Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Red Letter Mad

Quentin Tarantino's remarkable Once Upon a Time in Hollywood contains several nods to pieces of popular culture I hold dear: the lost art of movie posters, italian genre movies from the 70s, old western tv shows scored by people Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Herrmann and, once again, comic books.

This time QT payed hommage to MAD Magazine, a seminal american publication influential to at least two generations of comedy writers, performers and of course cartoonists.

Watch Tarantino talking about it with late night show host Jimmy Kimmel (that part starts at the 6:35 mark):

For the movie, MAD veteran artist Tom Richmond created some wonderful illustrations.

This inspired me to create my little MAD Magazine homage, which is, at the same time, an hommage to Red Letter Media, a video/filmmaking company based in Milwakee, rised to Internet stardom in the last decade thanks to their witty, funny, insightful and irreverent video essays and review shows on YouTube.

I spend more time on YouTube than I care to admit, especially to have something to listen to whenever I do something which does not require much from the left side of my brain and for the last 10 years #RedLetterMedia put out consistently good content.

But more than that, their channel is essentially the YouTube version of a hang-out movie, as we feel like we got to know these people through their sarcastic yet laid-back attitude, their candor and the omnipresent corpsing and laughter.

Little did I know, while creating the piece, that DC Comics announced that it would cease the distribution of MAD Magazine in newsstands and grocery stores, marking the end of an era.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Ther Terminator vs. Ranxerox

In a recent conversation with Czech comic book historian Pavel Korinek, we talked about how much actual research is still possible in the field.

Comic books have ben covered mostly by fans rather than academics for a few decades, and the accuracy of the resarch left something to be desired.

The situation nowadays is vastly improved: there is more care, more substantiol journalism, academic research, the possibility to cross check information on line with a lot of ease (although, the internet plays a major role in spreading inaccuracies as it does in divulgating knowledge)

But in the past, comic book aficionados had to rely mostly on personal knowledge and readings or on a small group of columnists/writers/editors working for the specialized publishers.

A seminal publication from my understanding of comics and their history was the italian Marvel anthology STAR MAGAZINE.
alongside italian translation of marvel material, the magazine had coverage about many aspects of comic books and their creators (and not only Marvel stuff, to their credit).

Those columns were a primer for my interest in comic book history.

However back then, comic book history research was not as scrupulously done as it is today.
Case in question: I still have a problem with the article "Cinema & Comicworld" from STAR MAGAZINE issue 22, July 1992 (page 91):

"James Cameron openly stated to have modelled the features of his Terminator on Ranxerox, created by Stefano Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore"

The art in the article supports this connection.

Is this true? Did this underground italian comic serve as inspiration for the ultra-popular franchise?
James Cameron claims to have got the idea for his unstoppable robot killer from a dream he had while filming Piranha 2 around 1982, in Rome.
That would put Cameron in Italy right in the period when Ranxerox was being published.

Considering that Mr. Cameron has been less than transparent about how much insipration he drew from a couple of Harlan Ellison stories for instance, and comparing the two characters, the claims seems legit.
The resemblance is undeniably there, both in concept and appearance.

However, I have an hard time believing it.

First of all: I have never found any interview with Cameron confirming that. It looks like this notion is being passed among bloggers, columnists and artists, but is still unsourced. A quote attributed to Stefano Tamburini, creator of Ranxerox, also circulates in a similar unsourced fashion (supposedly the writer lamented the lack of credit and said that Cameron could at least have bought him a cup of coffie).

Secondly, it is also known that Cameron wrote the role of the Terminator for actor Lance Henriksen: in Cameron's initial pitch the robot was supposed to look like an undescript, unimpressive human.
Casting Arnold in the role was happenstance: after becoming a star thanks to Conan the Barbarian, the Austrian bodybuilder had enough infuence to get the title role in the film, something the producers were happy to indulge, but with which Cameron had problems, as it would have completely blown his concept of an average-looking killer.
However, he went along and the rest is history.

But if that were the case, how does the Ranxerox connection fit the narrative?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The Baton Podcast - Story of a Woman

By now the readers of this blog should have a sense of my love for John Williams' music. That is why I was thrilled when 

Jeff Commings of The Baton podcast asked me to co-host an episode of his show.

