Buon compleanno, Gianni De Luca!

« Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. »

On the ninety-first anniversary of his birth, we take the opportunity to salute fumetti gran maestro Gianni De Luca (b. January 25, 1927; d. June 6, 1991)… and to share some of the striking images he crafted. In comics, the term « innovative » has been applied far too liberally, all too often in ignorance. In the case of of Mr. De Luca, no hyperbole is involved, I assure you.

I first came upon his work in the mid-70s, through my parent-sponsored subscription to the québécois catholic youth magazine Vidéo-Presse (1971-1995), which was kind of didactic, I suppose, but still quite fun. The publisher had licensed much of its comics content from Italy, and it was definitely high-toned stuff, such as adaptations of Jules Verne novels. I recall « L’Île mystérieuse » being among them. Accustomed as I was to the madcap and hyperkinetic tone of the dominant Franco-Belgian and American schools, the Verne stuff, while clearly well-executed, seemed a bit languid and wan.

However, this feature was followed by, as fate would have it, the bane of any schoolboy*, Shakespeare adaptations. But wait… these were MIND-BLOWING. Decades later, I became fast friends with another cartoonist roughly my age, and he’d had the very same epiphany with De Luca’s Hamlet. Other than that, I’ve never really met anyone familiar with the work. Even locating a copy was a bit of an ordeal, but I managed to snag, a few years ago, a handsome volume gathering Hamlet and La tempête (The Tempest), published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in 1980.

Hamlet19A
Hamlet, page eighteen. Adaptation by Barbara Graille and lettering by Roberto Roquemartine. Colours presumably by De Luca himself, as the credits are mute on that point.
Hamlet22A
Hamlet, page twenty-three.
Tempête57A
La tempête, page five.
Tempête64A
La tempête, page twelve.

I don’t believe there’s any De Luca out there in the English language… save for one happy exception: UK publisher Running PressThe Mammoth Book of Crime Comics, discerningly edited by critic Paul Gravett**, contains « Strada », a superior entry in writer Gian Luigi Gonano and De Luca’s ‘Il Commissario Spada‘ series (1970-1982). « The series was groundbreaking in many ways, since it introduced subjects like violence, organized crime, satanic sects, terrorists and murderers to the pages of a Catholic magazine for young readers, that was at the time mainly distributed in parishes. »

*To be fair, we never studied Shakespeare in school.

**Speaking of Mr. Gravett, he happened to write an illuminating essay on De Luca’s Hamlet: http://www.paulgravett.com/articles/article/gianni_de_luca_hamlet

-RG