Do you like comics with themes that are not commonly explored in the American style? Do you like your heroes dark and a little bit sleazy? Do you like bat-shit insanity? If you answered yes to these questions, then Fumetti may be for you! Oh, and also plagiarism. Lots and lots of plagiarism. You gotta like that too.
The many fan of my previous articles here know that I like unusual comics. I’m not a big superhero guy, normally. I prefer historical or noir or horror or anything that is more adult and less spandex. And yes, fan is singular. My own friggin’ wife has no memory of anything I’ve ever written. Couldn’t care less. So, even singular fan may be an exaggeration.
Anywho, fumetti. The best way to explain the chaos and beauty of this genre is to take a few titles singly and allow you, the reader, to be exposed one masterpiece at a time. It’s like a Waldo page: full of color and commotion, but only by focusing in can you truly understand what is going on.
But I can’t read Italian!
Disclaimer to those who will take this article and run with it, attempting to explore the Italian comic world: these comics are in Italian! I might say it helps if you read Italian, but, honestly, it’s not necessary. Just make up the craziest, most misogynist, racist, oddball shit you can think of and you’re probably right there. OK, the more modern stories have much less of the racism and misogyny, but less is not none. Occasionally you can find some of these comics translated into English, but those are hard to find. Not to worry, purists, the socially unacceptable themes are preserved! And usually the wording is pretty hilarious. But again, not necessary. If you are reading the Italian version, and say to yourself, “From that drawing it looks like that guy’s sidekick is Groucho Marx…”, and you find yourself puzzled, then you’ve forgotten everything I’ve written here and you might be my wife.
Brilliant segue into Groucho Marx and sidekick! Dylan Dog! Quite possibly the most famous of the fumetti, Dylan Dog is popular all over the world and even had his own American movie just a few years ago starring forgotten Superman. Look it up.
Dylan Dog! No not Brandon Routh…
A paranormal investigator living in London, Dylan is pretty much a walking mess of phobias and tics who is the scourge of supernatural evil all over the world if that part of the world is in England. Because he’s afraid of flying. Also bats. Also heights. Also the supernatural. Ha, just kidding! A paranormal investigator who is afraid of the supernatural? That makes no sense! Like, as if he were a soft copy of Sherlock Holmes, with a Scotland Yard contact, and a live-in male best friend, and wore the same clothes all the time, and didn’t really believe anyone when they told him they had a ghost or monster, and fell deeply in love with a new girl every issue who would die before the end every time, or sometimes the stories became surreal and you’re not sure if it’s serious or camp, and he plays the clarinet, is a vegetarian, and hates capitalism. THAT shit would be weird, right? Yea, except all of that is true.
But what the hell does that have to do with Groucho and my awesome segue? Well, his version of Watson is his companion whom they subtlety wanted to give the merest hint of Groucho Marx. So, they made his backstory that he was a Groucho impersonator who went crazy and now thinks he’s Groucho and dresses like Groucho and talks like Groucho and makes terrible puns like Groucho and his name is Groucho. Plagiarismo!
However, a more moody, atmospheric, and deeply satisfying horror-noir is not to be had anywhere. All the camp and ridiculousness aside, Dylan is a thoroughly fleshed out character, of dark humors and depression, who feels like the kind of guy who goes skulking in the night chasing Satan and foiling his plan to rule the world. He just fits in the stories they tell, and the brooding nature of the writing and the artwork combine to draw you in to a world of shadows and thunderstorms. It’s a place of actual horror, where death is often the result, and his nature serves to allow him to move through the darkness, shrugging off the weight of dread, and to help those who can’t help themselves. Then, when evil is vanquished, alone he returns to his apartment, to contemplate and languish. Alone…with Groucho. It just friggin’ works!
To lighten up the article a bit I’ll move on to my personal favorite fumetto, the hero who is feared by the villains of Paperopoli, who owns the night, who has a belt of gadgets, and whose only superpowers are his smarts and fighting skills: Batman! Uh, I mean Paperinik! Lightening up the tone, but not the plagiarism!
Paperinik, also known as PK and, in America, as the Duck Avenger (lame), is the extremely world-wide-popular alter-ego of Donald Duck. Donald, or ‘Paperino’ in fumetti, is a mild mannered duck who goes out at night to fight crime. He’s a creation of the Italian division of Disney comics and the whole world knows of his exploits and reads his adventures. The whole world except America, where he makes very few appearances due to copyright law and him just being ‘duck Batman’ and DC and lawsuits and all.
