The interview with Alfredo Castelli made by Brian Scot Johnson (from the Khepri Comics Online site).
interview with Alfredo Castelli
editors: Marco Gremignai, Fabrizio Gallerani & Marco Spitella
Text and logo by Brian Scot Johnson
(c) 1998-1999 Khepri Comics Online
Brian Scot Johnson: Welcome to KHEPRI.COM, Alfredo. It's a pleasure to have you here, and I'd like to thank you in advance for agreeing to spend some time with us, on the record, for an Exclusive Interview - your first in America! This is certainly an honor...
Alfredo Castelli: You can say that again! I never would have expected that some "Khepri.Com" readers were interested in "Martin Mystery". So, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself and my friend Martin Mystère -- er -- Martin Mystery, as he has been re-baptized in the States!
BSJ: No problem, Alfredo! Ok, a good portion of my audience (i.e. the Americans) will have no clue who you are, since your book MARTIN MYSTÉRE is just now making it here to the United States as part of Dark Horse's agreement with Italy's Bonelli Comics. We'll get to your work in just a minute, but for now -- Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is Alfredo Castelli? What are his passions? What are his crimes?
AC: For what concerns myself, I was born in 1947 and I've been working in the comic field since 1964, always on the two sides of the barricade, i.e. as a writer and as an editor... As for my crimes, I'll speak only in the presence of my lawyer.
BSJ: Hah! So how is it that you came to write comic books? Was this a life-long dream, or something you fell into?
AC: I began very early, when I was 16 or 17. I had the (completely wrong) idea that cartoonists were like movie stars: you know, rich, famous, glamorous... Then, when I first met them, I discovered that they were exactly the contrary: in those days, artists were usually poorly paid, virtually unknown, and actually anything but glamorous. But I liked the job and stuck to it. I sold my first story in 1964. It was a filler humor series for "Diabolik" - I also drew it. An awful thing, that should be forgotten, but curiously enough, is still widely remembered...
BSJ: Have you written for other entertainment mediums - maybe novels or television?
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Castelli in his "humble dwelling" :-)
(c) 1998-1999 Editoriale La Stampa
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AC: I regularly write articles and essays on various subjects; I have published books on the History of Playing Cards, an Encyclopedia of Mysteries, some novels for kids interpreted by Martin Mystère, some essays on comics, and so on. I began writing sporadically for television in 1966, commencing with children stories produced by Maria Perego and Federico Caldura of "Topo Gigio" fame (Topo Gigio was featured on the Ed Sullivan show). From time to time, I work for some TV shows; last year I was the story editor for a 6-Episode mini-series called "Alex", produced by a major network, but with the lowest budget since the times of the Lumiere brothers. I'd like to write for TV, but I hate the general atmosphere of TV producing, so I never made a true effort to get in the medium.
BSJ: What is it about the fumetti (Italian for "Comics") style of storytelling that attracts you?
AC: Italian comics give much emphasis to writing, surely more than French and American ones. As Walt Disney used to say, "writing comes first."
BSJ: Any favorite genre?
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The Aristocrats (from "Il Giornalino")
by Castelli and Tacconi, Edizioni Paoline
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AC: I have written every genre of story, realistic and humorous, short and long. In fact, one series I particularly like is "The Aristocrats", drawn by Ferdinando Tacconi, that I created in 1974 and is still being published; the stories are just 8/10 pages long. So, I don't have any true preferences; recently, I have gotten used to long adventure stories.
BSJ: Well then, what aspects of storytelling do you think you're best suited for? Critique yourself here for a minute... What is your greatest strength as a writer? Research? Plot? Characterization? Dialogue? If there was one thing you could change about your writing, what would it be?
AC: I have the bad tendency to use too many talking heads and too little action; this has become a style in Martin Mystery, and readers accept it, but it is, in fact, a defect I should change. As I write many words, it goes without saying that I'm strong in the dialogue and characterization aspects of writing.
BSJ: How is it that you can write 100 page stories, sometimes 200 page epics, when many American comic writers barely eek out the 22 page (standard) stories in American comics within the monthly deadlines? What's your secret?
