Sergio Bonelli is a child of art: his father, Giovanni Luigi Bonelli, is the creator of Tex and many other Italian comics heroes; while in 1939 his mother, Tea, took over management of Edizioni Audace, which formed the nucleus of the future Bonelli publishing house, in which the young Sergio begins to work.
1955| Among his earliest work for the publisher was writing, under the unusual feminine pseudonym of Annalisa Macchi, the captions for Ciuffetto Rosso, a story illustrated by Roy D'Amy, which appeared in the sixth issue of the second series of the Collana Capolavori.
1957| Having completed his classical studies, he succeeded his mother as head of the publishing company, which changed its name to Edizioni Araldo. He has continued to guide its fate to this day. That same year saw Bonelli's emergence as a full-fledged writer. Under the pseudonym of Guido Nolitta (taken to avoid being confused with his famous father), he wrote the final episode ("Fear", illustrated by Franco Bignotti) of the Spanish series Verdugo Ranch, published by Audace in the first strip-series of the Collana Frontiera. The previous episodes, written by H. G. Oersterheld, were also translated and adapted by Bonelli.
1958| The next year, still teamed with Bignotti, he created his first character, Un Ragazzo nel Far-West, published in the Collana Frontiera following the conclusion of Verdugo Ranch. For this series he penned the first 35 episodes (the entire second and third strip-series), after which he turned it over to his father Gianluigi. The latter saw the series through to the end, single-handedly writing almost every one of the remaining 101 episodes (4th, 5th, and 6th series), as well as the last two episodes, which were published along with some reprints in issues 50 and 51 of the Collana Zenith. Nolitta returned to the series briefly in 1962, writing three consecutive episodes (issues 12, 13, and 14 of the fifth series). On the artistic end, Bignotti drew all the episodes, assisted by the capable Giovanni Ticci, with the exception of the aforementioned last two episodes, which were drawn by Birago Balzano. The series was reprinted years later in the Collana Rodeo, alternating with episodes of the Storia del West by Gino D'Antonio.
1959| Bonelli's second character was born next. Il Giudice Bean was a series of only five adventures (of which only the first four were written by Nolitta, father Gianluigi once more stepping in to do the last one), the art chores entrusted to the brush of Sergio Tarquinio. The miniseries wasn't printed until four years later, in 1963, in the first five issues of Gli Albi del Cow Boy, and was reprinted years later in the Collana Rodeo.
The collaboration with Tarquinio was renewed for Il ribelle, a short adventure (two 96-page episodes) completed the same year, but published a good seven years later, in 1966, in the first two issues of the Nuova Collana Araldo, destined one day to host the adventures of Comandante Mark and the EsseGesse.
1960| A few years later, Nolitta put his signature on several episodes of Il Piccolo Ranger, a character created by Andrea Lavezzolo and first published in the Collana Audace, with art by Francesco Gamba. Alternating with that of Lavezzolo, Nolitta's name was on the byline from late 1960 (Il Pugnale Malese, third series number 23, 30 November 1960) through 1963 (Lo sceriffo è nei guai, fifth series, number 22, 22 October 1963).
1961| It was the year of the birth of Zagor. This character, the last to be presented in the now-old-fashioned strip format, was cobbled together with the precise intent of providing a contrast to the serious Tex, and above all to attract the youngest readers, monopolized in those days by the current best-sellers, Il Piccolo Sceriffo from Editore Torelli, and especially Capitan Miki and Il Grande Blek from Casarotti's Dardo company. The formula, the same as the majority of adventure movies in the 1930s and 1940s, had the hero, almost always involved in wildly fantastic situations, accompanied by one or more sidekicks, whose job is to relieve the tension and to give the reader a moment to breathe. But Nolitta's narrative abilities were such that the character of Zagor (and of his sidekick Cico) broke away from the rigid cliches of his origin to develop unexpected psychological and emotional nuances which quickly became a distinctive characteristic of the series, just as important as the adventure component.