So he’s duck Batman. Big deal, right? Wrong, reader (singular)! He’s the Duck Avenger (still lame)! A Disney duck Batman! And it’s different! I’m being serious even though my tone isn’t clear!
Adventurous and Daring!
Brightly colored comics keep the noir storytelling style firmly rooted in Disney aesthetics, but adventurous and daring plots take him places Walt would never have imagined. His exploits began rather mundane. He would bust up the Beagle Boys, spend time trying to hide his identity from his family, or investigate his greedy a-hole Uncle Scrooge for fraud and such. Fun stuff, really. Superhero stories with a Disney wholesomeness. Made superheros more palatable for me, with no pretense to grandeur or gravity.
Over time, however, his stories grew more sophisticated. Without taking on that solemn tone of the spandex genre, his stories began to veer into science fiction, featuring robots, time travel, bio-engineering, AI, and the fate of reality. All of this while still being completely Disney flavored. Serious yet light, deep but simple. It’s the best of an American superhero comic without the cloying personal drama, or the self-important moralizing. It has just an earnest sense of fun and adventure, along with great fights and visually appealing artwork and colors. It is truly a beautiful comic series, with high graphic appeal which adds immensely to the enjoyment of it. This is a fumetto I highly recommend for both adults and children, and is great for families! And you can find it in English! Sometimes!
Last, but certainly not least…
The last fumetto I’ll feature individually is one that’s skewed more towards adults. It’s another super popular one that many fans will instantly recognize with one word: eyebrows!
Diabolik! You may know him from that terrible PS2 game he had or that awesome music video from the Beastie Boys or even that terrible awesome movie made in the 60’s. He’s terrible yet awesome! Tremble at the sight of those eyebrows!
A wholly original character, he embodies everything it means to be a suave Italian. Also, he is a blatant rip-off of a French guy named Fantomas who is a rip-off of another French guy named Arsene Lupin, because it’s “wholly original” if you don’t pay anything to the actual creators of an intellectual property.
So who is Diabolik?
Diabolik was raised by a secret criminal organization in a secret lair on a secret island. Who is he really? That’s a secret. The criminals trained him from birth to be a master thief. He has all the skills and style of James Bond together with the murder-boner of Dexter. Once an indiscriminate murderer, he’s softened in his old age and now just murders bad guys (lame).
Obviously, he rebelled against his masters and went off on his own to wreck vengeance and havoc and bang a hot chick named Eva who is his equal in smarts and thievery. He swings in a sweet 60’s pad, drives a black jaguar, and lives in a fictional version of Geneva. An expert in many fields, he climbs buildings, cracks safes, outfights henchmen, and pilots planes. He is an expert chemist, linguist, master of disguise, connoisseur of art and music, has a photographic memory, and can kill with his eyebrows alone. Probably.
His stories are of the ‘Heist’ variety, weaving in and out with his personal history and vendettas. They feature his ruthlessness, his black suit, his many disguises, his brilliant outwitting of his enemies’ plans, and his eyebrows! There is no cooler, hipper, smarter, or chic master thief in comic literature anywhere. Except in the guys he is ripped off from.
Is that all they’ve got?
There is actually no shortage of fumetti that are very popular and deal with subjects that are not regular in America. This leads to a variety in comics that I find irresistible and enviable. They have westerns (Tex), adventure (Corto Maltese), geo-political thrillers (Lo Sconosciuto), science fiction (RanXerox), photojournalism (Valentina), fantasy (Dragonero), and historical (L’uomo dell’anno), amongst many others. These would be niche comics here, read only by fans and unnoticed by others. But in Europe these are often major social touchstones and have a high Q score (Google it). This allows and encourages comic artists and writers to explore and produce way more diverse content than here in the States.
To sum up, as they say in Italy, fumetti are an experience that is familiar yet offers something new. It’s a different flavor of ice cream, one you haven’t tried that has nuts and comes in a pint container labelled “Jen & Berry’s”. You won’t regret picking one of these up, and you may find a new obsession!
I give the whole genre of fumetti 5/5 stars, minus one for plagiarism, plus one for absurdity, minus one for misogyny, plus one for variety, minus one for gonzo, plus one for gonzo! Viva Fumetti!