Pizza, mandolins and the underground by Ale Pop

Underground comics never developed in Italy. In the tense seventies the militants, today’s ”democratic”, appeasing fifty-year-olds, were playing at staging a marxist-maoist-maccheroni revolution, protesting all the things that today they defend with servility and hypocrisy, and they would not permit the spread of communication methods other than funereal stencils or manifestos shouted through grating megaphones. The “forward-with-the-struggle” crowd, many of whom are now shameful turncoats and ultraliberal lacheys, would not allow anyone with imagination to oust them from the limelight: today with their tired wrinkles they are still on all the talk-shows, spouting the praises of the divine dollar and repentance for their demi-rebel pasts, explaining how in those long gone years everyone was just as “sadly and horribly dogmatic” as they were. Their enduring defect has been to think that they were indisputable and above all indispensable little leaders. They wanted then and today still want to decide the rules of the game. In those years of “extra parliamentary bureaucrats” Matteo Guarnaccia and Max Capa tried to bring new drawing styles into the shadowy Italy of the kickback, but no matter how much those two “good, libertarian creative spirits” did, they weren’t able to knock down the walls put up by the “Blue Meanies”. Then the love of guns removed any possibility of really seeing even a scrap of imagination in power: the late seventies generation of adolescents found themselves caught between two terrible, mediocre choices: bloody armed struggle and merciless state repression. Hard drugs, moreover, helped many to put back in the drawer any reasons they may have had for renewing either their imaginative dimension or their lives.


After the pseudo-revolutionary intoxication had passed we had the low ebb of the eighties : its basic ingredients initially were heroin and the final chatter of self-proclaimed revolutionary proletarians’ machine guns, followed by hideous cynicism. At this point another fine band of “hypocrites” appeared, worthily taking the place of their predecessors. Young man, much the worse for the boring assemblies of the late seventies, started to rave about “angles – contiguous territories – visual mutations – etc…” hoping to get rid of the tired comic à la Hugo Pratt. A beautiful glossy magazine saw the light, edited by wheeler-dealers suffering from megalomania on the look-out for doting fans, and for a long time it took the young punters of those stupid, disgusting years for a ride. Their florid saga lasted two years, then, like the “genuine artistic prostitutes” they had been all along, they started to look for a steady wage doled out by those they had initially spit on. The only project these “Merry Wives of Nowhere” brought to fruition was a nursery school where they could play at being spiteful rockstars. What have they left us in their “fridge”? Only rubble, lies and presumption by the pound. Later, the remaining editors stayed behind to keep filling a useless, moribund container: they got their kicks by taking advantage of the good faith of the good faith of dimwitted young authors, enthralled by the glory of the distant past and willing to donate their “ingenuous creative sap” to these exploiters of good faith. If is self-evident that we could not have expected the birth, growth and development of an “underground movement” to originate from similiar “burnt-out con-men”. All that’s left of those years is an unbearable nostalgia which has obscured the minds of critics, people working in the sector, ex-young readers and vultures-come-lately.


Thus we reach the nineties: the decade in which I myself took part in a doomed struggle to raise the profile of “different” comics (that’s what I prefer to call them, since I don’t feel any connection with American underground comix of the sixties and seventies) in this country of conservatives. “Different” comics did not flourish in our country for a whole series of reasons. Probably we failed to interest potential users with adequate “visual/verbal” stimuli. It must however be said that since the early nineties the whole universe of comics has been reconquered by the traditionalists and that many specialists consider any non-standardized drawing as being incomprehensible artistoid masturbation – it sparks off genuine physiological malaise in some “critics”. In any case our virus-spreading operation failed: the “different” comic was never put on the same market stall as the other genres and we stayed in our little reservations, a handful of fundamentalists slitting each other’s throats in wearying stylistic and often existential feuds. We have achieved nothing and comics that do not fall into the Bonell-Disney-Marvel-Manga-Nostalgia-for-the-Past bag have disappeared from the shelves of comic book shops, from the “fairs”, while the few appearances granted out of pity have been of no help. The coup de grace to our shambles of a gang was administered by a motley crew of bored critics and paparazzi journalists looking for a scoop, organizers of local markets palmed off as important international festivals and uncultured, mono-thematic vendors of comics/merchandise, plus the odd criminal publisher.


The “independent” authors of the nineties, for the most part, considered the underground a waiting room where they could play the part of “damned geniuses”, as they waited for their steady job to materialize with some traditional magazine so they could put on their “soft, warm brain-slippers”. We didn’t even get started on building up a comics scene with content and styles, distribution outlets, opportunities for discussion, we imploded first. We locked ourselves up in minuscule inward-looking cliques incapable of interacting, each believing itself to be indispensable, better than the next, while arrogance prevailed. Some, perhaps frightened by the rapid end of a too short adolescence, started filling page upon page with little stories in which eternal students at most wondered “Will I go to London on holiday or will I spend the summer sitting on my Vespa?...Do I look better with dreadlocks or could I shave it all off?” It seemed we were all destined for an easy life as trendy high-school students, with a slight Bolognese accent, boredly chilling out among nice parties, little visits to nice libraries, nice gigs with nice little rock bands, nice kisses and nice sugar-and-spice girlies. But what about the Mafia murdering the dreams of the Mezzogiorno, the unbearable stink of the rancid racism of thoroughbred Padanians, the Gulf War, AIDS, the eyes of African children dying with flies all over their faces amid the indifference of “humanitarian warmongers”, daily life become precarious, so-called new professions and temporary work with never enough money for a meal out and so many other little stupid things that leave us nailed down to this fetid world, incapable of flying? Did anyone see any mention of these things in the “wild alternative underground Italian comics” from 1990 to 2000? Only Maurizio Ribichini had the courage to throw in our faces the reality of the slime which had turned our hearts to granite; all the others drowned in their polished, elegant exercises in effortless style. Practically nobody learned the lesson authors such as Zograf and Sacco were teaching: we were too busy licking the shoes of publishers' art directors in the hope of a scrap of vain glory and a couple of clumsily autographed bras of vacuous nihilist-punk girly fans. We closed our eyes, preventing comics as a whole from emerging from the underground in this country of “snobbish intellectuals” who consider “comics” to be a language for backward kids and would never award the best book of the year prize to “Maus” at the Strega or Campiello Festivals, which are sepulchers where the “selected” race of the “we-know-best” go through the roof when you get your grammar wrong, but keep their mouths cowardly shut when in the summer of 2001 people were beaten and tortured with impunity in the barracks of the fatherland.


Comics in Italy have no need of an underground movement, they are themselves a sector of the underground: no Minister for Cultural Affairs would ever get involved in the protection of “the sequential art” as they do with sport or the cinema, pizzas baked in a wood ovens or the crystal-clear sound of “real” mandolins. All of which makes us Italians a creative, peaceful and simpatico people. We failed, now it’s up to the young ones. I have bought a nice pair of slippers. I will sit in my armchair and observe events: curious to see if at least the new young guys will manage to paint a splurge or two of lively sunny color onto the gray horizon. I sincerely hope they do, for my sake and theirs.

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