Quando, diciottenne, ho scarabocchiato sui quaderni di scuola le prime battute di quello che poi sarebbe diventato il personaggio che mi accompagna ormai da cinquant'anni, non avrei mai immaginato che sarebbe diventato un vero fumetto (e di successo!) e tantomeno che qualche studioso avrebbe deciso addirittura di analizzarlo!
I primi a occuparsi criticamente (in modo "serio") del mio lavoro credo siano stati Alessandro Gallenzi e il suo amico Mark (il cognome l'ho dimenticato, sorry) in occasione di un convegno di studi danteschi a York, in Inghilterra. Se masticate l'inglese, trovate il loro duplice intervento in calce a questo post (tenete conto che è stato scritto nei primi anni Duemila e che la copia che ne ho conservato è passata attraverso più d'una "tempesta" di aggiornamento di programmi e supporti digitali. Non vogliatemene se vi imbattete in qualche refuso, strafalcione, taglio o incongruenza).
Poi è toccato al Canada: alla McGill University Erika Papagni ha presentato “Dante a fumetti: il lavoro di Marcello Toninelli”. Nel 2010 sono stato invitato a parlarne personalmente a Montreal all'Istituto Italiano di Cultura, il 26 maggio; la Tavola Rotonda verteva sul Paradiso: “Dalla profezia dell'esilio alla preghiera alla Vergine”; gli altri relatori erano i professori Maria Predelli e Filippo Salvatore. Il 28, alla Concordia University, io ho parlato di “Dante a fumetti” (e fumetti in generale), mentre Filippo Salvatore è intervenuto con il suo “Lector in fumettis”, seguito dal professor Chris Cooper che, in “The challenge of presenting a thirteen-century italian masterpiece in a twenty-first century American format”, ha affrontato i problemi della eventuale traduzione in lingua inglese delle mie italiche strisce.
Adesso, mentre festeggio il cinquantesimo anno da fumettista in compagnia del mio piccolo poeta a strisce, arriva come ciliegina sulla torta "La Divina parodia. Un'analisi socioculturale di Dante, la Divina Commedia a fumetti di Marcello Toninelli". Ne sono autori Mario Tirino e Lorenzo di Paola dell'Università di Salerno. Il breve saggio è apparso sulla rivista online Dante e l'Arte all'interno del volume "Dante e il fumetto".
Da autore, come tutti i miei colleghi, quando realizzo un'opera penso solo a farla bene e - nel caso specifico - a divertire i lettori... divertendomi. Scoprire che il mio lavoro è "qualcosa di più" è perciò sempre sorprendente; stavolta mi sono quasi perso tra parodia, pastiche, intermedialità e transmedialità. Per capire di cosa sto parlando vi rimando al saggio dei miei due affezionati lettori-studiosi; potete scaricare qui il pdf dell'intero (tosto) testo, di cui riproduco qui sotto qualche pagina saliente.
Che altro dire? Grazie a Mario e Lorenzo per questo fantastico quanto inatteso (almeno fino a qualche mese fa quando me hanno annunciato la prossima pubblicazione) regalo. Non poteva giungere più a proposito, ora che stiamo per entrare nell'anno in cui io e Dante festeggeremo il cinquantenario dell'uscita del n.11 di Off Side che ha rappresentato contemporaneamente la nascita del personaggio e il mio ingresso nella professione (ne abbiamo già parlato). Spero che ci sia l'occasione di incontrarsi in qualche manifestazione per parlarne (e divertirci) insieme.
Vi lascio ai testi di Alessandro e Mark (per gli auguri di Buon Anno ci sentiamo tra qualche giorno).
di Alessandro Gallenzi
1.The subject of our paper is the Divine Comedy as re interpreted by Marcello Toninelli. I think that there is no better way to begin than to talk a bit about the author, his career as a cartoonist and the pathway by which he came to the creation of a comicbook Comedy. This reinterpretation of Dante has gained him a certain renown in the world of Italian comics and has even led to his winning both the ANAFI Prize (I should explain that ANAFI is the National Association of the Friends of Cartoons and lllustrations, the most prestigious Italian comicbook association) and the Fumo di China Prize for editorial self productions. After this introduction, Mark will provide a brief summary of some of the ways in which Marcello has re interpreted Dante's vision. At the end of this paper, we will highlight some of the problems we have come across during our translation work and, possibly, offer you an exercise in translation.
