‹‹That firebrand has more lives than a cat!››. His opponents and, sometimes, even his friends say so. And it’s true in his adventures and also in reality: Tex Willer, the most famous hero of Italian comics, turns seventy-five and is really in shape, even from an editorial point of view.
As a great fighter, he had fought since his birth, in the autumn of 1948, by the screenwriter Giovanni Luigi Bonelli (1908-2001) and the designer Aurelio Galleppini known as Galep (1917-1994).
The publisher Tea Bonelli (Giovanni Luigi’s separated wife) was aiming for Occhio Cupo, a swashbuckling series by the same authors, but it is instead Tex (which Galep draws inspiration from the actor Gary Cooper and also from himself) who is successful, for the anarchic charm of the character, who in the first stories is even considered an outlaw (albeit due to unjust accusations), and for the engaging adventures.
If at the beginning he is a solitary hero, over the years he becomes a Texas ranger, chief of the Navajo Indians (he married Lilith, the daughter of the previous chief) and Indian agent.
He fights criminals (outlaws, revolting Indians, Chinese sects, the arch-enemy wizard Mephisto) with his friend and fellow ranger Kit Carson, his son Kit (by Lilith) and the Navajo Tiger Jack, the so-called “pards”.
But these seventy-five years are truly special. Five years ago, for the character’s fourteen decade anniversary, the monthly spin-off Tex Willer was released with his adventures as a twenty-year-old, which brought new freshness to the character. It is largely written by Mauro Boselli, editor of all the Tex titles and member of the screenwriting staff for over thirty years (his first story, paired with Bonelli, dates back to the 1980s), who takes the opportunity to give a very “own” version of the character.
The often contradictory continuity of Tex is harmonized, in certain cases operating so-called retcons, i.e. changing events from stories from the past. There had already been some previously, the first, sensational, is the adventure, which dates back to the Seventies (by the same Bonelli and Galep), with a young Tex engaged in the American Civil War, which blatantly contradicted that of about twenty years earlier, by the same authors (there Tex was fighting the American Civil War, now forty years old and already with his rather grown-up son Kit).
It is no coincidence that the retcon story was reprinted this summer, in a miniseries in four books, in the series of Tex Willer Extra specials.
Another difference compared to the “official” series is the greater attention to historical reality: if the world of adult Tex crystallized around 1880 (but there are numerous historical licenses), young Tex moves in the years immediately preceding the Civil War (which begins in 1861 and ends in 1865) and meets many real-life characters. Not all fans like this version, which is very historicised, but which at the same time allowed two years ago the meeting of a twenty-year-old Tex with a fifty-year-old Zagor (and in December there will be a second meeting, a team-up in comics parlance). Many readers hoped that the two most famous western characters of Sergio Bonelli Editore would meet, although the series of Zagor, vigilante in the first half of the nineteenth century in the imaginary Darkwood forest (created by Sergio, son of Giovanni Luigi, with the designer Gallieno Ferri), is an anomalous western, with many fantastic licenses. Others, however, turn up their noses, see them as too different characters and consider the team-ups to be the stuff of American superheroes.
All initiatives which, although controversial for some, have nevertheless reaffirmed the great vitality of the character, whose series is always the best-selling on Italian newsstands. Vitality confirmed by two volumes for bookstores released in preview at the beginning of the month at Lucca Comics.
A treasure from the past and the Artist Edition of number one
‹‹So, a few months ago, from a half-century-old leather briefcase, buried for decades under a pile of other objects, something jumped out and whoever found it at first limited themselves to shrugging their shoulders: old drawings, old scripts… you know what’s new! But… wait a moment! Those puppets, that writing with the red pen. It’s Gianluigi Bonelli material!››.
Mauro Boselli recalls this in the introduction of ‹‹Tex Ombre di Morte››, a volume with an unknown gem from the past. An unpublished story by Tex, dating back to the second half of the Sixties, among other things conceived as a sequel to a classic of the series, the adventure of Zhenda the witch (the official sequel would only be released at the end of the Eighties, due to the drawings by Claudio Nizzi and drawings by Fabio Civitelli).
The drawings are by Sergio Tarquinio (now almost a hundred years old, born in 1925), a great author, but, according to what can be hypothesized, Sergio Bonelli, who took over as editor from his mother Tea, finds his style too far from what they are Tex’s readers got used to it at the time and diverted it to a more niche (albeit very beautiful) series, Storia del West. Only over twenty years later will the annual series of the so-called “Texoni” begin, large format volumes with designers, generally famous, who give interpretations of the character different from the canonical ones (although over the years even on the regular series of Tex the artistic freedom has increased).
About eighty tables of the story of Bonelli and Tarquinio are drawn (the pages of the comics) published in this volume with also (a notable gem) the original screenplay by Bonelli and the first ten tables of the conclusion (written by Boselli and drawn by Marco Torricelli ), scheduled for next year, probably always in a bookshop volume and not in a newsstand issue.
And if you want to understand the reason for the success of Tex, which seventy-five years ago might have seemed like a western like many others, you can read the Artist’s Edition of ‹‹La Mano Rossa››, the first Tex album in the current format, a co-edition between Bonelli and Lo Scarabeo, a publishing house specializing in tarot cards and splendid editions of stories by the masters of comics (among others, Dino Battaglia, Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, Hugo Pratt, Corrado Roi).
Abroad, Artist Editions of classic comics are quite widespread, this one prints all 160 pages of issue one from the original comics, still in the possession of the Galleppini family: you can see the deletions, second thoughts, censorships, which were made directly on the original plates.
‹‹In the multitude of reprints, over the course of several decades, this can be defined as the fourth time that Tex has been released for the first time: a fourth editorial debut›› writes the critic and collector Giovanni Nahmias in the introduction. The first was in 1948 with the striped series, the second in 1958 with the Gigante Series (which still continues today) with ‹‹La Mano Rossa››, which reprinted the first fifteen striped books, the third in color in 2007 with the weekly Collezione Storica, which would reprint over sixty years of stories in four-colour format.
Already in the first adventures we can see Bonelli and Galep’s ability as thorough narrators. Nahamias had ‹‹The Red Hand›› read to his twelve-year-old son, a reader of comics but generally contemporary ones, and he too, a digital native, was struck by the intriguing stories and exciting drawings.
As Mephisto himself probably admits, that hellfire Tex is truly immortal and conquers readers born in the third millennium as he did with those born in the 1930s.