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Pink Rabbits and Chainsaws: The Crazy Worlds of Massimo Mattioli

Pink Rabbits and Chainsaws: The Crazy Worlds of Massimo Mattioli




Massimo Mattioli, Italian comedian innovator and irreverent mixer of genres, types, and cultural ranges, handed away final month at age 75. He was a central determine within the motion that conjugated the pop language of comics with the intellectual world of up to date arts within the late 1970s and 1980s. Since 1977, he was additionally a key member of the Cannibale group, a cluster of artists (together with Andrea Pazienza and Stefano Tamburini, amongst others) tied to necessary magazines such because the eponymous Cannibale and Frigidaire. Recognized to English-speaking audiences primarily for his Squeak the Mouse saga, Mattioli’s inventive output is actually tremendously huge and numerous, starting from deceptively harmless youngsters’s tales, revealed in Italian Catholic magazines corresponding to Il Giornalino, to the sex-guts-and rockets yarns of his Frigidaire contributions. Mattioli’s profession can also be singular, within the context of Italian comics, as a result of he was one of many only a few Italian comedian artists to make a reputation for himself overseas earlier than truly establishing his profession in his personal nation.

In 1965, at age 22, Mattioli debuted as a comics artist and shortly landed within the pages of Il Vittorioso a venerable Italian Catholic comics journal. For its pages Mattioli drew strips like Vermetto Sigh and Gatto Califfo, aimed toward very younger readers. In 1969 he moved to London, the place he revealed within the journal Mayfair, after which to France. Right here, he contributed work to the favored youngsters’s comics journal Pif Gadget with the surreal comedian M le Magicien. Influenced by late 1960s psychedelic aesthetics and by each Gerorge Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat, the tales of M le Magicien function a wacky magician; his sidekick, a chameleon who can devour virtually something together with balloons and web page borders; a few goofy Martians; and a forged of speaking daisies, mushrooms, and flies.

In 1973, again in Italy Mattioli launched his character Pinky, a pink rabbit photojournalist within the pages of Il Giornalino, a prestigious comedian ebook journal for younger readers revealed by Edizioni San Paolo, a Catholic writer tied to the Vatican. From this level on, for the subsequent 40 years, Mattioli continued producing Pinky tales even whereas engaged on a few of his most adult-oriented and outrageous creations like Squeak the Mouse and Joe Galaxy.

A element from a Pinky story revealed in Il Giornalino within the early 1970s.

Already from this early stage of his profession, Mattioli began to develop the metanarrative poetics that might mark the remainder of his work. Pinky instantly displayed a voracious intertextual element, a penchant for breaking the fourth wall and for enjoying with and subverting the elements of the medium. Drawn with a ligne claire fashion, Pinky is about in a world that would very nicely be a modernized and simplified model of Carl Barks’s Duckburg. The within references to the world of comics and popular culture abound. In early tales there are cameos by Little Orphan Annie, Micky Mouse, Superman, and even the 4 Droogs from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (or moderately Stanley Kubrick’s model of them). Because the collection continues, via the mid-1970s, there are references to Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Moebius’s Arzach, Pop-art celebrity Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, and even Mattioli’s personal Squeak the Mouse (minus the slashing), to call just some.

“Perhaps we’re simply dots in a universe that modifications its face always, with out us noticing.” A web page from one of many final Pinky tales revealed in Il Giornalino in 2012.


An in depth studying of Pinky exhibits clearly that its postulated viewers just isn’t the younger readers that it appears to deal with. As an alternative, inside its one-to-four-page tales there are meditations about area and time, the relation between narrative and actuality, a delicate and sly Zen-like poetry, and a real sense of cruelty and violence that was definitely designed to go over its younger readers’ heads. If the good revolution in Italian comics ushered in by the arrival of the Cannibale and the Valvoline group within the late 1970s and early 1980s was eminently and omnivorously intertextual, Pinky is definitely its professional forerunner.

In 1977 Mattioli met Stefano Tamburini, recognized to English-speaking viewers for his ultra-violent saga Ranxerox, and collectively they based the journal Cannibale, a game-changing publication within the context of Italian comics. To know the position and the significance of the journal is important to offer a bit of context on the state of the medium in Italy on the finish of the 1970s. Up till 1977 the world of Italian comics was strictly divided in two: the realm of auteur comics with artists like Hugo Pratt, Dino Battaglia, and Guido Crepax, all of them related to the groundbreaking journal Linus (est. 1965), answerable for opening the readership of comics to an viewers of older, college-educated, readers. Auteur comics, like Pratt’s Corto Maltese or Crepax’s Valentina the place revered by literary critics and analyzed by literary superstars like Umberto Eco or Italo Calvino; their cultural referents, with whom these authors interacted with a way of reverence, belonged to an arsenal of nineteenth century and early-twentieth century icons: Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad for Pratt, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung for Crepax. On the opposite finish stood the favored comics: humor publications for the very younger, western and journey comics, the adults-only erotic/porno publications and the pulp crime titles like Diabolik and Kriminal. The brand new wave of Cannibale (whose group quickly expanded to incorporate Filippo Scòzzari, Andrea Pazienza, and Gaetano Liberatore) subverted this divide by producing comics that have been coming from the lowbrow aspect, however that dared to confront the excessive arts—particularly the post-pop and postmodern figurative artists—on equal grounds. Additionally they launched a breath of recent air in Italian comics by importing a large information of European and, particularly, underground American comedian artists.

