Anacleto, by Manuel Vázquez

Manuel Vázquez, generally referred to as simply Vázquez, was one of the major authors of the Barcelona-based publishing house Bruguera. Over the course of nearly forty years, his many memorable and humorous characters inhabited the pages of popular Bruguera comic magazines such as Pulgarcito, El DDT, Din Dan and Can Can. Best remembered are the two completely incompatible Gilda sisters ('Las Hermanas Gilda', 1949), the eccentric Cebolleta family ('La Familia Cebolleta', 1951-1964) and the secret agent Anacleto ('Anacleto, agente secreto', 1964). They made Vázquez one of the main representatives of the so-called "second generation" of the Bruguera School in the 1960s, along with José Escobar and Francisco Ibañez. His comics fully embodied the publisher's house style, with its schematically drawn characters against limited backgrounds and its humor imbued with continuous slapstick and conflicts. Just as legendary as his creations are the many rumors and cock and bull stories about his own lifepath. Vázquez was a notorious loafer and swindler, who only got away with his erratic behavior because he was the publisher's top artist. The cartoonist cultivated his status in interviews and his several semi-autobiographical comic strips, most notably 'Los Cuentos de Tío Vázquez' ("The stories of Uncle Vázquez", 1968-1982). It made Vázquez one of the very few comic book artists whose lifestyle was documented in an actual biopic, the 2010 movie 'El gran Vázquez' by Óscar Aibar.

Early life
As the artist never took interviews seriously, not much can be said about his early life with absolute certainty. He often made up stories, mixed them up or exaggerated the actual facts. The anecdotes told by his acquaintances can be taken with a grain of salt as well. What is known for certain is that Manuel Vázquez Gallego was born in Madrid on 24 January 1930. Vázquez said his father was a Spanish railway worker, while his mother was Brazilian. The story that his grandparents had been tailors of the Royal House was not true, but in fact belonged to the family history of his first wife. It is known that Manuel Vázquez was largely raised by his father and grandparents. Growing up in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War was a time of fierce hunger, the artist remembered in an interview conducted by Sol Alamada. At age 9 he escaped to Barcelona, where the Civil Guard caught the boy and returned him home. Whether the story is true or not, it certainly illustrates his rebellious nature.

'Mr. Lucky' (Almanaque de Maravillas 1948).

Much of the cartoonist's absurd humor was shaped by the Spanish humorists Wenceslao Fernández Flórez and Enrique Jardiel Poncela, who apparently frequented the Vázquez household. Graphically, Vázquez underwent influences from George McManus' 'Bringing Up Father', as well as the classic Spanish comics master Guillermo Cifré. Most of his dynamic linework was however self-taught. At age 12 ( says age 14), Vázquez published his first drawing in the automotive magazine El Automovilismo en España. His father was strongly opposed to a career in cartooning, and had his son learn to become a rigger instead. Vázquez stubbornly continued to send drawings to publishers.

Early comics
By 1946 he made his debut with the western comic book 'Macana en el Oeste', published by Hispano Americana de Ediciones. A comic strip with the same characters appeared under the title 'El Matón' in the same publisher's 'Almanaque Juan Centella 1947' (1946) and 'Almanaque Jorge y Fernando 1947' (1946). In the following year he collaborated with Flechas y Pelayos magazine and its supplement Maravillas, published by the National Delegation of the Youth Front (Frente de Juventudes). Flechas y Pelayos first printed his comic strip 'Jeep' (1947), which Vázquez had created two years earlier, in 1945. Vázquez then contributed the cowboy 'Cápsula' (September 1947) and 'Mr. Lucky' (November 1947), a humor strip about a chap with bow and hat, who doesn't live after his name. For Publicaciones Ibero-Americanas, Vázquez made a daring one-shot comic book called 'La Fuga de "El Caimán"' (1947), about a dangerous murderer who escapes from prison. The cover of this thrilling, but also comical, adventure comic prominently featured a decapitated man. Between 1949 and 1951 Vázquez was back at Hispano Americana de Ediciones with seven landscape format-shaped booklets for the collection 'Humor de Bolsillo' ("Pocket Humor"), starring little ghosts ('Samba el Fantasma Pequeñito'), genies ('El Mago de la Coz'), cowboys ('Capsula Bill - Aventuras del Oeste') and other comical characters.

