The comics multiverse exists and was created by Lupo Alberto in 1996. In a story published that year, entitled One hundred years later …in fact, most of the cartoon icons arrived at the McKenzie farm, from every era and country, from Little Nemo to Dylan Dog.
I can’t think of any other example of a story not belonging to the world of fanfiction where so many big shots appear. Of course, in the superhero world, the notion of a shared universe belongs to the genre’s DNA – or at least to its modern, post-Silver Age version. Or I could mention Italian cases dating back to the early twentieth century, in some Christmas covers of Corriere dei Piccoli in which the characters of the newspaper sat at the same table to celebrate the holidays. But this story of Lupo Alberto is different.
One hundred years later … it was made in 1996 on the occasion of the exhibition Gulp! 100 years in comics, organized inside the Estense Castle of Ferrara. Curated by Ferruccio Giromini, critic and historian of the image, the exhibition gave an overview of the history of international comics, starting from the strips of the beginning of the century to arrive at the wave of Bonelli heroes, American superheroes and manga characters, taking as a point starting in 1896, the year in which Yellow Kid pronounced his first words inside a cloud instead of on the shirt as he used to do – a date disputed by historians and partly by the curators themselves, who addressed the topic inside of the exhibition catalog.
It was a pharaonic exhibition that presented first editions of historical works and valuable original tables. The artist Ugo Nespolo also collaborated with the installation, called upon to design the series of large and colorful installations that housed the exhibition itinerary. Among the initiatives conceived by the organizers was that of commissioning a celebratory comic that would bring the general public and that of the little ones closer together.
The idea, explains Giromini a Comics, was to communicate that the exhibition had contents for cartoon lovers but was also approachable by the less experienced public: «Comics were part of an ironic counterpart to the whole exhibition. We put a life-size Spider-Man climbing the walls of the Estense Castle, while a boat hosting Lupo Alberto and Marta sailed on the water of the moat that surrounded the castle. We wanted to combine the two aspects, the cultural one and the playful one. ” Gulp! it had an excellent response – it was even replicated at the Porto Antico in Genoa (with fewer originals) – and is still one of the most important and largest exhibitions on comics in Italy.
As Silver explains a Comics, «In that period Lupo Alberto was the most popular and the organizers thought that he could represent the whole comic, involving the widest audience». Lupo Alberto was in fact experiencing a lucky moment, between important media exhibitions, sales success and an animated series for Rai that would arrive shortly thereafter. Silver entrusted the story to Francesco Artibani and Bruno Cannucciari, young authors at the time who had already been in Silver’s stable for some time. The working group opted for the cheapest solution, narratively speaking: a party, to which all the characters of the comics arrive in dribs and drabs, divided by eras.
«I made a selection that Silver then screened» says Artibani a Comics. “We share many tastes, there were no big meetings about it. He only gave me two indications: to give space to Bonvi’s characters, like Nick Carterand enter Pogo, which was a great passion of hers. Joe Galaxy on the other hand was, if I’m not mistaken, a request from Cannucciari. “
“I wanted to have Pogo in history, because for me he has always been a point of reference, a sacred thing,” says Silver. «We looked for a square between characters that the public knew and those who were perhaps less famous but that we liked. We have privileged the Italians, of course, also because, I speak as an author, when you carry out operations of this type you always go looking for your character. And if you don’t find it you get a little angry. “
Had it been up to him, Silver would have included characters from his childhood such as Geppo, ‘who I enjoyed very much when I was a child. I also loved it Seraphim by Egidio Gherlizza for which I feel a lot of affection, but there we would have really exaggerated. We could not get too carried away by the affections for things mostly unknown to the general public ».
The most conspicuous absences are those of South American and Japanese comics, with the latter becoming the dominant market slice shortly thereafter. «In 1996» says Artibani, «for the general public, Japan was still anime, rather than manga. Sure, we could have put Dragon Ball, which at that time was the most popular thing, for a general public. But here it was a question of celebrating above all the comics of the origins, which is essentially American ».
Bruno Cannucciari managed to recreate the styles of the various comics, ranging from the two-dimensionality of Corto Maltese to the round stroke of Charles Schulz or Bonellian realism, not without the help of Silver. “Bruno was extraordinary, I would never have been able to do them all,” says Silver. «I made myself available as a helper by telling him“ All the boring blowjobs leave it to me ”. I made some backgrounds, some interiors. The only character I worked on was Cattivik, because I was more familiar. “
In organizing such a reunion, however, the greatest attention was placed on the intellectual property of each character. “We contacted all the Italian right holders, who were all well disposed and cooperative” recalls Silver. “We were careful to respect the characters, not to offend them. Those we failed to contact we knew would not make a fuss because there was a right of summons. Nobody dreams of suing someone because he quoted half a verse of his song. ” Nobody except Disney, deliberately excluded because “we feared a mixed reaction from the parent company.”
“We seized the ball to turn it into a gag,” says Artibani. “In a situation of homage and parody, the only ones who got into trouble were the Disney characters. It was a friendly way to make fun of Disney’s infamous taxation and rigor as a company – something the general public may not even grasp and only laughs at the contrast between Disney’s innocence and the quirkiness of the letter. “
One hundred years later … it has never been republished again, precisely because it was created as part of the exhibition. Any other use would have been considered improper, unless the story was distributed for free (“I think they would foreclose my house,” jokes Silver).
Limited to the Italian scene, it is difficult to see such team-ups, «and it’s a shame» comments Silver. “It’s also a way to get off the pedestal, it would amuse the readers. Instead, I already imagine some author grumbling saying “No, comics are serious, my character has dignity”, or “My character has too little space” … “
Also in 1996, Alfredo Castelli with his Martin Mystère tried to make a similar melting pot, but there the game was the other way around: the character interpreted the historical stages of the comic medium with the style of the most important authors, from Winsor McCay to Jack Kirby . And a few years earlier, an idea similar to One hundred years later … it had always come out of Silver’s forge. It is about Cattivik is the revitalizing spray, a story of Bonvi and Silver from the seventies then redesigned by Giorgio Sommacal in 1991 in which Cattivik clashed with various comic book characters that came off the pages thanks to a spray. However, it was a short story, where comic book heroes appeared in a handful of cartoons.
One hundred years later … photograph a moment in time, the mid-nineties, when Superman had long hair and if an Italian character was famous it meant that he was probably a Bonelli. Today things would be different, there would be Rat-Man, Zerocalcare, Dr. Culocane and Lyon, perhaps, and some important authors should be represented more with his style than with his characters (Gipi, Fumettibrutti).
There is a cartoon inside One hundred years later …, which remains impressed. It’s a small thing, but a significant one for anyone who is a fan of comics. At a certain point, Charlie Brown and Calvin are seen, placid in the background, conversing amiably. These are two icons but above all two protagonists who embody different generations, of authors and readers.
We don’t hear what they say – Calvin has a more cocky, self-confident demeanor, as if he’s trying to get the cogitant Charlie to join one of his adventures – and at first glance it would seem just one of those easter eggs that are chock full of. film, but for those who know the importance they have and what those two peers represent, it is heartbreaking to see them together, in what is a unique moment in the history of comics.
The beauty of this little tribute lies in seeing these impossible interactions come to life. The story is a non-story, once the various characters are introduced, we are just there to enjoy their company. “That’s what comics represent for me, in general,” Artibani says. “You have a moment where it’s you and those characters in those worlds. I liked the idea of having them all together, once only for a single astral conjunction, to say nothing to each other, just for the pleasure of being together. “
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