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.