Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alberto Giolitti, Artist

A Glimpse at Studio Giolitti
Italian artist Alberto Giolitti (1923-1993) was one of my earliest comic art influences. I didn't know his name, because he never signed anything, but I loved Giolitti's dramatic, realistic art on titles like Sgt. Preston, Turok, Indian Chief, and TV and movie adaptations. I followed his path from Dell to Gold Key (where I finally learned his name), studying and swiping his figures. (At right, photo of Alberto Giolitti)

Giolitti had a long, remarkable career which took him from Italy to Argentina to the United States, then back to Italy where he set up a comic art studio. The operation grew to employ more than fifty artists, producing comics for Germany, England, France, the USA, and Italy.

Rather than repeat Giolitti's biography, I strongly recommend the official Alberto Giolitti website, maintained by his friend and co-worker Angelo Todaro as a tribute to this influential artist. The site not only has complete biographical information but also a gallery of comic stories and original art that Giolitti produced during his career. (At left, Sgt. Preston from 1954)

I'm interested in the Giolitti art studio because I'd seen many of its products over the years without knowing where they had come from. Studio work appeared in the second German Perry Rhodan series, countless English digest-size war comics and comic papers, the Whitman Starstream s-f series, and even the notorious Italian erotic comics like Oltretomba and Jacula.

Studio Giolitti opened when the artist returned from America in 1962. It seems to have petered out around 1989--Todaro is vague on this point. About the time the studio opened, Il Vittorioso, the long-running youth paper backed by the Catholic church, went belly up. A large group of veteran creative people were suddenly out of a job; many found employment with Giolitti.

Recently I obtained one of ANAF's limited edition reprint books, La Pattuglia Bianca ("The White Patrol"), collecting a Mountie series Franco Caprioli drew for France through the Giolitti studio. Caprioli was one of the legends of Il Vittorioso, and deserves a hundred articles all to himself. Gianni Brunoro interviewed the artist's daughter Fulvia for the book's introduction. Her father had always freelanced from home, so as a girl Fulvia had shared the ups and downs of the artist's career. In her interview Fulvia Caprioli gives a snapshot of Studio Giolitti in its early days. I've translated the relevant parts for you Anglophones out there. I think you'll find it interesting. (At right, a page from Turok, Son of Stone)

Ms. Caprioli begins with the failure of Il Vittorioso.

"The 1960s were really 'critical' years for our family (and perhaps for similar families of 'old guard' Italian artists). Conflict was in the air, a crisis of certain values upon which, whether they believed them or not, older generations--among them the one to which Papa belonged--had based their lives. The wind of 'revolution' penetrated even art and comics. The world was changing rapidly, technology was advancing, everyone was getting richer. And we were always getting poorer."

(At left, a prewar Il Vittorioso with Kurt Caesar art)

"In 1964, Il Vittorioso was in bad shape; it was going to shut down, so many of the paper's artists, among them Ruggero Giovannini, Renato Polese and others, presented themselves to the 'Graphic Studio of Alberto Giolitti' (as well as the editors of various newspapers, like Il Giornalino) looking for work. Papa went there, too, probably tipped off by one of his colleagues. The main reason my father accepted this work is that he was 'unemployed,' like all the other Il Vittorioso artists."

Ms. Caprioli mentions Giolitti's wife of many years, Joan, whom the artist had met while working in America. Mrs. Giolitti seems to have been the studio's business manager. It seems that Studio Giolitti shared one characteristic with many other art shops: lack of money.

"Alberto Giolitti had an art studio on the Via della Magliana, in Rome, where several other Il Vittorioso artists were working, mostly for the foreign market: France, England and Germany. Alberto Giolitti had married an American, who functioned as 'manager' and maintained the business relationship with the foreign publishers, particularly in England. I would go to the studio with Papa when he had to turn in his work. It was a somewhat squalid place, on the outskirts of town; there were still farms around it.

"I remember Alberto Giolitti well: the classic 'Romano,' dark, not too tall, with a lively face, a bit superficial. His father had the famous 'Gelateria Giolitti' in Rome. I also recall that many times Giolitti sent Papa home without having paid him. In fact once--and perhaps I shouldn't say this, but it's the absolute truth--we returned home on foot (hours and hours of walking!) because Giolitti hadn't paid Papa, and we didn't even have the money to take the bus. Stories of times gone by, almost 'unbelievable,' but true all the same."

Giolitti asked Caprioli to work at the Rome studio, but the artist preferred to stay at home. Working for a studio rather than a publisher was a difficult transition for Caprioli, who always took a very personal interest in his art.

"When he was doing stories for France, he continued to work as he always had, from home. Certainly, he missed the direct contact with the publisher because, even though he talked with Miss Ratier [the French editor] on the telephone, everything else was done through Giolitti. He never even had the satisfaction of seeing his work in print. You can imagine what it did to the soul of an artist like my father, to see his work, executed with such love and care, mysteriously disappear into the 'exterior,' without ever knowing anything about it: whether the readers liked it, and so on. The pages paid very little."

Unlike American shops of the forties, which broke jobs into assembly-line pieces, Studio Giolitti seems to have followed the European tradition of assigning artists jobs which they produced alone. Of course this doesn't mean the artist didn't sometimes use assistants. However the shop-style system of several artists working on a single page seems to have been rare.

Brunoro asked Fulvio Caprioli how Giolitti came to select her father to draw The White Patrol.

