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Napoli Comicon:

Diabolik, Moebius, Moore & More

Spotlighting the theme of ‘Comics and Literature’ symbolised by a giant typewriter (above) with panels on the keys in the entrance, the 14th Napoli Comicon in Naples, Italy made some bold changes this year which heralded significant growth for the years ahead. After being held in Castel Sant’ Elmo, a titanic castle dating back at least to 1275 and overlooking the Bay of Naples, the Comicon transferred to three massive pavilions at the Mostra d’Oltre Mare down in the main city. The castle had included huge gallery spaces and a state-of-the-art auditorium, but presented some awkward transport issues, as there is only one road leading up to the castle, and only one going back down. Otherwise it meant walking up steep hills and flights of stairs. The remote venue also cost a lot to open to the public, so for most of year it is not used now. What may have been lost in this relocation in terms of prestige historic spaces was more than made up for by the capacious exhibition halls of the Mostra d’Oltre Mare, with the bonus of a large central outdoor space for a live music stage and for the public to gather and hang out. This relocation definitely worked, attracting on the Sunday April 29th alone as many people in one day as in all four days of last year’s Comicon. Total registrations reached 50,000 visitors, a new record, making Comicon a serious rival to Italy’s granddaddy of comics festivals, Lucca Comics & Games, back this October.

As its name suggests, Comicon is the kind of festival that wants to appeal to the main fan communities - of manga and anime (with crowds of cosplayers), American superheroes and of Italy’s own star brands such as Tex, Diabolik, Martin Mystere and Dylan Dog. Most of the audience were young and predominantly male, with few female readers, most of the women attending either as cosplayers or as long-suffering tag-along girlfriends. Highly tribal, these teens and twenty-somethings know what they like and stick to it, and mainly sport branded T-shirts to signify their allegiances. Another big shift was connecting Comicon with the 7th games convention Gamecon, bringing another related and overlapping set of pop culture tribes into the larger event, from chess-players and war-gamers to computer-games aficionados.

On the first night, Friday April 27th, the organisers and national and international guests of the Festival were invited to the private view of an impressive, Pop Art-influenced 50th anniversary exhibition of Diabolik, the vanguard of Italy’s adult fumetti neri explosion in the Sixties. Highlights included oversized statues of Diabolik and his sultry companion Eva Kant, a model of his E-Type Jaguar car bursting through the wall and a live electronic music performance by two masked techno-dee-jays (below).

During the soirée I met Mario Gomboli, current publisher at Edizioni Astorina of Diabolik, created in November 1962 by the Giussani sisters, Angela and Luciana. Gomboli told me that the trailer for a new live-action Diabolik TV series would be broadcast this November and that a second big-screen adaptation is also in the works. I saw the first, Danger Diabolik, directed in 1968 by Mario Bava and starring John Phillip Law, at one of the first London Comic Conventions I ever attended in the early Seventies. Gomboli disclosed that one potential director with a keen interest is Quentin Tarantino - his imprimatur might really make ‘The King of Terror’ cross over in the USA. The exhibition is touring next to the Centro Fumetto Andrea Pazienza in Cremona and then to Lucca and Milan. Comicon have published a richly documented catalogue. Among Diabolik‘s admirers is Lorenzo Mattotti, who illustrated a moody black-and-white comic scripted by Daniele Brolli ten years ago for a tribute book marking the character’s 40th birthday and is interviewed in the catalogue. It was great to meet the super-talented Giusepe Palumbo again (below) who has been drawing Diabolik episodes for the past decade with stylish bravura.

The Friday evening wrapped up with an extraordinary dinner in honour of the late, great Moebius. The city’s wonderful Umberto Restaurant had filled its walls with reproductions of the French masters work, including this fantasy strip from 2007 (below), made after Moebius visited Naples for the Comicon, which ends on this blissful panorama of the Bay.

On the menu, illustrated by Moebius with a repro of his lightning-sketch self-portrait with Vesuvius erupting behind him (below), were four courses, each themed as a tribute to French visionary. You too can sample this culinary hommage at Umberto’s till May 14th.

