Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dino Battaglia

Death and the Gambler

"Death and the Gambler" is one of my favorite short stories illustrated by Dino Battaglia, a giant of Italian comic art. It appeared in Corriere dei Piccoli in the late 1960s, and was the first of a series of short-story adaptations Battaglia illustrated. Battagtlia's unique style, with scratchboard textures cloaking his lovingly-detailed world in mist, perfectly complements Prosper Merimee's enjoyable fable set in a world in which the old pagan gods coexist with Catholic Christianity. I love the story as much as I do the art.

By the way, this series also offered Battaglia the opportunity to show his very personal and very effective color technique. I scanned these pages from tearsheets of the original CdP printing. After experimentation I decided not to attempt to "whiten the pages" because all my efforts spoiled Battaglia's color. So here it is yellowed pages and all.

Just in case you wonder as I did the first time I read the story, the bearded guy on the second page is Saint Peter.

What I like about the story is that Federigo, not a bad man at heart, manages to live both the good life and the good afterlife. He's one of those merry tricksters you read about in analyses of myths...not many people can con the Big Man himself!

I don't know if Merimee was first to use the Death-up-a-tree gimmick, but the idea's reappeared several times since. For example in the 1939 movie On Borrowed Time, Lionel Barrymore traps Death in the backyard apple tree using the same subterfuge Federigo uses.


fortunato said...

Writer-adapter Piero Selva was a nom de plume of Mino Milani

Smurfswacker said...

Thank you for that information, Fortunato; I'll add it to the main article (with a credit of course).

Peter Bangs said...

This is the kind of comic I want to read, something that treads that mid ground between self indulgent superhero tosh and art comics. There's too little stuff like this being produced now, in english anyway, which is daft because it has the potential to reach that mythic creature, the casual reader.

Where did the translation appear? I assume Corriere dei Piccoli was all in Italian.

Smurfswacker said...

Peter, glad you liked it.

The translation is mine; I did it hoping to get the story known more widely. You saw it here first!

matt dicke said...

awesome. i think this is the first Battaglia scanlation i have seen. Hope this sparks some more. His Dectivive Coke work is fantasitic.
Thanks for posting this.

matt dicke said...

thought this might interest some. your post inspired me a bit to see if there was more info about Battaglia's technique. I always wondered if those grey textures were done with sponges and they are
thanks to google books:

Smurfswacker said...

Thanks for the article links, Matt. The info on the S.I. artists was of great interest.

As near as I've been able to tell Battaglia worked on scratchboard or some other clay-surface board. He showed greater control over his strokes than he would have if he'd scratched into inked bristol board with a blade.

Once I got an interesting pseudo-Battaglia look by drawing with a white crayon, then inking over it. After the ink dried it rubbed off the crayon lines, leaving some interesting grayish strokes. However wax crayons are lumpy and hard to control. Liquid maskoid is more precise but the masked areas always have sharp edges. Crayons give soft edges and nice accidental tonal variations.