country's largest cities–-New York, London, Berlin, Paris-–as the setting for stories. Conversely, Spanish pulp writers were as likely to set stories in Barcelona, Bilbao, and Seville as they were in Madrid.

Another interesting aspect of Spanish pulp science fiction involves an absence. Compared to the pulp science fiction of America and Europe, the pulp scifi of Spain is politics-free. This is to be expected during the Franco years, when press censorship was an onerous reality, but even before the Spanish Civil War there was little pulp science fiction that addressed Spain's domestic instability and the rise of right- and left-wing movements. Likewise, post-Civil War pulp science fiction did not refer to the Civil War in any way–-neither to criticize its ending (which would have been shocking, given the Francoist press censorship) nor to celebrate it. The only mention of the Civil War is in Guillermo Lopez Hipkiss' Yuma, which makes a point of stating that it is set in a Spain in which the Civil War never happened. Nor were there contemporary references to World War II in any of the Spanish science fiction pulps.

Pulp Science Fiction in Spain, Before And During Totalitarianism

A third interesting issue to consider is how these pulps reflect the Spanish view of the future. Utopias such as the one in Barranquero's Jerusalen y Babilonia are rare. Much more common are dystopias. Three typical ones are in Agustin Piraces' novel Rinker (1933), Riera Rojas' comic strip "La Ciudad Aerea" (1935-1936), and A. Olle Bertran's pulp El Espectro #1-4 (1944-1945). In Rinker the titular tyrant dominates the Earth in the year 2000. In "La Ciudad Aerea" the world is dominated by the airplane monopoly, and when a Spanish aviator and inventor creates a new form of propulsion and makes a flying platform using it the monopoly takes action against him. And in El Espectro all the countries of Central Europe have banded together into the tyrannical Confederation of States of the Danube, with Hungary as the last holdout.