Dante in comics: a long history of author’s strips

His catabasis to the Underworld and his ascent to Heaven have unleashed the imagination of many pencils and colors who have seen in the Supreme Poet an icon suitable for all times. We find it thus in Journey to Hell of Mickey Mouse or ne The ruin in Comedy by Benito Jacovitti, up to the present day on the Facebook satire page Feudalism & Freedom, just to name a few examples.

The story of how Dante Alighieri was portrayed, including a gallery of unpublished plates, is told in the book To review the china. Dante in Italian comics (and cartoons) from the 19th to the 21st century, recently published by Ca ‘Foscari editions, edited by Leonardo Canova, PhD student in Italian Studies at the University of Pisa, and by Paolo Rigo, research fellow at Roma Tre. For the first time, a collection of essays, written by authors and authors, retraces Dante’s journey in the imagination of those who were inspired by the Divine Comedy, often recounting the cultural atmosphere of a certain historical period. To make culture accessible to all, Ca ‘Foscari has also made the volume available for free on the university website.

“The idea was born in 2020 when I was invited to Ankara to talk about Dante,” says Canova, a fan of comics. “On that occasion, the project of creating a volume that dealt with the subject in depth, involving the experts of the sector, made its way.” Dante’s humanity, his curiosity and his need for reason, embodied by Virgil, to face fears, have always been the key to capturing the empathy of generations of readers. “Comics with Dante’s characterization” explains the scholar Stefano Jossa in the preface “put the horizon of literature, still largely endowed with prestige in Western societies, in a mass perspective that requires transformations and adaptations of the collective imagination in order to reinterpreting both tradition and contemporaneity “.

Federico Rossi della Normale di Pisa tells how Dante’s fortune began in a patriotic and Risorgimento key in the illustrated periodicals of the late nineteenth century. In the magazine Street lamp, founded by Carlo Collodi, the Divine Comedy is borrowed for the first time for political satire. In fact, between 1860 and 1865, Mata, the stage name of Adolfo Matarelli, depicts the damned of Hell with the caricatured features of the politicians and clergy famous at that time, such as Charon with the features of Pius IX. The first case of parody dates back to the years preceding the Great War, as shown by the drawings by Giovanni Battista Galizzi for the Circolo Artistico of Bergamo where Virgil is represented so robust as to put Charon’s boat at risk.

After Italy entered the war, Gino Gamerra’s pencil draws in the first of the five issues of The human Tragedy a zeppelin, the airship conceived in those years and used largely for war operations, with this caption: “The Poet is on the edge of the ravine from which a brand new monster is swimming up through the air: it is the Count Zeppelin himself. ‘ Under Fascism satire is reduced because the famous magazines The Yellow Beak And The donkey are closed, but we still find Dante in 1936 in theArcibertoldo where, in the first volume The lives of illustrious men, there is a vignette which, on the model of the 1883 painting Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday, Molina’s hand creates a hilarious scene with a sensual Beatrice in the latest fashion who, turning to the Poet, tells him: «You always swear to me that you love me, but I already know that you are doing the Comedy».

From irony we pass “to the imaginative vocation” of the Divine Comedy. Valentina Rovere, philologist at the University of Helsinki, remembers the success of the work of the prodigious Gustave Doré who, at the age of 29, begins to create what will become the 136 famous engravings for the Divine Comedy, published by the publisher Hachette. The work will have a disruptive impact on the public. “In 1868, the newly born Milanese publishing house Sonzogno printed the overall edition of the Divine Comedy” explains Rovere. “For Italy these are not just any years: they are the years in which the dream of the Risorgimento is taking shape, the years of Unity, first political and then social, cultural, linguistic and therefore they are the years in which an identity is sought it is also symbolic and ideal and it is found in Dante Alighieri ».

