Sergio Bonelli Editore
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Italian comics, also known as fumetto [fuˈmetto], plural form fumetti [fuˈmetti], are comics which originate in Italy. The most popular Italian comics have been translated into many languages. The term fumetto (literally little puff of smoke) refers to the distinctive word balloons that contain the dialogue in comics (also called nuvoletta, "little cloud", in Italian).
The term fumetti is often used in English to refer to photo comics, regardless of origin or language.
Italian fumetto has its roots in periodicals aimed at younger readers and in the satirical publications of the 19th century. These magazines published cartoons and illustrations for educational and propagandist purposes. The first illustrated satirical publication appeared in 1848, in L'Arlecchino, a daily paper published in Naples. Other noteworthy examples of satirical papers of the period include Lo Spirito Folletto published in Milan, Turin's Il Fischietto and Il Fanfulla, established in Rome in 1872.
As far as publications for kids, some of the most significant titles of the period are Il Giornale per i Fanciulli (1834), Il Giovinetto Italiano (1849), and Giornale per i bambini (1881).
In 1899 Il Novellino debuted: the paper was the first to publish Outcault's Yellow Kid in Italy in 1904. But the first Italian comic would not appear until four years later.
On December 27, 1908, Italian newsstands saw the first issue of Il Corriere dei Piccoli, the first mainstream publication primarily dedicated to comics. The first issue introduced readers to the adventures of Bilbolbul, a little black kid drawn by Attilio Mussino that is considered the first Italian comic character.
Despite being officially considered the birthplace of fumetto, the Corrierino, as it was nicknamed, did not use balloons in the stories that it publishes, opting instead for captions in verse. Regardless, the sequential narration and the recurring characters made the publication rightfully the first Italian comic magazine.
The most prolific comics illustrator before World War I was Antonio Rubino. Both Mussino and Rubino based their strips on parodies of school learning: Bilbolbul is a parody of idioms, while "Quadratino" (literally "Little Square") is a parody of geometry.
Il Corrierino introduced American comics to an Italian audience: "Happy Hooligan" was renamed "Fortunello", "The Katzenjammer Kids" became "Bibì e Bibò", Bringing Up Father was "Arcibaldo e Petronilla", "Felix the Cat" became "Mio Mao".
Following Il Corrierino's spectacular success (reaching 700 000 copies), several other periodicals appeared during the following years: Il Giornaletto (1910), Donnina (1914), L'Intrepido (1920), and Piccolo mondo (1924).
The fascist regime was quick to recognize the potential for propaganda through the new medium. During the 1920s several periodicals published educational comics for Italian youth, including Il Giornale dei Balilla (1923) and La piccola italiana (1927).
The three most popular characters of the period, reprinted for decades on Corrierino, were:
Beginning January 1, 1939, the publication of foreign comics was forbidden, and Italian material was required to follow a strict standard, exalting heroism, patriotism, and the superiority of the Italian race. To work around these restrictions, some publishers simply renamed American heroes with Italian names. The only exception to the censorship was Topolino, the Italian name for Mickey Mouse, published by Nerbini starting on December 31, 1931. Apparently, the reason behind this special treatment for Walt Disney's character was Benito Mussolini's children's passion for the little mouse. In 1935 Nerbini sold Topolino to Mondadori, which published it with great success until 1988.
In 1932 Milan publisher Lotario Vecchi started Jumbo, a weekly magazine that many consider the first true Italian comics publication. The magazine reached a circulation of 350,000 copies, sanctioning comics as a mainstream medium with broad appeal.
In 1937 Il Vittorioso appeared, a Catholic magazine entirely composed of Italian comics. It was an attempt to compete with similar secular publications like L'Avventuroso (1934), Il Monello (1933), and L'Audace (1937).
The end of World War II marked a flurry of activity in the Italian comic press: many titles that were forced to suspend publication during the war come back to saturate the newsstands, joined by new publications often backed by improvised publishers looking for a quick buck. Finally this oversupply of comic material resulted in a crisis of the traditional comic magazine. Among the numerous publications of the period were L'Avventura (1944), a Roman magazine that presented American adventure strips like Mandrake, L'Uomo Mascherato (The Phantom), and Flash Gordon. Another Roman publication appeared in 1945: Robinson, a first attempt to target a more adult audience. It introduced several American characters like Prince Valiant, Tarzan, Secret Agent X-9, Rip Kirby, Li'l Abner and Dick Tracy. Robinson lasted until 1947, publishing 90 issues.
In 1945, one of the most original magazines of the period was born: L'asso di Picche published in Venice as a result of the work of a group of young Venetian artists, including Alberto Ongaro, Damiano Damiani, Dino Battaglia, Rinaldo D'Ami, and above all Fernando Carcupino and Hugo Pratt. Their distinctive approach to the art form earned them the name of "Venetian School" of comics. Among the characters created for the magazine were Pratt's L'Asso di Picche, Battaglia's Junglemen, Draky and Robin Hood.
