Sitting Pretty: Averardo Ciriello’s Maghella

« Italy hasn’t had a government since Mussolini. » — Richard M. Nixon

Today, let’s bask in some purely visual glory. Let’s take a gander at a small corner of the mind-boggling œuvre of Averardo Ciriello (1918 – 2016). As you can see from these dates, he was a long-lived fellow, and I’m delighted to report that he was healthy, hearty and active well into his nineties.

He was one of those illustrators who truly delighted in their craft, and so produced an enormous body of work that bore every sign of inspiration and enthusiasm. Since my plan is to focus on a specific period of his career, I’ll skip most of his early work — though it’s well worth returning to — and give you a couple of famous pieces to give you as sense of his success and importance in his field.

It’s fair to say that Ciriello excelled across the board, likenesses included. This is the Italian poster for 1956’s Forbidden Planet.
And this one for 1965’s Bond adventure Thunderball. Since the Bond movies were as much Italian as British production (if not moreso), it’s no surprise that producer Cubby Broccoli did not scrimp, tapping Ciriello for the series’ Italian promotional campaign.

Now for the heart of it: I frankly marvel at Ciriello’s willingness to provide hundreds of cover paintings for cheap, mass market erotica fumetti. The way I see it, it’s evidence that he greatly enjoyed the assignment, and that the money was but a secondary concern at best. We’ve briefly touched upon the Maghella series (in our all-time most popular post, as it happens), but here’s some more.

This is Maghella no. 1 (Nov. 1974, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 15 (Oct. 1975, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 22 (Mar. 1976, Elvifrance). ‘Gode’, aside from being a city in Ethiopia and a species of fish, is the abbreviation of godemichet, which is to say… a dildo.
This is Maghella no. 24 (Apr. 1976, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 41 (Apr. 1977, Elvifrance). Since you’re bound to ask, here’s a recipe for Salade russe, which actual Russians call ‘Salade Olivier‘. DS made it for lunch a couple of days ago, and it was delicious.
This is Maghella no. 42 (May 1977, Elvifrance). Unlike most artists specialising in ‘erotica’, Ciriello could draw anything, in any style, and effortlessly mix sensuality with comedy with horror with angst. A true master — sorry, maestro.
This is Maghella no. 66 (Jan. 1979, Elvifrance).
This is Maghella no. 77 (Feb. 1980, Elvifrance). I assure you, those pun-based titles are utterly untranslatable.
Censorship inevitably got into the act. Here’s one of several instances, the before (with imposed editorial revision indicated) and after of Maghella no. 110 (Sept. 1978, Publistrip); said censorship seems to have driven up the cover price, to boot. This precious bit of info gleaned from a lovely monograph of the artist, Gianni Brunoro and Franco Giacomini’s Ciriello: Una Vita per l’illustratione (2016, Edizioni Di).

-RG

Salami Western: Benito Jacovitti’s Cocco Bill

« 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).

This is 7 fois mouche (1975, JC Lattès, France), originally serialised in Corriere dei Piccoli as “Cocco Bill fa sette più”, 1968-69. In Italy, it was actually number twenty in the series.

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.

The sign says: “Do not trample the cacti“.
The surviving bushwacker is put out of his misery by the gang’s second-in-command, the Chaplinesque Kruel; you know he’s a villain of substance because he rides a double horse. Pray note the lovely SALOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON sign with its behatted snake carvings.
Meet hired guns the Kuknass Brothers: Brown, White, Green, Black, Yellow, Blue and Red, of course. Like the idea, Quentin? Note the extra digits (the better to count with, panel five). It’s easy to imagine Jacovitti having some influence on Mad’s Don Martin
In the manner of many a pure-hearted cowboy, Cocco Bill’s brew of choice is alcohol-free; his poison is chamomile tea, a drink with numerous health benefits! With sugar and lemon, but hold the paprika, thank you! Note: Don’t Shoot the Piano Player!
This is Sur les rails (1975, JC Lattès, France), originally serialised in Corriere dei Piccoli as “Cocco Bill sulle rotaie”, 1969. In Italy, it was number twenty-one in the series.
The train meets the stagecoach, and how! A page from Sur les rails.

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.

-RG

Buon compleanno, Gianni De Luca!

« Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. »

On the ninety-first anniversary of his birth, we take the opportunity to salute fumetti gran maestro Gianni De Luca (b. January 25, 1927; d. June 6, 1991)… and to share some of the striking images he crafted. In comics, the term « innovative » has been applied far too liberally, all too often in ignorance. In the case of of Mr. De Luca, no hyperbole is involved, I assure you.

I first came upon his work in the mid-70s, through my parent-sponsored subscription to the québécois catholic youth magazine Vidéo-Presse (1971-1995), which was kind of didactic, I suppose, but still quite fun. The publisher had licensed much of its comics content from Italy, and it was definitely high-toned stuff, such as adaptations of Jules Verne novels. I recall « L’Île mystérieuse » being among them. Accustomed as I was to the madcap and hyperkinetic tone of the dominant Franco-Belgian and American schools, the Verne stuff, while clearly well-executed, seemed a bit languid and wan.

However, this feature was followed by, as fate would have it, the bane of any schoolboy*, Shakespeare adaptations. But wait… these were MIND-BLOWING. Decades later, I became fast friends with another cartoonist roughly my age, and he’d had the very same epiphany with De Luca’s Hamlet. Other than that, I’ve never really met anyone familiar with the work. Even locating a copy was a bit of an ordeal, but I managed to snag, a few years ago, a handsome volume gathering Hamlet and La tempête (The Tempest), published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1980.

Hamlet19A
Hamlet, page eighteen. Adaptation by Barbara Graille and lettering by Roberto Roquemartine. Colours presumably by De Luca himself, as the credits are mute on that point.

Hamlet22A
Hamlet, page twenty-three.

Tempête57A
La tempête, page five.

Tempête64A
La tempête, page twelve.

I don’t believe there’s any De Luca out there in the English language… save for one happy exception: UK publisher Running PressThe Mammoth Book of Crime Comics, discerningly edited by critic Paul Gravett**, contains « Strada », a superior entry in writer Gian Luigi Gonano and De Luca’s ‘Il Commissario Spada‘ series (1970-1982). « The series was groundbreaking in many ways, since it introduced subjects like violence, organized crime, satanic sects, terrorists and murderers to the pages of a Catholic magazine for young readers, that was at the time mainly distributed in parishes. »

*To be fair, we never studied Shakespeare in school.

**Speaking of Mr. Gravett, he happened to write an illuminating essay on De Luca’s Hamlet: http://www.paulgravett.com/articles/article/gianni_de_luca_hamlet

-RG