When Jeff embarked for the worthy endeavour of covering the entire filmography of composer John Williams one film at a time, I got in touch with him and immediately suggested that he reached out for co-hosts, since I believe that talk radio is at its best when there is some back and forth between people.

He took the advice, announced he would accept submissions and there you go, I was allowed to join the show in occasion of the "Story of a Woman" episode.

Being the film an obscure USA/Italy co-production and a prime example of BAD movie, it was an ideal fit for me (albeit the movie fails even at being entertainingly bad).

But the score is really worth a listen.

You can download the episode here

but I warmly suggest that you listen to the whole series.

Monday, 13 May 2019

More composers

Had some more fun with more portraits/caricatures of Hollywood composers.

Alfred Newman

Bernard Herrmann
Jerry Goldsmith

Thursday, 25 April 2019


Some more recent art and sketches.

The first one is a promotional piece for Nerd Anti Zombie, the second novel by my dear friend Francesco Nucera.

The brief was to make an illustration that'll be printed on a t-shirt, featuring Bill Gates attacked by zombie Steve Jobs coming out of his grave.

My first sketches had a different layout

but upon seeng them, Francesco suggested to change the design in order to make it look like the cover of the first issue of Dylan Dog, an incredibly popular horror comic book in Italy.

This choice, perfectly understandable because it would add an additional intertextual reference and therefore reinforce the visual joke, posed a problem: having two real people in the picture required that I showed both faces, yet I needed Jobs to be the prominent zombie in the composition, if not the only one.
This meant I could not place him behind Bill Gates (it wouldn't be as menacing if relegated to the background) nor I could place him in front of him but also turned towards him.
I resolved that by making Jobs crawl out of his grave but unaware of the presence of his former Sylicon Valley competitor.
Bill Gates' pose, the tree and moon in the background are swiped in order to make the image a direct parody of the orignal. Hopefully Claudio Villa won't mind.

To complete the joke, I've colored the piece to replicate the original cover and added a logo in the same font.

And here you can see the finished product:

The following piece is a caricature of Italo Calvino

created as promotional art for an event.. I'm happy with the style, but I don't think I totally nailed the likeness...

I think I've done better with these other caricatures

Danny Elfman

Ennio Morricone

And since I really took a liking for caricatures people, I gave a shot to a couple of other movie-people

Steven Spielberg
Alexandre Desplat

These last two being only sketches at this point.

The following is my  most recent caricature, featuring composers/podcasters MArty and Will Brueggeman from the Underscore Podcast.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Will Eisner

Recently visited the Will Eisner exhibit at the BSC in Brussels.

My companion during the visit was the always nice Steven De Rie, who was warned by some fellow cartoonist not to expect much from the exhibition, since most of the samples  came from a single private collection.

I ignore what kind of show this other cartoonist expected, but the exhibit was really well done.
Sure there was a relatively little from The Spirit to see (only a handful of splash-pages) but the selections form the master's later works such as Dropsie Avenue, The Name of the Game or A Contract with God were substantial and diverse (not to mention practically the complete The Dreamer, a book that holds a very special place in my heart).

The pieces were accompanied by large panels of commentaries from the curators and some printed magazines froma all over the world.
If any criticism can be made about the exhibition is the scarcity of prep material such as sketches and/or scripts (it would have been interesting to see how the Spirit stories were plotted, scripted and then realized, especially beacuse the process involved other artists or writers).

Some more photographs may have helped too and it would have been great to have a screen or two playing excerpts from the various Eisner docs that DO exist.

Anyway, this should not be missed by any comic book lover who has the chance to visit Brussels or its surroundings.

The exhibition lasts until March the 2nd 2014. Entrance fee is 8 euros, but it buys the access to the whole museum (which is always worth the price)

PS: very very very nice chit-chat with Steven De Rie after the visit about all things comics. 

Prisoners of Gravity

In my book, one of the absolute highlights in television history has been Prisoners of Gravity.
Originally aired on TVO, the Ontario public service channel, the show delved in sci-fi, speculative fiction and horror genres in literature and comics (film was touched upon, but not extensively), long before "geek culure"* became cool.

The array of talent interviewed for the show is simply staggering: Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Peter Sraub, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Terry Prachett, Doug Adams, Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delaney only to neme a few.

