“We’re back!” were the first words that fans heard when their favorite authors entered the conference room. At the 33rd edition of the Turin International Book Fair, BAO Publishing brought back on stage some of its best comic artists. After almost two years of events canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, Zerocalcare, Giacomo Bevilacqua, Daniel Cuello, Yi Yang, and Nova finally experienced a long-awaited reunion with their readers. Caterina Marietti, CEO of BAO Publishing together with Michele Foschini, asked some questions, but the conversation quickly shifted toward a playful chat between friends.
The talk started with a little walk down memory lane. What was the first time these authors meet comics? All of them had their story to tell. Zerocalcare said that he actually has no memory of a time in which he did not read comics. Daniel Cuello recalled when he was living in Argentina, reading Paperinik (Donald Duck‘s superhero persona) and several parodies of American superheroes, such as El Chapulín Colorado. Bevilacqua had it somewhat easier, as his father is a comics collector. “I read Watchmen when I was a kid” he says. “When I finished it I didn’t understand a thing, but I knew it was awesome!” Later on, he grew fond of manga, starting from Hokuto no Ken.
Growing up in China, Yang had always been close to Japanese culture, especially manga and anime. Actually, it was not a choice, she was pestered by them. Then, when she started making money with Dragon Ball fanfictions, she considered making a living out of comics. However, Nova probably told the funniest story. Her relationships with comics started with her making comics about her cats and rewriting the endings of cartoons she liked. Then, she started drawing yaoi (manga about homoerotic relationships) of Captain Tsubasa.
When the question about how to approach comics for the first time came up, it triggered a little discussion. If for Cuello the point is how you present a comic book, trying to convey the idea it can contain layered and complex matters like a book, Bevilacqua insisted on saying it depends mostly on the open-mindedness of the reader. While the two continued squabblings, the other authors agreed that comics are an art form with specific features and it is not necessarily easy to understand them. “I tend to be a little bit didactic because I want to be sure the reader understands what I’m saying and I know they can be stupid, sometimes”, said Zerocalcare jokingly.
It was also intriguing to find out how much of themselves they put in their works and how they handle this. Yang said she prefers to tell what she experienced directly because it turns out more sincerely like that. Also, she likes to share painful experiences, different for everyone, while happiness tends to be always the same. Bevilacqua and Nova too can’t help but put much of themselves in their comics. Panda Head, Bevilacqua’s alter ego, is basically an excuse to analyze his own issues (“The psychoanalytical part didn’t go very well in the long run, so I shifted to a real therapist”, he added). While Nova said: “Everything I write talks about me in some way. I wouldn’t be able to write otherwise.”
Cuello and Zerocalcare, on the other hand, felt freer and freer to talk about private matters comic book after comic book. But there is also stuff they prefer to leave undisclosed. “I never talked about the real event which inspired the inciting incident of Tentacles at my throat and I probably never will”, confessed Zerocalcare.
Future projects and the consequences of the pandemic
Of course, the pandemic couldn’t be left out of the discussion. Someone from the audience asked Marietti how was it to run BAO Publishing in 2020. She frankly answered that failure was a likely outcome. Shops were closed and there was no way to make presentations. Social networks and e-commerce were fundamental, they helped the publishing house survive and keep a connection with the readers. Some graphic novels were published, but it was like they never actually came out, as Yang says about her Easy Breezy.
The pandemic also provoked different kinds of consequences. For Nova, the issue was about the theme of her last work, 24/7. Even if she conceived it before the spread of COVID-19, it is set in a supermarket during a medical emergency! “I didn’t want my book to be about Covid“, she explains. “I had to change it, push it further and make it more grotesque. And enjoyed doing it actually”.
Zerocalcare even experienced some upsides, since during the pandemic he tested himself with animation. The result was the short series Rebibbia Quarantine, which was a success and made him get in touch with a different kind of audience. Aired during the TV program Propaganda Live, not only comic readers but also the general public had a chance to watch it. Then, the meeting ended with some hints to future works. Yang revealed her next graphic novel will have the same characters of Easy Breezy, without being a sequel “because sequels usually suck”. Cuello, instead, gave a more mysterious piece of information. “All of my stories are one-shot, but since Residenza Arcadia I’m planning to make them converge in one point”. Could the title be “The 34th tooth”, Caterina jokes, the one he broke just before the pandemic started?
The pen name of Michele Rech, he published his first comic book in 2011, The prophecy of the armadillo, a collection of his comic strips. In 2012 his first graphic novel came out, Tentacles at my throat, and Forget my name (2015) came second at Premio Strega Youth Section. In 2015 as well he started to publish in the magazine Internazionale with comics reportage, Kobane Calling, which has been reprinted as a comic book and in 2017 won the Attilio Micheluzzi Prize. The MAXXI Museum of Rome hosted in 2018 an exhibition about him, Scavare fossati – Nutrire coccodrilli. He also collaborates with magazines and newspapers like Wired, La Repubblica, L’Espresso. His first animated TV show, Strappare lungo i bordi, starts on November 2021 on Netflix.
His most famous work is A Panda piace…, made of comic strips published on social networks and awarded with the Attilio Micheluzzi Prize as best web-comic in 2011. These comic strips have been gathered and published in many comic books. In 2016 he published the graphic novel The sound of the world by heart, awarded with Premio Lettori Feltrinelli at Lucca Comics 2017. With Sergio Bonelli Editore he published Lavennder and Attica (Gran Guinigi Prize as best series 2020). Troppo facile amarti in vacanza, his latest graphic novel, came out in 2021.
Born in Còrdoba, Argentina, he has been living in Italy for a while now. He publishes his illustrations and comic strips on his website danielcuello.com, Instagram and Twitter. So far he has published three graphic novels: Mercedes, Residenza Arcadia and Guardati dal beluga magico.
Born and raised in China, in 2013 she decided to move to Italy to become a renovator but ended up as a comics artist. She collaborated as an illustrator with Isaak Friedl for the graphic novels Aiuto! and Aiuto! – Fratelli. Easy Breezy is her first graphic novel.
Nova Graduated in Fine Arts, her debut was the graphic novel Stelle o Sparo, published in 2018. Since 2013 she collaborates with TINALS – This is not a love song. 24/7 is her latest comic book.
Giovanni Di Rienzo contributed to this article