The book is great. I’ll get to why in a second. But, first:
Gaudi is a Real Person
I need to start with an admission.
I didn’t know who Gaudi was before reading “Ghost of Gaudi.” After reading the author’s introduction, I did a quick Wikipedia check. Gaudi is a Spanish architect of some renown. You know that church in Barcelona that, 100+ years later, is still incomplete?Yeah, that one. That’s Gaudi’s ultimate project. At one point ,he moved in during its building.
He’s a legend in architectural circles. He was also a bit nuts. He reminds me of the type of guy Alan Moore would want to write a story about. Gaudi left little behind when he died, and a war destroyed much of it.
Gaudi didn’t draw architectural renderings; he made small models as his inspiration. He was extremely detail-oriented, and included lots of symbols in his work.
He died when a tram hit him as he crossed the street. No, really. He looked so disheveled that people assumed he was homeless, pushed him out of the way, and didn’t rush him to the hospital in time. sigh
A Murder Mystery/Thriller
El Torres’ story for “Ghost of Gaudi,” then, is not exactly a “Da Vinci Code” for Gaudi. This isn’t about unearthing the big secret behind his designs. It instead centers on a series of murders in the present day at locations Gaudi designed. The architect is the glue that pulls all this together, and a certain supernatural element further drives the plot along.
It works. It’s a book that doesn’t get completely lost in attempting to educate its readers, yet it never ignores Gaudi or his work. We get to see a little of a lot of it, without scenes that stop everything dead in its track to explain stuff to the reader.
The cast of the book is relatively small. I’m sure someone who tries harder than me to get ahead of the story could figure out Who Done It? before the final revelations. I usually get lost in the story and like the twists to surprise me. It worked for me at that level, though in retrospect I feel like I just read a very high end “Scooby Doo” episode.
Even if that’s the case, it’s a wonderfully drawn “Scooby Doo” episode. Seriously, the bad guy does pull a mask off his face at the end. He doesn’t blame any dogs, though…
El Torres picks a point of view character, Antonia (“Toni”), to walk the reader into this story. She’s just a tired, busy, and presumably single mother, working as a supermarket cashier. On her way home one night, she saves an an old man who crosses the street at the wrong time, and winds up in the hospital herself.
Nobody else saw the old man.
The old man turns out to be the ghost of Gaudi, the aforementioned architect.
It’s not a coincidence that people start showing up dead in buildings Gaudi designed then, is it?
Suddenly, Toni finds herself drawn into a deeper mystery, guided by the ghost of Gaudi, himself.
With a potential high profile serial murderer on the loose, the police department calls Chief Calvo back to service to investigate, somewhat against is will. He’s sharp and driven, but a recent bad event keeps him off the scene for a little while. This case is his rough welcome home.
The Animated Art of Jesus Alonso Iglesias By Comparison
The art by Jesus Alonso Iglesias is what excited me to read this book in the first place. I keep falling in love with the art of trained animators doing comics. Spain, in particular, is very good for those. (See also Jose Luis Munuera and Juanjo Guarnido, for two others.)
His style reminds me of the great Denis Bodart’s, who did such an amazing job with “Green Manor” pair of books that Cinebook published a few years back. (I reviewed those years ago in the column, and will have to reprint them here someday. They’re great books.)
If you’re looking for a more North American comparison, I could think of Tim Levins’ work a bit when I see Iglesias’. It has that animated look with interesting faces.
What Iglesias Adds to the Story
Iglesias is a great example of how important an artist is to the telling of a story. His art speaks not just to the storytelling ability of the artist (moving action in a certain direction, guiding a reader’s eye, etc.) but also to just how important style is to telling a story. Iglesias’ art is, well, cartoony. It’s highly stylized, with character designs that push beyond what many artists would be comfortable with.
This is a book that an artist could have been drawn in that technically perfect/photorealistic style that so many books are, where every character looks photo traced onto a world of photocopied backgrounds to make everything so technically perfect. I don’t much care for a lot of those books. (“Largo Winch” is a notable exception, so it can work in some cases.)
In this book, it works better to add a level of redirection to the story with this art. It’s not a simple representation. It’s an exaggeration. It helps make some of the more gruesome murders slightly more palatable for the reader – in that you’re less likely to throw up at the site of entrails.
Iglesias’ art lets characters emote more broadly. The story is easier to read from that, and characters are more active on every panel. And as El Torres mentions in the back matter for this book, he populates the world with seemingly inconsequential stuff that makes it all feel so much more real.
It’s more than just replicating the details of Gaudi’s architectural works. It includes fully populated backgrounds with additional characters added in just because they would be there. It includes all the little details like the mailboxes or the sidewalk cracks or the potted plants alongside the pedestrians, the tourists, and the security guards. Heck, I just love his trees. They have a life and a bounciness all their own.
Even better, Iglesias’ word balloons match his art style. The tails are squiggly. The balloons look hand drawn, with sort of lumpy ovals holding the words, which keep a healthy border around them.
They also chose a good font for this this translated edition. It’s easy to read, but retains a certain flair for looking handwritten in a way that far too many “standard” fonts forget about trying.
He Even Animates Cars
Take this panel near the last third of the book, where a car races down the street and nearly plows down a bunch of people.
Check out the way Iglesias exaggerates the car to emphasize the action. The car is a character here, not a static CAD drawing. It tilts over as it screeches to a halt. Iglesias animates it with a bit of old school stretching.
Iglesias also uses a strong foreground, midground, and background in this panel with his elements, giving the scene extra depth.
In the panel after this, another car races down the street to get to this scene, and all the buildings in the background tilt back. That emphasizes how fast the car is going forward. The background warps from the speed.
Here’s one more of interest:
This one’s pretty cool, too. Besides the speedlines and the tilted horizon, Iglesias uses the rear brake lights in a blur to show direction. The left side of the car is also off the road. The front tire in the air is desperately trying to make that left turn.
Iglesias is selling the action and direction. (And, again, he has elements in the foreground, midground, and background. That bicyclist is not there by accident.)
These are such small touches, but they are good examples of why this more “animated” style can be such a strength.
Yes. The art is breathtaking. The story is an invitation to another world that’s still very much real. Iglesias did a lot of work in preparing for this book and making sure he was drawing the architecture and the locations properly. It feels real, even though an animator is filtering it through his pen, with a cartoonier style.
It made me curious to read the rest of that Wikipedia article…
The book is out now digitally, with a hardcover print edition due out sometime soon in the weeks ahead.
(This is Pipeline BD 100 review #64.)
Buy it now
“The Ghost of Gaudi” is available in print via Magnetic Press at Amazon:
(As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. You pay no extra.)
I’ve held the printed book in my hand and am happy to say that it looks great on paper. There’s no issues here with paper quality soaking up the colors.
You can also, of course, buy it digitally:
For More On the Segrada Familia…
60 Minutes did a piece on it a few years back. If nothing else, it shows the real building used in the finale of this book, and you can see how faithful Iglesias is in his drawings.