First up was the rather bizarre-looking starter ‘Paesaggio Lunare’ or Lunar Landscape, with super-thin, black-and-white slices of cuttlefish with crunchy sea salt, layered between slices of potato.

Next up was a pasta dish of ‘Asteroidi Ermetici del Maggiore Grubert’, or Major Grubert’s Hermetic Asteroids, or scrumptious gnocchi.

The main course of ‘Astronavi sul Golfo di Napoli’ or Spaceships on the Gulf of Naples was a Lovecraftian medley of seafood stew including baby octopus and other alien-looking, squiddly-diddly critters.

And for dessert, ‘Incal Nero’ or Black Incal, a tiny chocolate cup mixing black chocolate, coffee and coffee beans, accented by minute Pernod jellies.

On Saturday morning April 28th, as part of Comicon Off, events happening off-site around the city and not at the main big venue, the Goethe Institut hosted a reception for an exhibition organised by the Erlangen Comic Salon in Germany of the meticulous scraper-board comics of Line Hoven (with me below). Her family-history graphic novel Liebe Schaut Weg was one of my books of the year (read what I wrote about it here) and is due to be translated by Blank Slate Press this year. Line told me she is preparing her next graphic novel, Fürherfeucht (‘Anxiety about the Füher’), dealing with a woman who has visions of Hitler. Written by noted German novelist Dietmar Dath, it is to be serialised weekly in the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung next year. She also kindly let me have a go at using the scalpel tool to scrape her preferred Canson board, which sadly is no longer being made.

I spent the rest of Saturday getting lost exploring the Comicon’s 140 different stands, ranging from giant retailers and publishing houses to feisty independents and dealers in rare comics collectables. There’s a booming comics market in Italy right now, with over 3,500 new titles published last year, a growth of some 6 per cent over 2010 and a healthy figure comparable to the more than 5,000 titles published last year in France. Giuda Edizioni were launching their latest title, Macchina Suprema, in which Gianluca Costantini, Squaz and Armin Barducci beautifully illustrate a chapter each of Giovanni Barbieri’s story. I met Edo from Canicola once more and picked up their latest chunky anthology, the 11th, compiling 192 pages of surprising new comics by 14 artists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with handy English subtitles. Among my other acquisitions was Ratigher’s Trama from GRRRzetic, picked as his Best of the Year by my Italian correspondent Matteo Stefanelli and a close runner-up for best Italian album of 2011 in the Comicon’s Attilio Micheluzzi Awards. Ratigher met me on the stand and explained that his pen-name derives from Bart’s secret identity in Italian in an episode of The Simpsons.

The guys from Ernest pressed into my hands their latest graphic novel, Morte ai Cavalli di Bladder Town! by Lise-Talami, a wacky western employing some nifty collage techniques which I look forward to reading in the English translation. Nicola Pesce Editore generously gave me a copy of their detailed 432-page study into Mussolini’s censorship and banning of American comic strips, entitled Eccetto Topolino or ‘Except Mickey Mouse’, and a glorious catalogue of Guido Buzzelli’s art from an exhibition at the Museo Italiano del Fumetto e dell’Immagine in Lucca. I also took in some of the other exhibitions including an anniversary show for 30 years of Martin Mystere, visited by his creator Alfredo Castelli and by Naples’ mayor, paying his first ever visit to Comicon (below). To coincide, Comicon also published a handsome monograph on Castelli, who is still writing 60 new pages of his character every month while researching illuminating studies in pop culture history, from multi-media overviews of Fantomas and Arsene Lupin covering Mexico, China and elsewhere, to his latest researches into make-believe comics and creators from every media in Fumettisti d’invenzione! from Coniglio Editore.

I also enjoyed the survey of comics and literature which displayed, amongst others, Dino Buzzati’s artworks for his experimental graphic novel, Poema a fumetti, from 1969, which was recently translated by New York Book Review Books and was included and illustrated in my 1001 Comics guide. Noticeably under-represented in the current Italian comics scene, I felt, were young women comics creators, though I was encouraged to see several very promising talents such as Grazia La Padula and Lucia Biagi invited to contribute prequel or sequel scenes to works of literature. It was also a buzz to see actual pages from Gianni Del Luca’s innovative adaptation of Hamlet and Paolo Bacilieri’s latest graphic novel Sweet Salgari, the biography from Coconino Press of the Italian writer of swashbuckling adventure yarns. There was also a section devoted to Alan Moore’s original typewritten scripts and finished pages of comic art by Eddie Campbell, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch and others, all of them written by Moore, and all donated to the collection of Portugal’s National Comics & Image Centre in Amadora, directed by Nelson Donna.