Those who would like te catch up with this well-aged piece of television can sink their teeth on this Youtube channel:


(a number of episodes used to be available at the TVO online archives, but once the agreements with the people interviewed expired had to be removed).

The host was comedian Rick Green, whe have since become one of my heroes for his work on AD(H)D.

Read here an interesting look back at the program by itys makers, appeared on WIRED.

* using this expression physically pains me.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Reflections: Growing Up With Music

A personal view about the music of John Williams and its role in my upbringing

This is a piece I wrote for the website thelegacyofjohnwilliams.com, curated by my brother Maurizio, who is doing  a remarkable job in "building a platform to celebrate and promote the cultural and aesthetic importance that the music of John Williams had (and it’s still having) on many people around the world".
I'm honored to having contributed the illustration for the header of the website, you can see here below.
Thanks to Maurizio for allowing me to me share my thoughts on his website.

As I am typing this, the sound of my son practicing scales on the piano resonates through the house.

I think back to my short-lived affair with the instrument.

I was about seven years old and I wanted to learn how to play piano from one of my older brothers, but he had just left to study in Rome. I was put under the tutelage of another teacher; whose lessons were tedious and devoid of the kind of fun I used to have around my brother. I quit after six months, a decision I still regret. But I wasn’t left without musical mentors.

Thinking of my older brother, a recent conversation we had springs to my mind about the different music teaching methods. He was telling me a funny anecdote involving an acquaintance of his, who wanted to educate his son outside of the western tonal system, to spare him from the conditioning imposed by our musical tradition, which puts certain intervallic relationships (like the tonic-dominant) above other possible modes. Ironically, this person’s efforts were made vain by the many nursery rhymes that the kid learned at school—nothing stick to our brains like simple, diatonic major melodies.

What’s the point of this story? Well not so much to discuss the pros and cons of equal temperament, but rather to point out how glad I am to be able to participate in the conversation. Because despite having given up on piano (or any other instrument for that matter) I’m not musically illiterate.

And for that I must thank John Williams.

Make no mistakes: I admit that the reason I gravitated towards Mr. Williams’ music were the movies he scored. Like many kids in the 1980s, I was utterly captivated by movies like Star Wars, Superman or E.T. They were perfectly executed pieces of fiction easy to fall in love with. Listening to those scores was a pathway to that sense of wonderment and excitement those movies provided.

But on repeated listening, the richness of these scores started to intrigue me. The dramatic drive of the pieces made the narrative clear, so I could tell at which point of the story I was listening to. The melodic writing made every moment memorable and singable. The rich instrumentation and length of the cues sustained my interest. So much that, as a teen ager, it took a long time to adjust my ears to the pop-music I was “supposed” to listen in the 1990s, to keep at pace with my schoolmates, who were into grunge, indie rock or Britpop.

But no matter how important John Williams music was to ignite my interest in music, you need teachers in flesh and blood to make the seed blossom.

Luckily, I had at least one: Umberto Bombardelli, a composer himself, who taught music at my middle school. He could have come right out of movies like Mr. Holland’s Opus or Goodbye, Mr. Chips—he even looked like Peter O’ Toole in that 1969 movie (with music adapted and conducted by John Williams, by the way).

At the time, music was a mandatory subject in Italy for students in middle school between the age of 11 and 14, but it was easily disregarded as an extra or a commodity, certainly not the subject that would make or break your graduation. However, Mr. Bombardelli taught passionately, with patience and humor, becoming soon known by his pupils as “the good teacher”.

He did a lot more than just make us play the recorder or put on Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. He made us listen to various type of music (from Palestrina to Demetrio Stratos and Luciano Berio), teaching us about the different musical periods and styles. He even showed us movies and made us pay attention to the music (The Blues Brothers, Walt Disney’s Fantasia and also the Williams-scored The Cowboys). To this day, I owe him for laying the foundations of any musical knowledge I may have.

As I grew up, I gravitated towards Romantic or Post-Romantic composers, whose works shared a lot of common traits with the type of film music me and my brother Maurizio learned to love, from John Williams to Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri and Danny Elfman. The two pieces that encouraged me to explore the very rich catalog of classical music were the symphonic suite from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (the great London Symphony Orchestra recording conducted by the late great AndrĂ© Previn) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade as recorded by Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for RCA (this one kindly recommended by my brother Alessandro).