The artwork was entrusted to Gallieno Ferri who, thanks to too many commitments on Nolitta's part, collaborated in writing the very first adventures. In addition G. L. Bonelli wrote some of the earliest episodes, limiting as much as possible appearances of Cico, a character who was definitely not his cup of tea. The series was published in the Collana Lampo up until issue 94 of the fourth series, in November 1970. During this period Ferri was sporadically backed up by Enzo Chiomenti, Mario Cubbino, Franco Bignotti and Frank Donatelli, while Nolitta, after the uncertain beginning, entrusted the writing to newcomer Cesare Melloncelli on only few episodes. During Zagor's long saga, Nolitta worked on other series only rarely: in 1962, on Giubba Rossa, a series of English origin, which was then continued by G. L. Bonelli and Tarquinio; and in 1968 on Anubi and Voudou, drawn by Frank Donatelli. These were published as appendices to the 11th and 21st issues, respectively, of the Collana Rodeo.
1965| The chronological reprinting of Zagor was launched in the 52nd issue of the Collana Zenith Gigante - which, in the pleasing "book" format already adopted by the famous 2a Serie Gigante of Tex, had already reprinted other Bonelli series. Interspersed with adventures previously published in the strip-format magazine (which in the meantime was still being published) were several unpublished episodes. Beginning with page 77 of issue 119, February 1971 (shortly before the end of the strip-format series) all the adventures were unpublished, having been created specifically for publication in the giant album. Here began one of Zagor's happiest periods, lasting uninterrupted until 1980, during which Nolitta wrote almost all the stories, assisted in only a few episodes by the young Alfredo Castelli and Tiziano Sclavi (who made his Bonelli debut with Zagor), by Decio Canzio (already Nolitta's right-hand man in running the company), and by Giorgio Pezzin.
1975| Running parallel to his prolific activities as author and editor during this period was Bonelli's growing passion for travel, a passion which was given form with the publication, unusual for a comics company, of a biweekly magazine entirely devoted to popularizing ethnography and tourism (Il giornale dei viaggi, 8 issues appearing in 1961), for which Bonelli made frequent excursions around the globe. It was indeed his love for South America, particularly the Amazon Basin, that gave birth to the character to which Nolitta devoted his artistic maturity: Mister No.
Inspired by a real-life tour pilot nicknamed Commander Vega, whom Bonelli had met years before in Mexico, Jerry Drake is a war veteran fleeing from Western civilization in 1950's Manaus, where he earns a living flying a Piper for the few tourists venturing forth in those days to seek a truly unspoiled place. Mister No was the first successful Bonelli character to break away from the traditional Western setting, which until then had practically monopolized the company's thinking; as well as the prototype for the sort of antihero which inspired many future editorial offerings.
Alongside Nolitta on this new adventure was once again the veteran Ferri, who, together with Frank Donatelli, created the graphic look of the character and drew the first episode and all the covers until issue 115, December, 1984. That year the torch passed to Roberto Diso, who in the meantime had become the "titular" artist of the series. In fact Diso, after a shaky start (in issue 6, L'Uomo della Guyana), in later issues created what came to be considered the definitive version of the character with his incisive and personal style. During the first decade other artists were Franco Bignotti, Vincenzo Monti and Luigi Merati, Vladimiro Missaglia, Bruno Marraffa, Franco Civitelli, Angelo Maria Ricci, Giorgio Montorio and Vincenzo Muzzi; while Nolitta was backed up by the pens of Castelli, Andrea Mantelli, Enrico Missaglia, Claudio Nizzi (just starting at Bonelli), and Sclavi.
1976| Nolitta wrote the script for L'Uomo del Texas, the ninth volume of the prestigious hardback series Un Uomo, un'avventura drawn by Aurelio Galleppini and published in September, 1977. At the same time he came to his father's aid on Tex, repaying G. L. Bonelli for his assistance in the past. The first Nolitta Tex story was published in January, 1976, in issues 183/185 (Caccia all'uomo). Thereafter, despite the fact that the character never really resonated with him, he produced at least two stories a year (among them the celebrated El Muerto in issues 190/191) alternating with his father, until 1984, the year in which he relinquished the task to Claudio Nizzi (who had made his series debut the previous year).
1979| At the height of Zagor's popularity Bonelli published what can be considered the first special: Cico Story. The album, devoted entirely to Zagor's famous sidekick, was written by Nolitta in an unabashedly humorous style and drawn by a Ferri in top form. It appeared as a supplement to the Collana Zenith Gigante, and gave birth to an informal collection dedicated to the Mexican. In fact, in succeeding years four more albums appeared by the same authors. Then the series was interrupted, only to resume seven years later in 1990, with a new episode, Horror Cico, written by Sclavi and drawn by Gamba. This was followed by a series, to date uninterrupted, drawn by Gamba and scripted in its entirety by Moreno Burattini.