2. Marcello Toninelli was born in Siena in 1950. He was interested in comics as a child and, between the ages of ten and fifteen he published, in collaboration with his brothers, comics for his own family to read, both deriving inspiration from cartoon characters such as Pecos Bill, the Little Sheriff and Capitan Condor, who were then very popular in Italy, and creating his own original characters and stories. In 1968, when he was about to complete his studies to become an accountant, there occured a kind of visionary turning point in Marcello's life. While his teacher was giving a lesson on the Divine Comedy, it was then that Marcello drew for the first time a tiny character who was to be the ancestor of his future Dante. Thus, in the margins of his school edition of the Divine Comedy and then on proper drawing sheets, he began to sketch out the first scenes of his comic strip version of Dante's Comedy.
3.When his accountancy studies were completed, Marcello submitted his strips to a recently launched comicbook called Off Side. This comicbook had a very short life only two issues were published but nevertheless it had the great merit of publishing Marcello's immature sketches, as well as those by other cartoonists who were later to become famous. Meanwhile, Marcello had been hired by a big bank the dream of every Italian mamma and had asked to be transferred to a branch in the North of Italy. To his great satisfaction and surprise, nineteen year old Marcello saw his strips which had been created just for fun on the first page of a national circulating magazine and even discovered an article about himself in La Nazione, a Florentine newspaper, prophesying that one day Florentines would be able to read a comicbook version of a Dante's masterpiece. (Little did they suspect that this prophesy would take nearly 30 years to be fulfilled!). Marcello was never paid for his drawings, because the magazine soon closed down, but that was the moment, according to Marcello's own testimony, when his cartoonist career was decided.
4. Marcello carried on working as a bank clerk for three more years. He then served in the army and, at the end of his military service, during which he started drawing a new version of Dante (some strips were published by another short lived magazine, called "Undercomics"), he decided to leave his permanent job in the bank and launched himself into the uncertain and under paid world of comicbooks. He returned to Siena and lived for one year on the savings of his previous job. For a while he tried, with no luck, to establish collaborations with various publishing houses and, finally, he was accepted by a small publisher for a series of erotic comics, the so called Sexy Operette, pornographic remakes of well known operettas. This project lasted for nearly four years, during which Marcello refined his technique and learnt all the tricks of the trade.
5. Marcello finally managed to get in contact with the major publishers in the Italian comics industry, such as Editoriale Corno and Bonelli. For Editoriale Corno, he drew several series of strip cartoons, including Sonny Sold and I ragazzi di Stoner, and with Bonelli he began a long collaboration as script writer of very popular comic strips like Zagor and Piccolo Ranger, which have been in the Italian newspaper kiosks for more than thirty years. During ten years and more of this work, Bonelli never gave Marcello a chance to work as a cartoonist, considering his style too "comic" for their strip cartoons, which adopt a particularly realist style. And so, during this period Marcello looked around for other contacts. He collaborated on some animations, launched a couple of magazines and created many other cartoon series, for which he now also wrote the text (in this period he also drew a third version, unpublished, of his Divine Comedy). In the magazine Prova d'Autore, dating back to 1984, a fourth version of his Divine Comedy appeared. After only two issues sold by mail order, Prova d'Autore became Fox Trot and tried its luck in kiosks, closing down with the fifth issue. A few months later, with a new publisher and new colleagues disposed to finance the project, he joined forces with the promoters of Fumo di China, one of the most popular Italian comicbooks, for which he carried on drawing and publishing his Dante.
6.We come then to 1994. Marcello completes the publication of Hell on Fumo di China and is offered the chance to publish a new, colour version of his Divine Comedy in il Giornalino, probably the oldest and most famous Italian comic, a kind of Italian Beano. However, since il Giornalino is a catholic magazine addressed mainly to children, Marcello was forced to present, as it were, a watered down version of his Dante. He had to work hard with tip ex to delete any trace of genitals from his damned souls and even to re draw or re write whole sequences (the sodomites were a particular problem). Marcello has often said that his work has not been a Divine Comedy but a real Odyssey. But, looking at it from a Dantean point of view and considering Marcello's past as an erotic cartoonist, his editorial misfortunes are nothing but the application of the Law of Contrapasso...
7.When his Dante was published by Fumo di China and il Giornalino, Marcello gained success and renown. His Divine Comedy, the author says, has been the only series to inspire telephone calls and written requests from readers for its continuation. Il Giornalino asked Marcello also to draw Purgatory and Paradise, to be published separately in a black and white format as supplements to Fumo di China. Apart from Dante, Il Giornalino published another successful comic series by Marcello, called Agenzia Scacciamostri. Marcello is currently working for Il Giornalino on a parody of the lliad and the Odyssey, of which the same Homer we meet in his Divine Comedy is the main protagonist. There is also a project for a CD ROM version of his Dante, both in Italian and English, with our translation.
