Bonelli Reloaded (English Version)
LORENZO BARBERIS. TRANSLATION: GIULIA COMETTO
(Italian Version Here)
The Bonelli publishing house represents the cornerstone of postwar comics in Italy, from Tex (1948) on. Today, Bonelli comics are exposed to radical changes, just shy of a revolution, a very interesting situation even beyond the Comics area.
The Bonelli innovation has always been gradual and calculated, reason why there have been blasts among the Italian Comics fans now and then. At the same time, its illusory static nature is also the secret of the long lasting success of this publishing house.
Main changes in October 2013 have been the leading switch for Dylan Dog in an horror version and the starting up of the “Orfani” (2013) [Italian for “Orphans”] production. Dylan Dog stands in the second place in the rank of italian comics diffusion, after the memorable western Tex (1948) , meanwhile, after many consumer surveys, “Orfani” is the first Bonelli's series strictly in colour from the beginning of comic strips in colour for Tex, Zagor and, above all, for the Dylan Dog Horror Fest issue (it's also important to consider the long tradition of the colour in the commemorative numbers).
Another element that emphasizes the impression of a forthcoming revolution is the fact that both this project are led by the same author: Roberto Recchioni. Maybe the most valuable name of these years, Roberto Recchioni was born in 1947 and his name is strictly related to the John Doe series (2000-2012), the most important Bonelli Comic series of the 2000. John Doe counts 100 issues in all, round number that reminds the memory of Dante and Boccaccio (many people think this should have been the aim of Dylan Dog too). However, he has been working at Bonelli's for a while, where he stood out for his work on Dylan Dog, with stories considered among the best of the latest and bored series, talking in particular of “Mater Morbi” (2009).
Recchioni is a very post-modern author and the work he's going to lead is characterized by a strong innovation, especially if compared with the minimal previous changes of the Bonelli industry.
In “Orfani” the innovation is immediately shown, not only for the choice of the colour, but also through the use of a language that for the first time communicates openly with the futuristic video-games imaginary, characterized by rapid and rich sequences full of actions and very ironic and bare speeches, without forgetting, for this reason, its literary roots (“Fanteria dello spazio” [italian for “Starship Troopers], Heinlein, 1959 above all).
Without considering the effective success of this choice, it's clear that the target of this action is set among the younger ones, those that the Bonelli Industry risks to lose: this opinion is confirmed not only by the selection of a video-game imaginary, but also by the age of the main characters, teenagers between 12 and 16 years old.
With a Full Metal Jacket structure, the first part of this comic book shows us the guys during a strong training, aimed to prepare them to face the unexpected alien invasion of the planet. In the second part we can see them as grown-up facing the invader monsters on their planet of origin, in a selected attack squadron. This plot let us think to an identification process perfectly studied for the teenagers.
For Dylan Dog the transformation is lighter, both because it isn't a new creation and because the new Recchioni's supervision steps into pre-existent stories by reorganising and selecting them, but without, for now, intervening on the production of the new ones. This “step two” will start next year.
Beyond this, it seems that Recchioni leaves his mark not as a break, but as a restoration. The first issue “Una nuova vita” [italian for “A New Life”] shows Dylan Dog removing his bandages, as if he had changed his face, maybe an ironic joke on those worries of an upside down turning of the comic book by the specialised milieu. The starting story of the renovation is, by the way, an high level and a very classic one, committed to such a complete author as Carlo Ambrosini. A comeback to the big “fumetto d'autore, fumetto d'orrore” [italian for “author comics, horror comics”], the launching slogan of this comic book in the mid 80's.
The cover is a Angelo Stano work, drawing Dylan Dog covers since many years by now. The evolution of the author's mark is evident if compared with his previous works. Contrary to the common thought, the new direction of his drawings is not future-oriented, but a return to the past instead, to the impressionistic 90's style inspired by Egon Schiele's nervous mark, as in the unreachable “Storia di nessuno” [“Nobody's story” in italian] with Sclavi's texts (1990). The world war I, the implicit theme of this issue, subconsciously inspires the same horror anguish of Schiele's paintings, produced, in fact, in the WWI contest.
