Set during the tumultuous Spanish Civil War, Paco Roca’s The Lighthouse (NBM) is a winningly straightforward depiction of humanity revealed in the midst of war’s horrors. The slim graphic novel tells its tale through the eyes of Francisco, a teenaged rifleman in the Republican Guard who had joined the military with documents falsifying his age. When civil war between the Republicans and fascist Nationalists breaks out, the young man witnesses the death of friends and fellow villagers, is wounded and force to flee the fascist army.
Reaching the coast, Franciso is rescued and revived by Telmo, an eccentric elderly lighthouse keeper tending to a structure that’s no longer working. As he nurses the despairing soldier back to health, Telmo regales the boy with stories of the sea and of an island “almost untouched” where people live in peace: “Rather than punishing those who break the laws, justice rewards those who behave.” (Literature lovers will quickly pick up on the literary references within Telmo’s storytelling even if our 16-year-old hero doesn’t.) In this respite from the war, Francisco is able to both physically and emotionally recover, though we know the war will eventually intrude on this idyll.
Simply rendered with grey-blue shading adding a melancholy softness to Roca’s tale of war and redemption, The Lighthouse is a quick read that rewards multiple revisits. The Spanish artist’s art is both simple and expressive, particularly in its loving renderings of the sea in both its rough and calm moments. This is one of those books I’d recommend lending to any acquaintance who condescendingly asks you why you still read “that comic book stuff.” If they don’t get it when they’re done, they probably never will.