AC: A whip can work miracles! Hah! I made a calculation when I celebrated my first 25 years of work and I discovered then that I had written more than 30,000 pages. Italian comics in general, and Bonelli comics in particular, are traditionally thick, monthly 96 page books, so you HAVE to write a lot if you want to keep the pace. Martin Mystère alone needs (94 x 12 =) 1128 pages for the regular monthly series; 128 pages for the Summer Special; 224 pages for the Autumn Giant Issue; 80 pages for the Winter "Almanac;" 160 pages for the yearly "Bis" double issue; 160 pages from the "Stories from Elsewhere*" tie-in -- all of this without counting special "testimonial" stories and other special initiatives. That makes a grand total of 1880+ pages every year. ("Elsewhere" is a secret government organization which studies paranormal phenomena --- Something like the MIB basis, but I invented it much before, hah!) When Martin Mystère began in 1982, I used to write the entire production; now, after 18 years, I have slowed down, in part, because I work half the day at the publisher's office as an editor. Let's say I write a minimum of 500 - 600 pages
yearly, plus all the dialogue in the books written by my co-writers: Vincenzo Beretta, Andrea Pasini, Carlo Recagno who also aids me in my editorial tasks, Enzo Verrengia, Marco Deplano, and Alessandro Russo.
BSJ: Wow. One year's work for you would be a life's work for other people! Now let's change gears just a touch and discuss your position with Bonelli. They're a family business, are they not?
AC: They were born as a family business; now they are a small industry, giving work to some 300 artists and writers. I have worked regularly for Bonelli since 1972.
BSJ: Have you worked on comics outside Bonelli? Outside Italy?
AC: Yes, I've worked (and I still work) for others: I've written for virtually all of the major publishers in the country, working on continuing characters created by others (including some Mickey Mouse stories) and creating new ones. Abroad, I have worked for "Editions de Vaillant" in Paris and "Koralle Verlag" in Hamburg, writing in bad French or in Italian. I only wrote one comic book for the States: it was a tie-in to Disney's "Return to Oz" and it was illustrated by Sergio Tuis, an artist that has since drawn some episodes of Martin Mystery.
Uncle Sam compares himself with italian comics characters (drawing by Lucio Filippucci). This is the cover of the catalog "That's Fumetti", issued on the occasion of 1998's edition of San Diego Comic Con by Gianni Bono, Alfredo Castelli, Mario Gomboli and Nessim Vaturi.
BSJ: But Bonelli is where you hang your hat now, as they publish your adventures for the Detective of the Impossible. Excellent. So there other comic book publishers in Italy? Tell us a little bit about each of them.
AC: Well, I can give you a bird's view of the comic industry in Italy. It will take a little while to explain (like Martin Mystery, I speak a lot), so, those who are not interested can skip ahead to the next question...
BSJ: Or they can stay right here and learn a little something about how well comics are received in other parts of the world! Sorry, Alfredo, continue...
AC: As of 1999, 80%Sergio Bonelli Editore (40% of 80%) and (Topolino and many other Disney magazines, 60% of 80%), selling a total of over 100,000,000 copies every year. "Linus" (30,000 copies monthly) is the only surviving representative of the "prestige" format (magazines which print choice comics strips from all over the world).
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The cartoon version of "Diabolik" produced by Saban
International and before long broadcasted by Fox on TV
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"Diabolik" is the only surviving representative of the so-called "black comics" - pocket comics characterized by the fact that their hero is a villain. Diabolik is an immensely popular character, created in 1962 by two sisters, Angela and Luciana Giussani; the series sells around 125,000 copies a month. American audiences will soon make his acquaintance, through a series of animated cartoons to be released by Fox, and the translations of Italian issues published by Skorpion. The weeklies "Skorpio" and "Lanciostory", which publish fine adventure series from Argentina, sell approximately 60,000 copies a week; the "family" weekly "Il Giornalino", a fine Italian series, sells about 150,000 copies; "Lupo Alberto", a "funny animal" strip created by Silver in 1974, and "Cattivik", by the same author, sell a total of 100,000 copies monthly. The Italian branch of Marvel publishes the bulk of super-hero-type comics, that are now enjoing a small boom, with combined sales of approximately 6,000,000 copies a year. "Manga" - another small "boom" of the 90s - sell about 2,500,000 copies a year. A few comics are published in book-form (among them, the works of the Italian cartoonists Crepax, Manara and Pratt, and the translations of the French "album" "Asterix", "Lucky Luke", "Tintin") are sold exclusively in bookshops; sales seldom exceed 10,000 copies. Italian newspapers publish very few or no comics. As syndication is not possible, due to the small number of newspapers in Italy (about one hundred), the cost of a series made for just one newspaper would be too high. The merchandising inspired by Italian comics began to spread in the late 1980s; the leading character is Silver's "Lupo Alberto", which ousted "Snoopy" and "Garfield" in the market. The average prices of Italian comics are lower than American ones; a black and white 96-page Bonelli book costs 3,500 lire, less than two dollars US. 97% of Italian comics are sold at the country's 37,000 news-stands; they are distributed by three national distributors and 175 local distributors (the percentage kept by the distributors ranges from 30% to 50% of the cover price). Italian news-stands are much bigger than American ones, and offer a great variety of periodicals: besides comics (not less than 250 titles), magazines and newspapers, they display series of videocassettes, records and software. Only in recent years have comics been sold in bookshops and department-stores. There are "Comic Book Shops" in all the major towns, but they do not constitute, as in the US, an alternative to national distribution. Ooof!
