“We Have the Story!”

Diabolik wants to carry out a job and devises a “foolproof” plan. Inspector Ginko gets in the way, and various unforeseen events occur. But, after risking arrest, the King of Terror resolves everything to his advantage. A Diabolik story (almost) follows this pattern, because that’s what readers want: otherwise they would feel lost, even betrayed. But, even if it sounds like a contradiction, every story must be unique, since it deals with a problem that Diabolik has never faced before, is set in an environment in which he has never moved, or presents an adversary with extraordinary skills … In short, a strong, original idea is necessary, something that made the Giussani sisters exclaim: “We have the story!” A group of Astorina’s trusted collaborators and also a large number of “plain” readers who flood the editorial staff with proposals provide the ideas. Sometimes only a small part of the initial subject is kept. But this is enough to trigger a chain reaction, which would bring a new Diabolik story to the newsstands. The same as all the others, yet different from all the others.

The legendary Giussani sisters: Angela (above) and Luciana (right), in a photo from the late 1960s.

Scheme made by Luigi Codazzi for a volume dedicated to Diabolik, published in the series I classici del fumetto by BUR-Rizzoli.


The Factory of Ideas

When reading a subject, Angela and Luciana Giussani did not just want to know what would happen in the story. They also wanted to be surprised, amused, fascinated, to experience in advance the same emotions that the finished story would give the readers. And, at the same time, they wanted to examine every detail of it. Because, in the end, all the accounts had to balance, as in a complex mathematical operation. Even today, working on a plot is a narrative and, at the same time, logic exercise. It never succeeds first time round, also because there are several “secret rules” to comply with. For example, strokes of luck in favor of Diabolik are not allowed, and he must always get by with his own skills. Moreover, he can never use firearms instead of his infallible and silent dagger. And, he has maintained the exclusive use of “special” plastic masks, whose formula must remain a mystery (in spite of the extremely sophisticated tests that the scientific police could currently carry out) for almost sixty years.

Above, the original version of the first page of a plot. Center, comments sent by Mario Gomboli to Tito Faraci, the person responsible for the revision. Below, two plates from the finished story (published under the title “La villa della morte”).

Left, the cover of “La villa della morte” (no. 6, 2003). Below, the volume published by Edizioni BD, which contains a selection of “memorable” subjects by Mario Gomboli.


Under Scrutiny

After undergoing one or more revisions, the subject is delivered to people whose task is writing it, that is, transforming it into the description of a sequence of plates, comprehensible above all by those who will have to draw them. The person responsible for this task submits the text to a last, fundamental “practical” examination, to be sure that he has understood every detail and that he is able to have the illustrator first, and ultimately the reader, understand it. This is especially true when it comes to explaining the functioning of the complex tricks and contraptions Diabolik uses to overcome anti-theft systems or escape from the police. Traditionally, the explanatory sketches were made by Mario Gomboli, a long-time Astorina scriptwriter, who became director of the publishing house in 2000.

Left, correspondence between Mario Gomboli and Luciana Giussani on the subject of “Notte magica” (no. 2, 2001).

Below, Patricia Martinelli, writer of the episode.

A sketch attached to a plot to illustrate the technique of opening a grill and the final result in the published page.


Style Issues

In 1962, with Diabolik, Angela and Luciana Giussani invented the Italian fumetto nero (black comics), a new genre, which would include characters such as Kriminal, Satanik or Sadik. In a format never seen before in Italy, it would be reused for humorous series (above all Alan Ford) and for the Italian-style erotic comics that boomed in the 1970s. This unprecedented format required a new style of scriptwriting, of which the Giussani sisters became masters. Each page had two or three plates only: this meant that the story had to flow with a fast rhythm and editing. With the same number of pages, the scriptwriter of a Diabolik scene had less than half the number of plates of a Tex or Mickey Mouse scene. Moreover, the format was designed for quick and agile reading (for the Giussani sisters, a story had to last as long as the average commuter train trip). The reader took a glance at both plates side by side and then read the texts in the balloons. Consequently, the rule was that all the “visual” twists in the story were on the left page, after the turn of the page, so as not to anticipate and spoil the surprise.