Bruguera school - first generation
In late 1947, at age 17, Vázquez began his enduring association with the publishing house Bruguera. This collaboration would last until the company's demise in 1986. He moved to Barcelona and quickly became a staple in the publisher's flagship magazine, the recently relaunched Pulgarcito. The new Pulgarcito heralded in what has become known as the first generation of the "Bruguera School". Some exceptions aside, most of the comical series were firmly rooted in contemporary Spanish society, without sci-fi, historical or fantasy elements. The verbal and visual comedy was based on work frustrations and family conflicts, while the graphics remained schematic for the sake of readability. This also counted for (most of) Vázquez's early contributions. His 'Mr. Lucky' returned, and was joined by a wide range of new, short-lived characters, among which 'Mofeta', 'Gildo', 'Heliodoro Hipotenuso', 'Servulio Argamasa', 'Spoleta', 'Septimio Canalete', 'Loli', 'Anacleto Pandehigo', 'Nicomedes Nibebedes', 'Fierrito, el Gaucho' and 'Don Venancio', all in 1948 alone.

'Heliodoro Hipotenuso' (Pulgarcito #101, 1949).

The series about the shy and carefree bachelor 'Heliodoro Hipotenuso' (1948-1950) was the first Vázquez creation of any duration, and its humor was characterized by silent film influences, absurdism and the destruction of logic altogether. A graphical masterpiece of this early period was 'La Mansión de los Espectros' (1948). In this serial, Mr. Lucky and Mofeta arrive at an abandoned mansion, where they are subjected to cruel humiliations by a tiny pixie. The artist experimented with effects and compositions to achieve the hallucinatory effect the strange house had on its visitors. He used the same gimmick for his subsequent series 'Él Caserón Diabólico' (1948) and 'El Misterio de la Casa Apolillada'. The series, filled with meta-humor, also starred the cartoonist 'Jimmy Pintamonas', who later got his own feature in Pulgarcito.

'Las Hermanas Gilda' (Pulgarcito #133, 1949).

Las Hermanas Gilda
1949 marked the launch of Vázquez's first major series. 'Las Hermanas Gilda' debuted in issue #96 of the post-war Pulgarcito, and continued largely throughout the rest of the author's career in several Bruguera magazines, including Gran Pulgarcito and El DDT. Hermenegilda and Leovigilda Gilda are two not so graceful sisters, who live together despite their differences. Named after the film noir 'Gilda' (1946) and the deadly conflict between the Visigoth rulers Hermenegild and Liuvigild, the two sisters are constantly at odds with each other. The naive and rather silly Herme is of sturdy build and in endless pursuit of a husband. The skeptical and sour Leo in turn is tall and thin, and always frustrating her sister with her sarcastic comments. The series represented the author's sharp criticism of family relations, all illustrated through biting verbal and visual agression. Censorship after the Decree of 24 June 1955 (about the organization of the children's and youth press) forced the series to tone down a little, while the artwork became more elegant. All in all, 'Las Hermanas Gilda' remained one of Vázquez's signature series, and was featured on a postal stamp in 2001.

Later episode of 'Las Hermanas Gilda' (Pulgarcito #2042, 1970).

Work for Nicolas
While his star at Bruguera was slowly rising, Vázquez continued to cooperate with other publishers during the 1940s and early 1950s. Besides the booklets for Hispano Americana de Ediciones, he also contributed to Nicolas, a comic magazine published by Ediciones Cliper. First came the short-lived feature 'Juan Pérez' (1951), and then 'El Pequeño Sultán' (1951-1952), a comic about a desperate Sultan in need of money. It showed a more free form Vázquez, loose from the editorial restrictions of Bruguera.

