I've often said the obvious, that French/Belgian comic culture is the best in the world. I try to go through France once or twice a year in order to pick up their monthlies, and often get some oldies from the stalls along the Seine. But this year, my routine test of the theory didn't work. I saw amazing French-authored comics in Italian bookshops, which I then failed to find in France. Or I found the Italian translations of them were more attractive and whole than the French versions. I visited, for the first time, the half dozen recommended comic shops just to the south of Notre Dame, and bought nothing. Whereas in Italian train stations I bought the usual poor quality but v lengthy cheap fumetti, to keep me going on the overnight trains, and I was distressed in the Italian bookshops to have so much beauty looking out at me, and be able to afford so little of it.
So this may be the first of a small series of posts about some of the amazing Italian comics and comic art out there. No promises, but maybe.
Mural in Messina, one of a host of real beauties out there raising towerblocks out of shitness and into glory. I remember Brussels also being amazing for these, but didn't see much in France this time around.
Most of this post will be photos of good comics I couldn't afford.
This is a page from the first above, about some dude who loves to run. I don't know British comics or American which make pages in quite this way - the mix of space, scale, and a scene-setting that interests your eyes so that each of the 5 panels adds up to something more than the sum of their parts. I can't say it's unique, but the Italian versions of it are worth an explore.
These two (sorry for the cricked neck) are beautiful, and consistent, and I've lingered over before. In fact when I was there I looked at them so long I worried I might already have one of them in a box back home. If I go again, I will make sure I get at least one of them. Different art styles, both consistent to their own beautiful universes.
Now for the Mafia. Anti mafia comics are a thing. My Italian is too poor to make out the whole, but I already have on my shelves one (less good looking) comic history of an anti Mafia person murdered.
This is the one I wish I had.
Look at this beautiful monster, and its designer setting.
This sort of careful computer layout is not my usual style, but there is no criticism possible for the way this book encapsulates the form.
And in contrast:
A very different style, more the thing I usually lust after. Notice the publisher: Bologna-based Coconino Press. I first came across these guys in a bookshop in Brindisi, waiting for the overnight ferry a few years ago. They made my journey!
That C mark at the bottom, that is the Coconino Press sign of a superb job done. Everything in that line is wonderful and I own so little of it.
In these two, Milo Manara at the top was new to me, but massively well known in European comics and probably dead. Also abundantly available in Paris. He's mostly into buttocks and draws a lot of soft porn historical drama. And does it really really well. I will get one of his one day - I just can't get past the dilemma of which.
Gipi, below, is the single most celebrated - and justifiably so - comic artist of Italy today. Most of his stuff on the Coconino imprint. Each story with a different, story-specific style. Each one humane and grotesque, uplifting and dark, sensitive and brutal. Check out one Italian comic artist and make it him.
Toppi, the bottom one here, is like Manara a very well-known figure. I didn't know him. I bought this book. His faces alone are things of real intricate wonder and if I had the real heart and gusto of an artist I would have spent at least three days trying to copy his faces. Instead of which I just looked at them, thought of it and then went to bed. I suppose it is fantasy art, which as a cultural phenomenon is largely shit. He also adds the glossy erotic porn female stuff that is particularly big in Italy. But it is not just that, it is something that surprises you out of your stupor. Maybe sublime is the word.
Simpler, elegant, a bit more controlled, lots of this sort of style are floating around comics publishing these days. Quite 2D, quite kids' illustration, quite art-course. I won't buy them - there isn't enough depth in the detail, enough shocks or weirdness - but I cannot help but admire their sophisticated illustration and control of the tone over their subject matter.
Example of the sorts of comic displayed on browsing tables in Italian bookshops. It's funny to see Hartlepool monkey-hangers get mocked even in translation, in places that have never heard of the place (I like Hartlepool by the way).
To finish with Gipi, you know i mentioned him. I wanted to mention him again. He's got a lot out there right now.
This is the only form I have managed to afford to buy from Coconino so far, a little wider than A4, staple-bound, matt-texture to both cover and pages. I love the relief that non-gloss brings the comic-reader. Who made comics gloss? It is so horrible. Matt for almost all of Coconino, matt for Gipi, matt for me.