Golden Age, Italian Style
I want to give you a tour one of my favorite "orphan" magazines. For all I know Europe is crawling with these things, but this is the only copy I've found of the famous, super-influential Italian weekly paper Topolino. A gift from my amico Antonio, it dates from 25 July 1940. It's a great issue, too. One can easily see why Italian kids loved its combination of Mickey Mouse, disguised American adventure strips, and high-quality Italian content.
The paper is tabloid sized, 16 pages long. It shows its age with a prominent fold and tattered edges (not to mention patches). It leads off with five colorized Mickey Mouse dailies under the title "Topolino e il selvaggio giovedi'" (Mickey and the Savage, Thursday). Floyd Gottfredson looks good in color.
The second page (not pictured) offers the part 14 of a text serial, "La casina in riva al mare" (The Cottage on the River to the Sea) illustrated by Bernardo Leporini. Leporini, an illustrator since the late 1920s, went on to a long a distinguished career in Italian comics. He retired in 1970 and spent his remaining 22 years painting.
There's also a column with short patriotic stories and a box identifying editor Federico Pedrocchi, also a prolific comics writer, as we're about to see.
Page 3 is in black-and-white. It presents the first American import, Brick Bradford. But these were the days when Mussolini frowned on invaders from overseas (except for Mickey Mouse!). Thus Brick has become Giorgio Ventura. William Ritt and Clarence Gray have metamorphosed into "Amadeo Martini." The story is "The Fortress of Alamut."
Page 4, also b&w, offers chapter 11 of one of my favorites, Il polo V (The V-Pole). This was the second story to feature the mad scientist Virus.Virus' inventions include a device which captures the essence of people on a phonograph record so they can be resurrected when the record is played back. In his first adventure Virus used the device to bring Egyptian mummies back to life. This time around he's invented "the V-Pole," a third pole between positive and negative, which generates a force that repels all matter. Though the story wanders, it's a lot of fun. The artwork, the best in this paper, is by Walter Molino, a classically-trained artist who later painted many fine illustrations. His characterizations really bring the strip to life. The writer is the aforementioned signor Pedrocchi.
On page 5, a color page, we meet Gino and Gianni, popular heroes of a series of jungle adventures. Pedrocchi scripted again. The art is a solid job by Rino Albertarelli, yet another big name in Italian comics. Among his famous features was the fascinating Faust, which I'll have to sample sometime. In chapter 4 of "Le grandi caccie di Gino e Gianni" (Gino and Johnny's Great Hunts) our homegrown Tim Tyler and Spud are on the trail of a giant white lion.
Page 6 (not pictured) prints readers' letters and artwork. Some of the drawings are pretty good. I looked for famous names but I didn't recognize any.
Page 7 wraps up the story "Saturnino Farandola contro (vs) Fileas Fogg." This half-realistic half-cartoony strip doesn't look like much, though Saturnino Farandola was a popular character. Pedrocchi does the script once again. From the ho-hum artwork you'd never guess that Pier Lorenzo de Vita was an extremely versatile illustrator who handled both realistic and funny-animal styles with brio. In the latter part of his career he became a top-notch artist for Italy's Disney comics.
The left side of the center spread offers chapter 14 of a color adaptation of Emilio Salgari's "La caduta di un impero" (Fall of an Empire). Salgari's novels featuring Sandokan, a heroic Malaysian pirate, remain extremely popular in Europe, though they never caught on in the U.S. The script is by Guido Mellini. Illustrator Guido Moroni-Celsi was famous for his work on these Salgari adaptations. I find his work pleasant, but a bit stiff.
The right hand side of the spread brings back Bernardo Leporini, this time in color. "La capitana del sette fraris" is a sequel to "Un Gentiluomo di sedici anni" (A Gentleman of Sixteen Years), one of Rino Albertarelli's noted features. Pedrocchi scripts again. The story is a political intrigue set in 1718. I don't know much about it. Leporini's panels are well-composed and combine with the coloring to create a nice atmospheric feeling.
Page 10 (not pictured) prints recaps of earlier chapters of the various serials. There's an ad pushing a magazine of war stories, including "Il mozzo del sommergibile" (Cabin Boy on a Submarine), one of Kurt Caesar's early serials.
Page 11 presents chapter 11 of a Segar Popeye story. Here it's titled "Il Monarca di Roccaverza" (Monarch of Roccaverza). At least they didn't give Segar a fake name...they simply eliminated his credit altogether.
Emilio Salgari returns on page 12. "La scotennatrice" (I don't know what it means) is a western adapted by Mellini and illustrated by Albertarelli. It's a strange page. The figures are dwarfed by the landscape. The camera stays so far back we can barely make out their faces. We don't develop any interest in the characters, but those sure are nice backgrounds.
On page 13 is my favorite re-branded import. "Le perle dei mari del sud" (Pearls of the South Seas) is an Ella Cinders continuity. While crossing the Atlantic, artist Charlie Plumb was lost overboard...while writer William Conselman was resurrected as Guglielmo Conselli! On the same page is a Henry strip, with the bald boy renamed Rico...and in this incarnation he speaks. An advertisement urges us to read "The Little Colonials" in the pages of Paperino. But Mario and Furio are none other than Tim Tyler and Spud again. For characters who never climbed out of the basement in the States, those guys did pretty well in Europe.
Along with a Pluto strip (not pictured), page 14 features a chapter of "Avventure di Matteo Garrese" (Adventures of Matteo Garrese) by Aldo Carreni. This western seems to be the only thing Carreni ever did. The InDUCKS database knows nothing about him. Could this be an American strip I don't recognize?
Page 15 (not shown) is divided between a b&w Mickey strip and a half-page of puzzles.
Bringing up the rear is a beautiful episode of "Il solitario dei Sakya" (Hermit of the Sakyas), a complicated adventure seet in China and Tibet. Once more Federico Pedrocchi handles the scripting. The artwork is a lovely job by another of my favorites, Antonio Canale. Instead of the dozen panels on the other story pages, this one has only six. Canale takes full advantage of the extra space.
Antonio Canale is best known today for his work on the Phantom-inspired masked hero Amok, launched in 1946. But Canale already had a long career behind him by then. Despite Amok's charm--and I do like Amok--"Tony Chan's" art on that series paled in comparison to his pre-WWII work on features like "Il solitario dei Sakya" and "Cabiria."
Well, that's my stroll through Topolino. It probably doesn't tell anyone anything they didn't already know, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this famous paper and its stable of noted creators. It was indeed the Golden Age of Italian comics.