Friday, May 1, 2015

Spaghetti Western Fumetti: Tex

While western comics went out of fashion in the late 1970s here in America, in Italy the genre is not only alive and healthy, but thriving. The top-selling western, and one of the most popular comics in Italy, is the long-running title, Tex. Ongoing since 1948, with current print runs in excess of 200,000 copies per issue, it lasted far longer than even the longest running American western titles, such as DC's Western Comics or Marvel's Kid Colt! At its peak it was selling 700,000 per month! There is actually nothing comparable to this giant in the western genre in the USA and I'm guessing anywhere else. Ironically, the characters in Tex present a far more accurate picture of the true diversity of the Wild West than American western comics ever did. We see Black, Mexican, American Indian, and white cowboys working together, as it was in the real history of the West, but not as most twentieth century media portrayed it. Moreover, these characters are presented respectfully, with some hint at the true depth and complexity of American Indian culture. Racism is not prominent in this Wild West, just as in the real West of America, when it was beyond the borders of the Union, and even up until Jim Crow began to bite, when Black people could start a new life relatively less encumbered by the oppression prevalent in the States.

And these are not small comics, in terms of pages. Not the more modern issues anyway. They're each as long as an American graphic novel! Tex was originally created by Giovanni Luigi Bonelli (writer) and Aurelio Galleppini (artist). I believe the editor, Sergio Bonelli, is quite a celebrity in Italy. Of the dozens of artists who have worked on the book during its 67 year history, only one appears to be American - the great Joe Kubert was the guest artist on Tex Special #15 (I'm getting my information from the Italian Wikipedia at this point!).

Tex Willer is a leader in the Navajo tribe, having married a Navajo woman, Lilyth. So Arizona of the 1880s is the main setting in the original comics, but over the years stories have taken place in surrounding areas such as New Mexico and Texas, and far further afield places like Alaska and Colombia.

Here's a couple of examples that I collected on recent trips to Venice. The first is one that I found in a second hand bookstore. It is a large, 240 page, Tex Annual #27 from 2012. Only the covers are in color, but the interior black and white art is exquisite. The cover and interior art of this one is by Fabio Civitelli, the story by Mauro Boselli. The title of the story literally seems to be "The Ride of the Dead," but it could be more like "The Trail of the Dead."

My Italian is practically non-existent, so I can only actually read the comic using Google Translate, a very slow and unsure process. Nevertheless, I've picked a couple of interesting looking pages (120 & 121) and tried to translate. Here goes:

Cowboy #1: Fire, hombres!

Tex: Vermin! They're shooting at us! On the ground, brother! Behind that rock!

Cowboy #1: We've got them!

Tiger Jack: There's six of them! We can't...

Tex: Those first shots were meant to kill, Tiger! Those could be Flores' cowboys!

Tiger Jack: Bah! In my opinion this is a waste of lead!

Cowboy #1: Lightning!

Tex: Stop! Or we'll start getting serious!

Cowboy #2: Madre de Dios!

Cowboy #1: They shoot like devils! What do we do, Ray?

Ray: There's not much we can do! We went in without thinking and now we're at their mercy! Let's hear what they have to say!

Tex: Are you the cowboys from "Agua Escondidas" ["Hidden Water"]?

Over the next few pages Tex and his blood brother, the Navajo Tiger Jack, appear to make friends with this group of initially hostile cowboys. I didn't try to translate these next example pages (144 & 145) but a lot can be inferred from the visuals:

That annual had magazine-size pages. The monthly issues of Tex, however, are Italian digest-size, a little bit larger than the American digest (e.g. the Archie digests). Here's an excerpt from Tex Monthly #639 from January, 2014. The title is "In the Slums of San Francisco." My translation here is probably worse than the one above, but hopefully gives some idea as to what is being said.

Some more of the main or support characters in the series are featured here. There's Tex's son, Kit Willer, and also Lefty Potrero, an ex-fighter who owns the Hercules Gymnasium in San Francisco (in the story).

Tiger Jack: For Manito! They're talking about a woman hostage! Who can she be? I have to go back to warn Kit and Donen! But not now! People are coming!

Strongman#1: Here's the place!

Lefty: A real den of rats!

Strongman#2: Don't wait to... [totally unsure what this means]

Lefty: Quiet boys! You have to use your brain here, not your muscles!

Strongman#2 Uh!

Lefty: If we're not careful, these particular rodents would scram under our noses... and I don't think in that case Tex would be very grateful.

Strongman#1 [Bingo]: But if we go in acting normal and look around?

Lefty: Mmm...
Kit: That's Lefty Potrero and his strongmen from the Gym! What the hell are they doing? If they all go in there together they will arouse suspicion!

Donen: You can't tell them what to do, Kit. The success of the plan depends on whether you and I can always stay in the shadows!

Kit: And are your motives true, Donen? Thirst for adventure and desire for revenge? Or because you are ready to join the army of God?

Donen: Why did you agree to it if you doubt me so much, Kit?

Kit: My father trusts you... and then... you're not the only one who loves the thrill of the unexpected, amigo!

Lefty: Okay! You're right, Bingo! Enter in groups of two or three to avoid attracting too much attention... and keep your eyes peeled for those four in the description, guys!

Strongman#3: Okay, Lefty!
Notice how the whispering on p.58 between Kit and Donen is indicated by word balloons with a hashed line!

Well, I hope you all found something interesting in this introduction to an Italian institution! For further introductory reading on Italian fumetti please check out the following Out Of This World blog posts:

On the Trail of Fumetti

Spaghetti Western Fumetti: Lanciostory A.5 #26 - "Come Coda di Volpe Divenne Bandito"

Out Of This World leaves you with a selection of Tex covers from the 1960s and 70s. Enjoy!

Tex #69

Tex #91

Tex #99

Tex #103

Tex #104

Tex #107

Tex #108

Tex #151


  1. hi, if you don't read italian, try french :) !
    bientôt sur le Bdmag !!

  2. I'm much better at French and thank you. That website is cool. Very interesting!