Original pages from the “Beffa alla malavita” script (no. 2, 1988), written by Luciana Giussani, with the corresponding comic plates.

Luciana Giussani in the Diabolik editorial office, in a photograph from the 1990s.


Writing a Comic Book

The script of a comic book is the detailed description of what is to be drawn and written, plate by plate. A double description, then: on the one hand are the instructions for the cartoonist, on the other hand, the dialogues to be copied in the balloons. The technical language is not very different from that used in film and television scripts. There are close-ups, pans, details, shots from above or below, exteriors or interiors … and indications about the environment, light, postures and the characters’ expressions. Dialogues in Diabolik stories must always be very clear, in order to explain even the most complex passages of the story. But they must be also somewhat synthetic, so as not to reduce the space for the drawing. Moreover, they must sound as natural as the common parlance and, at the same time, avoid poor and sloppy language. In the dialogue section, onomatopoeia, that is, noises, are also indicated, such as swiisss of the dagger thrown by Diabolik or wroom of his Jaguar.

Pages from a script by Tito Faraci, with visual notes by illustrator Enzo Facciolo.

Two pages from the scripts of “Notte magica” (no. 2, 2001) and “Legami di sangue” (no. 12, 2003) next to the finished plates.


Support Documents

Diabolik stories take place in Clerville, an imaginary city-state located in an equally non-existent world, where, as a rule, real places cannot even be mentioned (indeed, “Orient” is preferred to “Asia”), although many names and places sound French. Yet, since the very first stories, the Giussani sisters forced themselves and their collaborators to pay great attention to the realism and credibility of the stories. In the adventures of Diabolik and Eva Kant, the use of magical or supernatural elements and technologies that are too advanced, like science fiction, is forbidden. Everything must be shown and explained in such a way as to appear realistic and convincing, starting with the scenes. Therefore, the scripts are almost always accompanied by documentation (photographs, above all). In the past, in order to find this material, authors were forced to carry out demanding bibliographic research or to consult reliable experts. Today, the Internet makes everything simpler and faster. And, when you just cannot find the images, Mario Gomboli’s sketches are always available.

Plates from “Traffico d’armi” (no. 8, 2003) and “Orrore nel silenzio” (no. 3, 2003), with the relative script pages accompanied by sketches and notes by Mario Gomboli.

A plate from “La perla rossa” (no. 7, 2003) and a documentation photograph provided to the illustrator.


Author’s Study

The cartoonist, after receiving the script and before turning the written pages into comic plates, puts his mind to studying the main scenes and, above all, characters in the story. Usually, the beginning of the script includes a list of characters and a sort of identikit is provided for each of them. Particular attention is paid to the faces, for which sometimes reference actors are suggested. Equally important are the indications on clothing, bearing, role played in the story. In particular, it is necessary to indicate when a character is to be replaced by Diabolik or Eva Kant in disguise, so that their height and physical structure are compatible. Some cartoonists, such as Enzo Facciolo (one of Diabolik long-term authors), are used to drawing small sketches directly on the script pages, while reading them. Sometime these sketches are used to study the characters, while some other time to experiment with framing or “direction” solutions.

A character sheet written by Luciana Giussani, which is passed to the cartoonist along with a photograph taken from a newspaper.

Marila as she appears on the back cover of ” Beffa alla malavita” (no. 2, 1988).

In 2003, Paolo Pozzi won the second edition of the Angela and Luciana Giussani Award for young authors with “Storia di Natale”. To mark the occasion, the Astorina publishing house published a special album with the script, accompanied by preparatory drawings by Franco Paludetti and Beniamino Delvecchio.

A script page with sketches by Enzo Facciolo.


Let’s Draw!

