Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Guido Buzzelli's Zil Zelub
OK, so, Matthias Wivel's comments on my Oesterheld vs. Pratt post prompted me to write about Guido Buzzelli. The reason is the above drawing. Guido Buzzelli is one of my all time favorites (I suspect that you guessed it by reading my profile on the upper right corner), but, even so, this drawing made a strong impression on me. Hugo Pratt's doll is a romantic dream: the detached adventurer we all would like to be at a certain age. (And I remember what Dwight MacDonald said about Hemingway: "A feeling that loyalty and bravery are the cardinal virtues and that physical action is the basis of the good life - even when reinforced with the kind of nihilism most of us get over by the age of twenty - these don't add up to a philosophy." - Against the American Grain, Random House, 1962: 171 -; more than the philosophy part, what interests me in this quote is the juvenile nihilism that can also be detected in Hugo Pratt's beloved character.) Like Tintin, a reporter who never wrote a line, Corto Maltese is a sailor who didn't navigate much. We really don't know what he did for a living. We never saw him eating or worrying about where his next meal will come from...
In a word, so to speak: he doesn't have much of a normal daily life.
Guido Buzzelli's interpretation is an anti-escapist Corto Maltese instead of an homage. This is a true rugged sailor, with his skin burned by a hard life at sea. Its also rather uncommercial...
The Terzo Salone dei Comics (third comics convention) occurred from June 30 to July 2, 1967, and took place in Lucca, Italy. The event's catalogue Comics Almanacco published the first graphic novel in the restrict field: La rivolta dei racchi (the revolt of the ugly) by Guido Buzzelli.
Many discussions are happening these days because of the expression's semantics. Not being an essentialist I basically agree with Eddie Campbell (for reasons pertaining to publishing politics): "When he [Will Eisner] called that suite of short stories [A Contract With God] a 'graphic novel' he meant to draw attention to this thematic ambition. Neither the form nor the format was the relevant issue." The commercial series was the norm in comics. Here's how I described a series (owing a lot to Umberto Eco: Apocalittici e integrati, Comunicazioni di massa e teorie della cultura di massa, Bompiani, 1964) in the Comics Journal messboard (posted 04-23-99 10:36 AM):
"in order to exist the series must:
1 - Have an hero. The hero (be it Tintin or Corto Maltese or John Difool) is not a fully developed character, it's more of a void designed to be filled by the reader with positive things.
2 - A cast of stereotyped characters: the faithful reader knows that this one does this, that one does that. The reader who likes mainstream stuff usually doesn't want to be surprised (Obelix *always* says that he wants to drink the magic potion; Captain Haddock *always* wants to drink scotch; etc...).
3- A set of stereotyped situations. The plot obeys to a few fixed rules. In adventure comics the thing goes more or less like this: the bad guys attack, the bad guys defeat the good guys, the good guys make a come back and win. The End. In comical comics the hero (or antihero) always commits the same errors, etc...
4 - Adventure follows adventure and the hero and his friends never age. It's as if nothing happened from story to story (the few exceptions to this rule are far from being perfect).
5 - Psychological depth, what's that?!"
The graphic novel is a strategy to fight the blunt commercialism of the series, it's the anti-series. Calling a collection of children's stories (about superheroes, for instance) a "graphic novel" is a co-optation by the sharks, smelling fresh money. On the other hand it's true that the public acceptance of the "graphic novel" label happened after a commercial campaign led by alternative publishers (Drawn & Quarterly's Chris Oliveros at the front: http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/newsList.php?item=a3e5d4055e94e2)
Guido Buzzelli started doing comics to earn a living, for him and his family, in post-WWII's difficult times in Rome, Italy. Being a virtuoso draughtsman commercial comics were easy for him to do. He viewed himself as a painter though. It was at one of his exhibitions that an idea hit him: "My link to comics changed when I made an exhibition in Rome. I thought about the canvases' positions, about the images, about the sensations that I wanted to convey. It seemed to me that the whole thing would be more powerful if I had done a story. Each painting was the figurative embryo that needed development. And that's how I faced art comics." (Interview on French TV, Antenne 2, 1980.)
Buzzelli continued to do alimentary work (like the western comics: Nevada Hill - script by J. P. Gourmelen -, 1973; Tex il grande, Tex the great, 1988), but he also did graphic novels for himself: I Labirinti (the labyrinths - Aunoa in France; 1970), Zil Zelub (an obvious anagram; 1972), HP (horse power; 1974), L'Agnone (a mix between "agnelo," "lamb," and "leone," "lion,": an anti-manichaean allegory; 1977). A few short stories also exploit his favorite themes: Mammaaaa! (All'ultimo piano) (moooom!, at the higher storey; 1973); Il mestiere di Mario (Mario's job; 1973); L'Intervista (the interview; 1975). The topic that intersected both worlds seem to have been eroticism.
Guido Buzzelli committed the ultimate sin of being a political skeptic during highly utopian times: the sixties and seventies. All his revolutions were flawed because the opressed rapidly became opressors after gaining power. His angels (a recurring symbol of goodness in Buzzelli's oeuvre) being self-righteous and castrating are worst than demons. In Zil Zelub, the main character, a Buzzelli alter ego (Guido Buzzelli was also one of the first, if not the first, serious autobio comics author), feels this dilemma as an internal problem that's literally tearing him up to pieces (his id rebels against his superego). In the end he loses his fight: a crooked politician patches him up. We, the comics readers who are constantly doing what Scott McCloud called "closure," are not only witnesses, we are also accomplices. Everything goes back to normal: business goes on, as usual...
Corto Maltese by Guido Buzzelli as it was published in I giorni e le opere (works and days), Comic Art Editrice, May 1999.
PS Many thanks to the nice people who publicized The Crib. Matthias Wivel (he has a great essay and a great list of comics here: http://www.metabunker.dk/?p=1464); Sara Figueiredo Costa, Kerry Dennehy.