Inspired by the success of the Catholic Il Vittorioso, the Italian Communist party decided to use the comic medium for their own purposes: in 1949 Il Pioniere was born. Aimed at a very young audience, the new publication presented fantasy material as well as adventures, with an eye to the social issues of the period.
On Il Vittorioso began the career of the most famous satirical comic writer of post-war Italy, Benito Jacovitti. However, his most popular character, Cocco Bill (1957), a parody of Western comics, was published in the newspaper Il Giorno and then in the other Catholic comic magazine Il Giornalino.
In 1954 Il Disco Volante began publication. It is the Italian version of British weekly Eagle, and introduced Dan Dare to the Italian public. In 1955 Tintin appeared, adapted from the French Tintin magazine, which first presented Franco-Belgian comics to the Italian public.
But the most significant phenomenon of the period was the appearance of comics books. Printed in a variety of formats, from strip size to booklets to giant size, they presented collected stories from the periodicals as well as new adventures of Italian characters. It is on the comic books pages that heroes made in Italy gained popularity, eventually overshadowing their American counterparts.
Among the host of Italian series that were created during these years, Tex Willer is without doubt the most renowned. Born on September 30, 1948, from the imagination of Gian Luigi Bonelli and from the pencil of Aurelio Galleppini, Tex Willer would become the model for a line of publications centered around the popular comic book format that became known as Bonelliano, from the name of the publisher. These comic books presented complete stories in 100+ black and white pages in a pocket book format. The subject matter was always adventure, whether western, horror, mystery or science fiction. The bonelliani are to date the most popular form of comics in the country.
Some of the series that followed Tex Willer were Zagor (1961), a tomahawk-wielding hero who protects the imaginary Darkwood forest in eastern US, Comandante Mark (1966), featuring a soldier in the American independence war, and more recently Mister No (1975), about an American pilot who operates a small tourist flying agency in the Amazonian jungle, and Martin Mystère (1982), featuring an anthropologist/archaeologist/art historian who investigates paranormal phenomena and archaeological mysteries.
Another popular series, Diabolik featuring a criminal mastermind, has been published since the 1960s, and influenced later series such as Kriminal and Satanik (see Fumetti neri). The latter was created in the 1960s by one of the most famous duos of comics history, Magnus & Bunker, whose most outstanding creation, however, is the humorous espionage series Alan Ford (1969).
Another famous author of humouristic strips is Franco Bonvicini, whose Sturmtruppen met wide success abroad.
In the 1970s and early 80s, many young intellectual artists centred around the famous student city of Bologna began to be heavily influenced by the underground comix scene of the United States, typified by the work of Robert Crumb. Artists such as Andrea Pazienza, Filippo Scòzzari, Stefano Tamburini, Tanino Liberatore, and Massimo Mattioli published stories with dark and surreal themes, ranging from political activism, to struggles with drug addiction and the disagio and disillusionment of youth culture in Italy. Many of the comics were extremely violent and sexual and attempted to stretch the comix genre to its vary limits in both style and "good taste." Satirical magazines such as Frigidaire and Il Male often printed these stories in episodic formats or as vignettes in their monthly publications.
Though read by a more restricted audience, in the past years the comics series which met the greatest critical success are Corto Maltese, by Hugo Pratt, and Valentina by Guido Crepax. While the former is a kind of summa of the evolution into an adult form of the classic adventure comics, the latter gave birth to that special kind of erotic comics quite typical of the Italian scene, and whose main pupils have been in more recent years Milo Manara and Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri.
Italy also produces many Disney comics, i.e., stories featuring Disney characters (from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck universes). After the 1960s, American artists of Disney comics, such as Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson did not produce as many stories as in the past. At present American production of new stories has dwindled (Don Rosa publishes in Europe), and this niche has been filled by companies in South America, Denmark and Italy. The Italian 'Scuola disneyana' has produced several innovations: building the Italian standard length for stories (30 pages), a pocket book format with 3 strips a page, reinterpreting famous works of literature in 'Parodie', long stories up to 400 pages.
Among the most important artists and authors are Marco Rota, Romano Scarpa, Giorgio Cavazzano, Massimo De Vita, Giovan Battista Carpi and Guido Martina. The best known Disney character created in Italy is Paperinik (known as Duck Avenger or Phantom Duck to English audiences).
Italy prints around 8000 pages of new Disney stories per year, exported worldwide (it makes up 50% of the total production). The main publication, digest size Topolino, prints only new stories every week, but there exist 32 different series of reprints going on, for 30 million of copies sold each year. Since the late 1990s, Disney Italia produced innovative series like PK (Paperinik stories with an American superheroes flavour), W.I.T.C.H. or Monster Allergy.