96 From The Inside: The General’s portrait PepeGonzalez—the reluctant squaddie. While writing the features for the first special about the Spanish artists, I had to leave out many anecdotes due to lack of space. One of the most fondly remembered by the whole team of artists from the SI studios was one concerning Pepe and the painting he had to do of a certain General. Back in the early ‘60s and José González Navarro (or Pepe as he was known by his friends), had reached conscription age, something that at the time every young Spanish adult male was obliged to do. Pepe wasn’t too keen, but forced by his boss Toutain he relented and did his military service. Or at least tried to. Being within an army compound wasn’t for Pepe (or for anyone dreaming of freedom), so one night, fed up with obeying orders and the army generally, he decided to run away. He found a motorcycle near the entrance (that belonged to the Captain), and although Pepe didn’t know how to drive a motorcycle, he nonetheless took it and drove off on it. Or should we say, coasted downhill towards the nearest town, as the barracks were up on a hill. Once he reached the town, he abandoned the bike, and hailed a taxicab, which took him all the way to Barcelona. Pepe would never take any public transportation, and although he never learned how to drive, would only take cabs (even when he didn’t have any money to pay for one, which was most of the time). Before we continue with this story, there’s something the reader must be aware of. There were a few things that could get you in serious trouble during the regime of Generalissimo Franco: one was being gay, or being a communist, and another was being a deserter. All three of them could even get you (if not sentenced to death) a long stretch in jail. And Pepe was guilty of two of them. When Toutain was notified of Pepe’s “disappearance”, he went along with another of his employees over to the apartment of Pepe’s mother, where Pepe had taken refuge. It took them a while to convince Pepe to go back to the army barracks or else. Finally, and begrudgingly, Pepe returned, but not before asking his Captain to pay him off because he was tired of the army anyway. Luckily Toutain was an intelligent agent and had been handling artwork frommembers of the Spanish Army as well, among them a Lieutenant Colonel named Sanfeliz who was close to the Franco regime (which gave much leeway to the SI artists, a wild bunch if ever there was one). Thanks to Toutain’s connections, and through Colonel Sanfeliz, Pepe was taken into the Officers’ Headquarters, where all he had to do, thanks to his artistic talents, was to draw portraits of some of the Military Heads. One such portrait he was commissioned to do was an oil painting of one of the most influential Generals in Catalonia. Now Pepe was foremost a pencil artist, and none could do better portraits of MarilynMonroe or any of the other Hollywood stars of the day, but he didn’t know anything about oil painting. So for the oil painting of the General he relied on help from his friends at SI Studios. Pepe did the drawing, which was then transferred to canvas and painted by many of the cover artists from the studio. The one who was good at painting hands, did the hands, the one who was good at painting faces, did the face and so on. In fact if the painting had to be signed, it would have some twenty signatures. Yet at the end only Pepe signed it (as he did years later with the famous Vampirella oil painting that he drew but that his friend Enric painted). To this day the painting Pepe did of the General still hangs at the Officers’ Headquarters in Catalonia, with a flamboyant signature by Pepe who didn’t paint anything—but at least it got him out of doing all those stupid manoeuvres that troops in the military are obliged to undertake. And if that weren’t enough, after his Military service Pepe was given the White Cross Medal (the highest Military distinction given when there is no war; otherwise it would have been a Red Cross). Pepe obviously had no need for such a medal and gave it to a friend. l ABOVE: Detail from the oil painting of one of the Military Generals in Catalonia. LEFT: Pepe’s flamboyant signature (dated 1962).