This March, Dark Horse is releasing three new titles by creators whose names most comics fans will never have heard. Alfredo Castelli, Tiziano Sclavi and Medda, Serra & Vigna may not be household names for American fans, but readers of popular literature throughout Italy and most of Europe have lived and breathed (and most importantly, READ) the works of these masters of sequential art since the early '80s. A while back, Dark Horse acquired the exclusive rights to publish Martin Mystery, Dylan Dog and Nathan Never for North American audiences.
This excellent opportunity arose mostly thanks to Ervin Rustemagic - a European comics agent who was thrust into the American comics spotlight when Koe Kubert recorded Rustemagic's horrifying first-person account of a family's attempts to escape from war-torn Sarajevo on the pages of the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel Fax From Sarajevo.
Considering the current state of Western comics industry, it's doubtful the Bonelli Books (commonly referred to as such for the name of the company that publishes the books in Italy) will achieve the hundreds-of-thousands-plus monthly sales figures they earn in their native country, but that wouldn't be the point of making them accessible for American comics fans. These books are the epitome of excitement, adventure, and mystery, and anyone who appreciates a good caper comic is gonna love these books.
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Ervin Rustemagic ritratto da Joe Kubert in una
vignetta di "Fax from Sarajevo".
La famiglia protagonista dela racconto Ŕ infatti
quella dello stesso Rustemagic.
(c) 1998 Joe Kubert/Dark Horse Comics
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I recently chatted with Ervin Rustemagic by e-mail, looking for some insight into the popularity of the Bonelli Books, and here's what he had to say.
Shawna Ervin-Gore: How did you become familiar with the Bonelli Books?
Ervin Rustemagic: I first became aware of Sergio Bonelli's books in the late '60s, as I traveled all over Europe. His comics were omnipresent, in Italy, evidently, but also in France, Spain, everywhere. In early '70s I met Sergio Bonelli himself at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I think, or in some other book or comics conventions that we used to visit. We have been good friends ever since. In the '70s the Bonelli Comics lineup was almost completely formed by western titles. Tex - who celebrated his 50th birthday in 1998 - was already immensely popular; so was Zagor, a western series that preceded the topics of The Wild Wild West TV Show, introducing in the stories futuristic (by the 1800's standards) technologies and alien menaces. Strangely enough, Western comics were much appreciated all throughout Europe, but weren't in the States, so that, to my regret, if I had contacts there, I never tried to introduce them to the American audience. It would have been a wrong move both for me and for Sergio Bonelli.
In the 1980s Bonelli introduced new lines into his comics production, beginning with Martin Mystery (fantasy and mystery), who was closely followed by Dylan Dog (horror) and Nathan Never (science fiction). The "new trend" worked as well - if not better - as the old one, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold every month.
Now the obstacle of the Western theme was surmounted, but there were other problems. Bonelli comics have a particular format - they are thick books, printed in black and white, with very long stories which read like a novel. American publishers were just used to the color comic-book format, with short super-hero oriented stories...
SE-G: Why did you think Dark Horse would be the best company to publish these books?
ER: That's the point I was getting to. Luckily enough, Mike Richardson of Dark Horse, a good friend of mine, had chosen not to stick only to the old super-hero format, but also to experiment with new formulas and new ways. He has been doing it ever since the formation of his company. So, Dark Horse was a rather natural choice for Bonelli Comics in the United States...
SE-G: Which of the Bonelli Books is your favorite?
ER: Well, that's like asking a father "What is your favorite child?" Like three chips off the same block, Martin, Dylan, Nathan have both great similarities (a certain style of storytelling, a certain pace, etc. In Italy they call it "Bonelli style") and great differences. In a way, they reflect the spirit of their creators, Alfredo Castelli, Tiziano Sclavi and Medda, Serra & Vigna, who have completely different characters and approaches to life, but that I equally appreciate.
SE-G: How popular are these titles in Europe?
ER: As I told you, they're tremendously popular; Bonelli is Italy's leading publisher in the field, with over 30,000,000 copies of his books sold every year. You should come to one of the many Italian Comic Cons to really understand and see how Italian readers feel about them. But - at least I hope - soon you'll be able to sense it also in the States!
Dylan Dog #1 is a 96-page horror-adventure, available March 3.
Martin Mystery - Detective of the Impossible - debuts March 10, as a 92-page first issue.
Nathan Never #1 - a big, 102-page futuristic thriller - hits comics shops March 17.
Each book in the six-issue series features outstanding black-and-white art and retails for $4.95.