I PROTAGONISTI (1974)
This splendid collection of large-sized publications was prompted by the desire of Sergio Bonellli and the script-writer-cum-illustrator Rino Albertarelli to "round out" some of the characters of the epic stories of the West who, in the comic strip albums, were often treated with a certain insouciance as compared to the true historical course of events, because the albums necessarily gave priority to the theme of adventure. The outcome of this new undertaking, which offered veritable biographies of the characters, was a series of some of the finest comics ever published in Italy. Albertarelli conducted in-depth documentary research (and each album listed an exhaustive bibliography of the works consulted to write the book) and succeeded in transferring the real feel and historical background of the Frontier onto his pages. He freed "legendary" characters such as General Custer or the Apache chief, Geronimo, from the aura of the fantastic they had acquired in popular imagination, he restored them to their rightful setting in History and provided a reliable interpretation of their lives, which is still considered valid today. So we find Billy the Kid, Sitting Bull, Wyatt Earp and many many others coming to life through the splendid cartoon pages of the great illustrator, in drawings rich in detail and amazingly realistic, inspired as they were by the testimony of the (rare) period photographs. It is here that we finally become acquainted with the real face of those who, for better or for worse, created the myth of the Far West. After Albertarelli passed away, the ambitious project, which was too closely linked to his personality and his graphic style, was abandoned, and the series closed with album number 10, dedicated to Hermann Lehmann, the white man who lived among the Indians and refused ever to renounce his Indian nationality. Albertarelli had managed to provide illustrations for only forty-three pages of this story, so the album was completed by Sergio Toppi, who wished thereby to offer his own magnificent graphic talent as a tribute to his great late lamented colleague.
MISTER NO (1975)
Jerry Drake, a former American military pilot who earned himself the nickname of Mister No during the Second World War on account of his rebellious nature, decides to abandon his own country, the ideals of which he no longer shares, and to go to ground in Brazil, amid the shanty-town hovels of Manaus, a city that retains only a few buildings testifying to its ancient splendor. A drifter in our "civilized" world, in Amazonia Mister No finds a lifestyle that suits him, and happily "changes his spots" by becoming a sort of "tourist operator" who hires out his dilapidated old plane, a Piper, as well as his own skills as a pilot, to tourists or anyone else who might need him. Our hero lives from day to day, trying to keep out of trouble (but the latter regularly ferrets him out), running after some skirt or other or spending his evenings over a good few glasses of cachaça with his friends, one of the most important of these being the German Kruger, known as EsseEsse. While Jerry Drake's adventures maintain a rigidly realistic structure, they have ranged over virtually all the genres of popular fiction, from pure action to detective stories, touching on science fiction and high comedy, at times dragging the character out of his "natural" environment and propelling him as far as Italy, Africa and the United States. But there is also no lack of episodes about the character's past, from his youth in the Thirties up to the war, and then also during his subsequent years as a drifter wandering all over the world, up to his definitive stopping point in Manaus, in the nineteen-fifties). The character Mister No is the work of Guido Nolitta, alias Sergio Bonelli, to whom this series offered an opportunity to convey his immense love for an environment that is perhaps the last remaining place where one can plausibly have a real present-day adventure. In this respect, Nolitta was vastly ahead of his time, prefiguring some of the ecological themes that are widely felt today. Provided with initial sketches by Bonelli's various co-workers, the character was then defined by the elegant hand of Roberto Diso, whose lively and attractive illustrations succeeded magnificently in depicting the natural scenery that forms the back-cloth to this unconventional pilot's adventures.