Luigi Bernardi (Bologna, 1953), writer, editor, and publisher, inaugurated his first rivista di fumetto d’autore (‘auteur comics magazine’) in June 1982. He titled it Orient Express, recalling the mystique of the 20th-century trans-European train, and the work of detective fiction par excellence, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934). The stated aim of the magazine was that of partaking into the “nuovo fervore per il racconto ad immagini,” and becoming “uno dei vettori trainanti” (‘new excitement for visual storytelling […] one of the leading comics magazines;’ Bernardi, “Editoriale” [no.1] 3). The feeling of novelty Bernardi referred to seems to derive from the end, or at least the twilight, of a mode of making comics that had characterized a good part of 1970s European production. It was the mode of Les Humanoïdes Associés’ science fiction, “fatta di visioni grandiose e catastrofiste, mistica e metafisica […] cupa, estrema e spettacolare” (‘made of grand, catastrophic visions, a mystic, metaphysic science fiction, […] darker, more extreme and spectacular;’ Barbiari, Breve storia 73). Their way of “destabilizing the narrative rigidity” of traditional comics storytelling (Castaldi, Drawn and Dangerous 34) had left a mark on Italian comics too, but it was a mark that the proponents of narrative and graphic coherency, such as Bernardi himself, were eager to leave behind.

“Auteur comics magazines in italy: the case of orient express (1982-1985)” – Introduction

My dissertation centers on the understudied and yet very representative auteur comics magazine Orient Express; it aims at casting light on its role as a training ground for a new generation of Italian comics authors and as a foreteller of a new comics season in Italy. Not only is Orient Express worthy of scholarly attention in itself; it also represents a case study that illuminates the art of making a (comics) magazine and provides the means for understanding the complex dynamics that rule the relationship among publishers, editors, staff, authors, and the market.

Auteur comics magazines appeared in late 1960s and thrived in the following two decades, mainly re-publishing works from Anglo-Saxon, Franco-Belgian, and Hispanic authors. Among the competitors, Orient Express distinguished itself for its carefully planned editorial line, its emphasis on quality storytelling, and its commitment to showcase Italian authors, many of whom were not acknowledged auteurs yet. Moreover, the way in which Orient Express blended auteur-comics and popular-comics formats into the so-called popolare d’autore anticipated a tendency that became gradually more frequent and successful in the late 1980s and 1990s, as this format proved more able to adapt to the change in the cultural and medial context. This dissertation is composed of two parts.

Part I provides a historical and cultural contextualization of the Italian comics environment in the period preceding and following Orient Express’ publication, focusing on the phenomenon of auteur comics from a theoretical standpoint, as well as identifying and detailing major auteur comics magazines that were active between 1965 and the mid-1980s.

Part II presents the outcomes of my archival research on Orient Express; it contributes an all-encompassing understanding of the magazine’s aesthetics, content, and positioning in the market through the in-depth analysis of non-comics elements (paratext and editorial content) and comics elements as well as the predominant modes and genres of the period, and its most representative authors. The last chapter expands the scope of this research into the field of comics readership; combining both traditional and digital methods (including close readings, text analysis, concordancing, and data visualization), I examine the letters to the editor to gain an insight into the kind of readers the magazine had. In Part II I propose a method to study comics magazines that can be applied effectively to other forms of periodical products.


Papers presented:

2020                “Luigi Bernardi: L’Isola Trovata e Orient Express.” Luigi Bernardi e l’immaginario pop roundtable – University of Bologna (17 January).

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).