Jules: It’s time to welcome again Cristiana Clerici (pictured here) for another international picture-book spotlight. Today, she’s reviewing a 2010 Italian picture book, written and illustrated by Spider. Yes, Spider. Also known as Daniele Melani. And this is all Cristiana’s doing—this entire post—and I’ll try not to intrude, but can I just say now right off the bat, hubba whoa to the very surreal art pictured below (not to mention the Beckett-esque tale)? Okay, I said it. Done. It’s some eye-popping stuff, and I love that Cris (I’m gonna call her Cris, as if we’re best friends way over in Italy who have cappuccinos and, I dunno, hazel cinnamon rolls and mini frittatas every morning while gabbing about picture books in a small, rustic cafe in some remote Italian town) … Where was I? Oh, I love that Cris stops by here to show us what unpredictable and peculiar (this is a compliment) stuff is happening in contemporary picture books over in Europe. In case you missed it earlier, to get the low-down on what I’m calling Cristiana Clerici’s International Spotlights, visit this page of the site.
I thank her kindly for contributing today. You can click on each image below to super-size it and see in more detail.
Cristiana: The Great Alfredo is the greatest clown of all time: he performs incredible acrobatics, he tells irresistible jokes, he does anything he can to make his public laugh. Why, you are wondering? Because laughing is good for your health. It’s scientifically-proven data, and the Great Alfredo is the scientist of laughter.
The Great Alfredo has an enviable energy. Nothing can stop him; not even illness. One day, in fact, while performing one of his incredible rope-walkings, the most famous clown in the world falls and gets hurt very badly.
He wanted to heal the world by dint of laughing and now? What will be of the most famous clown on earth? Now that his legs are seriously injured, how will he do his rope-dancing revolutions? But the Great Alfredo, we know, isn’t the kind of man who loses heart. On the contrary:
The most beloved clown in the world decides he will make a new show, and his public greets him with joy. Once his new world-wide tour is announced, the tickets are sold out in a minute and, once more, the Great Alfredo can make adults and kids laugh outloud with his hilarious remarks. Though, once again, he takes a risk and gets hurt — seriously, tremendously! What will it be of poor Alfredo now that he is completely paralysed from his head down?
Like Winnie, the surreal hero of Happy Days by Beckett, the Great Alfredo will also find himself stuck, completely motionless: at first from his waist downwards, then from his head downwards. Like Winnie, the Great Alfredo won’t attach too much importance to his condition; he will get up again to start brand-new in his own way. The similarity starts and ends here; with Il Grande Alfredo, not only is the theme different but the artistic and philosophic intents of this choice have very different purposes. In fact, even if he’s touching on the theme of the human condition (which is central in Beckett’s drama), Spider seems to be telling us that when difficulties become unbearable, the only possible alternative is reaction. Where Winnie is resigned to her peculiar condition and seems to accept it, showing just slight signs of uneasiness, the Great Alfredo suggests we attack the disease (and illness) with a huge laugh, not a sarcastic and bitter one, to be sure, but a huge, profound, and cheerful laugh, such a liberating laugh to change the bad fate that seemed to have imprisoned him forever.
The Great Alfredo resembles Patch Adams, as the publishers explain in their presentation of the book, though it’s more like a Patch Adams with a strong surreal touch that is accentuated by the gorgeous illustrations, recalling American comics dating back to the ‘20s-‘40s: Betty Boop, first of all (clearly indicated in the last image here below), and Popeye and Mickey Mouse (the one from Steamboat Willie to be precise) — with a more modern touch that reminds me of Gary Baseman’s peculiar art.
Spider—his real name is Daniele Melani—was born in Florence. After several journeys around the world, he now lives in Pesaro. Hi art has embellished several magazines, such as Il Manifesto and Ventiquattro. Since his beginning in the field, he has forged an impressive artistic path. His multicultural and nonchalant style actually encloses many different influences and trends: he easily passes from mangas to cartoons and from pop art to expressionist signs, including graffiti. For his illustrations, he uses graphic sign, wood tables, and mellow colours, almost blotting the scratched surfaces, resulting in an intense and dramatic expressive touch that emphasizes the surreal and, at times, grotesque tones of the stories he tells.
- Molto nuvoloso; text by Fabian Negrin (2002);
- Il mondo invisibile e altri racconti; text by Fabian Negrin; illustrations by several artists (2004);
- La riparazione del nonno; text by Stefano Benni (2006);
- Emma: Dove vanno i fiori durante l’inverno?, his first solo project (2008).
- For those who enjoy Popeye, I suggest the following blog: http://popeyeanimators.blogspot.com/;
- Betty Boop: Among others, the illustrator I prefer is Grim Natwick. On Michael Sporn’s blog you will find many interesting images and information: http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/index.php?s=Grim+Natwick&submit=Search;
- If you wish to know more about Gary Baseman, this is his website: http://www.garybaseman.com/.
Copyright © text and images by Orecchio Acerbo 2010. Images have been reproduced with the permission of the publisher. Any reproduction is strictly forbidden.