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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Living up to Being "Most Asturian" -- Recent Award Ceremony in Aviles, Spain

The award consists of a ceramic Ladybug…about 3 x 2.5… made in China, smiling a mischievous smile, and I'm told, bought in the dollar store down the street.

But to me, it's priceless.

Simple because of whom it was presented by and what it represents.

Two weeks ago in Spain, surrounded by people I have come to think of as wonderful friends, at the closing of the Jornadas of Comics in Aviles, I was presented with the "Most Asturian Award," at the closing ceremonies.

It's a Gala event!

Every year at the Aviles Festival--which I've been attending now for five straight years-- the organizing committee takes about $20 and goes to that aforementioned bodaga to buy roughly 12 items that are all the same, and that will serve as the "Oscars," for the closing ceremony.

Seeing what the silly, cute, whimsical statuettes will be each year is half the fun. The other half is hearing the categories! Which are whimsical themselves!


They include:

"The Coolest Guest"--which often goes to the person who works the hardest with the most glee.

"The Guest Who Traveled the Furthest"--Self Explanatory

"The George Perez Award"-- For the guest that embodies the spirit of the show the most. Named after George on his first visit to Aviles years ago.

"Coolest Companion of an invited Guest"-- Which goes to one of the fantastic wives or husbands or significant others there with an invited guest--and we've had some great ones over the years!

"The Night Owl Award"-- The Guest who leaves the bar last every night. And yes, we've had some great ones of those too. I remember the year Steve Dillion and Joe Jusko were both vying for the honor and the competition was fierce! The battle now legendary.

"The Ron Garney Award"-- For the best looking guest. Named after Ron on his visit to Aviles. I think he left an impression!


There are more, but you get the point! It's all in great fun.

And of course my award this year, "The Most Asturian Award."

Now, you may ask, what does this mean?

Asturias is the region of Spain which has existed since before the Middle Ages. The autonomous community is bordered by Cantabria to the east, by Castile and León to the south, by Galicia to the west, and by the Bay of Biscay to the north. The area have been coveted by the Celts, the Moors, the Romans....and many others. Later after being assimilated into Spain, Asturias itself played a large part in the colonization of the Americas. It's sister city is St. Augustine, Florida.

You can read about the unique history of this land here:


The culture is amazing, and heavily Celtic influenced, as mentioned above. A type of kilt is the national costume, along with a unique type of three prong wooden shoe and bagpipes. (I always love hearing the sound of bagpipes in the morning across the town square.)

The national drink: A type of cider from the numerous apple orchards in the area, that must be aerated by pouring it from a height into a very thin, specifically shaped glass. They say you break many before you get the pour just right! The taste can best be described as "zingy." The glass is passed around and everyone drinks from the same vessel. After drinking most of the contents, it is customary to splash a little out onto the ground, as a way to clean the glass of any lees for the next pouring. (I love this tradition of sharing cider. So gregarious.)

Asturian cheeses, especially Cabrales, are also famous throughout Spain and beyond; Asturias is often called "the land of cheeses" (el país de los quesos) due to the product's diversity and quality in this region.

The traditional country houses on the rolling green hills are on stilts, and totally unusual in their design.

The local jewelry is made from a jet black stone that is often carved into fists, which ward off evil. (You can't buy one of these for yourself. It must be given to you.) The pottery is black too.

And the national dish is Fabada-- Oh man! Simmered white beans with shoulder of pork (lacón), black sausage (morcilla), and spicy sausage (chorizo). I LOVE it!

So you see, after all this time, I've learned a thing or two about Austrias and my two favorite cities there: Gijon and Aviles. That much is obvious...

But why me as "Most Austrian?"

When I see those cured ham hocks hanging from the ceilings, I have NO idea the best direction to carve them, or how thin for the optimum taste, and I certainly have NOT mastered the all important pouring of the cider.

I'd like to think-- which I guess is probably the case-- that my dear friends in Aviles gave me the award because, well, I simply love the place so much.

From the moment I first heard of Aviles from artist Rodney Ramos, and I venture there with artist Michael Golden for the first time five years ago, I was at ease, and felt at home.

It was second nature to hang out in the square, sipping coffee, as the artists draw for the people around them, and we joke and laugh and looked at artwork, surround by building with hundreds of years of stories to tell... Lunches and dinners are also communal events, lasting sometimes three hours each, as you really get to know the people you are with. (I've never seen anyone pick up a cel phone during a meal, and that is so refreshing.)

When not eating or sketching or talking, the ancient part of Aviles is a charming old city, with cobblestone streets and a lush central park that is wonderful for a jog or a walk.

In short, I am hooked on the place.

And I've always encouraged others to come.

Some have: Bill Stout, Herb Trimpe, Joe Jusko, Ken Lopez, Ric Meyers, Tim Burguard… I love to share this amazing place with people I like, and introduce them to the wonderful folks that run and work at the Aviles Festival-- Jorge, Angel, Jose Manuel, German, Diego, Irma, Roccio, Carmen… the whole crew--You won't meet a more dedicated group of folks.

In fact, Jorge started this show when he was just 16, going to the local government and convincing them that what Aviles really needed was a festival to celebrate comics.

He's been making it happen ever since.

Along with some other great festivals in the area, Aviles has been instrumental in drawing attention to the region, it's customs and what it has to offer.

I tried to help in some small part.

Along with videographer Robin Dale, we documented much of the spirit of the city and festival in a documentary we produced several years ago. And now even more has been added to the Aviles story by the addition of the Neimeyer Center for the arts that opened this year, and which is attracting talent and performances from all over the world.

(Our fear is that it may get too big here! But things must grow. And when you love something, you are happy for it to thrive.)

So, in short, I don't know why I got this little Ladybug (which is more than the sum of her parts). But I'm happy to have it. I'm not going to question it too much. Except to say "Thank you" to my friends for the...acceptance…

I'll try to live up to it.

As she sits on my shelf overlooking my attempt to make a Fabada kit I bought two weeks ago, throwing in the three types of local sausage and meat and reveling in the wonderful smells, the one thing running through my mind is: How in the world am I going to master that cider pouring before next year!!

Time to break some glasses...


(In photos above, with my fellow recipients (alot of ladies won this year!), and guests at the Festival in Aviles, Spain. Photos by Pepe Caldelas.)


  1. I was a fun trip, I'm glad I went!


  2. It was really funny getting to know you Brandon! I'm glad you went too! :-)