East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Italian style


toppi11Many years ago I met a guy that was an excellent comic artist, in a sort of “classical” Japanese manga style.
And I mean, he was really good.
So one day he picked up his portfolio, bought a ticket to Tokyo, and did the tour of the comic publishers there, showing his stuff around.
And the Japanese publishers were absolutely impressed.
There was just a little glitch – they had buildings full of people doing exactly that kind of artwork.
“This is very good,” they said, “but can’t you do something… Italian? Like I dunno, Pratt, or Toppi, or Crepax…”

I thought about this story last week, when the usual “Italians should write Italian stories in Italian” popped up on the web, as it usually happens once every two or three months.

I am in a pretty awkward situation.
I write both in Italian and English.
I write genre fiction, pulp or fantastic in style and themes – not exactly Italian.
My stories are often set in the the Near or Far East, on Pacific islands, in mysterious places I never visited.
On other planets.
One of my favorite characters is a Polish adventuress that pretends to be a Russian aristocrat in Shanghai, and speaks a pretty slangy English, laced with Chinese, Russian and Chinese Pidgin.
I am, in other words, wrong, at least from the point of view of those that want “Italian stories”.

But I take a different view of the problem.
I am an Italian writing genre fiction.
And that’s it.
I use characters, places and languages that are functional to my stories.


After that, do I bring an Italian style to my narratives?
I don’t know.
It would be great to do what Sergio Leone did with western movies, or Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci did with horror and supernatural cinema.
I’m not that good, but I can try.
Make it a matter of style, not contents.


Focusing on language and genre as a way to define a “national style” is, in my opinion, extremely superficial.
And ultimately damaging.
Based on the principle of sticking close to home, you can’t set a certain type of story in, say, Hong Kong, because it’s not your environment.
And then there’s the age-old “it could never happen here” – and so, you can’t set your story in an exotic locale, and you can’t set it on your doorstep.
And as a result, you basically have a set of stories you can’t write.
A large set of stories.
It’s silly.

9910000021428_cgOn the other hand, maybe that’s the reason why genre fiction usually gets dismissed by serious literati hereabouts.

I am convinced it is possible to bring national sensibilities to an internationally-appealing story that sticks to the themes and clichés of the genre.
And I’m pretty sure it is not “wrong”.
After all, I love Sergio Toppi’s stories of The Collector – that are straightforward adventure yarns set in Africa and the far East.
And Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese is a globe-trotting man without a nation, and his adventures are set all over the map.
And yet both authors remain deeply Italian – not just in their drawing style, but in their storytelling. In their sensibility. In their humor, too.
That’s the way I think we should go.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Italian style

  1. I totally agree. Davide! Artists should bring their cultural and social influences to their art, not pander to those influences. I would write in Italian if I could, but being typical of US educational systems and an unintended cultural isolation, I cannot. The nationalists (for lack of a better word), to me, only bring a form of bigotry in their assertions. Style is and has always been personal. I appreciate your fiction for what it is and am very impressed that it is a “second” language for you!

    Consider this: Why Didn’t James Joyce write in Gaelic?


    • Thank you, Norm!
      And yes, I agree that taking such nationalist stances is like not seeing the moon because one is staring at the finger pointing to it.
      And indeed, using the English language is a great tool that enables anyone to reach a huge, global audience. So there! 😉


  2. I totally agree Davide. The point is not “Italians should write only in Italian”: that is dumbness! BUT “Italians are the best in writing Italian stories in Italian STYLE”
    So what are you already doing is perfect.
    Sabatini is the best example of this practice. 🙂


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