But from 1952 on, Vázquez's sole focus became his Bruguera activities. In the newly restyled Pulgarcito, he had created 'Don Binomio e Hijo, S.L.' (1951), about a strict father and his son, but he also became a regular contributor to El DDT (1951-1978), Bruguera's new comic magazine aimed at an adult audience. In the first issue, he introduced three new features. First, the small strip 'Azufrito' (1951-1952), which shared a page with Carlos Conti's 'Mi tío Magdaleno'. It stars a little devil, who tries in vain to do evil, but always ends up doing good. 'Currito Farola, er niño e la bola' (1951) was a true local effort, as it starred a stereotypical and folkloric Andalusian, with a fondness for bullfighting. The short-lived feature ended with the title character being thrown in the port of Barcelona with a ball of lead tied to his foot.

'La Familia Cebolleta'.

La Familia Cebolleta
'La Familia Cebolleta' (literally "the Onion family", 1951-1964) also debuted in the first El DDT of May 1951, and lasted until 1964. It appeared in other Bruguera weeklies as well, although the feature is generally considered to have lost most of its charm after 1954. It centers around a family, consisting of the father Don Rosendo, who always gets himself in trouble, the mother/housewife Doña Leonor, the mischievous son Diógenes and his attractive sister Pocholita. Other family members are the cynical, cigar-smoking parrot Jeremías and the bearded grandfather Cebolleta, whom Vázquez claimed to have modelled after his own father. The latter became one of the most memorable Bruguera characters, with his endless jabber about battlefield heroics from days of yore. He even inspired the popular expression for someone who brags about his former exploits, "Cuentas más batallitas que el abuelo Cebolleta" ("More battallions than Grandpa Cebolleta").

Ángel Siseñor
Other creations by Vázquez for El DDT were 'Lopez' (1952) and 'Ángel Siseñor' (1953-1964). Like Grandpa Cebolleta, Ángel also received an iconic status in Spanish society. The polite man answers "Yes, sir" to every request he receives, no matter how outlandish it is. As such, the character's name became the colloquial phrase for a submissive and accommodating person.

Bruguera school - second generation
By 1957 a part of Bruguera's original artist team was fed up with the publisher's restrictions and exploitation, and decided to begin their own venture. And thus, José Escobar, José Peñarroya, Carlos Conti, Guillermo Cifré and Eugenio Giner launched the independent comic magazine Tío Vivo, which gave them ownership over their creations. Vázquez was one of the cartoonists who remained at Bruguera, where his importance rose. He spearheaded the second generation of the Bruguera school, which included prominent authors like Francisco Ibáñez, Juan Rafart and Gustavo Martz-Schmidt. Vázquez created several new series for the new magazines launched by Bruguera to compete with Tío Vivo, among them Can Can, Ven y Ven and El Campeón.

'La Familia Gambérrez' (Supplemento del DDT #10).

These creations included his new family comics 'La Familia Gambérrez' (in Ven y Ven, then in El DDT, 1959), which is situated in the countryside, and 'La Familia Churumbel' (in El Campeón and El DDT, 1960-1965), about a gypsy family. While they featured new characters, both series were comparable in style and tone to 'La Familia Cebolleta'. Can Can printed 'La Historia ésa, vista por Hollywood' (1958-1960), a cartoon page by Vázquez with humorous parody biographies of both historical and fictional characters. The feature was eventually continued by Ibáñez, while Conti and Peñarroya also drew installments. For Can Can, Vázquez furthermore created 'La Osa Mayor, agencia teatral', about a theatrical agency. By 1960 Bruguera acquired Tío Vivo magazine, and most of the "dissidents" returned to their homebase.

'Angelito' (Tio Vivo v2 #171).

