Here in the US, in the late 70s and early 80s, we were reading comics like Marvel’s The Human Fly. But there was something entirely different going on in Italy. The ‘sexy fumetti’ craze had taken hold. This fad put the the scariness of horror films and twisted humor into blender, and then topped it all off with another dollop of unabashed sexiness. Some people have called them “the most shocking comics ever produced”, and I say that’s an understatement.
A counterbalance these lurid, prurient comics is the outstanding art of Italian master Emanuele Taglietti. He painted over 500 covers for many comics including Sukia, Magnum 44 and Ulula. Each painting has a sense of urgency combined with an off-the-charts level of skill.
Korero Press has recently published Sex and Horror: The Art of Emanuele Taglietti. Clearly, it’s not for the faint of heart or the prudish. Even liberal thinkers probably need to take a deep breath before reading this one.
I was introduced to Emanuele Taglietti via the publisher. Even though I don’t speak Italian and he doesn’t speak English we had a fascinating conversation:
Emanuele Taglietti : Time passed so fast I did not count it. The last work always follows another one, which in my intentions should always be better than the previous one. In this way, work is not a sacrifice, on the contrary, it is a continuous search. What I have done is always too little, sometimes I think that more could be done and that is why I continue to paint with commitment.
EC: You worked on many characters. What are our favorites?
ET: They are all like my children. As they say in Naples, “Every cockroach is beautiful to his mother.” Some, however, are closer to my heart, for example Ulula, Zora, Belzeba; all beautiful women with hellish erotic charges. The character of Sukia, however, has its own story and was in part inspired by the looks of a beautiful actress, Ornella Muti. I worked on it for 12 years, using different backgrounds. Also original was the appearance, next to Sukia, of her friend Gary, who has gained the favor of a growing Gay movement. I want to remind you that these comic books moved well beyond Italy. They were printed in France, Spain, Belgium, Columbia, etc. In California, someone formed a Rock band named Sukia.
ET: I had many models, mostly female friends who were glad to pose, if nothing else to see their image in the news-stands. When I needed male friends, I often took photos of myself. I still do that. In my study, I had plenty of books, magazines, and folders on different subjects where I could draw information. Now, with a PC, I can download many documents via internet. Obviously, before getting documents and composing the cover, I need an idea. I believe the more I am informed, the greater the results. Behind some ideas there could be an inspiration given by beloved authors. I have many of these, especially Italian and American.
ET: I love America and have been there several times, even if I don’t speak English. I would have found a more favorable environment there. Americans appreciate Italian sensibilities and I am sure I would have had good opportunities. A good opportunity has come from Korero Press, who published my covers in a book entitled Sex And Horror. I am now waiting for a US publisher, in order to be better recognized in your country. Who knows?
EC: You created an extraordinary number of covers. How many did you create each month?
ET: I worked as cover artist mostly for one publisher: Edifumetto, by Renzo Barbieri. From the start, in 1973, they commissioned 10 or 12 covers per month, in a genre which combined fairy tales with crime, mafia, and horror, everything with erotic tones. Starting in 1975, my commitment at an art school forced me to reduce the number of monthly covers. My cooperation with Edifumetto ended in the summer of 1988. Altogether, I have done about 700 covers for them.
EC: Your covers are so skillful in rendering and anatomy, but they also create a sense of urgency and excitement. How did you learn that?
ET: At the Film Academy, I received intensive training in architecture and scenic design. I studied perspective, the theory of shadows, different styles, and photography, so I had no problems with settings. I found anatomy more difficult, so I practiced by using magazines or live models. I learned quickly. When it comes to emotions or eroticism, there is no school. They are feelings a person carries inside and can express only with the proper technical and artistic means.
EC: There are, of course, cultural differences to what is accepted in paintings. How do you deal with that?
ET: I am glad to reply to this question. A large measure of hypocrisy lurks behind so-called “cultural differences.” For example, the word “illustrator” depicts the author as a simple artisan, while “painter” represents the artist. No matter what a person paints, the formal culture establishes that everything a painter creates is art. I think it’s a wrong view, and it’s time for critics to revise it. The main difference between paintings and illustrations is that illustrations have usually a fixed theme, suggesting that the artist can’t be creative. Why then don’t we change our opinion of the great artists of the past who were commissioned by princes and popes? Happily, in the States you are much more advanced in this area. I have seen great illustrators being valued at astronomical prices.
EC: In many ways, your paintings seem the natural outgrowth of the old Pulp covers. Do you agree? Do you like pulp covers?
ET: I understand how my work can seem inspired by pulp, but it’s not so. In Europe, pulp was especially popular in England, where I had never been and whose language I didn’t speak. At that time, bookstore sold many monographs of great American illustrators, including Rockwell and Frazetta. I especially liked the last one. I also found much inspiration in the Italian movie poster designers. Some were excellent. Sadly, with the introduction of photographic posters, this great Italian tradition ended.
EC: What is it like to teach painting now? Do your students know of your covers or collect those comics?
ET: I haven’t taught in a public school for some time. I spend my time creating new illustrations and paintings. I have fond memories of the time spent teaching and I believe I left a mark in my students’ professional training. I think students need a model to follow, someone who can give advice regarding issues they haven’t yet encountered. I had some very good students, who showed much interest in creating comic books and illustrations, and I showed them my work. Some of them have followed my path and made illustrations their profession. I remember some of my students also bought my works.
EC: Mille grazie, Emanuele.