The architectural creations of Antoni Gaudí, with their distinctive mix of Moorish, Catalan, Baroque, and Gothic influences, are icons of Barcelona. There isn’t an obvious connection between Gaudí’s works and multiple homicides. But The Ghost of Gaudí, a graphic novel published in the U.S. in October, concocts a tale out of the two.
The book, written by El Torres and illustrated by Jesús Alonso Iglesias, is a thriller set in modern-day Barcelona. It follows a mother and grocery clerk named Antonia, who saves an elderly man’s life by pushing him out of traffic on a busy street. She later learns that this is the same street where Gaudí was hit by a trolley in the summer of 1926. He died three days later.
The incident pulls Antonia into a mysterious world of Gaudí acolytes and macabre murders, which all occur on sites designed by Gaudí. These murders seem to be delivering a message. But it’s unclear what the message is.
The book has its flaws. One character, a detective who’s so magnetic that he makes women swoon, is a hard-boiled cliché. All the characters are rather forgettable. The gore is a little over-the-top, calling to mind slasher films or the grislier parts of Seven: for instance, one bloody victim is tied against a wall in Park Güell, pieces of trencadís mosaic embedded in his skin. Another is strung up inside Casa Vicens, with shock frozen on his face and his intestines spilling from his torso. Both corpses are nude. Apparently, the killer wants to protect Gaudí’s creations.
Even when it’s on the pulpy side, the visual violence in The Ghost of Gaudí is imaginative. So are the book’s renderings of Gaudí’s works. The panels are so bright that they’re almost lurid, but they capture the vivid eccentricity of Gaudí’s creations. The daytime exterior scenes are beautifully lit, while the dark interior scenes are hauntingly shadowed. Iglesias is his best when he draws the way Gaudí’s architecture changes under different lighting conditions. And the graphic novel’s final section, a collection of designs and sketches from the creative process, provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of why and how the visuals developed.
The killer at the center of the story is so inspired by Gaudí that his passion gives way to obsession. “He admires Gaudí’s work so much he feels the need to protect it at all costs,” two characters remark about the killer. “But then he defiles those same places with these horrific murders. He himself deprives them of that transcendental beauty. As if he wants to reclaim the work for himself … As if he also hates Gaudí.”
The characters explain both the mindset of the murderer and the ideas of Gaudí himself, by exploring the symbolism behind his architectural decisions, and the perfectionism that left the stunning Sagrada Familia cathedral unfinished. (More than once, the structure has also fallen victim to arsonists.) The killer seems so moved by beauty that, in a deranged way, he’s willing to kill to protect it.
At the same time, the book also features minor characters who fail to protect great art: careless tourists, exploitative journalists, self-centered academics. For the most part, they provide comic relief during the homicide investigation. But their negligence also suggests, uncomfortably, that the killer’s obsession with architectural conservation might have some value — if he could just refrain from the whole business of murder. In The Ghost of Gaudí, there’s no one right way to appreciate an artistic legacy. But there are plenty of wrong ways.