« I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar. » — Stephen King
Farcical ‘Wild West’ comic strips may be a dime a dozen, but despite the undeniable hoariness of the premise, a number of them are inevitably outstanding. To name but a few, there’s been Maurice ‘Morris’ De Bevere‘s Lucky Luke (1946); Basil Wolverton‘s Bingbang Buster (1949); Harvey Kurtzman‘s Pot-Shot Pete (Sheriff of Yucca-Pucca Gulch) (1950); Jean-Claude Poirier‘s Horace, cheval de l’Ouest (1970); Jean ‘Cézard’ César‘s Billy Bonbon (1973); and today’s cowboy in the spotlight, Benito Jacovitti‘s Cocco Bill (1957).
Cocco Bill was introduced in the pages of Il Giorno dei Ragazzi (1957-68), “originally intended as the Italian version of the British children’s periodical Eagle“. After Il Giorno’s demise, Cocco Bill shifted his sagebrush shenanigans to the venerable Corriere dei Piccoli (1908-95).
With Wolverton, Jacovitti (1923 – 1997) shares an animist sort of predilection for cramming every square centimetre of the panel with absurdist details, facetious sound effects, recurring motifs and symbols and, naturally, gags. It’s a most noble cartooning tradition that runs the course of the medium’s history, from Bill Holman through Kurtzman and Will Elder (chicken fat!) and merrily endures to this day in Dan Piraro and Wayno‘s oft-sublime Bizarro.
Here’s a two-page ambush sequence that gives you a sense of how handy — and deadly — our protagonist is with a pair of irons.
Last month, my co-admin ds reported, in the course of her spotlight on Massimo Mattioli, that Jacovitti is said to be the Italian cartoonist best known internationally. I have no idea how such popularity is measured, but I do enjoy the idea of a palmarès headed by cartoonists I love, for once. I do, however, suspect that the global reach of animation frequently contributes more to a cartoonist’s name recognition than does his printed work (think Guillermo Mordillo). Case in point: while Cocco Bill strips have been translated and reprinted in several countries, these efforts have been, more often than not, patchy and sporadic. On the other hand, the Cocco Bill TV series (2000-04) ran a healthy 104 episodes. And it looks great, which didn’t hurt. Check out the pilot episode, ‘Cocco Augh‘. For a creator, it’s assuredly a classier calling card than a bunch of sordid sex ‘comedies’.
I’d like to dedicate this post to the fond memory of a departed cartooning colleague, Patrick ‘Henriette Valium’ Henley (1959-2021), since Cocco Bill was, I’ve heard tell, his favourite bédé.