1982-94| During that decade between 80s and 90s, Sergio Bonelli was occupied above all by his editorial activities. Indeed, reacting to the crisis of the early 1980s, the publishing house plunged headlong into a series of new projects to stand alongside the classic western series, thus opening the doors to adventures of every sort. During these years we saw the appearances of Martin Mystery by Castelli and Alessandrini (1982), Bella & Bronco by D'Antonio (1984), Dylan Dog by Sclavi and Stano, Nick Raider by Claudio Nizzi (1988), Nathan Never by Medda, Serra and Vigna (1991), Zona X (1992), the "Almanacchi" collection (1993), and the Ken Parker magazine (1994), which signaled the return to Bonelli of the extraordinary character created in 1975 by Berardi and Milazzo.
It was during this period that the rapport between authors and readers solidified in the pages of the magazines. The introduction of standardized title pages in the albums created the space for a regular letter column in almost all the books. Ever since, Bonelli has spoken in the first person from those columns devoted to his characters Zagor and Mister No.
On the creative side, Nolitta had given up scripting Zagor a long time ago, when Marcello Toninelli made his debut on the series in June, 1982. He soon became the principal scripter of Zagor, and for about a decade his run was broken only by an occasional script by Sclavi, Castelli, Pellizzani, and Ade Capone. The art staff was enriched by the hands of Francesco Gamba, Pini Segna, Giancarlo Tenenti, Michele Pepe, and Marco Torricelli.
However Nolitta continued to be actively involved with writing Mister No until the early 1990s. During this period, in addition to the previous collaborators, Alberto Ongaro, Luigi Gracchi, Roberto Dal Pra, and above all Luigi Mignacco pitched in to lend a hand; while the Di Vitto brothers, Marco Bianchini, Raffaele Della Monica, Luca Dell'Uomo, Corrado Roi, Gino Pallotti, Fabrizio Busticchi, and Luana Paesani joined the art roll. Nolitta also wrote the first eight Mister No specials, appearing beginning in July, 1986. The eighth, written in tandem with Castelli and appearing in July, 1993, was the first (and so far only) cross-over, in which Jerry Drake meets the Detective of the Impossible, Martin Mystere. In 1994 he signed his final Mister No adventure (except for some brief stories published for special promotions), Il Re dei Papua, published in Almanacco dell'Avventura 1995 and drawn by the Di Vitto brothers.
Among all his commitments he found time to write the last two episodes of Piccolo Ranger, L'Ultima avventura and Rangers addio! drawn by Francesco Gamba and published at the series' end in January and February of 1985; and to launch the miniseries River Bill, an unpublished character for which he wrote the first episode, also illustrated by Gamba. This was published in issue 37 (April, 1990) of the TuttoWest collection, which until the previous issue had hosted reprints of several old Bonelli characters including Il Giudice Bean. Mauro Boselli arrived to help Nolitta with the second episode, and handled the series through its conclusion in issue 45, February, 1991 (making nine episodes in all).
1994-2001| Finishing the long period of "Toninelli management", Zagor was about to enter a second youth, thanks especially to the scripts of Mauro Boselli and Moreno Burattini (and, to a lesser extent, Alessandro Russo, Maurizio Colombo, Giorgio Casanova, and Pierpaolo Pelo). Even the art staff blossomed with the arrival of Stefano Andreucci, Gaetano Cassaro, Mauro Laurenti, Franco De Vescovi, Carlo Raffaele Marcello, Raffaele Della Monica, Alessandro Chiarolla, and Massimo Pesce.
Change was also in store for Mister No, who, after a brief transitional phase, with issue 241, June, 1995, changed his editorial clothes (the title took a definite position as one of the "modern" Bonelli series and the stories became complete in one issue) as well as his setting. From the Amazon jungle Jerry returned to New York, and the series adopted a hard-boiled tone. Architects of the changes (which would turn out to be temporary, and done away with upon the re-establishment of the title) were Luigi Mignacco, Maurizio Colombo, Marco Del Freo, Luca Trugenberger, Stefano Marzorati, and Michele Masiero, who also became the series' new editor. Joining the art staff during this period were Fabio Valdambrini, Mario Rossi, Oliviero Gramaccioni, Oreste Suarez, Alessandro Bignamini, Giovanni Bruzzo, Giuseppe di Bernardo, and Paolo Bisi.
