Monday, September 9, 2013
I first discovered Vittorio Giardino through his Max Friedman series; specifically the first volume of NBM's No Pasaran, found at my local comic book store in a discount box for like, five dollars. I didn't know anything about it other than his name sounded Italian, and I loved the artwork. It turned out that although there were two more volumes of that story, a couple preceding Max Friedman tales, and a few shorter collections, not a lot of his work has been published in English. What was available, at the time I discovered the author, was sometimes hard to come by or a few dollars more than I was expecting. To an extent, I can understand a more modern comics fan having trouble relating to his work; imagine your dad, who loves WWII, Robert Ludlum and John le Carré novels, and beautifully exotic-looking naked women, decided he was going to quit his job and use his meticulous drafting skills to draw comics that he also wrote. Doesn't sound awesome? Turns out it is!
mentioned before), though I would compare Max Friedman more to Pratt's Corto Maltese than Manara's freewheelin' Giuseppe Bergman (both are, as discussed elsewhere, also stand-ins for their respective authors). Though Giardino also took express inspiration elsewhere, this being my blog and all, I feel free to speculate that the aforementioned authors must have had some impact on our subject, especially given his penchant for historical fiction and eroticism (if you are even mildly interested in either, spend less time looking for weird shit on the internet and pick up whatever you can by Pratt and/or Manara, you won't be disappointed). Though only one volume of Sam Pezzo P.I. was released in English (that I'm aware of, at least), what is available is nonetheless entertaining, and really wonderful to see as a starting point for Giardino. Collected in the first (I imagine sales fell short of projection, leading to the cancellation of the translation project before volume two could be produced) volume are The Jockey Rides, and the appropriately hard-boiled-sounding Shit City, through both of which you can see the artist's graphic storytelling skills improving. As early as these first stories, it seems apparent that Giardino knew the kind of stories he wanted to tell. While still not the startling quality of his later works, his thoughtful, intelligent style of writing, paired with his blend of precision draftsmanship and cartoonish black lines are all present, waiting to be refined, as his later works would certainly prove to be.
Winsor McCay's Little Nemo, Little Ego is an adventure in sexuality, in which the titular protagonist, a twenty-something heroine, continuously finds herself in the middle of one erotic dream after another. Like Nemo, she soon wakes, only to declare her need to tell her therapist all about it (in McCay's Nemo, the young boy would wake from his very vivid dreams only to tell his mother all about them). Though seemingly a simple exploitative adventure (Little Ego was, after all, reprinted in Penthouse Magazine in the mid-nineties, after a successful initial serialization in Glamour International in 1984, Comic Art in 1985, Epix in 1986, and Heavy Metal in 1993), Giardino fills his strip with all the psychological trappings that McCay did himself; in one installment, Ego is confronted and seduced by a crocodile in her bathtub (the crocodile a symbol of duplicity and hypocrisy in dreams), before finding pleasure in literal mirror images of herself in the next episode. The sheer beauty of the linework and brilliance of paneling again, brings to mind Winsor McCay's obvious influence; though decades later, Giardino was keeping the linge claire style as relevant as McCay and Hergé had done in the early part of the twentieth century (though the "clear line" style origins are attributed mostly to the early Franco-Belgian comic movement, reaching the height of it's popularity in the 1950s, the style was initially inspired by the work of American cartoonists like McCay and Gluyas Williams). Little Ego eventually abandons it's initial series of unrelated psycho-sexual misadventures to give way to a more installment-based continuous dream in which our protagonista jumps from one thrilling moment to another, at some moments making the reader forget the trouble that led her to where she is at any given moment. It's all very dream-like and disorienting, even if each separate installment feels lucid and makes sense within itself. Ego is not to be trod lightly upon, though as a casual read it can be pure escapist entertainment as well.
Harvey Award for best foreign material in 1999, so that's something!
Though many of his works remain untranslated (not to mention his bevy of illustration work for magazines, advertisements, and any other number of graphic related productions), I encourage any reader interested to keep their eyes open for anything they come across; translating Latin based languages has become easier with the inception of the internet, if one has time to pursue such a task, and the art honestly stands on it's own enough to warrant such purchases, granted the fee is not too steep. I would still love to see more translations of his work, if only to find more of it available without hours of searching or paying import shipping costs, but for now we will have to be content with what is available; and while most if not all of his translated work is out of print, it's definitely still out there if one is interested in looking. Vittorio Giardino has become one of my personal favorites in European comics throughout the past decade, and I again encourage any reader to explore and discover his work for themselves; highest recommendation.