José Peñarroya (1910-1975) was a member of the so-called Bruguera School of cartoonists that marked a milestone in the evolution of Spanish humorous comics in the late 1940s and 1950s. For Bruguera and other publishers, he was a fertile creator of strips and gags that reflected the Spanish society of the time with a rare combination of mordacity and amiability. In 1957, Peñarroya and other important artists of Bruguera were pioneers of self-publishing when they founded their own short-lived company.

After fighting General Franco during the Spanish Civil War, Peñarroya worked as an accountant for several years, until he joined the animation studios Chamartín, where he worked in the series of short-length films Don Cleque and Garabatos between 1942 and 1945. Shortly afterwards, he was recruited, alongside other Chamartín artists (Cifré, Escobar, and Iranzo), to relaunch Bruguera’s old periodical Pulgarcito (1921) as a weekly comic. One of his earliest and most popular strips for this publication was Don Pío (1947), featuring the eponymous ordinary timid office worker who suffers his wife’s delusions of ascending the social ladder. Other successful creation of Peñarroya’s was Gordito Relleno (1948), whose rotund naïve protagonist is the perfect victim of the malicious characters he invariably comes across in every story. In contrast, Don Berrinche (1948), which he created for another Bruguera comic, El Campeón, is the absolute opposite of Gordito, a gaunt, spiteful figure who walks around brandishing a clublike cane and picking fights with whoever he meets. He exhibited a masterful command of color and design in his numerous cover illustrations for El DDT: since this publication was aimed at more mature readers, Peñarroya usually drew curvaceous female figures which came to be known as the Peña Girls. In 1957, unhappy with the conditions in Bruguera, Peñarroya and four of his colleagues (Cifré, Conti, Escobar, and Giner) embarked on an attempt at self-publishing which resulted in the ambitious publication Tío Vivo. For this weekly magazine, he created series like La Familia Pí and Olimpio, but the enterprise failed after a couple of years and the five cartoonists returned to Bruguera. Then, Peñarroya retook his classic strips and added new ones, including the popular Pitagorín (1966), about a boy genius who always succeeds in his altruistic endeavors, thus differing from the irremediable losers that characterized Bruguera strips. One of his greatest passions was soccer and this reflected on many of his strips, like the well-known Pepe el Hincha (1962), which offers an ironic portrayal of the supporters whose whole lives revolve around this sport. Aside from Bruguera, during his career, Peñarroya provided abundant caricatures, gags, and strips for a variety of publications, like Patufet, Tele-Radio, El Noticiero Universal, and Terror Fantastic.

— Jesús Jiménez Varea

Further Reading

  • Alary, Viviane. “The Spanish Tebeo”, European Comic Art vol. 2 no. 2 (Fall 2009): 253-276.
  • Booker, M. Keith(Ed.). Comics through Time. A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas. Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2014.
  • Merino, Ana (Ed.). “Spanish Comics: A Symposium”, International Journal of Comic Art vol. 5 no. 2 (Fall 2003): 3-153.