We used to have a public radio station that aired classical music nonstop 24/7 (the so-called filodiffusione, which is now part of the bouquet of radio channels managed by the Italian national broadcasting service, a.k.a. RAI) and I was listening to it at every possible moment—I once spent two hours pretending to pay attention during a class in high school while I was listening to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 through an earpiece hidden in my hand (true story).

From there it has been a fantastic voyage through multi-colored soundscapes. A journey I still enjoy every day. Today I do not have to rely on a fortuitous encounter with a dedicated teacher or on state-owned radio stations, the internet made it possible to discover and share gems very easily.

But it all started thanks to John Williams. And his music still works magnificently as gateway to musical appreciation.

In the meantime, the sound of scales has been swapped for more familiar tunes, as my son now plays the “Flying Theme” from E.T. and then “The Imperial March”, and then the Theme from Schindler’s List. I hear him stumble or hitting a wrong note here and there, but the pleasure he has in playing the music is palpable. Since I showed him Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, he became a big fan, so much so that he asked for the sheet music as present for Christmas. Even my wife, who does not care much about film music (but who has, unlike me, stuck to her piano lessons and CAN actually play the thing) is starting to warm up to Williams’s infectious tunes.

My mind wanders again: I now think of a painting one of my art teachers once did. It was called Music, a gift from heaven. It depicts a mandolin and a dove, against puffy clouds.

It was well drawn, but incredibly cheesy. But I do share the feeling.

And whether this gift comes from gods, from heaven or from nature, I will forever be grateful to Mr. Williams for delivering it to me.


The video here below, put together by composer Austin Wintory reflects many of the same feelings.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Deconstructing Woody

I'm not going to discuss any of the alligations and accusations directed at Mr. Allen here and their impact on the legacy of this prolific writer/comedian/director.
 I'm not informed nor is this relevant to this post.

It's just that in my recent interest in caricatures I came across the work of very different, yet all very talented artist and I wanted to compare their styles based on the same subject.

With his attitude and features, Woody Allen has created something of a modern "Maschera da Commedia dell'Arte", and this gave a lot of latitude to caricaturists.

The first in our series is Jack Davis, renowed and prolific illustrator from the 50sto the 2000s. Active in comics (various EC and warren titles, not to mention MAD MAgazine) advertising, movie posters and more, Jack Davis has been possibly the most famous "big feet" artist for decades.

This is a detail from his poster from Allen's Bananas.

As much as I love Davis, I have to say his take on allen is possibly the weakest of the bunch.

I'm not diminishing his work at all, Jack Davis had a knack for posters and humourous illustrations for sure ans d his works exude personality. If anything, Davis' personality is coming maybe too strongly across. It is almost like he drew a JAck Davis character that appears to share some feature with Woody Allen (the thick rimmed spectacles, the unkempt hair, the long nose).

Akin in style to Jack Davis, but arguably more gifted a portraitist is Mort Drucker.

Hard to pick one out from the two, but I'd go for Drucker for this reason.
This ensemble portrait gallery is clear evidence of that.
Mort Drucker

Another well known caricaturist is David Levine, whose pen-and-ink crosshatching is reminiscent of satirical prints of older centuries.

David Levine

Differently from Davis and Drucker, Levine's characters do not have to live in an environment or to interact much with other people, props or background.

therefore the artist can have a lot of liberty with proportions and with the degree of detail he wants to put in to it.

And to the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Al Hirshfield, to this day possibly one of the classiest and most refined charicaturists of the twentieth century.
Hirshfield worked hard to distill the essence of his subjects in a few, elegant lines.

Jack Davis
This tradition of of great stylisation is still alive today, thanks to artists like the argentinian Pablo Lobato, and his amazing poppy and yet constructivist portraits.

Pablo Lobato

But comics can do stylization too.

Check out how Woody Allen, who has been the subject of a syndacated stryp for quite some time, has been synthetized to a few pen strokes by cartoonist Stuart Hample.

Stuart Hample

Monday, 28 January 2019

The Star Wars Music Podcast Resource

Although I try to keep this blog about illustration and comics, I don't mind adding off-topic posts from time to time.
And honestly, I believe this topic has a lot to do with my elected area of interest.

