We've written too many obituaries on Flog already this year. I'm saddened to contribute another. We learned this morning that Josep Maria Berenguer, founder of the legendary Spanish comics publishing house Ediciones La Cúpula , passed away last night after a battle with lung cancer. We have lost a friend here at Fantagraphics, and a colleague with whom we've had a very fruitful relationship with for over 20 years.
I first met Josep Maria Berenguer in, I believe, 1995 or 1996 on a trip to Barcelona with my good pal Peter Bagge . We were there for the Barcelona Comics Festival as guests of the Festival and La Cúpula, along with Aline Crumb and Tanino Liberatore, amongst others.
It was the first time in Spain for both Pete and I. La Cúpula had just begun publishing HATE, under the title ODIO , with savvy translations by a young editor/writer named Hernán Migoya and lettering by a talented cartoonist, Nono Kadaver (both of whom have become two of my best friends over the succeeding years; yet another reason to be grateful to Sr. Berenguer). We were treated like royalty and it was a trip I'll never forget. Pete and I have routinely fantasized about moving to Spain over the years since that trip.
Josep Maria was one of the most charismatic and generous hosts I've ever known. He was a natural storyteller, funny, politically incorrect, but also incredibly charming. Not in a typically macho, latin way, he was much more refined. He was an ex-hippie radical with a worldly air about him.
He clearly relished his role as a key countercultural figure in post-Franco Spain, founding the groundbreaking El Vibora and La Cúpula in 1979 (less than four years after the end of Francoist Spain). He greatly admired the irreverence of the first wave of American underground cartoonists, especially R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, and published both early on, as well as Robert Williams, Spain Rodriguez, and others. Over the years he published just about every notable American cartoonist you can think of: Bagge, Clowes, Hernandez, Burns, Tomine, etc. I think it would be hard to overestimate his role in raising the prominence of underground comics in Spain.
This decade, I was lucky if I saw Josep Maria even once every couple of years, but when I did, I relished it. In Barcelona, he took me to one of his favorite jazz clubs, and to his beautiful home that the company was named for (a kind of geodesic dome that "La Cúpula" refers to). We ate Moroccan food in Granada, Spain. We drank cheap beers at the infamous Picadilly in San Diego during Comic-Con. The last time I saw him, a couple summers ago, we had sushi together in New York City. He always had great stories, and a warmth to him that made you forget it had been a few years since you saw him last.
Rest in peace, old friend, and long live La Cúpula.
Photo: That's Josep Maria Berenguer on the far left, hosting (from left to right) Tanino Liberatore, Sra. Berenguer, Ana Forcada, myself, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Peter Bagge at his home ("La Cúpula") in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Christian Coudurés.