Dibujante e ilustrador vizcaíno, nacido en 1972 en Barakaldo. Tras realizar sus estudios en la ikastola Lauro de Loiu, a los 18 años marcha a Estados Unidos, graduándose en Bellas Artes en la Universidad neoyorkina de Syracuse. Autor de cómics, ha trabajado como animador en películas como El Señor de los anillos. Ha sido directivo de la empresa de producción de artes gráficas Mango Graphica Ltd. Desde el 2004 combina su trabajo como dibujante, ilustrador y proyectista gráfico con la función de docente universitario en la materia de Historia del Arte. Autor, junto con Adam Pollina, del cómic Xforce. En julio de 2009 publica la novela gráfica Joanes or the Basque Whaler con el patrocinio del Centro de Estudios vascos de la Universidad de Nevada en Reno y NABO (North American Basque Organizations) con ocasion de su 50 aniversario. Esta novela, considerada por algunos medios como el primer cómic vasco-americano de la historia, es parte de una trilogía cuyo segundo volumen titulado Whale island ha sido publicado en octubre de 2011 y en septiembre de 2013 se publica el último volumen de la trilogía: Priest of Pirates. Al año siguiente la primera novela es traducida y publicada en euskera (Joanes edo balezale euskalduna) y español (Joanes, un pescador de ballenas vasco, la presentación corrió a cargo del propio autor en el Salón del Cómic de Getxo y la factoría marítima Albaola de Pasaia.
Guillermo Zubiaga. Biscayan artist and illustrator, born in Barakaldo in 1972


A few days ago, we were saddened to report on the passing of Selma Huxley, the researcher who made the world aware of the true scope of Basque whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Today, we bring you this entry from Crónicas vascas, in which artist and illustrator Guillermo Zubiaga tells us about the relationship between his comic book series, “Joanes or the Basque Whaler”, and the Anglo-Canadian researcher.

Guillermo Zubiaga has spent most of his life in the United States, where he was educated and has had success as an artist and illustrator.  After studying at the Lauro ikastola in Loiu, he went to the US at the age of 18 to study Fine Arts at Syracuse University in New York State.  The season before graduating, he worked at a local animation studio, Animotion, Inc.  After graduating, he started working in the comic industry as a background artist.  He got work at Marvel Comics on the “X-Force” title.  In 2003-4, he worked as an inker on the “BPRD” title for Dark Horse Comics and on the graphic novel “The Romp” by Image Comics.

He published his first trilogy about Jaones, the Basque whaler, between 2009 and 2014.  We’ve spoken about this series on several occasions.  He wrote it in English, though it was later translated into Basque and Spanish.

Just recently, in December 2019, he started publishing the second trilogy about this character, again with the support of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.  This edition is coming on the tenth anniversary of the publication of the first edition.

Joanes or the Basque Whaler- Traganarroo's Revenge. Guillermo Zubiaga
Joanes or the Basque Whaler—Traganarroo’s Revenge. Guillermo Zubiaga

In this fourth installment, titled Traganarroo’s Revenge, there’s is a short intro by Blas Urberuaga, who runs Buber’s Basque page, which is the starting point on the net for everything about Basque culture and language.

A down-on-his-luck skipper, Joanes sells his soul to a sea demon, the Traganarroo, for a magical txalupa, or whaleboat, that flies him and his crew to new shores full of whales.

After a successful and profitable career that takes Joanes to the Americas, his arrogance leads him to challenge the sea demon himself.
A century of imprisonment later, Joanes finally frees his crew, however now the major naval powers are overrunning the Basque fishing fleets. Becoming a priest, Joanes mounts an ultimately futile holy war against the British, Danish, and other powers.

His time seemingly having passed, Joanes stages his own death, and is buried under mysterious circumstances with a humble marker on a lonely island in Newfoundland, the only monument to his story…until now, of course!

On the passing of Selma Huxley-Barkham. “For Selma”

Guillermo Zubiaga

WhenI decided to write and draw my very own story, I just knew it had to be about something Basque.  I chose the topic of Basque whalers because of that, because it seemed to me to be a truly genuine Basque genre, just like the cowboys in the US, the Viking sagas of Scandinavia, or the tales of the samurai of Japan.  In other words, it was just like the Basque version of a western.

From a very young age in Bakio, where I spent the first five or six summers of my childhood, I remember being fascinated by the sea, and more specifically by the repeated image of the whale in innumerable coats of arms of so many towns on our stretch of coastline.  I seem to remember a sperm whale dying on the beach and was singing there for a while…  However, it wasn’t until much later, when I was in college in the States, that I finally started looking into our whalers, and I became aware of the possibilities of doing something for the American market, as by that time I was beginning to realize I might be staying here “for a while”.