The second issue, “Sulla pelle” [italian for “On the skin”] starting from its cover, emphasizes the pop dimension of Dylan Dog (Stano like Egon Schiele interpreted by Andy Warhol?), undeniable presence as in every comic icon, taking advantage of the story - a horror plot centred on ancestral tattoos – for a meta-reflection over the sense of writing and drawing, a perfect frame. With a refined narrative perfidy, Bruno Enna, the scriptwriter, lets the impersonal voice-over say “è bene non dimenticare mai che si tratta solo di un disegno” [italian for “it's important to never forget it's just a drawing”], ending however a story that underlines how this drawing is “marked on the skin”: an ambivalent cross reference to the Dylan Dog icon itself is easy to imagine (as in the cover, on page 22 and, probably in many different real cases).
In his primer note, Recchioni lingers again on the authors' choices: the already quoted Enna and the highly worthy Dall'Agnol, conferming the idea of an accentuation of the authorial matrix present from the beginning of this comic strip. Dell'Agnol's mark has become incredibly nervous, essential, “lunar” and it is perfect for a story centred on the concept of the symbol: Enna's consideration would have had a minor impact coupled with a more codified and a less graphically perceptible mark. If with Ambrosoli we had a a “complete authorial comic strip”, this meta-comics and introductory work reiterates that DD is an authorial comic book also in the dialogue between the sign and different type of writing.
Summarizing, do we have a revolution with “Orfani” and a restoration (equally revolutionary in some way) with Dylan Dog? This may be an interpretation. However, until now, the analysis we made seems to accentuate a marketing dimension, even if inspired to important tutelary deity such as quality and common sense.
Anyway, I read something between the lines of this choice: something that makes this double reading, “Orfani” and the new Dylan course, parallel and necessary.
In both issues (Orfani n.1 and Dylan Dog n.325) I can see a parallelism, may be a little forced one but equally important to me, that could build a new and specific interpretation.
The “Una Nuova Vita” issue focuses on a sort of spirit that returns from the World War I period, after a bad pact with the devil (by the way, which pact with the devil is a good one?).
From the World War I foxholes where the putrefying body decays without dying, we move to the London of 2013, where the spirit of the demon soldier wavers possessing a renowned surgeon for his dirty purposes. The symbolic fil rouge between the two worlds, apart from the supernatural dimension, is the main character's video-game, a paraplegic boy, centred on World War I.
Ambrosini's allegorical dimension isn't conspicuous enough: beyond the taste for a good horror story, the “Spirit of World War I” that looms over Europe incarnates the return of a deathly destruction, a spectre hovering gloomier and gloomier on our frail well-being. We have almost reached the hundredth World War I anniversary, not a casual reference to my opinion.
Anyway, overstepping the numerical coincidences, the perception that what is happening now has his roots in the Occidental Imperialism crisis (at least the industrial part) beginning with the World War I, the terrible death machine of modern times, is not unfounded.
All this theories aren't manifestly shown (mines could be merely conjectures), but they are let shine through in a sense of anguish authentically unheimlich, penetrating the whole story.
Even “Orfani” begins with similar modalities, although developed in a totally different way. A frightening alien attack has destroyed Europe, leaving America completely undefended: the generation of young survived orphans is raised to fight the aliens.
The crisis isn't read as a past condition, too far, cultured and repulsing for the brand new generations; on the contrary, under the video-game bellicosity you can read a thin line, an irritating metaphor given indirectly to the young readers: an alien, unknown and totally unintelligible threat for you has deleted the old world of well-being, no more teddy bears and recreation grounds for you.
Your world is now a cruel fight without quarters for survival, against invisible enemies and under the previous generation guide, of which you would better watch out: they will use you as lure, if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, things aren't just how they tell you. You're gonna learn it only by reading: it continues in the next issue.
If “Una Nuova Vita” makes think of the actual crisis in the decadent way of those who have passed “il mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” [italian for “in the midway of our mortal life”, Dante's 1st Canto of Hell], “Orfani” does it by the youngsters' way, still unaware but animated by an unconscious rage that Recchioni thinly describes as justified. A dangerous matter even though engaged in a realistic and subtle way, as I can see still missing in the video-games dimension (my video-games culture isn't wide enough, I admit it without stiffness).
In conclusion, the most important precondition I notice in this operation is not merely the marketing game (even though this dimension is undeniably and legitimately present), but above all the will of using once again the comics' power to understand the zeitgeist of the current society, in this “interesting times” of the big crisis era.