BSJ: Whew! You certainly have your hand on the pulse of the Italian marketplace... And Italy's distribution system seems much better than our lone distributor in the US - Diamond Distribution. A little friendly competition never hurts...
Now tell us a little bit about your creation -- Who is Martin Mystére? What are his passions? What are his crimes?
AC: One of MY crimes is laziness. So I'll "cut and past" Martin Mystery's description from the "Bible" distributed to publishers for foreign sales: "MARTIN MYSTÉRE is an unusual detective: archeologist, anthropologist, computer expert. He's American by birth, but was culturally formed in Italy. He doesn't investigate police cases, but deals with the great enigmas which have never been solved; from archeological ones (Who built Stonehenge?), to historical ones (Who was the Man in the Iron Mask?), to esoteric ones (What is the secret of Graal?); ranging over the field of UFOs, ESP, magic. From his experiences he draws ideas for his successful volumes and for a TV program titled "Mystére's Mysteries". Although he has an athletic body, is an impressive expert in a thousand fields, and owns an unique, powerful weapon (a ray gun "old of ten thousand years" - capable of momentarily paralyzing the enemy), Martin is not a superman; he has a great spirit of self-irony (he doesn't take himself very seriously) and many faults (a tendency to be late, a good deal of verbosity, a fear of growing old) that make him "human" and captivating."
Martin Mystére as an American Super-hero of the '40 - drawing by Lucio Filippucci
BSJ: What about his supporting cast. Tell us a little bit about his perpetual fiancée. How about his Neanderthal companion Java? Or his arch-nemesis, the evil Sergej Orloff? Do you ever think that one of the book's greatest strengths lies in these characters, more so than abilities of the protagonist?
AC: Voilà! I quote again from "The Bible": "JAVA is Martin Mystére's inseparable assistant and friend, and shares with him every discovery and adventure. He certainly doesn't belong to our civilization; although half hidden by modern clothes, his distinctive tracts are those of a Neanderthal man, just as it is depicted in a traditional iconography: stocky, muscular, slightly curved, a low, receding forehead. Java cannot talk: he expresses himself by gestures and emits grunts which turn into real roars when he is in a rage. A flash of intelligence, acute but completely "different" from that of 20th century man, shines in his eyes. In some mysterious way Java lives an intense relationship with the powers of nature; he can "perceive" a very fine track in a thick forest or in the city traffic; he can "enter" the body of a wild animal and "see" what its eyes see. Java chose to leave his native town, "The City of Ethereal Shadows" hidden in the inaccessible mountains of Mongolia to reach and neutralize a diabolical enemy; with the help of Martin, he became an American citizen. He is economically independent and his sentimental life is as mysterious as it is intense. As opposite and complementary characters, Martin and Java manage to live together and understand one another without the need of words."
"DIANA LOMBARD is Martin Mystére's fiancèe; the couple is bound by a deep relationship, which began many years ago in a dramatic situation. Diana is a fundamental reference-point for Martin, and manages to moderate his faults with a good dose of patience, irony and feminine wisdom."
"SERGEJ ORLOFF, owner of the powerful "S.O. Communications" group, is considered by everyone a patron and benefactor; only Martin Mystére knows that behind his facade of respectability hides a merciless murderer. Martin and Sergej had been friends for years and shared the same interests and the same knowledge; but, for some unexplained reason, Orloff turned his intelligence to evil. Disfigured in a fire, his face is covered by a mask; he has an artificial arm in which an ancient ray gun, similar to Martin's but capable of killing, is inserted. He is a contradictory, always "in progress" character."
and, completely free of charge, I add a short description about the equally dangerous MEN IN BLACK: "Since the first light of civilization, the sect of "THE MEN IN BLACK" has destroyed all that is "different" and that could upset people's way of thinking: the proof of the existence of UFOs, the proof of the existence of a highly developed civilization previous to ours, the historic and scientific finds which do not fit with what is commonly accepted by the official culture. The Men in Black are infiltrated at top levels in political, industrial, cultural and religious organizations, and secretly shape the course of history. They owe their nickname to the fact that, during their destructive missions, they wear black uniforms, ties and glasses." I think that a good cast is very important in every kind of narration. If readers become fond of the characters they will also appreciate the stories.
