Comics, a great way to power up your Italian


The Week of the Italian Language in the World is the perfect occasion to learn Italian with comic books

Happy 20th annual Week of the Italian Language in the World! This year’s theme is “Italian Between Word and Image: Graffiti, Illustrations, Comic Books,” and in this article you will discover some interesting facts about Italia comics, how they can help you improve your Italian, and how to find the right series for your language level.

Comics and Italian culture

Tex comic book
Tex Willer’s adventures started in 1948

If you are learning Italian or are just interested in Italian culture, you should definitely read some fumetti. The official origin of Italian comics dates back to 1908, when the first issue of Il Corriere dei Piccoli, a weekly magazine for children, was published, introducing its young readers to the
adventures of the little Bilbolbul. Since then, comic strips and books have grown increasingly popular. Every Italian knows the Giussani sisters (Diabolik), Silver (Lupo Alberto), Hugo Pratt (Corto Maltese) and their characters; their readers can belong to any social class, age group, or
literacy level. Many Italian cities regularly host trade fairs dedicated to comics and graphic novels, testifying to the widespread success of this particular genre. What makes fumetti so appealing is their ability to range from pure entertainment to complex social and political issues, providing a glimpse into Italian culture.

The benefits reading comics for Italian language learners

Topolino comics
An old Christmas issue of Topolino

The first advantage of reading a comic book is quite obvious: images provide the context you need when you’re trying to figure out the meaning of the words you’re reading – which for visual learners is an even bigger benefit. This is what makes comics much less intimidating than the walls of text of a novel. This eliminates lengthy descriptions, reducing your effort and making the experience more pleasant and motivating. Comics are also useful for the kind of language they offer, more colloquial than the formal usage often provided by novels and grammar books, and are rich in idioms, metaphors and references to Italian culture.

A comic book for every learner

Paperino comic book
Beginners can choose comic books for children such as Paperino

For beginners and young learners, Topolino and Paperino are two valid options. You might think that Topolino and Paperino are just the Italian names of American classics Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, but trust us when we tell you that their stories are absolutely Italian (learn more)! They are among the first stories that Italians read in their language, and many never stop reading these comics. Since they are primarily addressed to children, dialogues are short and simple. The language is witty but within reach, they lack complicated slang or puns, and use accessible grammar. If you think you can relate to the misfortunes of a blue wolf in love with a hen and you are on your way to intermediate level, you will enjoy Lupo Alberto, with its brilliant dialogues and funny plots. Compared with Topolino, it contains slightly longer sentences and its grammar is a bit more complex.

Diabolik comics
Eva, Diabolik’s partner

We suggest Tex and Diabolik for intermediate students. About a hero and an anti-hero respectively, they are still very successful despite their “age” – Tex was created in 1948 and the Diabolik was first published in 1962. Tex Willer is a cowboy who fights for good and the rights of the Native Americans, while Diabolik is a skilled thief and a master of disguise (learn more), almost always accompanied by his partner Eva Kant. Intermediate learners will appreciate these two series for their action and articulated dialogues. And if you’re a fan of detective and horror stories with a touch of action and humour, don’t miss Dylan Dog. For those who are unfamiliar, Dylan Dog is an unconventional detective with a complicated love life and multiple phobias who investigates paranormal phenomena in the dangerous streets of London (learn more). From a linguistic point of view, it is a challenging series that requires you to be familiar with hypothetic structures and follow the detective’s reasoning, but you’ll fall in love with the protagonist and the depiction of London’s cityscapes.

Corto Maltese comics
Corto Maltese is a restless and mysterious sea captain born in Malta in 1897

To approach Corto Maltese, you’ll need to master all Italian moods and tenses (including passato remoto and the dreaded congiuntivi and condizionali) as well as some literature and history because the adventures of this enigmatic sea captain take place in the early 20th century and put him in contact with famous historical figures. With a balanced mix of sophisticated language, literary references, intriguing plots and ideological reflections, we think that advanced learners will find this series a rewarding read (learn more). Any article about Italian comics must mention Zerocalcare, an authentic publishing phenomenon of the last decade. Zerocalcare is the alter-ego of its author, a cynical young man who analyses the flaws of modern society with biting humor and satire. The strips are full of wordplay, slang (curse words included) and cultural references that make them difficult to read unless your level is advanced. However, you should consider reading Zerocalcare if you are interested in understanding Italian contemporary society.

Are you ready to improve your Italian with your first (or next) favourite comic series? Dive right in, and let us know how you fare. What were your faves, and why?

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