8. It is impossible to quantify the circulation of Dante's first comic strips version. Off Side, as mentioned before, closed down after a couple of issues and no data on its sales are available. The author could not provide reliable figures on the circulation of Fumo di China's version. On the other hand, the data regarding the circulation of Fumo di China's supplements and il Giornalino's version are available. The former version, sold only in specialised sale points (about 300) and at exhibitions, has already sold out its first edition of 1500 copies and keeps selling considerably (only in Lucca, every supplement sells up to 100 copies). The latter version, distributed both in newspaper kiosks and specialised sale points, sold about 170-180 thousand copies per week, with approximately 500,000 readers. Obviousiy, the success and popularity of Marcello's strips depend not only on the quality of his drawings and texts but also on the fact that Dante is so well studied and well known in Italy. Both lovers and haters of the Divine Comedy enjoy reading through Marcello's parodic version.
9. Mark and I, anyway, think that Marcello's idea is very good and that it's worth while promoting abroad this comic version of the Comedy, that is in no way irreverential towards the Sommo Poeta and his work. We just hope that it won't take us thirty years and five different versions before we emerge from its labyrinths.
Dante, the Hell upside down
Restrictions of time mean that I can only give a brief summary of some of the main features and emphases of Marcello's Otherworld. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I would like to present this summary under four headings the literal, that is Marcello's treatment of Dante's infernal landscape and the souls located within it, the allegorical, that is what Marcello does, or rather doesn't do, with the poem's more overtly allegorical, and enigmatic moments, the moral or satirical, and the anachronistic in this case, the presence of the future in the past.
The treacherous topography of Marcello's otherworld provides plenty of opportunity for knockabout physical comedy having characters fall into various infernal rivers and ditches is a favourite and often repeated gag.
Further comedy of this kind results from the dangers posed by the denizens of the otherworld among the indignities suffered by Virgil are being squashed between the rolling rocks of the misers and profligate, being hit on the head by a chamberpot thrown over the wall of Dis, and being struck by a bolt of lightning intended for the blaspheming Capaneus. For his part, Dante is shat upon by harpies and mugged by his relative, Geri del Bello.
The negotiation of Hell's dangerous landscape and wildlife frequently requires special apparatus beekeeper's veils as protection from the hornets and wasps in the vestibule, asbestos cloaks among the blasphemers, ice skates in Cocytus.
Humour derives from famous souls continuing to act in ways or to exhibit characteristics that defined them in this life. This is particularly evident in Limbo, where Caesar plays at dice [alea iacta est] and the rhetorician Cicero drones on endlessly to the necessarily stoical Zeno.
The main characteristics of other famous souls are given a slight twist: Homer plays an incessant game of blind man's bluff, Diogenes, dressed in a tub, has given up seeking the definition of 'Man' for the pursuit of women, Democritus gathers mushrooms, to whose shape the philosopher of the atom is strangely attracted. As you will have seen, the technique of caricature is integral to Marcello's representation of characters from the Commedia. Cleopatra's nose is impossibly long, Ciacco looks like a pig, national and regional facial characteristics are emphatised for various of the souls, such as the Sardinian shepherds among the barrators, whose strong feelings for the sheep in their care remain with them in Hell. Marcello also plays with received ideas about some of Dante's characters. Thus, his Paolo is a cross eyed stammerer whose appearance makes Dante wonder what on earth the rejected Gianciotto couId have looked Iike.
Bodies are continually open to transformation and this extends to the protagonist of the narrative. Dante is turned to stone by Medusa at the gates of Dis; he later undergoes a Tiresian metamorphosis when he strikes two mating snakes with a walking stick and spends several pages as a woman [providing scope for some deeply sexist jokes], until the thieves' bolgia, well furnished as it is with serpents, offers him the opportunity to reverse the change. Possibly the funniest body joke occurs in the Fra Alberigo episode, when the shocking revelation of the demonic possession of Fra Alberigo's earthly body is matched by the plight of an unfortunate soul in Hell, who is trapped within a devil's body. Of course, when faced with such a situation, who are you going to call? Soubusters, of course. A suitably attired trio of devils arrive and free the soul with an appliance closely resembling a vacuum cleaner.
