UN UOMO UN’AVVENTURA loosely translates as A MAN AN ADVENTURE. If we wanted to move past the literal, we might change that to A MAN OF ADVENTURE, or for that matter, TWO FISTED TALES.
Now bear with me for a moment, if you will, and indulge me.
TWO FISTED TALES, as some of you might know, and for the record anybody with a serious interest in comics should know, was the title Harvey Kurtzman gave his editorial creation at EC comics. It was, as he described it in his proposal to Bill Gaines, an adventure anthology comic book.
Two events that arose from this successful pitch continue to mystify me. First, I wonder why his colleagues, specifically Gaines and Al Feldstein, who handled much of the writing for the company that wasn’t done by Kurtzman, which is to say most of it, didn’t have a fucking clue what Kurtzman meant by this, or for that matter what he intended.
Second, and even odder to my eyes, is why the editorial choice was made to transform TWO FISTED TALES into a war comic book, a virtual twin to FRONTLINE COMBAT, Kurtzman’s other editorial labor fest at EC, at the outbreak of the Korean war. I can only suppose that the thought was the only adventure any of their readers would be interested in was war, short and detached narratives of both that current conflict and wars of the past.
As a lifelong reader of adventure fiction of all sorts I remain nonplussed by this curious editorial decision—a choice upended and overturned by John Severin and Colin Dawkins, when Kurtzman, preoccupied by MAD, turned over the editorial control of TWO FISTED Tales to these two, who returned the comic book, for the brief time of their run, to its roots.
Which, finally I would guess for some of you, brings me to Un Uomo Un’Avventura.
I was first introduced to this series of avowedly adolescent adventure stories in comic book—or, perhaps more specifically, to go all Euro on you, comic album form—in the late 1970s, via L’UOMO DI RANGOON, a Flying Tiger adventure drawn by Ferdinando Tacconi, a brilliant cartoonist less well known in his native Italy than in the UK, where he’d produced consistently swell work for the FLEETWAY line of war comics.
I became an immediate fan of Tacconi’s work, and have promoted his output and his memory in the decades since. If you’re a fan of comics other than those detailing the adolescent power fantasies of costumed wounded narcissists with lasers coming out of their eyes, I highly recommend a deep dig in his regard. Anecdotally, I brought my copy of that album home from that first trip to Italy, and in a gesture of goodwill and admiration, I sent it as a gift to Alex Toth, to my eyes the greatest comic book artist the American market ever had, and incidentally, a lifelong Flying Tiger enthusiast.
In what would be my first personal experience with what I would soon understand to be Alex's typically ungracious and outright shitty behavior, rather than a simple thanks—you know, like normal people would do—Toth sent me a letter of detailed criticism of Tacconi’s work, excoriating the book in no uncertain terms.
And naturally, he never bothered to return the book. Fuck him. And yes, I do digress.
Suffice to say, as a fan of crime, westerns and historical fiction, subjects well covered in these albums, I’ve owned a number of volumes in the series over the years. Subjectively, there’s a great range of styles and talent in service of material that frankly often catches the essence of the chapter play serials of the 1930s and 1940s at worst, the atmosphere of Howard Hawk’s ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and John Huston’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING at best.
The two Tacconi volumes, the above mentioned L’UOMO DI RANGOON as well as L’UOMO DEL DESERTO, a romping pastiche of T.E. Lawrence’s experiences in the Arab world in the First World War, are both equipped with overtly cleavaged heroines, an acknowledgment of Tacconi’s work on the cheesy erotica digest comics that came out of Italy at roughly the same time.
For the most part, as noted above, these are historical dramas, westerns, crime and war stories—and not to put too fine a point on it, they are, again as noted above, boy’s adventures, in no way equipped with the sort of profound depth, point of view, or nuance we expect from mature fiction. These are comics which owe more to John Buchan than Graham Greene, to James Fenimore Cooper than to Ernest Hemingway.
We are talking here about the writing, of course. One of the things we young American cartoonists, intimidated by all that gorgeous European printing and various foreign languages, all learned to our delight and chagrin, too, was that while the artwork in most if not all European comics was better than much if not all of that in the American stuff, the writing was just as shitty, just, you know, in those foreign languages.
But—and it’s a big fucking but—the artwork. From cover to cover, the best of the series—and believe you me, there’s a lot of best here—is some of the most perfect examples of European comics talent of that excellence-packed era you’ll ever find.
Beside the Tacconi volumes, both of which are fun romps, you’ve got a number of terrific entries from the wonderful Sergio Toppi, my favorite of which is his take on the Seminole wars in Florida of the 1840s. Toppi, much of whose work is more illustrative than continuity based—his covers are pretty fucking extraordinary—does justice to pages of well made and well executed narrative here.
Dino Battaglia, a lifelong devotee of his idol, Alex Toth—see above—is represented by books about the French and Indian wars, and the French Foreign Legion. Battaglia, often compared disparagingly to Hugo Pratt, is a terrific artist in his own right, and delivers the goods here but good.
The Algerian Attilio Micheluzzi, a giant of Italian comics who came to the trade late after a career in the law, who died tragically young, delivers the same brilliance he produced in his books about the Titanic, Siberia, and the early days of the air mail in the US. And in the case of Micheluzzi, there’s plenty of bravado, but this incredible talent never veered into the sort of romanticized view of the past that many of his contemporaries did here. He gets melodramatic, certainly, but the very nature of his approach is one of detachment. Entre nous, I love Micheluzzi’s stuff.
On the other hand, I’m on record as not being an admirer of Hugo Pratt, finding his deeply overpraised work sloppy, arbitrary and repetitious, rather than loose, but his work here is among the best of that period, with fewer of his standard variations on the same Caniff/Robbins/Toth derived tropes.
The rest of the collection is varied, one-offs of talent high and low, with a few genuine stinkers, none of which I will identify out of kindness, and, to be sure, the acknowledgment that this is an entirely subjective opinion, informed as it may be.
That said, there is, for me at least, one real surprise. Milo Manara, whose one trick pony sexy girl pose bullshit wore out its welcome with me ages ago, delivers a solid, well made and well told narrative adventure about the abominable snowman, of all things.
As noted, this series of adventure comics would hardly be considered adult fare, certainly in terms of narrative, but visually, they are generally terrific, and in some cases, transcendent. And although they tend to the melodramatic, I’d like to think that had Two-Fisted Tales not been hijacked by the Korean war, this sort of material, better written certainly, but as beautifully drawn, might have been the sort of work that showed up under that title so many decades ago—with the added frisson of Kurtzman’s brilliant, didactic and detached layout to more perfectly focus the narrative point of view.
Suffice it to say I dearly wish this series was available in reasonably priced English language trade paperback editions, but I know full well the market for this sort of stuff doesn’t hold a candle to the lasers from the eyes crowd. More’s the pity.
And I’ll close with this. A few years back, one of my oldest friends, not coincidentally the man who introduced me to Alex Toth, in person, in the first place, returned to California after a week spent at the Lucca Comics Festival. He showed up at my place, and handed me a copy of L’UOMODI RANGOON to replace the one I’d sent to Alex, nearly forty years before.
O’Henry, eat your heart out.