For a Divine Comedy with an impact equal to that of Doré’s French, we will first have to wait for the publication of the Nuages ​​Gallery in Milan in 1999 with drawings by Lorenzo Mattotti for Inferno, Milton Glaser for Purgatory and Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, for Paradise and then 2015 with that of Gabriele Dell’Otto, one of the most famous contemporary cartoonists, commented by Franco Nerbini and published by Mondadori.

Alessandra Forte della Normale di Pisa accompanies the reader in the Dante of the famous release of Mickey Mouse, published in 1949 for the Great Disney Parodies, with drawings by Angelo Bioletto and text by Guido Martina, while Elena Niccolai, from the same university, explains Dante in an essay in History of Italy in comics, written in 1978 by Enzo Biagi and illustrated by Milo Manara, with a Beatrice who recalls Claudia Cardinale.

The satire returns with Jacovitti, Jac, ne The ruin in Comedy, published on April 2, 1947 in the number 11 of Beelzebub, as he relates Silvia Argurio of the Sorbonne. Here the socio-political situation of the post-war period is targeted in a satirical key with a naive and mediocre employee, protagonist of Dante’s poem, who will have to choose whether to take the right, left or center path that equate to political positions. Thus we arrive at the humorous Italian comic between the fifties and eighties of the essay by Luca Canova “Hell goes hand in hand with progress!”

Initially the author analyzes the figure of Geppo, “a tender devil who lacks the fundamental characteristic to be such, evil”, born from the idea of ​​the subject writer Attilio Mazzanti and the graphic designer Renato Bianconi and drawn after various vicissitudes by Giulio Chierchini. We then enter the «Fordist hell» of Giovan Battista Carpi, creator of Paperinik he was born in Handbook of Young Marmots, remembered here for his Paolino Pocatesta and the beautiful Franceschina, clear reference to Dante’s Paolo and Francesca, and to Saga of Messer Papero and Ser Scrooge in 1983 where Geppo appears disconsolate because, being too good, he was expelled from Hell, represented by the machinery of the factories. In the contribution “The overturned Comedy” Daniele Bombara of the University of Messina tells the Divine Comedy of Cattivik, the evil genius created by Bonvi, Francesco Bonvicini, protagonist of Hellish adventure from 1994, signed by Moreno Burattini with drawings by Giorgio Sommacal.

Alessandro Benucci of the Nanterre University of Paris tells the strips of Marcello Toninelli who, thanks to his humor and the use of a pop language, had the merit of bringing generations of young people together. With Marcello, the Dantesque muse becomes Bea Trix “the most loved soubrette in Paradise” with a lion’s head that reaches her feet. The enterprise of bringing Dante closer to young people is, more recently, also carried out by the Kleiner Flug publishing house in Florence with the graphic novel Dante Alighieri by Alessio D’Uva and Filippo Rossi, illustrated by Astrid (Lucchesi) in 2014, as explained in the essay Paolo Rigo, editor of the book with Canova.

It comes to the present day with Simone Marchesi of Princeton University which takes up the reflection on Dante as a pop phenomenon by Zyg Bara? ski. There is also a funny contribution on the appearance of the Supreme Poet on Facebook. Dante on social networks is in fact at the center of the contribution of Giulia Maria Cipriani which analyzes the satirical product born from the collaboration between a fake political party, Feudalism & Freedom, and the illustrations by Alessandro Mereu, aka Don Alemanno. Here the characters of the group of violent against themselves have the features of stars with hilarious names such as Joanni Proffondo (Johnny Depp) or Bradone Pitto (Brad Pitt) that emerge from the fire on whose flames a certain Gualtiero de ‘Disnèi, or Walt Disney, blows , accompanied by the Sorcio Michele (Micky Mouse), who ended up among the damned as a “visionary storyteller and skilled amanuensis draftsman, and was a seducer among seducers because through his creations, he fed the fire of sin in generations of defenseless brats”. The book closes with a gallery of unpublished drawings which, with different styles, tell the relevance of Dante Alighieri, now consecrated as an eternal icon.

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