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My True Story. By Spain. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 1994. 133p. $14.95. ISBN 1-56097-141-X.

Autobiography; biography; history

Adults, older teens; graphic sex, language, drug use, gang violence

This book is a collection of comics, drawn between 1974 and 1994, from one of underground comics' most notable names. It's divided into two sections. The first, "Memory," consists of 10 incidents from Spain's life. The second, "History," has short pieces about interesting historical incidents ranging in era from the Franco-Prussian War to Rome in 1977, mostly focusing on freedom-fighting and communism.

Sample stories:


  • "Dessert": In the 1950s, Spain and his friends give blow jobs to a homosexual man in the park, hoping to get money out of him. When the man turns out not to have anything, they beat him up and take his clothes.
  • "Hard-Ass Friday Nite": A member of the notorious Road Vultures motorcycle gang, Spain rumbles with them, visits various bars looking for trouble, and generally acts disreputable.
  • "Chicago '68": Sent to cover the Democratic National Convention for the East Village Other, Spain experiences all the charming police action supplied by the city of Chicago, including nightstick-wielding cops who beat up everything that moves, helicopters flying just above the treetops in the park, and tear gas.
  • "My True Story," a Robert Crumb-like personal flagellation about how Spain has treated women.


  • "1871": After the disastrous Franco-Prussian war, the dissatisfied Parisian citizenry revolt and attempt to start a commune, only to see their experiment collapse when loyalist forces defeat and massacre them.
  • "Durruti" is the story of Buenaventura Durruti, an anarchist, freedom-fighter, and gang leader in Spain who was killed in 1936, fighting the fascists.
  • "The Blue Boot": An old man in besieged Leningrad makes a horrifying discovery after his young daughter disappears while shopping in the "Thieves' Market."
  • "Lily Litvak, the Rose of Stalingrad": Lily was a female pilot employed by the Russian army to fly fighter planes to the combat pilots. Lily insists on becoming a fighter pilot. Alexi Salomaten agrees and makes her his wingman. She proves skillful, and as the two work together they fall in love, but their relationship is cruelly cut short when Alexi is killed in a training battle. She continues to fight, ultimately shooting down 12 Nazi planes before being shot down herself.
  • "Stalin" is a biography of that evil dictator.
  • "Gotterdamerung" concerns the last days of the Third Reich and the invasion of Berlin by the Russians.

An epilogue, "Mexico and Me," provides a pocket biography of Spain and his exploration of his Spanish roots (his father was from Spain and his mother was from Italy). It focuses on his excursion to Mexico in the mid-80s, his musings on the brutal way the Spaniards treated the natives in that area, and the stunning 3-D art produced by the Mexicans.

Spain is one of the legendary names from the comix period, but I'm not sure this book is the best introduction to him. While this material is always interesting and Spain's art is rough, complicated, and exciting (classic underground style), the narratives are often incomplete (sometimes frustratingly so) or even incoherent, which is a shame because some of these pieces cover historical tidbits that are little known in the United States. But important details, like exactly what Durruti did besides assassinate a few people, or the significance of the two French soldiers who drift through "1871," are simply not provided. "1871" and "Blood and Sky," another piece about the Spanish Civil War from the point of view of the Republicans, seem like two series of unrelated incidents, not coherent accounts of anything. Similarly, the various Road Vulture pieces are more or less the same, with thugs running around being thuggish to no particular purpose--though the details in these stories, such as the guy who yells bad poetry during fights, or the wonderful sets of sound effects for the motorcycles, make up for a lot. And things like "Chicago '68," "Stalin," "Lily Litvak," and "Mexico and Me" are adequately coherent and quite informative and entertaining. One wishes that Spain (and, frankly, a lot of other independent comics artist/writers) had had a good story editor to keep him on track all the time.

When Spain is linear and coherent, he's got an excellent sense of sequential narrative, as can be seen in these four panels from "Chicago '68"

Copyright 1994, Spain Rodriguez

My True Story would be best appreciated by older readers who have a fondness for the comix years. Given the book's numerous adult-level panels, kids and most teens wouldn't have too much access to it anyway, though I'd bet that male teens would get a kick out of the frank and cheerful depictions of motorcycle gangs, violence, swearing, sex, and alcohol/drug use. Also, be warned: I read this book a few times, and the entire cover came off cleanly. Dunno if it was just my copy or an old copy or what, but I have many, many older books, and their covers haven't fallen off.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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