Thursday, February 08, 2007
I went to Italy a couple of weeks ago. I was working in Ispra, a tiny town on Lake Maggiore that has a European Commission research centre. I arrived at 10 at night. The hotel was virtually empty and its kitchen had closed. The receptionist offered to make me a sandwich. I was sitting in the bar eating it when I saw a small comic book on the bar.
I sat and read it. Set in London, a young detective, Dylan Dog, living with someone else called Groucho who looks and acts like Groucho Marx. Investigating some sort of curse on a building site. I only got half way through it. I didn't pluck up courage to ask if I could borrow it for the night, and the next morning it was gone (I think it belonged to the hotelkeepers daughter).
Next lunchtime I was in a newsagent with my colleague Paolo. I asked him what the Italian word was for 'bandes dessinees' (the French phrase that covers everthing from comics to graphic novels). 'Fumetti' he said and took me to a huge long shelf of comics, all the same size (A5/pocket book)and length (100 ish pages) as the Dylan Dog story I had read in the bar.
Turns out there are a number of popular comic book characters in Italy and every month they bring out a complete new story for the character. Paolo described all the characters. Tex the cowboy, who has been going for sixty years and is Paolo's dad's favourite. Dylan Dog, who I'd already met. Other characters whose names I have forgotten: one set in the future like Blade runner, a crime one. They didn't just have the current months story for them, they had back issues too. Spoilt for choice. The only comic on sale in UK newsagents is 2000AD.
I chose one of the back issues of Dylan Dog, Mystero di Venezi. It was brilliant: an ill-intentioned couple trying to get a Film Director and a tour guide to hallucinate into existence demons that would destroy Venice. I chose it because it was set in Italy. I later read on Wikipedia that Dylan hardly leaves London because he gets motion sickness (in my story he travelled by train). That it is the largest selling comic in Italy. And that Umberto Eco has said that he never gets bored reading the Bible, Homer or Dylan Dog.
My lack of knowledge of Italian didn't prevent me enjoying the story and the drawing. If you want to dip your toe into the waters of learning Italian you could do a lot worse than grab hold of a few Dylan Dog stories.
Posted by James at 6:58 am