BSJ: Clearly MARTIN MYSTÉRE is very personal. In fact, some argue that you and Martin are one in the same! You share a birthdate (June 26), though he is 5 years your elder... He is known as "Good Old Uncle Marty" while you refer to yourself as a "Grandpa" figure to some of the younger Bonelli writers...
AC: "Grandpa"? Hey, I just refer to myself as an ELDER BROTHER figure! I shall investigate about the matter!
BSJ: Hah! I won't "rat out" my sources, but maybe I should have said "according to some of the younger Bonelli writers..." - look for your answers there! I will say no more!
AC: Yes, well, my friend Martin and I certainly do share some characteristics. I, too, am a curious person interested in almost everything (some detractors say "a Jack-of-all-trades"). I, too, have a house overflowing with books and completely useless things bought everywhere. I, too, have the tendency to postpone to the day after tomorrow what I should have done the day before yesterday; I, too, have a tendency to speak, and speak, and speak (or write, and write, and write, as in this interview). I, too, try to deal with life positively, without taking myself too seriously. I'd like to say - especially to the young ladies who happen to read this interview - that I, too, am handsome, tall, blonde and youthful looking just like Martin, but it is not so... Naturally, I have that magnificent appeal of wise maturity. In short, an image of Sean Connery should come to mind.
BSJ: Why those similarities? Is Martin the hero and adventurer that you would like to be? Or are the similarities there because it's easier to write what you know?
AC: You guessed it: as I'm lazy, it is easier to write what one knows, so I gave Martin some of my traits (including the birthdate) as I'm a "model" always on hand. But there's one thing I must explain to the lucky few who had the fortune to read the American "Martin Mystery" books: the stories which have been translated are among the first stories published in Italy, back in 1982; after much thinking, I decided to choose them because they were prepared with the purpose of introducing the characters, the background, the setting, the themes, and the scope of the series. But in those first stories Martin is very gloomy (somebody in some newsgroup correctly wrote that he never smiles), takes himself very seriously; his fiancèe Diana is as unsympathetic and jealous as Minnie Mouse, and so on. To make it short: I didn't like "that" Martin so much and, after a year or so, I started to give him a lot of defects (my personal defects) to make him more likeable, charming and witty (I AM very likeable, charming and witty); the changes worked well, and sales began to grow. I re-wrote (and had re-drawn) some pages of the first story (pages from 37 to 44 in MARTIN MYSTERY #1) for foreign translations and later Italian reprints to make the "old" Martin more similar to the one readers know. This also explains the differences in the artwork: over the years, Alessandrini, too, changed (for the better) his style of drawing. To make the acquaintance with the "true" Martin Mystère, American readers will have to wait for MARTIN MYSTERY #6 (the story was written in 1992, and celebrated the tenth birthday of the series) and hopefully, a second Dark Horse series. Or go directly to page www.bvzm.com where you'll find a short color story (in English) drawn by Lucio Filippucci - The Time Traveler. You'll discover a more human and tongue-in-cheek character, the one who Italian readers affectionately call "Buon Vecchio Zio Marty" (Italian for "Good Old Uncle Marty") and treat like a real-life old friend.
BSJ: So readers believe Martin truly exists?
AC: They amuse themselves in believing it. I made the error of giving Martin a true address (3 Washington Mews, New York, NY --- I had it changed in the American version), and I discovered that many readers, when visiting New York, went to see if Martin's house existed and - worst of all - rang the bell. So I wrote to the resident to excuse me for this unwanted persecution. The resident - a Mr. Claxton, working for NYU - was very kind with me, and answered that, indeed, he was surprised by the strange pilgrimage to his home, still stranger as the pilgrims were all Italians.
BSJ: Hah! That's just incredible, and it must be very flattering - knowing that your creation has spawned such a frenzy among its readers (and their imaginations)! What about influences? MARTIN MYSTERÉ has a very pulp-adventure feel, along the lines of DOC SAVAGE or INDIANA JONES. His nemesis plays a DR. DOOM-like foil to his REED RICHARDS-esque scientific heroism. What comic book characters and / or literary figures, played a part in creating Martin?
