40 years of Zagor
by Moreno Burattini
translation by Ron Harris
Zagor is a few months older than I am. He appeared on the newsstands in his first adventure (a strip entitled "La foresta degli agguati") on June 5, 1961; I entered the world in September of the following year. Now that he's crossing the threshold of "the big Four-Oh", I know that before long the same thing will happen to me. When I read his first adventure I was a little more than eight years old, while he was already pushing ten. When I look at the children hanging around the elementary school today, it seems like a century has passed. Times were definitely different then: television programming didn't begin until mid-afternoon, with the "TV dei ragazzi" (Kids' TV). After "Carosello", the ad program at 9 PM, they sent us to bed. At any rate, there wasn't much choice: only the two RAI channels - in black and white, obviously. In the bars you could play pinball or flipper, there were no videogames. Nor were there cathode-ray screens to suck our brains out. So we kids read comics. I don't mean one or two at a time, I mean all of them. I still remember the fierce arguments among my contemporaries over which hero was best: Tex, Zagor, Comandante Mark, or Il Piccolo Ranger. I also liked Il Grande Blek, but since the others didn't care for him I was ashamed to say so. We'd spend entire afternoons playing cards, the prize being piles of crumpled magazines that passed continually from hand to hand.
At first I would read a comic, then immediately traded it for another. Then, one day at a classmate's home, I saw a closet chock full of Zagor albums, all neatly arranged, one after the other. It occurred to me that this arrangement had practical benefits: my friend could reread his favorite stories any time he wished, and, confronted with a issue that continued a story thread which had been interrupted the previous month, he could go back and review what had gone before and see where the story had left off. I promptly took advantage of the situation by checking out "Lo Spettro". I knew that at the end of the previous episode, Zagor was tied to a rock, and eagles were descending menacingly, tracing ever-narrower circles in the sky as they came to devour him. How did he manage to save himself? I'd asked myself that question for months. Thanks to Simone's collection I discovered that, just at the last moment, Cico showed up to get his friend out of the jam! I decided that I, too, would never throw away another Zagor. I started evicting shirts and pants from my closet to make way for my comics: not only Zagor, but also Tex, Mark, Alan Ford, and - when he came out - Mister No. The space taken up by comics, growing constantly like the Blob, worried my mom and dad, and one day they asked my teachers if they should put a stop to it. Things went well for me: they (the teachers) were in agreement that I could demonstrate a healthy smattering of knowledge of the history and geography of the two Americas, that I knew something about the customs and dress of a wide variety of peoples, and that I could recognize the most exotic animal with a sure eye. Concerning scholastic matters, they said, two things were evident: first, that I had learned many of these things from comics; and second, the comics had encouraged me to use other books to dig more deeply into certain subjects. I also remember that, in response to a class assignment in which we were asked to talk about our favorite fictional hero, I cited from memory (I believe with a minimal percentage of error) the speech Zagor made to Prince Minamoto in "Arrivano i Samurai". I've reread those words a hundred times; they seemed to me (and still seem to me) the height of beauty, a summing up of the Zagorian philosophy: "Unquestionably my life, too, is marked by the brand of violence", the Spirit with the tomahawk tells the Japanese warrior standing before him, "but fortunately there is one irreconcilable difference between us! If I fight, if I kill, it is only because conditions in this marvelous yet still savage land compel me to! One day, I hope, just laws and open minds will soften the points of disagreement between the inhabitants of Darkwood and their white conquerors… at that precise moment I will renounce without a second thought all the ways of fighting and war, and I will be happy to hurl into the deepest river this tomahawk - which today I consider an unpleasant but essential tool for obtaining a modicum of justice"! When our reports were corrected and returned, on mine was written, "Bravo! You've shown that even comics can teach us something"!
Today, when I read in the letters column readers' comments about superhero stories starring the X-Men or Spiderman, I wonder what they would have written about Nolitta's Zagor stories, and I believe even they couldn't have failed to appreciate "Arrivano i Samurai", "La marcia della disperazione", or "La rabbia degli Osages". To those who tell me that today Zagor is hopelessly dated, given that flamboyant costume which could strike someone as pretty silly, I point out that the American superheroes run around in even flashier and more picturesque costumes - and they do so without a second thought, not among the trees of a forest a hundred and fifty years ago, but among the skyscrapers of a modern metropolis. I've already written - and I'll repeat it because I'm convinced it's true - in an era like ours, characterized by tensions between the northern and southern hemispheres, the forest of Darkwood is a metaphor for a multi-racial society and the thousands of problems that make up such a society; and a character like Zagor, who tries to act as a mediator between the different cultures, is perhaps more relevant today than he was forty years ago. Just like the love of nature, which breathed forth from every page, was present beginning with the very first stories, written long before ecology was a popular topic. For those who read Zagor, "Dance with the wolves" and "The last of the Mohicans" truly discovered nothing new. Even Dylan Dog comes in second place: Tiziano Sclavi made Zagor the dress rehearsal for his Nightmare Detective, and Darkwood is still the realm of horror. Not the more insulting, splatter kind, which merely disgusts you; but the kind that digs into your soul, leaving you with a lump in your throat and wondering if, after all, even a monster might have a right to some pity. Erskine Caldwell, a recently-deceased American author celebrated for his novels of the Deep South, said that the secret of life is to find people inclined to pay you for doing what you'd be inclined to pay to do, provided you had the money. I would be inclined to pay just for the chance to write Zagor: it's been my greatest aspiration since I was a boy. I've found the person inclined to pay me for doing it: Sergio Bonelli, that Guido Nolitta whom I so admired during my school days. Among the many dreams Zagor let me live, one of them he also made come true. Once, in the letters to one of the Darkwood hero's albums, a reader confided to Sergio Bonelli: "I know that I had a splendid childhood, thanks to Zagor". The very words I would have liked to write.