SaMLA 2017

This paper seeks to examine the categories of “high” and “low” within the medium of comics itself, through the example of the Italian comics magazine Orient Express (1982-1985). Founded by Luigi Bernardi, Orient Express was one of the many “auteur comics magazines” that in those decades imported a Franco-Belgian format into Italy. However, this editorial product proved to be different from the others for it published almost only Italian artists, many of whom were not established yet as “authors”. The novelty of Orient Express was, in fact, its blending of the so called “high” and “low”, which in Italy was defined as “auteur comics” and “popular comics”. Although initially these two expressions were used to identify different modes of production, they soon acquired a qualitative acceptation. Nevertheless, Orient Express looked beyond these limiting definitions, and showed how the coexistence of “auteur” and “popular” comics was not only possible but also fruitful. First, Bernardi gathered a group of artists that were either little known or coming from the ranks of “popular” comics, such as Magnus or Berardi and Milazzo, and allowed them to aspire to be or actually become complete authors. Second, Orient Express represented the attempt of Sergio Bonelli, Italian most important editor of popular (format-wise) comics, to produce auteur works when he bought the magazine in 1983. In my talk I will illustrate the ways in which Orient Express interpreted these dynamics in its three years of publication and how it eventually had to surrender to the change in readers’ taste, who get tired of the episodic format and began to prefer more completed or self-concluded stories.

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