[Links are to Spanish-language pages except where otherwise noted.]
In many Latin American countries, recent history has seen violent acts committed by terrorist groups and governments alike. Despite high-level investigations and the establishment of truth and reconciliation commissions, testimonies often contradict one another and some aspects of the violence are never fully elucidated. This has turned them into conspiracy theories and urban legends that weave themselves into the social fabric of our major cities.
One such story is the Taking of the Palace of Justice [en], which occurred on November 6, 1985, in Bogotá, Colombia. At 11:30 in the morning, commandos from the M-19 [en] guerrilla group entered the Supreme Court building provoking a reaction on the part of the National Police force and the Colombian Army, which led to 27 hours of continuous violence and terror that left 98 people dead and another 11 missing.
25 years after the fact, it is the story of those 11 victims still unaccounted for that inspired three friends to create a graphic novel fictionalizing what happened during those tense hours and giving the reader a particular vision, at times heartrending and at others hopeful, of an event that, as described at the unveiling of the book, is part of the identity of millions of Colombians.
The project was born in 2011 when, despite not winning an open contest, they were bitten by the creative bug. As a result, the following year they turned to crowdfunding to raise money and in 2013 launched a version of their graphic novel for tablets and other electronic devices. In February 2014, their work was finally published in book format.
Interestingly enough, through the transformation from digital media to print, certain narrative changes occurred. Diego Fernando Marín of the blog Lecturas para todos talks about this shift in the focus.
(En la aplicación es el)… de una niña que prepara un discurso, que termina leyendo en un evento conmemorativo de la Toma del Palacio de Justicia, y que comienza con las únicas palabras que tiene la novela gráfica, Érase una vez…, lo que da lugar al subtítulo que hoy parece haber desaparecido: Como un cuento sin hadas. En esta nueva versión, una abuela narra en primera persona a su nieta lo que ella vivió durante la toma. La abuela, en este caso, es la madre de uno de los desaparecidos en la Toma.
(In the app, it is)…a young girl preparing a speech who ends up delivering a reading during an event commemorating the taking of the Palace of Justice, and who begins with the only words that appear in the graphic novel, “Once Upon a time…” which accounts for the subtitle that today seems to have disappeared, “Like a tale without fairies.” In this new version, a grandmother narrates in the first person to her granddaughter what she experienced during the takeover. The grandmother, in this story, is the mother of one of the victims who disappeared.
Marín later adds:
El tono de Los Once se mantiene en su tono neutral, no condena, no toma lugar, muestra la impiedad de los bandos y el lugar que tomaron las víctimas en el proceso, el dolor que se refleja en las palabras de César Rodríguez, un familiar, dichas en la radio nacional: “(…) de ninguno de ellos se tiene ninguna noticia. No los han dado en las listas de los rescatados, ni detenidos, ni muertos. No se sabe absolutamente nada”.
The tone of Los Once [The Eleven] remains neutral; it does not condemn, does not take a position; it shows the cruelty of each side and the place occupied by the victims in the process, the pain that is reflected in the words of César Rodríguez, a family member, words spoken on national radio: “there is no information about any of the them. They are not on the list of those rescued, arrested or killed. Absolutely nothing is known about them.”
Speaking about the work as a graphic novel, the writer Luis Cermeño, in a January 2012 article in the webzine Mil Inviernos points out the different influences: “The use of black and white is due to their affinity for Sin City by Frank Miller; the idea of telling the story as a fable comes from George Orwell's Animal Farm; and the wordless novel they owe in part to Justin Green's Binky Brown.” And in terms of the theme and its treatment, Cermeño adds:
La Toma al Palacio de Justicia es un tema que de entrada toca fibras, con muchos intereses mezclados de por medio; esta es la dificultad de tratar de elaborar una memoria colectiva alrededor de lo que no se sabe nada. Los Once no intenta justificar, de ningún lado u otro, lo ocurrido, su intención es tratar de narrar una historia con las personas involucradas en el conflicto en medio de una situación de pánico extremo. Tampoco trata de brindar respuestas. [...]
En Los Once todos los personajes son ratones enfrentándose contra un gran monstruo polimorfo, quien a su vez es un personaje despersonificado: es la (des)personificación del terror, del mal absoluto y el caos. Esta metamorfosis es la violencia que siempre vuelve con nuevas caras, a veces insospechadas.
The taking of the Place of Justice strikes a cord from the get-go; there are many interests intertwined; that is the difficulty in trying to create a collective memory for an event we know nothing about. Los Once does not try to justify, on one side or the other, what happened —their intention is to try to narrate a story of the people involved in the conflit in the middle of a situation of extreme panic. Neither is it trying to provide answers. [...]
In Los Once, all the characters are mice confronting a huge polymorphic monster, who in turn is a depersonalized character: it is this (de)personification of terror, of absolute evil and chaos. This metamorphosis is the violence that always returns with a new face, often unanticipated.
To find out more about Los Once, Global Voices spoke to José Luis Jiménez and Andrés Cruz, two of the book's trio of authors. Here is the video:
Finally, I would like to add the words of the authors regarding the research undertaken prior to the creation of Los Once, as they appeared in an article in En Órbita:
Cuando estábamos haciendo la investigación, y hablábamos con familiares de las víctimas, a veces sentimos el peso de lo que representa intentar no tomar partido. Para los familiares los culpables de la desaparición son claros, pero nuestra intención no era mostrar culpables, sino construir una metáfora, a través de personajes animados (ratones, palomas, mirlas y perros), para lograr una nueva comprensión del episodio, de lo que vivieron las familias de las víctimas y las víctimas durante la toma y la retoma.
When we were researching it and talking to families of the victims, sometimes we felt the weight of what it means to try not to take sides. For the families, it is clear who is responsible for the disappearance, but our intention was not to show the guilty; instead we wanted to build a metaphor, through animated characters (mice, doves, blackbirds and dogs), to reach a new understanding of the events, of what the families of the victims and the victims themselves experienced during the seizure and the repossession.
I do not know whether the book has yet arrived in bookstores across the Spanish-speaking world, but readers can follow Los Once on Facebook and Twitter. They can also find information on Sharpball (Facebook and Twitter), the label under which these young Colombian artists show their work.
The images that appear in this post are courtesy of Sharpball and used with permission.