May 6, 2019 / 3:49 PM / in 3 months

Argentine graphic novel draws 'Dirty War' for new generation

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An Argentine creative duo is looking to keep alive memories of the horrors faced by people during the country’s so-called “Dirty War,” turning to comic-book form to reach a generation who grew up after the end of the military dictatorship in 1983.

Juan Carra and Inaki Echeverria, authors of the graphic novel "ESMA", pose for a picture at the Naval Mechanics School, known as ESMA, in Buenos Aires, Argentina May 3, 2019. Picture taken May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

The graphic novel focuses on a clandestine detention center at a naval base formally known as Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada but usually referred to as “ESMA,” where thousands of people were arrested, tortured and often disappeared.

“It’s a book that aims to tell what happened in this place to new generations,” writer Juan Carrá told Reuters in an interview at the ESMA memorial museum, where he presented the pencil-drawn book with illustrator Iñaki Echeverría.

“The idea is ​​being able to use a language form like the graphic novel, which allows new generations to understand it in a way that is simpler and even more alluring.”

The novel is told through the eyes of a fictional journalist - an alter ego of Carrá - who has to cover a trial relating to the detention center, which occupies an important and painful place in shared Argentine history.

The ESMA trials involved huge volumes of legal files and documents, with victims ranging from French nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet to young Swedish woman Dagmar Hagelin and the Argentine writer Rodolfo Walsh.

IN THE MUD

The authors said a major challenge was choosing characters to follow in the story, though one person had stood out for them: a missing detainee who created a darkly comic cartoon while being held at the center.

“The case of (Lelia) Bicocca is moving, because for me humor is a demonstration of intelligence in the human being and it is a place of resistance,” said illustrator Echeverría, adding that to do so was awe-inspiring given she was living “amid hell.”

“She brought out a very ironic character, with black humor. It’s something fabulous that as a cartoonist moves me.”

The two authors, both in their 40s, belong to a generation following that of those who disappeared, growing up in its shadow and pushing for justice.

“My generation is crossed by the dictatorship, it is educated by the dictatorship,” added Echeverría.

“It is a political decision to write a book about ESMA, about the ESMA trials, so you have to do it properly. If you’re going to get down in the mud, then get yourself really dirty to make sure you do it seriously.”

Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Jonathan Oatis

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