"Papa was already well known and appreciated in France and other foreign countries. His stories were even reprinted in Siam! ... The second reason was that Papa was fluent in French, which Giolitti wasn't. Perhaps he chose my father thinking that Papa would get on well with the scripts, which were sent in the original language."

Alberto Giolitti died in 1993. He was working till the very end, leaving behind an unfinished Tex story for Bonelli. A long list of artists, both old-timers and newcomers, had passed through Studio Giolitti's doors. The once-anonymous artist had impacted comic art in half a dozen countries. (At right, Tex by Giolitti)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stuff I've Done--2

Health Consequences of Comics

It was 1959. I was ten years old, happy, and healthy. Especially happy, because I was clutching the latest issue of Cosmo, the Merry Martian. This offbeat comedy title had captured my young heart. I was sure it was the funniest comic I'd ever read. As soon as I got home from the drugstore, I fled to my favorite reading room (the bathroom) and while doing the ol' Number 2 I spread the comic on the floor in front of me so I could savor every panel.

Then it happened. I wish I remembered what the joke was that set me off. All I remember is letting out a huge explosion of laughter. And I barfed.

Like I said, I was healthy. There was no logical reason I should barf. But barf I did, and my mirth became heartbreak. There on the floor before me was my Cosmo comic under a big pile of vomit. I would never know how the story turned out. I left the comic lying there while I cleaned up, then I carefully rolled it up. Holding the book at arm's length I carried it outside and dropped it sadly into the trash can.

Of course Mom asked me what happened. "I threw up on my Cosmo, the Merry Martian comic," I replied truthfully.

Mom valiantly tried to find something wrong with me, but I was completely symptom-free. It was a one-time event. I never again laughed so hard that I barfed. It must have been something about that comic.

[Sidebar: Cosmo is one of those pleasures that was really great when I was ten years old. It didn't age well. At my advanced age I still chortle over Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck adventures, but when I read a reprinted Cosmo story, I was disappointed at how lame it was. Oh, well, at least my health's safe.]

Image stolen from Don Markstein's Toonpedia.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Corriere dei Piccoli

A window onto a past window onto the past
This weekend I was excited to receive a gift of 38 tearsheets from Corriere dei Piccoli, the legendary children's supplement to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. A friend had owned them forever, forgetting just where they came from; having no idea what to do with them, he gave them to me! From hints in the articles I gather they were originally published in late 1933 and perhaps early 1934.

The pages were from two series of educational color pages illustrated by an artist whose signature I can't make out. The first series, "Come vestivano" ("How They Dressed"), pictured costumes from different regions and historical periods. Most of the subjects were Italian, though topics included things like "Costumes of the French Revolution" and "Costumes of Characters in The Three Musketeers." The example below presents Italian dress in the late 1300s. The text characterizes the "trecento" as having planted the seeds of modern united Italy. The drawings are rather nice and are given plenty of space.
The other series, closely related to the first, was "L'oriente favoloso" ("The Fabulous East"). Like the first series the pictures concentrated on costuming. The text presented general information about various Asian countries and their culture. This example discusses India, with an emphasis on how the caste system creates strife between classes and ethnic groups.The reverse sides of these pages provide an interesting glimpse into Italy of the 1930s. The pages are divided between a long article on some kid-related subject (this one is about "The World of Toys") and display ads. The ads are a mixed bag: many are directed at the kids themselves, but most seem to be aimed at their parents. In the sample below we find ads for a meat extract, a salt solution for soaking tired feet, a dentifrice (available as liquid, paste or powder), and a supplier of uniforms for the several Fascist youth organizations (flags and badges, too!).I have a particular fondness for Corriere dei Piccoli (roughly, The Children's Courier), because through it I was introduced to the world of European comics. In the late 1960s an Italian deli near my university stocked a handful of Italian magazines, among them CdP. Though I didn't know it, by that time CdP was in its final decline after running over half a century (the supplement began in 1908). It had long ago transformed from a newspaper supplement into a glossy weekly magazine of some 60 pages. Most of its comics were translations of Belgian Tintin features: Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Michel Vaillant, etc. Being ignorant, I assumed at first these were Italian series. Only later did I discover the Belgian connection. 48-page adventures were serialized several pages per week. Occasionally a special issue would run a long story in its entirety; for example an adaptation of The Great Locomotive Chase by Argentinian cartoonist Arturo del Castillo.

Though a minority, original Italian material appeared, too. It was in CdP that I first encountered Aldo di Gennaro, Giorgio Trevisan, irrepressible Benito Jacovitti, and above all the incredible Dino Battaglia. Even Hugo Pratt popped up from time to time, though I didn't appreciate him until later when I discovered Corto Maltese.

During the time I was reading Corriere dei Piccoli signs of change appeared. The biggest change came in 1972 following a reader referendum. The venerable magazine's title was changed to Corriere dei Ragazzi. In 1908, piccoli, like its English equivalent children, was commonly applied to all pre-teens. But by the 1970s youths found the term demeaning. Ragazzi carried a connotation similar to kids in English. (Interestingly, children/kids went through a similar process in America about the same time.) Interior pages began appearing in black plus one color rather than full color. Going through a succession of editors, cost-cutting, and format changes, CdR fi
nally limped to a conclusion in 1985. By that time I'd lost track of it.

Here's to dear old Corriere dei Piccoli, to which I owe a great debt...if only for introducing me to Battaglia and Jacovitti. As for also introducing me to I Puffi... well, we can't win 'em all.