Lucca, 1966–2006, for 40 years the world capital of cartoon comic strips

Each year for the past 40 years, at the end of October, for a few days Lucca becomes the world capital of comic strips, organizing exhibitions and hosting editors and artists coming from the world over. In the Tuscan city, the MUF is born, the Italian Comics Museum, where the characters of the "talking clouds" have found a permanent home and propose their story to the loving fans of this genre.

Lucia Maffei

It is told that the first comic strip was born in the USA, in 1893: a strip of drawings that appeared in the Sunday insert of the “The New York World” by Joseph Pulitzer. Protagonist was a small boy with no hair, wearing a yellow nightshirt: The Yellow Kid.

This curious little boy, created through the pencil of Richard Felton Outcalt, became immediately famous and the color of his long yellow shirt, initially chosen with the sole scope of testing the printing machines for that particular color, became an icon inexorably tied to this paper character! And Yellow Kid, many years later, would become the testimonial for an all-Italian event.

IT WAS 1966 when in Lucca, inside a basement beneath the City Walls, in a rather magical and secretive atmosphere, the first edition of “Comics” came to light, an exhibition which would soon afterwards become famous by the name of “International Exhibition and Market of Comics ” or, more simply, “Lucca Comics”. Right from the very first editions, Lucca immediately became the meeting point for the most important comic strip artists, for editors and, above all, for the thousands of loving fans of this very particular literary genre. And since 1966, year after year the Tuscan city of Lucca turns into a stage for an incredible show, where the protagonists are none other than comic strip characters – from Batman to Spiderman, from Diabolik to Mickey Mouse, from Flash Gordon to Tex Willer up to the most recent, futuristic and oneiric Japanese mangas.

WITHIN VERY FEW YEARS, LUCCA NOT ONLY CONSOLIDATES ITS LEADING ITALIAN POSITION IN THIS REALM, BUT ALSO RIGHTFULLY ASSUMES THE TITLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL CAPITAL OF THE COMIC STRIP. Italian and foreign authors begin to consider the annual appointment with the Tuscan city as the best showcase in which to present the new heroes born from the imagination of their pencils. And each year during the three-day exhibition, the most important names in the publishing industry and in the world of collectors present special issues, extremely rare editions and editorial initiatives.

To make the deep vocation that the city has towards the world of comics and superheroes on paper even more tangible and permanent, the MUF – Museo Nazionale del Fumetto (Italian Comics Museum) is born in Lucca. The museum has found its perfect lieu in the former Lorenzini military station, located within the City Walls, where an extraordinary collection is on show, comprised of about 30,000 illustration plates and sketches and over 500,000 albums and magazines. An artistic value estimated at some 25 million Euro.

THE MUSEUM’S “OLD FACTORY” STYLE ENTRANCE, WITH ITS IMPOSING, SHIELD-SHAPED SLIDING DOORS LEADS TO THE FANTASTIC WORLD OF COMIC STRIPS, where the past accompanies us into the present along an exciting tour, all underscored by the element of surprise.

And it is indeed the history of the Italian comic strip – from the mythical Signor Bonaventura to Tex Willer, to Diabolix and to the most recent Dylan Dog and Martin Mystère – which comes to life during a visit through the museum’s halls. A walk as intriguing as a fairytale, telling the story of people, heroes and “talking clouds.” The “trail” to be followed inside the museum is actually divided into two physically distinct blocks, different for themes. The first block, dedicated to the History of Comics, chronologically exhibits portions of the MUF collection. In the second block of the museum, the tour becomes even more exciting and interactive thanks also to the laboratories dedicated to “the little ones”, where they can learn how to “play with the clouds” and make their own comics.

Maybe, the hall denominated “The houses where dreams live” is the most suggestive of the entire tour.

HERE, THE VISITOR CONTINUES HIS TRIP TOGETHER WITH NINE OF THE MOST FAMOUS AND BELOVED COMIC STRIP HEROES. To them is dedicated a special scenario, which re-proposes their world through the use of original objects or objects reproduced in natural size. From the 1910s style schoolroom of Quadratino, to the 1930s style living room of X9 and Grace; the 1940s kitchen with Mickey Mouse and Eta Beta; the 1950s metropolitan corner with Superman’s phone booth; the typical Italian street from the 1950s with Tiramolla, Cucciolo and Beppe sitting in a real Fiat 500 car called “Topolino”; the 1960s disco and beach, with a real juke-box added to the scenario taken from the stories of Violante; the 1970s photographer’s stage set with the design objects of Valentina; the 1980s new York home of Martin Mystère; the 1990s London residence of Dylan Dog, right on Craven Road.

THE MUF IS THEREFORE NOT ONLY A CULTURAL TRIP THROUGH ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS AND PLATES, heritage of the history of comics, but also a physical trip in the universe and in the ambiences where they move and live, a place where a fantastic and narrative body becomes a physical entity. This new space dedicated to comics is not only a place where the heroes of our childhood and adolescence are remembered and find a permanent home: it is also the pulsating heart of a place where to play games and diffuse information to an attentive and motley audience and to a city that has always been sensitive and passionate to this topic.

Maybe then, it is not by chance that one of today’s most famous artists is an Italian from Lucca: Simone Bianchi, author, among other works, of the poster for the 2005 edition of Comics. Artist for the Marvel Italia publishing house for years, he has recently been called also to Dc Comics, the famous US publishing house of Batman and Superman, to draw 'Shining Knight', a new mini-series by the maestro Grant Morrison. We asked Simone, to whom the MUF has dedicated a monographic exhibition, if he can anticipate to us how “his” Batman will be: “My Batman? Well, Batman is the Gothic, the obscurity. Batman has dark eyes because he is dark himself, he is a definitive person. His actions, his hypertrophic strength are just projections of the force of his mind. That’s how my Batman will be!” •

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