A conversation with the illustrator from Palermo on the last forty years of news sections, narrated in his satirical illustrations for Italian newspapers and magazines.
WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE TALK ABOUT… DRAWING THE NEWS
“What is graphic journalism? It’s that thing that most of us started to do spontaneously, describing historical events with drawings. The definition followed the birth of the phenomenon, as often happens”. Imagine listening to this revelation directly from the voice – kind and strict at the same time – of one of the most famous and brilliant Italian cartoonist. The voice is that of Vincino, Vincenzo Gallo’s pseudonym. The drawer from Palermo, born in 1946, was the soul of Il Male (the Evil), one of the most nipping satirical magazines that appeared in the Italian editorial scene. After working 24 years at Corriere della Sera, he now makes illustrations for the newspaper Il Foglio. Moreover, his figures are published on Vanity Fair once a week.
THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM, BUT THE SECOND MOUSE GETS THE CHEESE
What’s Vincino’s daily routine like? Do you follow a specific schedule? “I start drawing in the early afternoon”, explains the author naturally, like someone who managed to balance between life and work, passion and career. “I read the newspapers first, watch the news and surf the Internet… well, I keep up-to-date on what happens around the world”. He usually sends the table around 8 pm, and it’s the same for the weekly magazine: “As I have to hand in the work every Monday morning, I usually wait up to Sunday afternoon to define the theme and create the work: the closer it is to the latest news, the better; I deal with subjects that my readers are experiencing and they expect to find recent and important news in my comic strips”. So, to move forward with the work is useless or even counter-productive, because you risk deflecting from reality.
THE TOOLBOX OF CREATIVITY
Vincino reveals his secrets without hesitation. He speaks quickly, shaken by a contagious enthusiasm. And it seems you can feel that wit that characterises his figures even in his voice. “My only tools are a pencil and the marker Tratto Clip, to which I modify the tip to make the ink come out more smoothly. Over the years, I improved my own method: I snick it with a blade, so that it can go di piatto e di linea (aiuto!) It almost becomes a nib; it acquires the same precision”. What’s the secret of the alchemy between the images and the texts in the balloons? “It depends on my level of laziness: when it’s high I write a lot. If I’m inspired, I can do without the words. I’m joking, of course: the texts accurately sustain and frame the themes I deal with. However, the challenge is to always use the essential quantity and to not overdo”.
YOU CAN SAY ANYTHING WITH… A LONG HAND
An illustration is never a mere translation of what you could describe with words. Vincino learned it when he first worked for the newspaper from Sicily L’Ora, following the trial for the mafia massacre in Viale Lazio that took place in Palermo at the end of 1969. He realised that his mission didn’t consist of drawing the accused’s faces only, but he also had to express the atmosphere of the courtroom, the tensions, the feelings of the relatives of the incriminated people. Therefore, he developed the ability to recap the impulses that pass through the world with a twist of lines and colours.
“A friend of mine, a journalist, praised me once: it was 1986, the year Michele Sindona was poisoned with a coffee containing cyanide during his detention in the prison of Voghera. I did an illustration for Tango, the satirical insert of L’Unità, directed by Sergio Staino, in which I depicted Andreotti’s arm expanding from Rome, taking four different pages to arrive in Sindona’s prison and hand him out a small cup. “You have the power”, he said to me and explained: “in no time, you described with elegance and sagacity a supposition that most of us share; I wish I could reproduce the very same emotional impact, but it’s impossible to be so frank with words. Irony would be less explicit”. A drawing, even if biting, is always balanced between the natural poetic lightness of lines and the unhesitating audacity typical of punk.
SATIRE IS A RHYTHM
“What is satire? I don’t agree with any definition. I could say I consider it a rhythm. It’s like jazz. Or rock.” It’s easy to understand the spirit of the parallelism recalled by Vincino, but to get its deepest sensation you need to let yourself be guided to the discovery of a wider horizon, the one of the history of an activity that has its root in pictorial art, even before the photographic techniques permitted the reproduction of portraits or reports on newspapers.
“The comic strips are artworks that can narrate the news, but also reveal their contest, marking an overview of the period in which they were born. Moreover, they last in time and they even portray the historians’ view: illustrations are often effective records of the cultural atmosphere. Nowadays, students largely study history with satirical images from the 1800s and the early 1900s, when comic strips and caricatures were made by well-known painters like Honoré Daumier and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Leafing through the French satirical newspapers you can retrace the milestones of a fervent iconographic culture.
CHARLIE HEDBO. THE PATH OF MEMORY IS A WAY THAT GOES THROUGH THE SCHOOL DESKS
France has an important role even today. “We can surely affirm that the terroristic attack to the editorial office of the satirical periodical Charlie Hedbo of January 2015 marks a divide. The shock for what happened is clear, but so far, the research for an antidote for such a blind violence is still missing: to be upset and condemn it isn’t enough, we need to build up a collective consciousness, especially in the new generations. I think that the right answer would have been to disseminate satirical illustrations in schools and make them become fundamental principles of our culture.”
And then, a new and revolutionary magazine is to be established. “I had an idea some years ago: a European satirical newspaper, with no words at all. The only true and communal language is drawing. It’s the oldest way of communication, since cave graffiti. The project will come into being, sooner or later.”