With ‘Arrugas (Wrinkles),’ Spanish artist Paco Roca gives poignant voice to overlooked seniors


Artist Paco Roca at the former Spanish Embassy building in Washington. (David Betancourt/TWP)

 

WHEN SPANISH artist Paco Roca sought inspiration for “Arrugas,” a graphic novel he wrote and illustrated, he believed there was only one place that could provide him with the drama, comedy, heartbreak and unpredictable behavior he needed to breathe life into his project:

A retirement home.

In “Arrugas” (the Spanish word for wrinkles), Roca provides an in-depth look at assisted living for seniors through the eyes of the protagonist: Emilio, a prideful banker whom his son reluctantly places in a retirement home, once it becomes clear that the father has Alzheimer’s.

Roca’s desire to tell a story about senior citizens was largely fueled by his experience with his parents as they aged.

The comic "Arrugas (Wrinkles)."
The comic “Arrugas (Wrinkles).”

“At the time that I began working on ‘Arrugas,’ my parents were getting older,” Roca said, in Spanish, to The Post’s Comic Riffs. “My motive was to try to understand what they were feeling in that moment in their lives, living in a society that doesn’t give much thought to the elderly.”

Roca also saw the effects of Alzheimer’s when the father of a good friend began suffering from the disease..

“I would always go visit [this friend]. His father was very active. Very intelligent,” Roca said. “He loved to talk about books. He was a great mentor to me. It affected me a great deal knowing that he had Alzheimer’s. It advanced very fast, and I could see how it was affecting the entire family.”

“Arrugas” has sold more than 30,000 copies in Spain, where it was also awarded the Premio Nacional del Cómic (National Comic Award) in 2008. The comic was adapted into an animated film when Roca collaborated with director Ignacio Ferreras; their project received much critical acclaim, winning Spain’s premio Goya (Goya Award) for best animated film in 2012, the year of its Spanish release.

Fast-forward two years, and Roca found himself in Washington just before the Fourth of July, as the guest of honor at a screening of the English-dubbed version of “Arrugas,” which was screened for the public at la Antigua Residencia de los Embajadores de España (the former residence of the ambassador of Spain) on 16th Street in Northwest Washington. “Arrugas” made its national debut last Friday in New York and Miami.

The film is being distributed in the United States by GKIDS, whic also had a hand in distributing past animated Oscar nominees “Ernest & Celestine,” “Chico and Rita,” “A Cat in Paris” and “The Secret of Kells.”

[READ: An interview with "Secret of Kells" filmmaker Tomm Moore]

A poster for the film "Arrugas (Wrinkles)."
A poster for the film “Arrugas (Wrinkles).”

The screening in Washington was the first time Roca saw the movie dubbed in English — featuring the voice talents of Martin Sheen and Matthew Modine. When speaking of his collaboration with Ferreras, Roca said that the director, a veteran of animated films, opened his eyes to new ways of storytelling.

“It was interesting because [in making "Arrugas" the comic], you’re by yourself. You think there’s only one way to do things,” Roca said. “There’s no one to discuss ideas with. It’s like a fight with yourself. And when you finish, you think you’ve made it the only way it can be done.

“We made scenes that weren’t in the comic,” Roca continued. “It helped me see that there were other ways to tell the story. He had worked in a lot of big animated productions. He knows how animation works. With him, I learned that the production is so important for an animated film.”

Roca said he was constrained only by the depths of his imagination when working on the “Arrugas” graphic novel: “In the comic, you don’t have limits. Your only limit is your artistic limits.”

“With movies,” he noted, “the limitation is what you can do with the money that you have.”

Roca does not read his comics after he completes them — doing so, he said, only causes him to see errors he missed during production. But he appreciated seeing the finished film of “Arrugas.”

“When I watched the movie … it wasn’t mine anymore,” Roca said of the story. “It was something that had its own life. It was emotional watching it with the voices of the actors.”

Roca said he takes a considerable amount of pride in giving voice to people — via comics and film — who don’t receive the attention they deserve.

“We can empathize with lives that aren’t our own. We can empathize with a Roman emperor or a psychopath, but there are so few time that we can empathize with an older person,” Roca said.

“In ‘Wrinkles,’ you don’t see any young people. You see everything through the eyes of older people, so we can understand how they feel and see what it is we can do for them.”

 

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