An image is worth a thousand words

To honor the theme of the Week of the Italian Language in the World, Between Image and Word, we interviewed celebrated comic book author and illustrator Emiliano Mammucari.

Sketchbook for Nero, by Emiliano Mammucari for Bonelli
Sketchbook of Nero for Bonelli

The cultural value of Italian comics. Which Italian comics would you recommend to our readers so that they can better understand our culture, and why?

Not everyone knows that Italy is one of the most established producers of comics in the world, together with Japan, the United States, and France. Our production is notable in terms of quantity and editorial initiatives. Lately, comics have acquired new narrative outlets, and are available in bookstores as well. Finding titles of comic novels among the nominees for literary awards is no longer unusual. Gipi, for example, was nominated for the Strega Award with “Momenti straordinari con applausi finti”— a profound and touching book. I would start by recommending this one because it is a good example of the expressive potential of contemporary comics. Many good titles came out in the last few years. I think of “Sweet Salgari” by Paolo Bacilieri, which is about the author of Sandokan’s last years (also known as Emilio Salgari). “Kobane Calling” by Zerocalcare, which documents the war between the Kurds and the Islamic State. “Salvezza” by Marco Rizzo and Lelio Bonaccorso, who told their experience on the NGO rescue boat “Aquarius,” which was stuck in the Mediterranean with 600 migrants on board. “Celestia” by Manuele Fior is a great story, too. Also, why not, I would recommend some old classics: “Tutto cominciò da un’estate Indiana,” by Hugo Pratt and Milo Manara and “Sharaz-de” by Sergio Toppi. In addition to these titles, I would recommend any title by Dino Battaglia. And, last but not least, Hugo Pratt’s “La ballata del mare salato,” which is the first story featuring Corto Maltese. After all, Umberto Eco used to say, “If I’m in the mood for fun, I read Hegel; if I’m in the mood for an engaged reading, I read Corto Maltese.”

Povero Pinocchio Cover. @Alessandro Bilotta, Emiliano Mammucari. 2020
Povero Pinocchio Cover @Alessandro Bilotta, Emiliano Mammucari. 2020

What has your career been like?

I started very early, when I was 23, with a comic titled “Povero Pinocchio” about the less known aspects of Collodi’s tale. Then I drew my first issue of the popular series “John Doe” and I began collaborating with Sergio Bonelli Editore: first with the series “Napoleone”, then with “Jan Dix” and “Caravan.” In 2013, I published “Orfani,” the first color comic series by this publisher, which went on for six years. In 2015, I drew “La nuova alba dei morti viventi,” a remake of the first issue of Dylan Dog. I am currently working on a new series titled NERO, which is the story of an
Arabic warrior during the Crusades. It will be released next year.

Copertina di Zardo, by Tiziano Sclavi; Emiliano Mammucari
Copertina Zardo, by Tiziano Sclavi; Emiliano Mammucari

Is it correct to say that comics are a genre for younger readers while graphic novels are meant for a more adult public? What are the differences between the two?

I wouldn’t talk about genres. Comics are a language that is suitable for every kind of narrative genre, while ‘graphic novel’ is a merely technical definition and it refers to a publishing format. Graphic novels originated approximately in the 70s and are having moment now because they allow for experimenting with new publishing formulas that are modern and sleek. Graphic novels are perfect for general bookstores, in that
they can intercept a public that does not usually read comics.
At times, this definition has also acquired an annoyingly ‘radical chic’ meaning. It is a good definition to legitimize comics in more sophisticated cultural circles; it is the right word to detach comics from the infamous label of childish product.

image Lezioni spirituali per giovani fumettari
Lezioni spirituali per giovani fumettari, per Star Comics

Comics and new media. How do comics adapt to the digital world and what possibilities do the new media offer?

This is a difficult question. If we talk about the mix of different media, we all saw, from 2005 onward, the creation of Marvel Cinematic Universe and then DC Extended Universe. Comics have ‘invaded’ cinema and their economic impact has been massive. Media are more and more interconnected. Big entertainment platforms are purchasing intellectual properties — that is, ideas that move away from their original medium so that they move to new media. The fortunate thing about comics is that they are a ‘poor’ medium, if you will. Technically, all you need to create a fictional world is a pencil and a piece of paper. This is what makes comics so sleek and current that even today, 100 years after their birth, they have become a mature language.

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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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