Luigi Bernardi (Bologna, 1953), writer, editor, and publisher, inaugurated his first rivista di fumetto d’autore (auteur comics magazine), Orient Express, in June 1982. Since the beginning, his main aim was to reinstate the adventure fiction into Italian comics magazines, because he had perceived a sort of divorce between the two, as if adventure itself was no longer worthy of attention. However, Orient Express “si inserisce nel nuovo fervore per il racconto ad immagini, e ha l’ambizione di diventarne uno dei vettori trainanti” (Bernardi “Editoriale” #1). Like many contemporary new wave comics magazines, Orient Express imported the Franco-Belgian periodical-format to Italy. However, as opposed to other magazines’ tendency to publish mainly French and Argentinian artists, or, as it was the case for Frigidaire, Italian underground and avant-garde authors, Orient Express prided itself on publishing almost only Italian cartoonists of adventure fiction. For three years, Bernardi gathered renowned as well as little-known artists, and offered them a refined platform where to express themselves.

My research projects centers on the phenomenon of auteur comics between the mid-1960s and 1980s in Italy. These decades saw the explosion of a new format of adult comics, the auteur magazine, which aimed at comics’ connoisseurs. Starting with the translation of classic comic strips, these magazines offered Italian readers both old and new international materials, and provided Italian authors and cartoonists with a venue for their stories. In the 1970s, the dominance of humorous Anglo-Saxon strips was challenged by Franco-Belgian science fiction and Latin-American realist comics. By the early 1980s, the majority of auteur magazines was devoted to French and Latin-American artists. Except for a few “masters,” Italian authors were generally a minority.

The point of departure of my project is the socio-historical contextualization of the Italian comics milieu in these decades, in order to point out major trends in the market, as well as similarities and differences in the production of comics. In order to re-contextualize Italian comics during this time, I analyze the corpus of the magazine Orient Express. This magazine distinguished itself from the others through its carefully planned editorial line, and for its emphasis on quality adventure stories with a strong narrative. These stories were created almost only by Italian artists, many of whom were not yet established auteurs. Due to its short editorial life – three years for a total of thirty issues – Orient Express is an oft-overlooked product among scholars of Italian comics; I contend that there are several reasons for reversing this trend.

First, Orient Express collaborated with several young comic-makers and well-known artists who had been given little visibility by other auteur comics magazines. Second, some of the stories that Orient Express published are among the finest comics productions of the 1980s. Third, the editorial trajectory of Orient Express is particularly representative of the status of the Italian comics market in the 1970s-1990s. The way in which Orient Express blended auteur comics and popular comics anticipated the blurring of boundaries that took place in the late 1980s and ended up expanding the possibilities of the medium.

In conclusion, this research integrates several theoretical frameworks, such as popular culture, media, and social and cultural history. On the one hand, by examining editorials, columns, reviews, other pertinent media sources, I address questions of authorship, reception, and the publishing industry that extend beyond the comics field. On the other, through an approach to Orient Express as a container of comics stories, I explore the predominant modes and genres of the period, as well as its most representative authors. The aim is to deepen our knowledge of an understudied cultural phenomenon (i.e. auteur comics) and also to offer a hermeneutic tool for understanding more recent contemporary issues related to the world of comics.


Outcomes

Papers presented:

2019                “Readers of comics: the case of Orient Express.” “Mediating Italy in Global Culture” Summer School University of Bologna (17-22 June).

2019                “Letters to the Editor: Epistolary and Participatory Culture in Italian Auteur Comics Magazines.” Northeast Modern Language Association Annual Conference – Washington, DC (21-24 March).

2018                “L’era delle riviste: la maturità del fumetto tra innovazione e ripetizione.” American Association for Italian Studies Conference– Sorrento, Italy (14-17 June).

2017                “‘High’ and ‘Low’ Dynamics in Italian Comic Magazines: The Case of Orient Express.South Atlantic Modern Language Association Annual Convention – Atlanta, GA (3-5 November). 

2017                “Italian comics magazines of the Eighties: Orient Express and its elements of novelty.” Canadian Society of Italian Studies / American Association of Italian Studies Joint Conference – Columbus, OH (20-22 April).