The cartoon body

Detail of the cover of “La profezia dell’armadillo” by Zerocalcare

The comic has been for much of its history a fetish medium. Excluding, at least in part, the comics of the origins – although there was certainly no lack of plagiarism or more or less veiled ‘homages’ – and the most recent years, for a long time cartoonists have always made more or less reference and for various reasons, also industrial, with a specific regional style: the ‘clear line’, the ‘Marvel style’, the ‘Bonelli style’, dividing each time between Kirbyans, diktians, Prattians, Patients and so on. The comic has thus redefined the boundaries between homage, debt, idolatry and fetish.

Sometimes these fetishes are declared (see the one against the comics of the early twentieth century in The shadow of the towers by Art Spiegelman, but also the Little Ego by Vittorio Giardino), at other times less so. What is important to note is that, perhaps with the exception of manga – intended both as a ‘genre’ at the basis of creation, for example of the phenomenon of ‘Spaghetti Manga,’ or the style of the individual author – and of some cartoonist in the field underground, this fetishization seems to be less present today among the new authors.

Perhaps the growing success of ‘auto’ comics (-biographical, -fiction, -ethnographic) also played a role in this process, in which the subjective representation of the body, even if not free from influences, has polarized and greatly personalized the sign. , beyond the ‘graphic’ capabilities classically recognized to comic book authors. In representing himself, either through an openly autobiographical body, or through an alias, the graphic subjectivity of this representation has become more important than the ‘beautiful sign’ (whatever that means), and this sometimes also happens openly: see the self-explaining case of Fumettibrutti.

Auto comics have always been there but, as well as stylistically rough, pregnant representations of one’s paper alter ego, but the phenomenon is obviously in very strong expansion. Consequentially the author has become – also commercially – the center of the discourse. Beyond the value of the individual works, Zerocalcare, Fumettibrutti, Percy Bertolini, Zuzu and in part others such as Gipi put themselves and, consequently, their bodies, not just drawn, in the foreground.

If the superhero body, in short, represented an unattainable idealization, if many characters in the history of comics were very specific ‘types’ (between synthesis, exaggeration and parody) or if, again, Bonelli has historically relied on models – above all cinematic – to outline the heroes of their team, these new cartoon bodies, no longer prototypical models, are in some cases at the same time personal and capable of creating a deeper identification by an audience looking for more nuances.

This could depend not only on the establishment of a new, more multifaceted, more fluid audience interested in new, perhaps more similar, ways of representing both inner movements and the physicality through which they are expressed, but also on the transformation of the context. multimedia in which the comics are produced. The comic, in its dimension of book or album, physical or virtual, has been transformed from the concrete conclusion of a path – ‘the work’ through which the author presented himself to his audience – to last phase of a speech, of a broader narrative.

In fact, the dialogue between authors and the public, more or less direct, begins and takes concrete form by now primarily in the dimension of social. Through drawings, photographs, direct, discussions or responses to comments, the contemporary representation of the body of the author and of him of the character begins, which are often divided by a border that if it is not really non-existent is so thin as to not be perceived.

The centrality of the author, beyond some particularly iconic characters, is a practically unprecedented trait within the world of comics, and this new recognizability is somewhat reminiscent of the confusion that spectators of the original cinema made between actors and characters they represented. With the not inconsiderable difference that these comic book authors are really, or at least in part, the characters they represent. The continuous exposure through social media places them more in the field of performance than in publishing. A performance that updates two old adages from the Sixties / Seventies: the private is political and the body is political.

This centrality of the image (of the body), even beyond the sign, through photographs, videos, direct on Instagram and so on, is particularly significant in a context such as that of comics in which direct speech, under the graphic profile, is difficult to replicate compared to the peremptory nature in which it is expressed in the minutes. Not that the verbal dimension is missing in this process: rivers of words in various forms pour into social media, and many of these comics are often verbose, sometimes even in a didactic.

Yet the ambivalent, polysemic image plays a central role as it never had before. And it is above all images of bodies, and these bodies, exceptional, deformed, elastic, mangled, beautiful, are, both in their video / photographic and graphic manifestations, everyone’s bodies. Furthermore, if the ‘death of the author’ was still prophesied in the 1960s, trying – with extreme simplification – to place the work in front of its creator, here the discourse becomes more complex.

Even if one cannot properly speak of collective works, the continuous feedback received from one’s audience before the publication of the definitive work (and therefore perhaps, at this point, really dead or at least no longer in dialogue) affects the production process, corrects it, refines it. So these new bio comics on the one hand put the cartoonist back, even as a body, at the center of the discourse, on the other hand they decentralize it, they blur its authorial boundaries within a plural discoursewhich involves those who create, their audience and also other authors related to themes or sensibilities.

However, this is not a scenario devoid of personalisms and egocentrisms, of course. If the body in comics is a body that has been reinvented or reinterpreted, plastic (at this point also due to the stimulations in near real time by the public), capable of deforming and adapting stylistically to the discourse, it also emerges in this context. the need – perhaps due to decades of marginalization of the author as a real, physical, participatory body – to bring the creator back to the fore.

Not surprisingly, once the process that leads to the work or works is over, this (more or less) new generation of authors still wants to talk and has things to say. So success turns comic authors – which has never really happened before and definitely not at this size – into maître à penserespecially when they land on other media hungry for their notoriety.

What this centralization will lead to – within both the imaginary and the intellectual debate – of comic book authors as people, characters and bodies is still too early to say, but the phenomenon is certainly interesting and stimulating to observe.

Read also: History of the book that changed Zerocalcare’s life (and Italian comics)

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The cartoon body