Within the pages of Cannibale, free from the inventive limitations of magazines like Pif or Il Giornalino, Mattioli was lastly capable of experiment freely with the medium. In addition to a slew of characters just like the fantastic Gatto Gattivo, a pot-smoking delinquent cat besieged by a not-very-bright police canine, Mattioli contributed some actual masterworks of infraction to the norms of the style. In Champagne and Novocaine, Mattioli used the Burroughsian cut-up technique, re-composing a pre-existing story whose panel themselves have been traced and modified from one in every of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Sunday pages. This system of détournement, popularized by the Situationist Internationalist artists within the 1960s, which consisted of appropriating and modifying a pre-existing textual content, was a favourite of the Cannibale group; each Mattioli and Tamburini (who later launched a collection referred to as Snake Agent obtained by modifying unique Agent X-9 strips with a photocopy machine) employed it incessantly of their works. In MMO•, a two-page story seemingly narrating a sexual encounter between an alien and an earth lady, Mattioli went even additional and used the apply of détournement on his personal story by instructing the printer to superimpose the primary web page on the second, leaving the primary one clean. As a younger reader I used to be all the time captivated by the impact of confusion and thriller brought on by what I assumed was a real printing mistake. Solely lately, some 30 years later, studying Mattioli’s notes to Bazooly Gazooly, a set of his works revealed this summer time in Italy by Comicon, I came upon that this was certainly an intentional technique!

MMO• from Cannibale challenge 11. The clean web page (on the left) just isn’t reproduced right here.

But, from an experimental viewpoint, Mattioli gave his greatest on the pages of Frigidaire, the journal that Cannibale morphed into within the 1980s. Right here he launched one among his most iconic heroes, Joe Galaxy, an anthropomorphic eagle/hard-boiled area adventurer. Joe Galaxy’s first story, Joe Galaxy e le Perfide Lucertole di Callisto IV extending via the primary 9 problems with the journal, is amongst Mattioli’s most formally adventurous the place one can actually sense his personal enjoyment as he unhinges, episode by episode, each formal rule of comedian ebook grammar whereas nonetheless telling a wonderfully legible and satisfying story. Every episode of the story adopts a special panel association inside the web page. One episode has three strips per web page and a shade palette meant to allude to Piet Mondrian (a reference strengthened by means of black gutters between panels), making the web page each a story sequence and a synchronic painterly entire. One other is constructed with a basic common cage of three-panel/4 strips presenting a basic motion episode the place the entire consideration is directed towards the regular quick rhythm of the narrative. Yet one more one is organized in order that the panels characterize every a monitor of a double LP document, Music for Asteroids; every panel/monitor comes with a caption specifying its period and every of the 4 pages of the episode corresponds to a aspect of the double LP. Even the drawing fashion modifications typically from panel to panel inside the similar web page. In Joe Galaxy e le Perfide Lucertole di Callisto IV Mattioli adopts alternatively the skinny ligne claire of Pinky, a painterly brush heavy line, discovered supplies, collages, intercourse toy advertisements from porn magazines, and coloring schemes that embrace saturated monochromes, the palette of collage artists like Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi, and Mondrian’s main colours.

Joe Galaxy, 1981. Tom, of Tom and Jerry fame, has a cameo.

The pages of Frigidaire additionally hosted the debut of the character that non-Italian readers most instantly affiliate with Mattioli’s identify: Squeak the Mouse. The entire saga truly sprung from a single black and white stand-alone story. Mattioli successively added various sequels that have been collected into two books within the 1980s (an entire assortment together with a 3rd never-before-published album was just lately put out by Coconino in Italy). The unique story is a basic cat towards mouse yarn, Tom and Jerry-style, with the added twist that the violence implicit in its mannequin in the long run has precise actual penalties. Within the conclusion of the story, after a collection of slapstick tips that the cat and the mouse play on one another, and that depart them each unhurt, the cat truly kills the mouse by consuming him after splattering his physique towards a wall.

Squeak the Mouse, 1982.

The next episodes develop with an accumulative logic: the mouse comes again as a zombie to hunt vengeance, then as a military of zombies, and is even resuscitated by means of alien know-how. In a means, paradoxically, the logic of the story realigns Mattioli’s comedian with its unique cartoon fashions: cat and mouse are literally resistant to hurt. The saga quotes freely from the slasher and zombie films of the late 1970s and 1980s with a great deal of intercourse and gore and loads of cute anthropomorphic pussycats. A lot has been stated about Squeak the Mouse truly serving as mannequin for Matt Groening’s Itchy and Scratchy Present in The Simpsons, however the diatribe is in the long run meaningless (one might level out that all the things was already there in cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Herman and Katnip, the very violent 1973 comedian e-book oddity Package’n’Kaboodle by Brian McCoonachie and Warren Satler, and even Rand Holmes’s 1977 Nip and Tuck, for that matter). Mattioli himself in a current interview for an Italian newspaper had this to say concerning the topic: “I don’t give a rattling. With the brand new collected version out, the readers will determine. This stuff usually are not good in your well being, you danger getting caught in a hallucinogenic vicious circle. What ought to I do, hate him? No […] I favor being poorer however free.”