AC: Lots of influences, and no one in particular. His direct ancestors are probably the "savant" adventurers popularized by Jules Verne and his many imitators at the turn of the century. He took a little bit from Ryder Haggard's "Allan Quatermain" (the first Martin Mystery incarnation -- same characters including Java, same settings, different names --- was published in 1978, before Indiana Jones, with the title "Allan Quatermain Jr"), from Conan Doyle's "Professor Challenger", from Nigel Knaele's "Bernard Quatermass", from Lester Dent's "Doc Savage". As for comics, I was probably inspired by some "mystery" elements present in Edgar P. Jacobs' "Professeur Mortimer", in Sidney Jordan's "Jeff Hawke" (with whom Martin had a one-page team up story), in Herge's "Tintin", in William Ritt's early "Brick Bradford" (Martin's physical aspect was a declared homage to that character), and from Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories.
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Cover of the book for the Jules Verne celebrations.
drawings by Giancarlo Alessandrini
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In terms of storytelling I was influenced by the above authors, plus Gianluigi Bonelli (the author of Italy's most popular comic character, a ranger called "Tex Willer", and the father of Sergio Bonelli, publisher of Bonelli comics), Lee Falk, and that incredible genius who's Will Eisner. From "The Spirit" I derived Martin's versatility. Also if it's not impossible to notice it in the short line of American translations, Martin has been the interpreter of every conceivable genre of stories: science fiction, educational, pastiches, humor (also drawn in caricatural style) - all while being himself, i.e. without even minimally changing his attitudes or nature (that's very important). Martin can investigate every kind of mystery, from "Chariots of the Gods" (or, if you prefer, "X Files") style mysteries, to esoteric, historical, geographical or even mathematical ones (I'm currently writing a story on Fermat's Last Theorem). He has even met the Yellow Kid and Kurt Katzenjammer - the lost third brother of the Katzenjammer Kids! For this reason, the character is often used as a "testimonial" for many educational or promotional initiatives outside the world of comics: to introduce to young visitors art exhibits dedicated to the Mayas or to the findings of Pompeii; for promoting the use of trains instead of cars in commuting; for promoting the recycling of tin cans, and so on. In Turin, just this morning (Saturday May 22) I presented a very fine color book in big format for the Jules Verne celebrations to be held in France and Italy in year 2000.
BSJ: You spoke of Disney influences. I have sources telling me you are an avid Disney fan - so much so that you once fooled Italian fans and critics - as well as a Disney editor - into believing there was a Mickey Mouse illustrator named Al Levin, when in fact, he was fictitious. Tell us about that debacle.
AC: Mmm... Not a thing to be proud of... Back in 1965, I was the co-founder of the first comic fanzine in Italy, "Comic Club 104". One issue was devoted to Disney characters and their authors. Nobody, at the time, had the slightest idea of who the American artists who drew the Disney characters were! I succeeded in identifying Carl Barks (sad anecdote: Barks was so kind to send me an especially drawn and signed self-caricature, the widely reprinted one in which he has Uncle Scrooge's head, and Uncle Scrooge has his head --- Well, it was lost at the engravers' some year later!), Paul Murry, Tony Strobl, and many others. But I wasn't able to identify Floyd Gottfredson, so - God, forgive! - I INVENTED a name, Al Levin, and attributed to him Gottfredson's stories. I was then in contact with many early American fanzines (I wrote a long article about them in "Linus"): "Alter Ego" "Rocketblast Comicollector", "Vanguard", "Capa Alpha", the late Edwin April's reprint line, etc., so I sent the Disney Issue to Mike Barrier and Malcolm Willits of "Funnyworld". They corrected my errors and gave me the exact data, and I corrected my information as soon as possible. But the "Al Levin" thing spread, and in many comic encyclopedias (and also in Disney publications) you can still find the name of this "ghost" artist in the true sense of the word.
BSJ: Hah! So even as a teen, "Grandpa" Alfedo had quite a sphere of influence? Hah! That's just great. Only the "Guru of Italian Comics" could pull that prank off!