Throughout the next two decades, Vázquez introduced even more new characters in Bruguera's many magazines, now including Pulgarcito, El DDT, Tío Vivo, Din Dan and Gran Pulgarcito. A remarkable creation was 'Angelito', a two-toothed baby in a basket who causes havoc while only uttering the word "¡Gú!". Graphically reminiscent of E.C. Segar's Swee'Pea from 'Thimble Theater', Angelito was originally terrorizing everyone he met, but his later victims were merely thugs or other people who deserved it. The later episodes also featured more fantastic and surreal elements, like trees with humanized eyes and magic pencils which make the figures drawn by Angelito come to life. Throughout the years, 'Angelito' appeared in Pulgarcito, El DDT, Súper Tío Vivo and Mortadelo, and in 1982 his exploits were adapted into an animated short film by Jordi Amorós, called 'Gugú' (1982).


Anacleto, agente secreto
One of Vázquez's major creations of this era was the secret agent parody 'Anacleto, agente secreto' (1964), who made his debut in issue #1753 of Pulgarcito. Unlike popular belief, Vázquez stated he didn't base the series on the 'James Bond' franchise, but instead on the American TV series 'Get Smart'. In every episode, Anacleto is sent on a secret mission by his boss, with whom he has a troubled relationship. In general, he usually has to operate on his own. Most of his missions take place in an urban setting, but Anacleto is often sent to the Gobi desert as well, where the poor spy is constantly troubled by mirages. The hero also regularly climbs steep mountains, which in the end turn out to have an elevator. Whenever there is water involved, Anacleto is chased by a shark. Recurring villains in the series are Professor Boro and... the author himself, referred to as "The Evil Vázquez".

'Los Cuentos de Tío Vazquez' (Din Dan v2 #30).

Los Cuentos de Tío Vázquez
As his appearance as the villain in 'Anacleto' proves, the author was not shy from cultivating his own reputation. Already in issue #5 of Can Can, Vázquez published the comic strip 'El Gran Vázquez' (1958), as part of his series 'La Historia ésa, vista por Hollywood'. It portrayed the cartoonist as a sharp-dressed delinquent in constant flight from his creditors, mainly consisting of tailors. The depiction was in fact not far from the truth, as Vázquez was notorious for his lack of discipline and constant need of money. Even his editors at Bruguera were frequent victims of his scams. Vázquez however appeared proud of his sharp tongue and wit, and made it the backbone of his picaresque semi-autobiographical comics feature 'Los cuentos de tío Vázquez' ("The Tales of Uncle Vázquez", 1968-1982), first published in Din Dan, as well as its short-lived follow-up, which appeared as 'Yo, dibujante al por mayor' (1982) in Ediciones Druida's JAuJA and as 'Así es mi vida' (1982) in the children's newspaper supplement El Pequeño País.

Other comics of the 1960s and 1970s
In Bruguera's new adventure-themed magazine Bravo, Vázquez published the series 'La Banda del Barón, Asuntos de Precisión' (1968-1969). 'Ali-Oli, vendedor oriental' (Tío Vivo, 1968) was about a stereotypical Arab salesman, while 'El Inspector O'Jal' (El DDT, 1968-1978) was a surreal parody of the detective genre in riddle comics format. For Bruguera's luxury comic magazine Gran Pulgarcito, Vázquez created the elderly 'Don Polillo' (1969-1971), the extremely lucky 'Feliciano' (1969, which also had a role for Vázquez himself as a villain) and 'La Abuelita Paz' (1969), an elderly lady with good intentions which end in disaster. In 1970 he added 'Rufufú' to this list. By this time, Vázquez' lifestyle caused such an irregular supply of pages, that the publisher had to assign Francisco Torá and the studio of Blás Sanchis to make new episodes.

'Don Cornelio Ladilla y su señora María' (El Papus #225).

Adult-oriented comics
In the late 1970s, Vázquez additionally began submitting work to adult-oriented magazines. As it was generally sexually oriented, he often used the pen name Sappo. The sole issue of Bruguera's "new" Can Can in 1978 featured Vázquez's 'Las Noches locas de Mimí' (1978), 'Mi Calle' (1978) and 'Robín y Sonia' (1978). Notable was 'Don Cornelio Ladilla y su señora María' (1978) in Ediciones Amaika's El Papus, about a man who always catches his unfaithful wife in the act when arriving home. Amaika also published the satirical magazines El Cuervo and El Puro, to which "Sappo" contributed 'Historias verdes' (1981), 'A vista de Sappo' (1982) and 'La telerisión y yo' (1982). By 1980 Vázquez was one of the main "actors" in the photo stories published in El Papus, known as "Papunovelas". To Hara-Kiri, he contributed 'La Saga del Macho Hispánico' ("The Saga of the Hispanic Macho", 1979).

