curated by Elettra Stamboulis and Viviana Gravano
Who is afraid of sequential art? Perhaps no one, or perhaps the iconoclasm that silently resurfaces from time to time is an ever-present monster that still leads many to be suspicious of comics. However, the numbers speak for themselves, in the face of a general loss of readers, the ninth art is looking fierce and is the only sector to have such a positive trend.
Elio Vittorini in “Il Politecnico” was among the first in intellectual circles to address comics as an existing fact, and therefore to be frequented, but Oreste del Buono and Umberto Eco can be considered the pioneers in Italy in revisiting comics as an autonomous phenomenon, interesting both aesthetically and in terms of content. Eco in his landmark essay Apocalittici e Integrati, in which he gives ample space to the comic strip analysing various examples from a semiological perspective writes: “The fact that the genre presents precise stylistic characteristics does not exclude the fact that it may be in a parasitic position with respect to other artistic phenomena. On the other hand, the fact that relations of parasitism can be detected at certain levels does not exclude the fact that, at others, the genre is instead in a relation of promotion and precursor”.
The term Graphic Novel first used in 1964 by critic Richard Kyle, which was also recovered in the 1970s by DC comics to define a Gothic Romance comic publication, however, became an obvious term in Will Eisner’s Contract with God. Eco had been a good prophet. The serialisation of Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the early 1980s showed that it is possible to represent trauma, despite Adorno. One can therefore narrate anything.
Graphic or as some Anglo-Saxons prefer, comic journalism derives its possibility in a way in continuity with this break: Joe Sacco with Palestine breaks another taboo. The conflict arising from the great European guilt can become the subject of a drawn reportage. Both phenomena have in fact created a sort of new bubble of interest among young people, but not only among them, towards the possibility of a new drawn geography of the real, human and natural.
We would like to devote this issue of roots_routes to those graphic novels or works of graphic journalism that are explicitly concerned with relevant social phenomena, thus acting in some way as forms of ‘art-activism’. The extensive graphic literature on all forms of ‘difficult heritage’, as well as many volumes that have become formidable tools for LGBTQIA+ people’s autonomy, form the pre-text for this issue. Graphic novels deal with complex topics such as racism and collective and individual identity issues, just as graphic journalism replaces the photographic war reportage, becomes the knowledge tool for human rights violations around the world and becomes direct action in reality.
The image as an instrument of direct and immediate communication, the use of words more concise and often in the form of first-person narratives by the drawn characters, the impression of being in front of a ‘real’ fact, but with that explicitly subjective re-mediation that drawing brings, have in fact generated a new approach to the ‘facts of the world’.
The language always seems similar but it is not, and shows all the possible cultural declinations, so that a story produced in India, one in Japan, one in Italy or the USA, do not have the same formal and aesthetic organisation, they use the word/image/page relationship differently, revealing an expressive freedom that makes this phenomenon one of the most interesting languages of our contemporaneity. So, no ‘universalist’ trap that preaches that comics are easy to understand: rather, an investigation into how “drawing – not blurred strokes, but the unity of a figure – is not what guides the path of a life from the beginning, but what that life leaves behind, without ever being able to foresee or even imagine it”, in the words of Adriana Cavarero.