AC: "Guru"? Mmm... that's much better. Than "Grandpa", I mean! Anyway, Al Levin struck back
many years later. In the late '80s, I used to edit "Disney News", the Disney Company's house-organ for Italy, and was a little disturbed by their "we are a perfect society, we have perfect characters, everything we do is perfect" attitude, and their pseudo-political correctness. So I decided to write an article that demonstrated, without a shadow of doubt, that Mickey Mouse had been created as a black character and that, after his spectacular success, Disney was afraid to keep depicting him as an Afro-American, and hurried to transform him into a WASP. One of their first movies was the short "Uncle Tom's Cabin", where Mickey disguises himself as a black. I explained that this was Disney's best kept secret, and that, when Michael Eisner became the head of the company, to avoid scrutiny, his first move was to hire another Mickey that was black and had become white, i.e. Michael Jackson, who starred in Eisner's very first production, "Captain Eo". The article was signed with a pen name of mine, Ronin, and was *presented as* an excerpt of a forthcoming American Book dedicated to Black performers: "A Race of Stars" BY AL LEVIN. To my satisfaction, it was widely diffused, acclaimed, and also sharply contested by the press. The "Black Mickey" story was, of course, a product of my fantasy, but all the "proof*" I adduced was so convincing that I began to believe that it might really be true! * From the Mississippi setting of the early shorts, to the title "Steamboat Willie" of the first sound cartoon (the "Steamboat Willies" were usually black kids who did menial works on the steamboats), to the fact that just before "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Ub Iwerks left Disney over an argument concerning the philosophy of the series -- he went on to create a black character, "Flip the Frog".
BSJ: Hah! That sounds like a conspiracy best left to Fox Mulder... or better yet, Martin Mystery! Ha-hah!
Now speaking of influences again, some of Bonelli's other top-notch writers site you as their influence, their mentor, and their friend. How did you go about "discovering" the likes of Tiziano (DYLAN DOG) Sclavi and the NATHAN NEVER creators Serra, Vigna, and Medda?
AC: I'm very happy if they think of me in this way: I am lucky to have many good friends in the field. In many cases, I have had the opportunity to discover (and promote) several new talents. I don't believe in competition in our field: we're just a few, there's space for everyone. met Tiziano - a poet in the true sense of the word - when I was one of the editors of "Corriere dei Ragazzi" back in the '70s. I used to write "The Aristocrats" for that magazine, and Tiziano co-wrote some episodes. His is surely the case of the "Allievo che ha superato il maestro" - that is, "the Student who surpassed his Teacher": his "Dylan Dog" is a true masterwork. met Serra, Medda and Vigna in 1983, together with my friend Silver, (another fantastic cartoonist I'm proud to have "launched" in the "Corriere dei Ragazzi": American audiences will soon meet his highly amusing "Lupo Alberto" strip, as it will be nationally syndicated by United Media). We had to go to Sardinia for a TV interview concerning a monthly magazine, "Eureka" that Silver and I edited together. When in Cagliari, we decided to phone a group of readers - that we never met - who had sent us samples of their promising works. So we had dinner together, began some smaller collaborations --- Well,
as you know, things developed...
BSJ: What do you think these creators bring to fumetti? What is each of their strengths as story-tellers? What qualities do you admire in them, and their work?
AC: In Italian comics, there's a way of storytelling we call, in short, the "Bonelli Style" - as Gianluigi Bonelli was the most renowned representative of it. This storytelling style has something to do both with French "feuilletons", and with American newspaper adventure strips of the '30s: strong plots, well developed characters, and long stories to be read as a novel. Sergio Bonelli, who, besides being a publisher, is a very good writer, modernized his father's style, adapting it to his times and his cultural formation: a bit more visual and a little less literal than Giovanni Luigi's. Then I (being younger than Sergio) did the same, adapting it to my times and my cultural formation, then Tiziano (who's younger than me) adapted it to his times and his cultural formation again, and the same goes for Serra, Medda and Vigna, who are younger than Tiziano. You can discover our strengths and our differences by reading our stories. What counts most is the fact that we keep the "Bonelli Style" (or the Italian Styles of storytelling) alive and evolving with times. "Innovation in tradition", as politicians say.
BSJ: What about artists? Who do you like to work with?
AC: As I mentioned earlier, Bonelli Comics publishes tons of pages every year. No artist, including Superman, could draw all of this alone, so several artists must alternate. This is one of the reasons why Bonelli comics (and Italian comics in general) are usually associated with their writer-creator ("Diabolik by Angela and Luciana Giussani") more than their artists. Giancarlo Alessandrini was the first MM artist; I choose to publish only his works in the Dark Horse books; this, to alleviate the shock new readers might feel when presented with stories by different hands (artists). He's one of my favorites, and you should see how his style has evolved now. Lucio Filippucci is another of my favorites... And also Franco Devescovi, Rodolfo Torti, Lucia Arduini, Luigi Coppola, the Esposito Brothers, Montanari & Piccoli, Paolo Morales, Enrico Bagnoli, Giovanni Romanini and Paolo Ongaro. Well, like a good father -- okay, a good Grandpa --- I can't make preferences. They're all good.