Papunovela, starring Vázquez.

During the early 1980s Bruguera was in heavy weather. The company filed for bankruptcy on 7 June 1982, but managed to continue its activities until 1986. During this insecure period, many authors seeked their refuge elsewhere. Vázquez appeared in the magazines published by Ediciones Druida and Ediciones S.A. Druida's short-lived magazine JAuJA ran the aforementioned continuation of 'Tío Vázquez', 'Yo, dibujante al por mayor', but also 'Vámonos al bingo' (1982) and the comical series about the detective couple 'Los casos de Ana y Cleto' (1982-1986). The latter appeared as 'Tita & Nic' in S.A.'s Garibolo. In Bichos, Vázquez created 'Manolo' (1986), and he relaunched 'Angelito' under the title 'Gu-gú' (1986-1987).

Nita & Nic by Manuel Vazquez
Tita & Nic - 'El Caso del Enano de Voldavia' (Garibolo #27, 1987).

Ediciones B
By 1986 Grupo Zeta acquired the assets of Bruguera, and continued them under the new imprint Ediciones B. Vázquez returned with 'Los Casos del Inspector Yes' (1986) in Mortadelo, a feature in the same vain as 'Inspector O'Jal'. Mortadelo also ran reprints of 'Cebolleta', while also introducing more new creations in which Vázquez presents an exaggerated version of himself. 'Tipos peligrosos' (1988, later renamed to 'Gente peligrosa') poked fun at several types of people, like DIY enthusiasts, unfortunate people, sportsmen, inventors, etc. Vázquez himself appeared in the installment about collectors, as a collector of debts. In 'Las Cartas Boca Arriba' (1988, also known as 'Las Cartas Sobre la Mesa'), Vázquez answered (fictional) letters from readers. To Ediciones B's version of TBO, Vázquez contributed 'El Rollo del Día', made in collaboration with Juan Carlos Ramis. Vázquez furthermore appeared in Ediciones B titles like Tope Guai, Super Lopez and Super Mortadelo.

Non-comics work
In addition to his cartooning career, Vázquez had some brief encounters with the movie industry. He appeared as a sketch artist in 'Gritos en la noche' (1962), a movie by his friend Jesús Franco. By 1978 he also appeared in Franco's adult animated film 'Historias de amor y masacre', introducing one of the segments in a parody of Walt Disney. In 1991 he designed the sets for 'Operación Ópera', a stage show by Ignacio García May and Juan Antonio Vizcaíno, starring characters based on Anacleto and the Gilda sisters.

'Sábado, sabadete...'.

In 1990 Manuel Vázquez was awarded the Grand Prize of the Salon del Comic de Barcelona for his entire oeuvre. 

Final years and death
In the final stages of his career, Manuel Vázquez was a frequent contributor to the alternative comic magazine Makoki. By now his dynamic linework had settled in a spontaneous direct-to-ink approach, for features like 'Sábado, sabadete...' (1990) and 'Mujeres o diosas' (1991). Vázquez additionally made topical cartoons for El Observador. When the latter two publications folded, Vázquez returned to the newspaper supplement El Pequeño País with the children's comics 'Jurasy' (1993-1994) and 'Mónica' (1994). For Viñetas finally, Vázquez made 'Las Inefables Aventuras de Vázquez, agente del fisco' (1994), portraying himself as the most unlikely agent of the treasury. A diabetic, Manuel Vázquez died in 1995 in Barcelona, following a stroke. He was 65 years old.