Art isn't created in a vacuum.

Drawing can be an intense mental and physical activity, one that requires time and a certain state of mind.
Many artists I know reach that state of mind by listening to music or talk radio.
An awful lot of artists are addicted to podcasts and I'm no different.
With this post I hope to provide some food for hungry ears.


My last post was a dry list of artists I like to call "the impeccables", people whom I regard almost above criticism.
But not all the artists I look up in admiration for the quality of their output are visual artists.

If I had to name the greatest artists working today in any field, composer John Williams would certainly be one of them, probably at the top, certainly in the top three.

This is not a post about him (there is plenty of resources to discover, explore and examine his impressive body of works), but about PODCASTS on John Williams, and more specifically about his seminal scores for the Star Wars movies.

Image result for john williams star wars

If any reader out there shares my fascination with the music of John Williams, the following links will provide many hours of entertaining education (I didn't do the math, but all these podcasts together clock around sixty hours!!)

A good place to start, is

Classical Classroom

Classical Classroom logo

Hosting the program is Dacia Clay, self-admittedly out of her element when it comes to classical music. Her "ignorance" (for lack of a better term) is actually one of the show's assets: musicians, musicologists and other experts engage in a conversation with Dacia acting as teachers to her student and explain a particular piece of music or another well-defined musical topic.

This predicament allows the less musically educated listeners to be taken by the hand and discover the world of classical music together with the host.

She dedicated two episodes to the music of Star Wars.

Classical Classroom - Leitmotifs (or Leitmotiven) in Star Wars

Classical Classroom - The Force Awakens

A somewhat similar format was that of

Star Wars Oxygen

Image result for star wars oxygen

A show that ran on the Rebel Force Radio site for about 40 episodes.

The hosting duo is composed of radio host Jimmy “Mac” McInerney and musician/actor/sound designer David W. Collins, who assumes the role of the lecturer, but the similarities with the former podcast stop pretty much there.

Both hosts are big Star Wars fans and the show is featured in a Star Wars fan site. This perspective is an important element in the make of the show. David Collins does his best to explain and clarify a lot of the information that could be lost to the more casual listener, but fan discussions these are and, at times, proudly so.

I must also say that Jimmy Mac, albeit not contributing with intellectual insights, is a good host too, with an appreciation for behind-the-scenes Star Wars lore. The only complaint I have is that his growling, sympathetic voice is not matched by an equally diverse vocabulary.

On the positive side: this is the only show who managed to cover SW episodes I to VII, plus a number of side projects.

Here below are the links to the first episodes:






For the remainder of the series, check the following link:


Image result for david w collins

Star Wars Oxygen has stopped in 2016, but host David Collins has returned in 2018 with a new podcast, this time hosting solo, called The Soundtrack Show.

Image result for the soundtrack show hsw

In this podcast Collins expands his focus to the whole repertoire of film, television and video games music, not just Star Wars.
But as a massive John Williams fan, he could not let go the opportunity to cover once again the original 1977 film, which received a lush 6-episodes treatment.

The podcasts are beautifully produced.

Equally well produced, are the podcasts from

Art of the Score

Image result for the art of the score mso

The show is hosted by Andrew Pogson, Dan Golding and Nicholas Buc, three aussies linked to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Albeit the panel consists entirely of professional musicians, the discussions aren't hard to follow at all for the uneducated listeners. The trio keeps a light and enthusiastic tone, cracking a joke every now and then.

The show covered both the 1977 classic Star Wars




as well as 2015's The Force Awakens.



But even if the quality of Art of the Score is pretty high, in my book the very best podcasts on Star Wars have been the episodes from the show


hosted by the brothers Marty and William Brueggeman.

Image result for underscore podcast

Their podcast is extremely good, albeit on the nerdy side as the two musician-composer brothers really enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty of music theory with their in-depth analysis.

But they provide a lot of material, cueing in lots of bare piano examples to explain things like melody and harmony, lots of soundbites from interviews, or from the movies they analyze.
The other podcasts do that too, but here we are on another level.

They also covered the score to the original 1977 Star Wars in seven lengthy episodes, which I've already listened countless times. I'd place them up there with Howard Goodall's or Leonard Bernstein's TV programs on music.








Happy listening (and learning)!