Although the reader will only see the final ink drawing, the initial and basic visual images of the story are all done in pencil. In this stage, characters come to life, scenes are defined, plates are joined in sequences that are functional to the story. Usually, the author who is responsible for the pencil drawing is not the same one who will later overlay the plates with ink. The two works take place in separate moments and places, especially for Diabolik stories. In fact, the pencil drawer’s work is fully covered by the ink drawer’s. Although this may seem a pity at first sight, because the warmth and emotional impact of the pencil plates is “cooled down” by the ink plates, thanks to this “sacrifice” the story takes on the clarity and definition necessary to reach the newsstand and fully satisfy the reader.

In November 2009, Astorina Publishing House published the volume “Una maga di nome Sibilla” in its “I Classici” series with as many as two hundred and forty pencil plates by Sergio Zaniboni, that is digitized before they were inked (by Giorgio Montorio, in this case) and then, inevitably, disappeared with the strokes of an eraser. This is an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate a work that usually disappears when the album is finished.


Word to the Balloons

By “lettering” we mean the writing of the texts in the balloons and the captions of a comic book. This job is traditionally entrusted to letter designers (99% of them are ladies) with an immaculate and precise calligraphy. But that’s not all: the texts must be composed in a balanced way in their balloon without disturbing the drawings; it is necessary to reduce the lines to a minimum in order to simplify the reading; bold type words must fit in the context in a balanced way … a work, in short, that requires painstaking attention. Today, the handicraft work of letter designers is often replaced by digital fonts, which are capable of imitating – yet not matching – the result, but the effort is still very similar. Lettering in Diabolik stories is already set on the pencil plates, before the ink overlay. This is because adjustments to the drawing may be necessary according to the size of the text. When the pencil drawings and text are in the plate, you can get a final idea of the story by reading it and make corrections for the best result.

Comparison of a hand-lettered plate from the issue no. 1 and the resetting with computer lettering.

Hand lettering on two pencil plates drawn by Emanuele Barison for Il Grande Diabolik 2/2004 “L’ombra del giustiziere”.


China Ink Light

If the scriptwriter of a comic book could be defined “the director” in the film industry, the person responsible for pencil drawing would be certainly “the cameraman” and the person responsible for the ink overlay “the director of photography”. Ink adds lights and shadows to the plates, defines the figures, highlights or blurs the details. What the reader will see, and how he will see it, is decided in the inking stage. Ink designers must study the script carefully and always keep it at hand in order to understand the meaning of the story and be able to “illuminate” it properly. This is especially true for the characters’ acting, which the ink “photographs” in a final way. In the production of a Diabolik book, this phase requires great care and often substantial redrawing. This phase was carried out for years in the editorial office by long time illustrators, such as Brenno Fiumali (author of the cover of issue no. 1 and later, for over forty years, art director of the series) and Franco Paludetti (the author of more than two hundred episodes). Today, after the death of those early collaborators, much of the revision and retouching work is done through digital processing … but always with the same painstaking care.

The opening page of “Notte magica”, before and after Giorgio Montorio’s ink overlay (and the addition of the screens). Note the title repositioning.

A discarded plate from “Eredità per Eva” (no. 4, 2001), with partial inking.

Photo of the editorial office. Brenno Fiumali and Franco Paludetti at work.


Cover Story

The task of the cover is evoking, more than telling, the story by suggesting the atmosphere, the flavor, the strong points for which it will be remembered. And, in fact, once the book is closed, it is the cover, better than any scene, that remains engraved on one’s mind. In Diabolik editorial office, the cover is the last, yet fundamental, link in the production chain. In order to decide on its content, first of all the whole story must be ready. Then, an emblematic sequence (or even just an image) must be found. However, drawings taken from the story are not enough. They are only a starting point, to be reworked and adjusted. The cover must be strong, in order to intrigue and attract even “impulse readers” and not only the regular readers. But it must also be different from the previous and the following covers and also from those – unchangeable – of the reprints that are in the newsstands at the same time.

The journey of four Diabolik covers: from Mario Gomboli’s notes to the final result drawn by Sergio Zaniboni (with colors by his son Paolo).

Two illustrations by Matteo Buffagni, a brilliant cover artist for the series since 2014.