Rather than parody the poem's more strightforwardly allegorical passages, Marcello tends to omit them. The first two cantos of Inferno are radically condensed. Of the three wild beasts we see one only a single paw, there is no reference to the Veltro or to the three heavenly ladies who acted for Dante's rescue. Indeed, there are only three strips before Dante and Virgil arrive at the gate of Hell. Later, Virgil's discourse upon the great allegorical figure of the Veglio is reduced to a joke about his inability to mention the statue's willy. The first two of the three dreams in Purgatorio are described by Marcello's Dante upon waking, but they are not illustrated in parodic form, when one might have thought they would have offered much 'scope to the cartoonist. The third dream of Leah and Rachel is not mentioned at all. Clearly, even Marcello could not omit the tableau and drama in the Earthly Paradise and Dante is crisped by the dragon's fiery breath and given a lump on the head by the jealous giant. The sheer amount of explanatory information Dante has to digest, topped up with Beatrice's prophecy of the cinquecento dieci e cinque, leads him to ask himself whether he should in fact call his future poem 'La Commedia enigmistica'.
Indeed, many of the Commedia's enigmatic passages suffer mercilessly at Marcello's hands, as he proffers solutions to several of the poem's famous interpretative cruxes.
'Colui che fece..' is identified as Pontius Pilate, who still suffers from a compulsion to wash his hands every time he has greeted a guest. 'Dante's reason for wearing the 'corda' around his waist is revealed as entirely practical 'I live on the second floor,' he tells Virgil, 'and often
forget to take my keys out with me'. As for why the cord is thrown down to Geryon. Nimrod's babble. The theological framework of Hell is consistently undermined. Some souls manage to lessen, or all but evade their punishment; for example, the copious tears Cavalcante weeps when tormented by Farinata serve to damp down the flames in the fiery tomb they share. A whole episode is devoted to Geri del Bello's nearly successful attempt to escape Hell dressed in Dante's clothes. Other souls take advantage of their punishment Bertran de Born is at least able to see his back when scrubbing it and in some cases souls even derive pleasure from their punishment, such as, for example, the anonymous Florentine suicide, who appears to enjoy a sadomasochistic relationship with his personal harpy. In keeping with this theme is Marcello's gloss upon Virgil's famous maxim, 'Qui vive la pietà quand'è ben morta': Marcello's Dante weeps at the punishment of the diviners, not in pity but in envy at their having had their heads turned right round, a trick that would have made him a great success at parties. So, to move to the moral level, does Marcello's Dante learn anything from his journey through Hell? Possibly, even if only how to survive when faced by petty bureaucracy.
Marcello has explained that he reinterprets Dante's Hell as 'a structure very similar to that of modern institutions (the school, the army, the office), transforming Dante's political theological journey into the journey of an Everyman [ ] through the thousand bureaucracies and sheer obtusities of our consumer society.
This bureaucratic theme is first signailed by Marcello's considerable expansion of the Minos episode to a whole chapter in which various souls come before the infernal judge in a parody of an earthly court of law. Minos is helped by a small devil called Pork, the first of many such devils who pop up throughout the Inferno to perform various administrative functions. These beings do not so much threaten the pilgrim and his guide as annoy and hinder them. Danger and threat are reserved for the denizens of the fifth bolgia; in Marcello's version of Inferno XXI-XXIII, the staff appointed to the punishment of the barrators are black devils with more than a passing resemblance to twentieth century fascists. They are also keep fit fanatics, indulging in a variety of sporting pursuits; in a grossly unfair boxing match, Malacoda batters Virgil to a pulp, before administering the coup de grace a fart of suitably hellish proportions full in the face of the hagless guide.
Angels fare little better. Two incompetent members of the AA Angelic Assistance who come to their aid at the gates of Dis.
Marcello's Hell is full of the small frustrations and annoyances of everyday life for example in Charon episode.
The institution of the schoolroom is parodied, as might be expected, through the figure of Brunetto Latini who is depicted as a schoolmaster keeping discipline among the sodomites with the help of his trusty, telescopic three meter rule.
As with any institutional structure, those are those who profit by it through running sidelines and scams. So in Marcello's Hell, there is a devil who acts as pimp for the prostitutes among the flatterers [even the damned have their needs he explains], there are devils who operate a skilift down to the third bolgia, and also run a cafe at the bottom, and a haberdasher who sells zips and buttons to the schismatics, making a tidy profit from souls such as Mohammed. The transformation of the theological the restricted vision of Limbo's denizens the existence in knowledge of God but without hope of salvation is illustrated by a soul being allowed to watch TV but only able to receive Telenorba [translated, of course, as Channel 5].
Much anachronism is related to American culture: Homer, Walt Disney avant la lettre.
Devil who reopens wounds of schismatics is imagined as Freddy Krueger. Soul suffering from Saturday Night Fever.
The angels who descend to the valley of the rulers in Ante Purgatory come equipped not with two flaming swords, but rather lightsabres, which activate with the phrase 'May the Force be with us'. At the end of the cantica, when Beatrice wants to ascend to Paradise, she has recourse to another famous formula: 'Telefono Casa'.