Saturday concluded at the Institud Cervantes who hosted a screening of Mariscal’s Oscar-nominated animated movie Chico and Rita and a tasty buffet supper. On Sunday April 29th, after a spot of sightseeing, I joined Nelson Donna on a panel with Pasquale Ruggiero, publisher of Magic Press, to talk with Melinda Gebbie about her work and her collaborations on Lost Girls, Cobweb and other projects with her husband, Alan Moore. She also discussed her forthcoming memoirs, Dirty Pictures, covering the San Francisco underground comix era and beyond, and concluded with her impassioned call for comics creators to abandon the barren excesses of superheroics and engage with all that makes us human.

As well as re-connecting with Alberto Corradi, Massimo Giacon, Laura Scarpa, Daniele Barbieri and other Italian colleagues, it was a great pleasure to meet some of the other international guests of Comicon like Frederik Peeters and Tom Tirabosco from Switzerland, and Frantz Duchazeau and Alfred from France. Artist of Why I Killed Peter, Alfred turns out to have an Italian surname, Papagallo or ‘Parrot’ and is working on an ambitious solo graphic novel, hopefully to be released at Angoulême next year. Angel Martin was there from Madrid, launching his new mini-album Bug of wordless insect funnies from Nicola Pesce Editore. All the way from Sao Paolo and en route to Toronto came doubly-gifted Brazilian twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (below), co-creators of Daytripper, while from Korea came Kim Dae-Joong, founder of the innovative independent publisher Sai Comics in Seoul. I also finally got to meet the talented Tony Sandoval, originally from Mexico, and now making a name for himself in Europe through his Swiss publisher Pacquet.

While there were no Japanese mangaka attending, a trio of talented dancers, Tokyo Dolores, a sort of ‘Pole-Dancing Power Puff Girls’, demonstrated their cosplay glamour on the opening night and performed with heart-thumping athletic prowess a manga-esque mini-drama of their superheroic battle to save Naples from the ‘Blue Brain’ on the stage of the Castel Sant’ Elmo theatre on the Sunday night.

During the morning on Monday April 30th, I joined a panel comparing the current comics market trends and presenting the findings of Comicon’s second survey of the past year’s comics publishing in Italy. More of that anon. My last evening was spent at the Institut Français who screened a tribute documentary about Moebius and staged a small-scale but intriguing gallery show of comics and illustrations by Killoffer from L’Association. Made up mostly of originals, it included some of his unpublished art, such as a witty set of desert islands filled with the band Led Zeppelin, and some works in progress, notably some striking pages from Hypnotisation, written by Pacome Thiellement. Dotted round the walls and frames were little repros of his multiple self-portraits from 676 Apparitions of Killoffer, although there were no originals from this masterpiece, because he has sold all of the pages. A delicious buffet rounded off the night outside under the palm trees in the balmy gardens of the Institut’s palatial grounds.

Napoli Comicon was an unforgettable experience, an Italian convention of truly world-class scale and quality, and a jubilant celebration of all forms of comics, undoubtedly with a bright future ahead of it.

Posted: May 6, 2012

With ‘grazie mille’ to Claudio Curcio & Luca Boschi for their generous invitation and hospitality, to Viola. Alexandra, Andrea, Giovanna & all the Comicon team, and to Luca Boschi & Peter Stanbury for their photos.


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Featured Books

Napoli Comicon Book

La Diabolika Astorina

Macchina Suprema

Canicola 11: China

Trama by Ratigher

Bladder Town! by Lise-Talami

Eccetto Topolino

Guido Buzzelli Catalogue

Alfredo Castelli Catalogue

Fumettisti d’invenzione!

Sweet Salgari by Bacilieri