Manuel Vázquez goes down in history as one of the most influential artists of the Bruguera school. His dynamic artwork and slapstick-filled plots have inspired many artists who came after him, most notably Francisco Ibañez. Bruguera released album collections of his many comics from 1971 onwards. Ediciones B did the same during the 1980s, while Glénat España began collecting his later work under the title 'By Vázquez' from 1994 on. Classic Vázquez series like 'La Familia Cebolleta', 'Anacleto, Agente Secreto' and 'Las Hermanas Gilda' were compiled in more luxury formats by RBA in the collection 'Clásicos del humor' in 2009. Posthumously, the City Council of Granada dedicated a street to the artist in 1996. The city of Rivas-Vaciamadrid has a street named after Anacleto, the Calle Anacleto Agente Secreto. The life and work of Vázquez has furthermore been the subject of several monographies, such as 'Vázquez (El Dibujante y su Leyenda)' (Sins Entido, 2004) by Enrique Martínez Peñaranda, 'By Vázquez. 80 Años del Nacimiento de un Mito' (Ediciones B, 2010) by Antoni Guiral and 'El Gran Vázquez. Coge el Dinero y Corre' (Dolmen, 2011), coordinated by J.J. Vargas. Manuel Vázquez was a strong influence on Francisco Ibañez and Xavi.

Vázquez in action in 'Las Cartas Sobre La Mesa'.

During his lifetime, Vázquez had already achieved a legendary status. Most of the stories about his unconventional lifestyle came from Vazquez himself. Of course it is difficult to tell which parts of his allegations were true? Professionally, he was a star, but also a nuisance. He was Bruguera's top artist during the 1950s and 1960s, but his unreliable nature saw this status taken over by Francisco Ibañez shortly afterwards. In the early 1960s he had duped the company with theft and forged declarations, forcing Bruguera to hire Gustavo Martz-Schmidt and Blas Sanchís to continue his series. Vázquez had to take commercial jobs to fulfill his debts to Bruguera before returning to their service. Vázquez claimed he had been jailed three times, including once for bigamy, and was married seven times. No official documents of his imprisonments have been found, and only two wives are known. Vázquez had met his first wife Aurora Medrano in Barcelona. The pair first stayed in a brothel in Madrid, before living in several hotels for three years, without ever paying any of them. They had three children. Shortly after the birth of his daughter Esperanza, Vázquez left the family home, and didn't return until 24 years later. In the meantime he spent fourteen years with Caty Ramos, with whom he had two more children. Their youngest son Manolito (1976) has also worked in the comic industry, as a colorist for Ediciones Glénat.

El Gran Vázquez
The many stories about Vázquez's life inspired former Makoki scriptwriter Óscar Aibar to create a film about the legendary bohemian and anarchist. 'El Gran Vázquez' was released in Spain on 24 September 2010, and featured Santiago Segura as the title hero. The story is set in 1964 at the height of the chaos in Vázquez's life. It also offers an interesting insight in that time period's comic industry, with portrayals of the comic artists Francisco Ibañez (Manolo Solo), José Escobar (Jordi Banacolocha) and Purita Campos. Also appearing are animated versions of the Vázquez characters Anacleto, Tío Vázquez, the Cebolleta family, Angelito and the Gilda sisters, while the film also contains many easter eggs referencing Vázquez's other comics. Vázquez's son Manolito played the doctor who helped with the birth of... Vázquez's son Manolito! By the time of its release, Francisco Ibañez was by far the best known of the classic Bruguera authors, so many fans wondered why Aibar didn't make a film about him. Ibáñez himself replied that no-one would want to see a film about a guy sitting at his drawing table for sixty years, doing his work.

In 2010, Vazquez and his antics were also part of the true story graphic novel 'El Invierno del Dibujante' ('The Winter of the Cartoonist') by Paco Roca, dealing with Bruguera politics in the 1950s and the short-lived excursion of five cartoonists to form their own comic magazine. A feature film based on 'Anacleto: agente secreto' ('Spy Time', 2015) was written by Pablo Alén, Breixo Corral and Fernando Navarro and directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera. It stars Imanol Arias as the title character, while Carlos Areces performs his arch-enemy: Vázquez!

Las Hermanas Gildas by Vazquez

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