Popular Culture Association Conference 2018

Dallavalle - PCA 2018

The 1970s and the 1980s represent an era of formal and stylistic experimentation in the world of comics, both in the United States and in Italy. My talk seeks to explore two almost contemporary comics works, Art Spiegelman’s “The Malpractice Suite” (1976) and Stefano Tamburini’s Snake Agent (1981–84), that, albeit not directly influenced by each other, share a similar approach to the medium and to past artistic influences. I will point out how both Spiegelman and Tamburini operate and impose their reading on previous American newspaper strips, respectively the medical Rex Morgan M.D. and the hard-boiled Secret Agent X-9, by means of collaging and photocopy “acceleration.” Spiegelman’s and Tamburini’s reinterpretation results in two comic strips that, although of the same genre as their original, deform the interplay between words and images and generate surreal situations. I will also show that their formal experimentation in comics draws inspiration from previous high art works, namely Jess Collins’ Tricky Cad (1954–59) and Bruno Munari’s Original Xerographies (1960s–70s). Eventually, I argue that the similarities in Spiegelman’s and Tamburini’s manipulation of pre-existing comic strips is to be attributed less to direct influence on one another than to a common “spirit of the age”, identified as the neo-baroque (Calabrese xii).

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