Todo Bajo el Sol: a Spanish comic book explores the history of mass tourism | Spain

The first pages of a new graphic novel retracing Spain’s long, profitable and often counterproductive relationship with tourism show four fishermen hauling their boats to a Mediterranean beach already in the early stages of occupation by the new generation of foreign vacationers.

As the fishermen, rendered in monochrome to reflect their impending obsolescence, lift their boat ashore, a tourist, drawn in color, sits in the shade of his parasol and prepares to study a guide produced by the Franco regime.

Similar juxtapositions permeate that of Ana Penyas Todo Bajo el Sol (Everything Under the Sun), which is dedicated to “those who had to abandon their hometowns and those who found themselves strangers in their own country”.

Penyas, who became the first female author to win Spain’s National Comic Book Prize three years ago, said the idea for the book came to her in the spring of 2018, when the debate over sobreturismo – or over-tourism – was becoming essential.

By that time, concerns over gentrification, the proliferation of tourist rental properties, the number of huge cruise ships entering Spanish ports and the dire employment conditions of some hoteliers had raised questions about the sustainability of the country’s tourism model. They had also led to anti-tourist graffiti and even attacks on hotels, touring bikes and a few tour buses.

“All of this was happening, and I was also quite connected to the movements to protect the neighborhoods from tourism and gentrification,” says Penyas.

“But when I thought about what I wanted to write, I knew I didn’t want to limit myself to a snapshot of that particular moment – not least because things can get stale very quickly.”

The author, who was born in Valencia, ultimately chose to follow the history of mass tourism in Spain from its beginnings under the Franco dictatorship in the late 1960s, through the heady days of boom and recession and until ‘in the current era of Airbnb and boutique hotels. .

The story is told through three generations of one family, whose lives reflect the profound social, cultural and economic changes that Spain has undergone over the past 50 years.

“The family allowed me to tell all these things; they are the glue that brings all these different problems together, ”explains Penyas.

At the start of the book, Spain heads into the final years of the dictatorship and young people leave their homes and villages in the interior, drawn to the coast by the promise of working in the new hotels.

Alfonso, one of the protagonists of the novel, is rewarded for his hard work as a waiter. The box contains a souvenir plaque which reappears at the end of the book. Photograph: Penguin / Random House

The author uses uncovered footage from a 1967 Swedish film titled I Am Curious (Yellow), to highlight visitors’ attitudes towards vacations in Franco’s Spain. When asked if they are bothered by the regime, they answer: “Well yes, but I prefer not to talk about it”; “You forget all that when you are there”; and “I don’t talk politics when I’m on vacation.”

Penyas was keen to explore the leading role of the Franco regime in the development of Spain as a tourist destination, and also keen to dispel the myth that foreign visitors and their free and easy means were somehow an existential threat. for the dictatorship.

“It wasn’t like that,” she said. “The regime was the engine of tourism and saw it as the raw material for the development of Spain. All the problems this caused were considered the lesser of two evils. It also helped Franco’s mayors, large families and hoteliers to enrich themselves.

Penyas says Francoism is “in the DNA of Spanish tourism”.

An excerpt from Todo Bajo el Sol, by Ana Penyas
In the first part of the novel, which begins in 1969, Penyas offers a glimpse of Spain’s east coast as it moves from small coastal villages to large resort hotels. Photograph: Penguin / Random House

As the novel progresses, it takes into account important moments in the country’s recent history, from Spain’s entry into the EU in 1986 to the late 1980s La Ruta Destroy scene of clubs, and from the real estate boom of the 1990s to the devastating economic crash of 2008.

Villages recede as tourism moves inland, developments are redeveloped, neighborhoods reconfigured, and young Spaniards – including one of the family’s daughters – go abroad to find work.

As Todo bajo el sol concludes, the first cycle of mass tourism is over, its garish trinkets from the 1960s are now kitsch museum pieces in their own right. But the socio-economic consequences are already irrevocable. On the last page, the mother looks at the imposing modern city that surrounds her and asks, “Remember when it was all just orchards? “

An excerpt from Todo Bajo el Sol, by Ana Penyas
Alfonso gets a job as a waiter at the Palace Hotel, where he is told to treat foreign guests with the respect they deserve and “serve them what they want before they’ve even ordered it.” Photograph: Penguin / Random House

The fundamental aim, says Penyas, was to examine the lasting impact of a sector that generates around 12% of Spain’s GDP and to explore notions of ‘good tourism’ and ‘bad tourism’ – and preconceived ideas. on both. Or, as the author puts it: “I didn’t just want to criticize Benidorm.

Yes, there is high-end tourism and low-end tourism, “but at the end of the day the dynamics are the same because they’re both created by the capitalist system,” she says. “I really wanted to make it clear.

“Some people say, ‘No, but I travel differently.’ You can stay somewhere in the center of town, but you have to ask yourself what must have happened to get him there. You do not know.

At the end of last month, the Spanish government announced an 11 billion euros (£ 9.5 billion) program to help the tourism and hospitality sectors overcome the Covid pandemic. The much needed support is further proof of Spain’s dependence on foreign visitors for decades.

“It was decided that a lot of jobs would depend on it and that’s how the economy was built,” says Penyas. “I hope things will change, but who knows? I am not very optimistic.

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