BSJ: You're becoming quite the diplomat! But this brings us to another series of questions... What is your arrangement with Bonelli concerning MARTIN MYSTÉRE? Are creator rights big in Italy?
AC: In Italy there is not a specific legislation concerning comics, but most publishers stick to an "interpretation" that I'm very proud to have contributed to in the 1970s, after long struggles with the "Corriere dei Ragazzi" publishers. The average retribution for the first printing ranges from $ 100 to $ 350 per page (art) and from $ 35 to $ 100 per page (script); original pages remain the property of the artist; net profits of reprints are divided 50%-50% between the publisher and the author(s). At Bonelli, the originator of a comic series (as I'm for Martin Mystère, Tiziano is for Dylan Dog, Medda Serra and Vigna are for Nathan Never) is granted a royalty on the sales. Licensing rights are usually divided 50%-50% between the publisher and the author. We own our characters, and have to follow some rules concerning their use, in the case they are no longer published by Bonelli. Contents are controlled by the creator, but must remain in the boundaries that characterize the philosophy of the publisher. In my case, I have complete control on merchandising.
BSJ: Speaking of control and merchandising, you have one of the coolest Internet Sites -- www.bvzm.com -- on the World Wide Web. How much of that do you control?
AC: Thanks. I wrote it almost entirely, and tried to control it together with my friend and co-writer Andrea Pasini when it first began. No use! The task took too much time. So now it's controlled by "Alicenelpaese", a specialized studio, under my supervision.
BSJ: Well it looks great! You've posted an online MARTIN MYSTÉRE comic strip up there - do you think online comics are the future of the industry?
AC: I surely hope not. I believe in paper. You can't wrap up a fish in an electronic page!
BSJ: Now Alfredo, I find it odd that certain American icons and Comic Book heroes flourish more overseas than in the US. For instance, Disney is still huge in Italy; The Phantom in Europe and Australia. What is your take on this?
AC: The Disney Company publishes the weekly "Topolino" (Mickey Mouse's Italian name) and lots of monthly magazines, almost entirely produced by Italian writers and artists. Disney also has tried interesting and innovative experiments, such as "PK", a super-heroish version of Donald Duck; or "Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine", a "noir" version of Mickey Mouse. They are both aimed at an age of 15+, and published in graphic-novel format, on slick paper, with a very "modernistic" artwork. Some other American characters, such as Popeye or Felix the Cat, who - at least in printed form - are no longer so popular in the States still go strong in Italy, in locally drawn versions. The use of continuing (under license) American characters dates back to the 1910s, when Attilio Mussino, one of the top Italian artists of the time continued (very well) Johnny Gruelle's wonderful "Mr. Twee Deedle". During WW2, the import of American characters was forbidden by Fascism, so Italian artists managed to create perfect clones: Federico Fellini wrote some installments of "Flash Gordon". For years, I wrote a child comic strip, "Piccola Eva" drawn by Antonio Terenghi without knowing that he (Terenghi) was not its originator.
As it turns out, it was an American series, called "Little Eve" and published in the '50s by St. John. The book (a "Little Lulu" imitation) lasted just a few issues in the States, but it worked well in Italy, so it was continued here under license. It lasted until the early seventies! Concerning "The Phantom", he (and Mandrake) has been extremely popular here until the 70s. In Australia "The Phantom" is still the top seller; most of the art is drawn in Rome by two Italian artists - Felice Mangiarano and Giuseppe Ferri - who began drawing new stories of The Phantom for its Italian publisher, when he was short of American material (for reprints). On the front of comic books and super-heroes, "Superman" was the first successfully imported one: in the '50s he was called "Nembo Kid", a strange name even in Italian (Nembo is "Nimbus," a kind of cloud); I used to read it when I was a child, and when I re-read those stories, I find them very naive but also very imaginative, just like fairy tales. The Stan Lee characters began to appear in the '70s (I wrote one of the first, if not the first, articles on the subject, in "Linus" in 1967), and for some years they worked very well. At present, you can find lots of American books from DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc translated into Italian; they have a strong fandom but, numerically speaking, they are a minor segment of the Italian comic market; they can survive with relatively low sales as they don't publish "original" material, but 2nd rights material, which are much less expensive.
BSJ: What's your take on that? Do you think that America's Obsession with and Super-Heroes has stymied creativity in comics?
