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Fifty years of Tex Willer:
memories from the Western
renaissance in Italy

by Paola de Martino

Characters and plots


Today's main companions of Tex are the Indian Tiger, the old Kit Carson, and Tex's teen-ager son Kit. Among the Texas Rangers Tex meets Kit Carson. This older man bears no resemblance to the real American scout, but it is rather a tribute that the authors paid to another famous Italian artist, Rino Albertarelli, who had illustrated the comic "Kit Carson" in the 30's [note II]. Carson becomes Tex's best friend; his cynicism and humor will always counterbalance Tex's seriousness and somewhat paternalistic attitude. Brought by chance among the Navahos, Tex is about to be executed but ends up, instead, married to the beautiful Lilith, the daughter of a Navaho Chief.

Tex n.5 (23k)
Tex and Lilith
drawing by C.Villa
(c) SBE

From this brief and enchanted period of Tex's life a baby boy is born, but Lilith soon dies of smallpox, an epidemic caused by the infected blankets brought into the reservation by some bandits anxious to get rid of Tex. This event will lead to a long series of adventures dominated by the themes of vengeance, sorrow, and friendship. In this frame of time Tex gets close to Tiger, a silent and mysterious Indian whose tragic story will be revealed only years later. He also establishes a stronger relationship with the Navahos that will later make Tex their honorary leader with the name of Aquila della notte (Night Eagle).

Meanwhile, Tex's son, Kit, grows up and joins the trio. Since then, Tex, no longer an outlaw nor a Texas ranger, has never remarried or lived a romantic interlude. He has established patterns of action and a set of characters - friends and enemies - who occasionally return in his adventures. The trapper Gros-Jean, the Mexican revolutionary Montales, the Navaho chief Freccia Rossa (Red Arrow), the scientist of the supernatural El Morisco are some of the recurrent accomplices of Tex and his friends. The evil Mefisto opens the gallery of Tex's enemies. He and his son Yama are his "ritual enemies," and along with the Indian Zhenda, they bring the adventure into the realm of western gothic ["Il caso Tex"].

Tex outlaw! Wanted, dead or alive!
Tex "striscia", number 40/1 (c)1949 SBE

In a fun book called "Io sparo positivo" Istruzioni per l'uso di Tex (I Shoot Positive. Instructions to the Use of Tex Willer), Raffaele Mantegazza and Brunetto Salvarani describe the space of Tex and friends' actions as that of the golden age of the West: ...the 19th century America of the immense prairies and enormous herds of cattle, deserted canyons particularly adapt to escapes and ambushes, cowboys with large hats and states such as Texas..., Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, or any western state from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific Ocean up to California.

Tex is not strictly a western. As G. L. Bonelli admits he always loved the genre and grew up with it: "the idea of adventure that he had since my birth became 'embodied' in the western," a "prehistoric western" in which what counted was the ambience and the Indian in the backround ["Mi sono simpatici"].

A werewolf created by drugs
cover by Galep (c) 1972 Ed.Cepim

Often, Tex, Kit Carson, Tiger, and Kit step quietly away from the limitations of life in the old West and end up in a world of magic. "In Tex's albums...the western scenario mixes with horror, fantasy, detective story, suspense, the trip to the emerging Californian metropolis or in the vanished civilization" ["Sceneggiatura e serialitÓ nel fumetto italiano"]. Thus, not only different narrative realms are explored, but other aspects of America can be integrated in the serial as well. The heroes, though, obey to the classic rules of invincibility. Mantegazza and Salvarani delineate the main scheme of Tex's feats along with the typical enemies: Facing a mystery or an offence, Tex decides to take care of it, often under the request of an external figure. The Bad tries everything to eliminate him, but he survives and beats the enemy up until he confesses everything. Then, he reaches the leader and kills him ["Io sparo positivo"].

The enemy is represented by a gang of bandits, evil Indians, and strange peoples ["Io sparo positivo"]. Just like the classic western hero, Tex is restless and constantly moving. These variants of places, characters and mysteries combine in infinite ways. However, there is a certain tendency to set determined plots in specific places, each containing its lures and perils.

G. L. Bonelli and Galleppini loved the desert. They were fascinated by the idea of hostility embodied in it. They loved the contrast between the bare landscape and the majestic rocks. They knew Stagecoach by heart and could easily reproduce Monument Valley's canyons and gorges. Then there are the Pueblos, an ideal stage for Indian mysteries, or the ghost towns, the places where Tex and his partners usually chase gangs of deranged men. This is the ideal theater for duels and wild shooting. The bleak beauty of a swamp calls for the presence of dangerous creatures and pagan rites, and so on. There is no aspect of the Frontier saga that Tex ignores [note III]. The constant relationship established between places, characters and plots suggests coherence. This fact, in turn, turn establishes a sort of fictional realism as well as patterns of narrative easily recognizable by the readers.

The sources

Looking at the first comics that appeared in the United States, some of which appeared in Italian magazines shortly after, it is possible to notice how Bonelli must have caught suggestions, atmospheres, and characteristics of both the western heroes and their surrounding world and later unconsciously transferred them to his favorite series.

From comics like Garrett Price's White Boy, Fred Harman's Red Ryder, and The Lone Ranger (drawn by Ed Kressy and Charles Flanders), Tex seems to inherit his Indian friend, the love story with Lilith ["Comics of the American West"], and the subsequent participation in the life and mysteries of the Indian people. With Zane Grey's' King of the Royal Mounted and Tex Thorne, Tex seems to share a wandering and generous spirit which lead him to different geographical and narrative territories ["Comics of the American West"]. Like the famous Tom Mix, and in general the westerns of the 40's, these Italian cowboys are driven by their passion for legendary treasures ["Comics of the American West"]. Themes exposed in the first Tom Mix adventures seem to foreshadow those that will become essential in Italy's most popular western comic series.

Maurice Horn provide us with a sketch of Mix's first appearance in comics: [The] adventure involved the screen cowboy and Tony, his "wonder horse", in the mystery of Ghost Canyon. Later he was to put down a Mexican revolution and go on to discover the lost treasure of the Toltecs. (A favorite pastime among all cowboys of the era was the search for long vanished tribes and their treasures). His adventure got more and more fantastic as Tom battled the mad scientist known as the Cobra, tangled with a sea serpent, and saved Fort Knox from an audacious raid on its gold bullion. In White Boy we first find that "amalgam of Indian lore and legend" that is probably what Tex's readers have always loved the most.

According to Mauro Paganelli and Sergio Valzania, the fortune of Tex depends on how well this character and the scenario of his deeds can synthesize values that are felt to be universal by the Italian people. In fact, the ability necessary to make a good foreign western consists in "creating something new while handling means that have been made sacred by the American masters of the genre".

Study of Dolomiti, italian mountains
drawing by Galep (c)

This is how the guns that can shoot forever have been created along with the horses that can run just like automobiles at the service of a character born from the fusion of the western sheriff of John Ford with the medieval knight of the school textbooks, in an environment in which Galleppini suggests to recognize the valleys, the peaks and the faces of the Dolomiti...

Continua... next page: "What was the West like?"; "Notes"; "List of works cited"


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