Josep Toutain Vila was one of the key figures in Spanish comics from the 1950s through the 1980s. Although he started out as an artist in his own right, he has essentially made his mark as founder and maintainer of Selecciones Illustradas and as the head of the publishing house Toutain Editor. Nicknamed "The Sheriff of Comics", Toutain has helped many Spanish artists find their way in the international comics industry. Born in Barcelona, Toutain started as an illustrator himself in the late 1940s. In a style resembling that of Americans like Milton Caniff and Frank Robbins, he contributed to such publications as Pocholo, Historietas, Estrellita, El Coyote ('Polito, chico moderno'), TBO and La Prensa. His main work of the time was 'El Héroe de Saipan', an exotic comics serial published in 1950. He then joined Francisco de La Fuente's Histograf agency, for which he drew 'Un Chico de Arkansas' and, most notably, the 'Sylvia Millones' series.
The Spanish comics industry was at a low point in the early 1950s. Censorship, low prices and a lack of jobs were woof and warp, so many artists sought refuge abroad. To keep the local artists active, several agencies were launched in Barcelona to provide artwork to foreign publishers. Editorial Bruguera launched Creaciones Editoriales and Jordi Macabich started Bardon Art. Toutain dropped his drawing activities and also joined this new line of work. Toutain's only further efforts as an author were the scripts of 'Los grandes mitos del oeste' for José Ortiz (published in Blue Jeans, 1978) and the writing and art of 'El Cómic Vico' in Comix Internacional in 1985.
He began Selecciones Ilustradas in cooperation with Antonio Ayné Arnau of Ediciones Toray in 1953. Among the earliest artists involved were Josep M. Miralles, Rafael Lopez Espi and Florenci Clavé. This company would eventually become the most prominent agency of the country. Like the other agencies, Selecciones initially provided mostly anonymous artwork to the many romance, war and western comic books from the UK. The artists had to work with British scripts, without keeping authorial rights or return of originals.
By 1956, Selecciones Ilustradas was definitively established as a stand-alone company. The partnership with Ayné ended in 1963, and Toutain continued on his own. At first, the main client remained the British publisher Fleetway, for which artists like Carlos Freixas, García Pizarro, Enrique Badía Romero and Carlos Prunés continued to work until the early 1970s. Jorge Longarón and Pepe González became the main graphical references for the other artists. The working circumstances of the time were chronicled in the autobiographical comic series 'Los Profesionales' by Carlos Giménez, in which Toutain also had a starring role.
A new partner was found in Guillermo Hierro Bosch (1941-2015), who became Toutain's right-hand man. Hierro travelled throughout Europe to pull in new clients like the Scandinavian Semic Press, which mainly produced comic books with licensed characters. Hierro eventually founded a division of Semic Press in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The German market also showed interest in Toutain's artists, although mainly for color illustration assignments. Many artists finetuned their coloring techniques, such as Fernando Fernandez, Enric Torres, José María Miralles and Felix Mas.
The work of Toutain's artists was eventually published in Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Australia and even India. Things really moved forward when Toutain began an association with James Warren, who published horror magazines like Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella in the United States. At this point, US comic book readers had developed more interest in the authors of the comics they read. Therefore, Toutain's artists were allowed to sign their work, and even write the scripts for some of their own stories.
The Selecciones artists would dominate the pages of the Warren magazines during the first half of the 1970s: Esteban Maroto, Jaime Brocal, Rafael Aura León, Santiago Martin Salvador, Luis García, Fernando Fernández, José González, Josep Bea, Isidre Monés, Manuel Sanjulián, and Enrich Torres. The Valencian artists Luis Bermejo, José Ortiz and Leopoldo Sanchez joined the team in 1974. Other publishers like Dell commissioned Selecciones artists to make cover illustrations. Warren's main competitor Skywald Publishing also attracted Toutain and his artists for its magazines.
Meanwhile, the comics market in Spain had somewhat re-established itself. Selecciones had been producing fotonovelas by Corín Tellado for Editorial Rollán during the 1970s. In 1973, Toutain had launched his own publishing label Toutain-Editor, which would become instrumental in the Spanish comics culture of the 1970s and 1980s. During the adult comics boom in Spain, Toutain launched several influential magazines, starting with 1984 in 1979. This magazine focused on science fiction and ran until 1992. 1984 also got a French edition and was renamed to Zona 84 in 1984. Toutain launched a Spanish edition of Creepy, which contained mostly material from the Warren magazines, but also 'Torpedo' by Jordi Bernet. Comix Internacional (1980-1986) had a more artistic approach to comics, and also ran work by Americans like Will Eisner, Richard Corben, Howard Chaykin, Archie Goodwin and John Severin. Thriller (1984) contained dark pulp, while Totem el Comix (1987-1991) printed erotic work by José María Beroy, Guido Crepax, Magnus and Milo Manara.
Toutain-Editor futhermore released albums by several international authors, such as Will Eisner, Jordi Bernet, Luis Garcia & Victor Mora, Luis Bermejo & Nicola Cuti and Horacio Altuna & Carlos Trillo, but also monographs about Richard Corben, Esteban Maroto and Victor de la Fuente. One of the most remarkable Toutain publications was Historia de los Comics, a collection of 48 magazines covering the history of comics worldwide. Edited by Javier Coma, several international comics connaisseurs did contributions, including Bill Blackbeard, Maurice Horn, Michael Barrier, Ron Goulart, Richard Marschall and Dennis O'Neil from the States, Lambiek's Kees Kousemaker from the Netherlands, Denis Gifford, Mary Cadogan and Alan Vince from the UK, Henri Filippini, Claude Moliterni and André Leborgne from France, Salvador Vazquez de Parga and Roman Gubern from Spain, Franco Fossati and Claudio Bertieri from Italy, Oscar Steinberg and Rosalva De Valdes from Argentina, Vasco Granja and Alvaro de Moya from Portugal and Ervin Rustemagic from Yugoslavia.
After Warren Publishing went bankrupt in 1983, Toutain opened Catalan Communications in New York with Bernd Metz and Herb Spiers. This company mainly focused on English-language translations of European graphic novels, presented in a series of high-quality trade paperbacks. Until 1991, it published work by Juan Giménez, Hermann, Matthias Schultheiss, François Boucq, Vittorio Giardino, François Bourgeon, Milo Manara, Marc Michetz, Gine, Jordi Bernet, Enki Bilal, Magnus, José Ortiz and others.
Toutain also had a small role in 'El otro Necronomicón' by Brocal Remohi and Antonio Segura.
The Spanish comics market declined once again in the 1990s, and most of Toutain's magazines disappeared. Toutain Editor closed its doors in 1993, but Selecciones Ilustradas continued, but by now had changed its dedication to illustrations. Marcel Miralles has continued to supervise new productions, that mainly focuses on licensed properties like Disney. New artists involved were José Canovas, Josep M. Cardona, Isidre Monés, Francesc Mateu, González Vicente, Segundo García and Bernardo Serrat.
Health problems withheld Josep Toutain from further developing the new artistic projects he had in mind during the 1990s. He passed away from lung cancer in 1997. He will be remembered as a true promotor of Spanish comic artists, not only for their skilled craftsmanship, but also for their artistic value. In his honor, the Josep Toutain Award for Best New Author is awarded every year at the Internation Comics Convention in Barcelona.