Friday, August 16, 2013

Guilty Pleasures: Alan Mistero

He's StilI a Mistero to Me
I  don't know what attracts me to clunky Golden and Silver Age Italian comics. Maybe it's their novelty. Maybe it's the glimpses I get into another culture. Probably it's because I have no taste. Understand, there were great Italian comics during this period. But if I were writing about them I wouldn't be calling them "guilty pleasures," would I? From time to time I run across a series that is so completely loopy I can't resist it. This time it's Alan Mistero.

I recently acquired several copies of this mid-1960s western adventure. It was a weekly about the size of an American comic. Each issue ran 20 pages including the covers, which were printed on the same mediocre stock as the interior pages. A cover banner boasted the book was "in color," but initially only the cover and eight inside pages were in color. The rest  were in black and white. Later the cover alone was in full color; the 16 interior pages were black-plus-red. The banner still said "in color" though.

The stories were written and drawn by "EsseGesse," which was the pseudonym for a three-man studio. Dario Guzzon, Pietro Sartoris and Giovanni Sinchetto were important figures in postwar Italian comics. Beginning in 1951 they produced a ton of popular work which was solidly mainstream in both style and content. Historians recognize EsseGesse's contributions to comics history, but no one has ever praised their intellectual depth. 

Alan Mistero is set in that generic Wild West which was home to so many Italian heroes. The title character is a brawny redhead who wears the classic cowboy boots, pants, and hat; but he doesn't wear a shirt. Instead he wears an open fringed vest. Alan wasn't the only Italian western hero to dress this way. Bonelli had a long-running frontiersman with the euphonious name Blek (another EsseGesse creation) who also favored  a vest over a bare torso. However instead of a Stetson Blek wore a coonskin cap. I'm sorry, I  think both versions of the style look silly.

Alan Mistero is a man of many talents which are often described in declamatory speeches from characters in the stories.

Of course he can outride, outfight, and outshoot anybody. He is also a master of disguise, a skill few cowboys can claim. Alan is followed around by two comical sidekicks. Polpetta (Meatball) and the Count come right out of the Registry of Standard Sidekicks.  Meatball is the Comical Fat Guy Who Always Gets in Trouble. Meatball has your typical Andy Devine build and isn't well-supplied with wits.

The Count is the Comical Foreign Intellectual. He's a boastful Frenchman who punctuates every other speech with "Tonerre!" or "Parbleu!" The Count, who is almost always smiling, has pronounced circles under his eyes. This plus his frequently manic behavior makes me wonder if he has a secret drug problem.

Alan lives outside Wilcoxtown in a camp at the end of an "impassible mountain trail." The camp is also home to "his Mohawk Indians." About a dozen Indians live in Alan's compound. I'm not sure why. In the issues I have all they do is say "Ugh!" and re-explain other characters' dialogue.

Everyone in Wilcoxtown is familiar with Alan, though he doesn't seem to have friends there. In the wider world few people recognize him, but everyone knows his reputation.

The overall cartoony approach of Alan Mistero's artwork carries over to the stories. Gunplay and fistfights are of the rollicking Captain Easy variety. There is no blood and little onscreen death. Lots of guns are shot from hands and though many a blow to the head is delivered, nary a concussion results. This fairy-tale setting makes it a little easier to accept sometimes far-fetched stories with plot holes big enough to drive a Conestoga through.

A unique feature is the prevalence of alcohol. An  early story begins with Meatball, stinking drunk, falling off  a wall; and a surprising amount of beer is consumed in 16 pages. One remembers how seldom 1960s American comics named the liquids imbibed in their saloons. It appears liquor may have been played down in later issues of Alan Mistero, but I don't have enough samples to tell for sure.

Since I don't know when to leave well enough alone, I'll step you through an Alan Mistero story in the next post. After all, each of you is a prospective fan!

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