I considered a wide range of possibilities, from a compendium of Basque mythology or my take on the Battle of Roncesvalles (really, the list is quite long since I’m never out of ideas).  But I have to admit it was actually quite easy for me to decide because, as I said before, I’ve always had a special attraction for the stories of our old whalers.  But I needed someone, something to push me in that direction.

I remember when I made that decision.  I was still studying while working for an animation studio, Animotion.Inc.  One day, one of my coworkers, Aaron Macdonald, brought a box full of old issues of National Geographic, and it was thanks to the July 1985 issue that I finally opted for a story of the whalers.

In that issue, there was a series of four articles about the presence of Basque whalers in North America in the 16th century, and especially about the discovery of the wreck of the Basque whaler San Juan.

Portada de la edición de julio de 1985 de la revista National Geographic, donde se escribe sobre los balleneros vascos en la Norteamérica del siglo XVI. Incluyendo la imagen de esta portada
Cover of the July 1985 issue of “National Geographic”, with an article about 16th century Basque whalers in North America, including the cover image

Articles in the issue about Basque whalers:

16th- Century Basque Whalers in America { Excavating a 400- year- old Basque Galleon}
Archaeologists James A. Tuck and Robert Grenier describe the discovery of a 400- year- old whaling station and sunken ships.
16th- Century Basque Whalers in America { Unearthing Red Bay’s Whaling History}
James A. Tuck excavates centuries- old Basque whaling stations at Red Bay on Labrador’s coast.
16th- Century Basque Whalers in America { Discovery in Labrador: A 16th- Century Basque Whaling Port and Its Sunken Fleet}
Among the first to reap treasures of the New World, Basque voyagers made the Labrador coast the center of a booming oil industry. Photos by Bill Curtsinger and paintings by Richard Schlecht.
16th- Century Basque Whalers in America { The Indomitable Basques}
Robert Laxalt traces the Basques’ history and long record of exploration.

We could say that reading these articles was got me to create this series.  And none of this, or the discoveries, or the birth of “Joanes or the Basque Whaler”, would have been possible without the work and research of Selma Huxley.

And if to all that we add in the idea of a supposed, or disputed, early presence of Basques and the Basque language in North America (depending on who you ask, even before Columbus), the topic itself is enveloped in a glow of mystery.  That’s why there was no doubt that the content offered itself as a jewel for something epic.

One of the most spectacular discoveries in this favorite topic of mine was definitely the wreck of the galleon San Juan in Red Bay (known back in the day as Butus).  This ship is now being faithfully brought back to life by Xabier Agote at Albaola, in the Basque port of Pasajes.  Knowing its existence and importance confirmed a series of suspicions I’d had about the topic, and it finally sparked the flame that set into motion the conception and later creation of these graphic novels with Basque whalers as the protagonists.

Also, behind my character, another key discovery about that story of Basques in that part of the world is hidden: one of the oldest wills ever preserved in Canada.  It was the last will of Joanes de Etxaniz, a whaler from Orio who died in those waters in 1584.

Yes, it’s one of the three oldest documents ever written in North America.  The other two are also wills, and are also by Basque fishermen: one for Juanes de Larrume in 1577, and another which was recently discovered by Michael Barkham, Selma’s son, belonging to Domingo de Luça, dated 1563.

These documents, along with irrefutable archaeological evidence, provides extremely valuable documented evidence of the early presence of our old whalers in North America.

So it seemed, therefore, that the protagonist of these stories almost had to be named Joanes, especially if we consider that this name appears repeatedly on multiple documents, such as the songs by Joanes D’Etxeberry, “Balearrantzaleen otoitzak”, or the story of whaler Joanes Balaztena by Aita Barandiaran.  So really, it was the only name he could have.

In short, the adventures of “Joanes, or the Basque Whaler”, a story that’s been in progress for ten years already, and which tells the tales of Basques in harsh places and times, are the consequence of the work of incredible researcher and great friend to the Basques Selma Huxley.  That’s why “Joanes”, like all Basques, owes so much to this woman.

Her passing is a great loss.  And her name will always be linked to one of the great adventures of our own history.

Bihotz bihotzez eskerrik asko beti, agur eta Ohore, goian bego

Agur zintzoena

«Joanes the basque whaler» primera trilogía. Guillermo Zubiaga
“Joanes or the Basque Whaler”, first trilogy. Guillermo Zubiaga

Where to find “Joanes or the Basque Whaler” graphic novels:

At the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno: Here  

Elkar.eus: Here

If anyone would like a signed (or personalized) copy, send an email to the author.


Lead image: scene from “Joanes or the Basque Whaler” by Guillermo Zubiaga

Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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