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)


Anonymous said...

TAHNKS FOR YOUR SHARING~~~VERY NICE ........................................

Anonymous said...


Ronn Sutton said...

I'm surprised to hear about money trouble at Giolitti's studio because they were turning out so much work (allegedly up to 400 pages a month at one point!). Giolitti's 240-page western "TEX: Terra Senza Legge" is usually within arm's reach of my own drawing table. His work on King Kong, Jungle Jim and Wells Fargo are other particuliar favorites of mine. A tremendous, and largely unknown, talent. Even Al Williamson is a Giolitti fan.

---Ronn Sutton

Smurfswacker said...

Of course, Fulvia Caprioli was describing the studio in its earliest days. I imagine the "squalid" building and the studio's cash flow improved over time. Still, a lot of Studio G. work was for very cheap markets (Jacula and Oltretomba, for example), and as you know cheap clients are often slow-paying clients. Even in good times Studio G. may have had to dance between payments coming in and payments going out. I want to know more about its history.

As for Giolitti himself, I'd love to have a copy of "Terra Senza Legge." Like you I keep a stack of his work near at hand; among my favorites are his "Have Gun, Will Travel" and his later "Sgt. Preston." He did a great "Jungle Jim," too.

Anonymous said...

Poverty is stranger to industry.......................................................

Paul Chadwick said...

It was a pleasure going to the Giolitti site and reviewing some of the stories, particularly Star Trek.

I'm amused that he made the uniforms baggier than they were on the show, because he obviously (from his other work) loved drawing folds and wrinkles on clothing.

He does his best, but just can't nail Shatner, who is deucedly hard to draw, as you know. You did a better job when you did the ST newspaper strip.

Why did Dell comics have no panel borders? Has anyone ever mentioned the origin of this policy?

Smurfswacker said...

The no-borders thing started when Western Printing severed their ties with Dell and decided to go it alone as Gold Key. I don't remember where I read it, but someone said Western wanted the magazines to look more like storybooks and less like comics. They also made the balloons rectangular with rounded corners and reduced the number of words per balloon. I may be on the last point, since I never counted words, but to my eye the lettering is larger and the dialogue simpler in the earlier Gold Key comics.

The strangest Star Trek comic of all was the first issue, drawn by Nevio Zeccara, another Italian comics veteran. Everything was wrong...the female crew members even wore funny little hats.

Ronn Sutton said...

I remember reading that Giolitti never saw the Star Trek tv show when he was working on the comic because it wasn't being aired in Italy. So he was working from stills and had to make up an awful lot of stuff. His Star Trek work was never a favorite of mine.

But I love his work on Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, particuliarly an issue where a big game hunter stalks a whale. Both hunter and his drum-playing native bearers wear air tanks and bubble helmets (right over a pith helmet!). Crazy stuff, but wonderfully drawn.