AC: When I discovered Marvel's Super Heroes in the late 60s, I liked the "super-heroes with super problems" idea quite a bit, as the "fairy tale" mood that was present in Superman (and, most of all, in "Captain Marvel", my favorite super-hero, which was never published in Italy) was updated, but was not lost. s for the super-heroes of today, I know I'll be hated by the majority of your readers, who will call me "Grandpa" or worse, but - with a lot of due exceptions - I'm not a big super-hero fan. I think that people wearing funny trousers and polychromous capes are part of the fairy tale world, and when they are confronted with everyday problems and try and seem "realistic," well, it sounds a bit funny. Saturday in Turin, I met Jean "Moebius" Giraud, whom I've known since I worked for "Vaillant" in Paris. Somebody asked him how he felt drawing the Silver Surfer. "I'm not a super-hero fan" - he said - "and find them 'un petit peu dingue', a little bit childish. But I'm not an anti-super hero integralist. So I decided to try". That's exactly my position: even if I don't like super-heroes much, I'm not an integralist. Had I the opportunity to write a super-hero story, I would try. I'm not so sure I'd succeed in doing it well. I don't think that that the obsession with super-heroes has stymied creativity, as long as other genres can thrive around them.
BSJ: What's next on your agenda? What can the English reading audience expect from you next? Will there be a second series of MARTIN MYSTERY?
AC: I don't know, and, to tell the truth, I'm not so sure it will work in the States. As I said, too many talking heads, too little action. So, we'll see... 'm currently preparing a big book that has something to do with America, something to do with comics, and nothing to do with script writing. I want to specify I'm doing this as a kind of hobby, and as a tribute to the medium that gives me the finance to live: I DO know that it will sell no more than 5 copies worldwide, to the 5 insane persons (there must be at least 5!) who are interested in the subject. The book is entitled "", and deals with the first 25 years of American Newspaper Comics (1895-1919). It traces a story of media, politics, society of the turn of the century, and how they interconnected with the early American comics. I've collected tons of early Sunday Sections, magazines, music sheets, animated cartoons, records and paraphernalia concerning that period (it was not so easy, as an Ocean separates me from their source). I have reviewed about 1,500 (1,500!) series and characters published in that extraordinarily creative era. Well, everything conceivable in comics was invented then: techniques, themes, characters, settings. The 5 buyers of "Here We Are Again" will discover "true" super-heroes created in 1904, realistically drawn comics in 1907, incredible licensing and merchandising rages back in the 1880s, and so on. Believe me, it's a work of love and madness. Luckily enough, I've found a publisher who's as mad
and enamoured as I am, and the book (more than 500 pages, profusely illustrated in color) will be published in the late 2000.
BSJ: Well, you've made it past the 20 Questions (well, Clusters of Questions) stage of our Interview. I always like to wrap things up with some Lightning Round Questions. These give people
a sort of fact-file on your likes and dislikes: favorite American Icon: Superman or Batman?
BSJ: Favorite "Lord of the Jungle": Tarzan or The Phantom?
AC: The Phantom.
BSJ: Favorite America Publisher: Marvel or DC Comics?
AC: Dark Horse. (Hah!)
BSJ: Favorite Silver Surfer Artist: Jack Kirby or Moebius?
AC: Moebius. For European solidarity.
BSJ: Favorite Comic Book of All Time:
AC: You said it was a "Lightning question". Too many answers!
BSJ: Favorite Americanized-Italian Dish: Pizza or Pasta?
AC: Pizza. The American pizza should have another name, but it tastes very fine!
BSJ: Favorite Cheese-Garnish: Parmesan or Romano?
AC: Parmesan, no doubt!
BSJ: Favorite Martin Mysteré Story Reprinted in English:
AC: The Sword of King Arthur (maybe).
BSJ: Favorite Martin Mysteré Story That You Wrote:
AC: Il mistero delle nuvole parlanti ("The Mystery of the Comic Strips")(Maybe)
BSJ: Favorite Martin Mysteré Story Written By Someone Else:
AC: All (would I offend some of my co-writers?).
BSJ: You made it! Your first Interview in the USA! How do you feel?
BSJ: Hah! That makes two of us! Well, thank you for your time, Alfredo. This was a real pleasure.
AC: The pleasure was all mine, my dear Alphonse. No, it was mine, my dear !
BSJ: Hah! That makes two of us! Well, thank you for your time, Alfredo. This was a real pleasure.
AC: The pleasure was all mine, my dear Alphonse. No, it was mine, my dear !
BSJ: Hah! Ok folks, that concludes this lengthy Interview! Thank Stefano Priarone and Michele Medda for their contributions (background materials and commentary on Castelli) to this interview.