Thus definitively abandoning his scripting activities (in recent years, in fact, he has produced only two Tex stories, La strage di Red Hill (Tex 431/435) in 1996 and Golden Pass (Tex 466/469) in 1999, written earlier but appearing late because of the deaths of the artists, Alberto Giolitti and Aurelio Galleppini, replaced in both cases by Ticci), Bonelli devoted all his time to the publishing house. The work of "the colonization of the imaginary" continued with the publication of other titles: Legs Weaver (1995) and Agenzia Alfa (1997), series spun off from Nathan Never; I Grandi Comici del Fumetto (1997), a humorous series created to host a long adventure of Jacovitti's Cocco Bill, which then continued with other authentic gems by Bonvi and Cavazzano; Magico Vento by Giancarlo Manfredi (1997), Napoleone by Carlo Ambrosini (1997), Brendon by Claudio Chiaverotti (1998), Julia by Giancarlo Berardi (1998), Gea by Luca Enoch (1999), Jonathan Steele by Federico Memola (1999), Dampyr by Boselli and Colombo (2000) and Gregory Hunter by Antonio Serra (2001).
"Zagor was born from a commingling of my preferences and my most beloved comic strips. He wears the costume of America's Superman, he hides in an impenetrable forest like the Phantom, he swings from vines like Tarzan, and from time to time he even has premonitions like Mandrake. In addition, like Judge Bean, he doesn't renounce comic sidekicks. In this case it's a comical Mexican, whose gestures I suggested Gallieno Ferri take from Donald Duck. I mean the cruder, more comical Donald Duck, the pre-Barks Donald. Cico, as I saw it, should have the same impetuous, lazy, and cowardly aspects that great character has."
"Here, higgledy-piggledy, are the elements that characterize Mister No: adventure, brilliant comedy, travels in South America and that continent's world of magic, the Beat Generation and jazz, a beat-up Piper suspended over the jungle and the Flying Fortresses of World War II, social tensions and the problem of the Indians. This series, then, represents for me, an eternal child like all comics creators, the marvelous illusion that there still exists a place on earth like the Far West of my childhood dreams: the Amazon."
"Looking into the "future" is a luxury I can't allow myself, given the intensity with which I see the present! I have to deal with pages to revise, with covers to correct, with all the new works in progress waiting for me…the only attention I pay to the future would be, at most, deciding what to do in the next couple of minutes."
Sergio Bonelli, from "Come Tex non c'è nessuno", PuntoZero 1998
"My first encounter with Zagor dates back to 1965, a time before I "enlisted" in Sergio Bonelli's publishing company. In that year, as the passionate adventure-comic reader I had always been, I found in my hands "L'Avvoltoio", a story so emotional and so well-crafted in its alternating narrative tone and the psychological introspection of its characters that it made an indelible impression on my memory. In particular, I was struck by the perfect equilibrium in those pages between the writer, Guido Nolitta, and the artist, Gallieno Ferri…"
"Bonelli would never forgive me if I revealed his idiosyncrasies, if for example I told you what happens when someone in a restaurant orders frogs or liver in his presence, or tries to tell a joke, or says something nice about Tony Curtis, or, worst of all, asks for the air conditioning to be turned on. I would immediately be fired if I told you he's accustomed to palming telephone nuisances off onto Decio Canzo, or (worse) onto me, and then shamelessly denying having done it. I would be crucified on the statue of Giuseppe Verdi in the Piazza Buonarroti if I were to linger on the horrors of taking a long auto trip with him, or if I suggested that when he finds himself on a stage he never lets anyone else talk. […] I maintain the same detached and respectful attitude regarding Decio Canzio, wise editorial director of Sergio Bonelli Editore, and of Maria Baitelli, and of the Humble Workers with whom - democratically - I sit down to eat a frugal repast in the nearby coffee shop. I only say that it's for the good of all those people I just mentioned that Bonelli has become another "unrepeatable" editor. As for speaking negatively, I'll wait another 25 years."