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Comic Books & Eduardo De Filippo

artwork: Mauro Salvatori &Fabrizio Faina
lettering: Luca Lermano ©ELLEDI'91
I remember sitting in the Tokyo subway one time next to a young gentleman who was elegantly power-dressed —probably on his way to a Toshiba board of directors meeting. He was reading a comic book, the title of which was—I was able to piece this together from my meager knowledge of Japanese and by asking him not to turn the pages so fast—Mutant Sex Slaves from Beyond Infinity.

Maybe an adult reading a comic book shouldn't have surprised me, nor are his tastes any of my concern. A lot of people like comics, and I am aware of their cultural importance because they say something profound about this or that. My own Jr. High School book reports would have been impossible but for the existence of the famous (or infamous) Classics Illustrated, a comic book series started in 1947 by a Russian immigrant Albert Kanter. Number 1 in the series was The Three Musketeers. (That issue, in very fine condition, costs $225 on the internet these days. I paid 10 cents back then. Is there a message in there, somewhere?) I recall collecting most of the Classics Illustrated up to about number 100, Mutiny on the Bounty, when my tastes changed more in the direction of soft, living non-collectibles who made you buy them stuff just for one lousy kiss.

English teachers hated those comics. We loved them, and how fondly I recall the epistemological debates that swirled around whether—in lieu of actually reading the book—one should use these comics—which I favored—or a book called 100 Famous Plot Outlines —favored by my best friend, Steve. He is still my best friend, and we have not resolved that dispute to this day. 

Comics abound in Italian culture, and if there is a local, Neapolitan attempt to bring famous literary figures to life sporting little balloons above or beside their heads, it is probably a series dedicated to (from the cover)  "the most significant works of the great Eduardo De Filippo," (published monthly in 1998 by Elledi'91 s.r.l. in Scafati, near Salerno). There were 12 issues in all, covering, indeed, much of the important literary output of Naples' most famous playwright of the 20th century (see, also, this entry).

I happen to be looking at the issue dedicated to the play, Filumena Marturano, but the format is identical on all of them: 30 x 21 cm (about the size of a standard sheet of typewriting paper), glossy color cover, about 60 black-and-white pages with 6 to 8 cartoon panels to a page. Credit is given in the editorial information to those who adapted the text of the original play, the cartoonists, and those who did the lettering. Additionally, there are some paragraphs of praise from a few people in the De Filippo family who like the idea. 

Eduardo, himself, was acknowledged to be the best interpreter of the roles that he created for himself in his plays. Thus, in a sense, he still "owns" those roles, and the male lead in all of these comic versions of his plays is rendered as Eduardo (see illustration, above). Also important if you are not Neapolitan is the fact that the comics all contain some sort of Neapolitan/Italian glossary to help decipher the authentic, densely Neapolitan dialect of the text. Each issue includes, as well, a short written introduction to the work, of the kind that you might find in an encyclopedia of literature. 

At the time, the series claimed to be part of an effort to present great world literature in comic format, but I have not seen any others. Maybe they stopped at number 1.

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