Different highlights of Mattioli’s lengthy collaboration with Frigidaire embrace gems like Il caso Ian Curtis (1982), a black and white Chandler-esque noir with a personal eye investigating the dying of Pleasure Division’s singer (and that includes the comedian artist Richard Corben, wanting very similar to his character Den, as a producer of bootleg albums); Guerra, an tour within the realm of portray, narrating the final battle between laser-eyed angels and a band of devils in a barren wasteland; a collection of one-pagers impressed by EC comics and 50s horrors; and Frisk the Frog, the place Mattioli once more delves into the comedian ebook/document style, full with album cowl.

Guerra, 1983.

 The comedian/track was truly put into music and revealed in 1984 as a dance monitor by Maurizio Marsico of Monofonic Orchestra.

Frisk the Frog, 1983. A element from the poster of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie adorns panel three.

The collaboration with Marsico continued with one in every of Mattioli’s most brazenly postmodern works, Ingordo. Produced with an array of numerous graphic units together with marker drawings, pen and ink, photographs, collages and summary colour compositions, Ingordo (Glutton) tells the story of an omnivorous narrator and his journey via a path of assimilation of incongruous knowledge which might be “postmodernly” acquired as de-hierarchized cultural experiences. The narrator indifferently absorbs religions, philosophies, learns learn how to pilot planes, the best way to play soccer, contracts numerous illnesses with the identical curiosity with which he consumes books (from literary masterpieces to botanical manuals), after which lastly learns how you can eat—greens, meat from all types of animals, human flesh. Within the final web page we’re lastly proven the actual face of the narrative voice, an adipose blonde lady in shorts drawn in Roy Lichtenstein’s fashion holding a Warhol-esque can of Budweiser. However the stunningly numerous physique of labor Mattioli produced for Frigidaire is tough to exhaust within the area of those temporary notes.  

Marsico (textual content) and Mattioli (artwork), Ingordo, 1982.

On the similar time, whereas additionally persevering with his work on Pinky within the pages of Pif and Il Giornalino, Mattioli labored within the subject of graphics and commercial, publishing for magazines resembling Vainness and Vogue. In 1989 he produced the animations for Robert Palmer’s video Change His Methods. With the top of his collaboration with Frigidaire, within the late 1980s, Mattioli’s work appeared in prestigious Italian comics magazines like Comedian Artwork (the place he revealed additional Joe Galaxy adventures) Alter, and Corto Maltese. In Spain he was revealed in El Vibora and in France in L’Écho des Savanes and in Lapin the journal of the group L’Affiliation. However that is solely a partial record. Just lately, collections of his works have been reprinted in Italy by Coconino and Panini and in addition in France, Spain Brazil, and Russia. The French group L’Affiliation has revealed volumes amassing his early French works. Pinky, sadly, nonetheless awaits an entire collected retrospective.

A volcanic and proteiform artist who pushed the bounds of the comedian guide medium, Mattioli left us a physique of labor that’s encyclopedic in nature and quantity. He constructed worlds the place Niels Bohr and pink rabbits, Piet Mondrian, zombies from a Lucio Fulci film, New York no-wave bands, speaking flies, and sex-crazed area lizards all stroll the identical streets and cross paths incessantly. On a private notice, whereas placing this text collectively and going by means of my previous problems with Cannibale and Frigidaire I used to be reminded how, as a really younger reader, Mattioli’s tales appeared to attract a map of a territory that I used to be very desperately looking for for myself. And thru the abstraction of his storytelling he let the coordinates present very clearly: it began on the nook of the zombie mouse with the chainsaw and the pink rabbit with the digital camera.  

 Massimo Mattioli leaves an unlimited void within the context of Italian comics and on the earth of comics normally. Hopefully, with the current reprints of a part of his work in Europe, publishers within the U.S. will comply with go well with in order that American readers may have the likelihood to understand one of many true greats of European comics.

Simone Castaldi is Affiliate Professor of Italian at Hofstra College in New York, the place he teaches comics, cinema, trendy and modern literature, Italian language, and historical past. He’s the writer of the primary in-depth English-language research of Italian comics, Drawn and Harmful: Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s (College Press of Mississippi), and of quite a few articles on European comics and Italian cinema. His most lately revealed work is a chapter on the historical past of Spanish and Italian comics within the Routledge Companion to Comics. For Fantagraphics he has contributed important essays for the Full Crepax collection of books and translations to the primary English-language version of Andrea Pazienza’s Zanardi and Romano Scarpa’s The Return of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, He’s presently co-translating Hugo Pratt’s full Corto Maltese, an Eisner and Harvey award-nominated 12-volume collection for The Library of American Comics (IDW).



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