Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The World’s Greatest Comics Festival, Lucca  

[1] Sergio Aragones prepares his morning cappuccino

by Rick Marschall

I have been to Europe more than 60 times, a good percentage of those trips centered around comics festivals, salons, and symposiums. That I often planned trips to coincide, or, more often, I was an invited guest as speaker, juror, or exhibitor (not exhibitionist) made for very nice icing on the cake. I often took a week or two extra, since I was given freedom to choose the dates for the flights they booked… and this Intentional Tourist checked many boxes in cultural, musical, and sight-seeing categories.

It started somewhere, besides connecting dots of interest in comics and a Wanderlust. The major American cons, of course. But I have attended many international comics festivals including Angoulême; ExpoCartoon in Rome; Erlangen in Germany; and in Prague, London, and Brussels. A speaking tour for the US Information Service of the State Department. At many I was the American representative of festivals, sharing presentations or exhibitions; bringing American cartoonists and fans (more than 125 to Angoulême one year – whoosh!); and waving the flag at roundtables.

[2] Bonvi and Victor de la Fuente greet each other

But the earliest for me, my most attended, and most fondly remembered, is Lucca.

The Festival began in the Ligurian Italian town of Bordighera, beautifully nestled on the French Mediterranean border. It was the convention to which Al Capp was invited, and ultimately made a LIFE Magazine cover story out of the challenge of finding it. It moved the next year to Lucca, a Medieval Tuscan town situated roughly equidistant from Florence and Pisa. It has remained there ever since, surviving budget crises and politics; a biennial schedule; an osmosis-like split with ExpoCartoon in Rome; revival as Lucca Cartoons and Games.

[3] Moebius – Jean Giraud – on a chill October morning

For many years I was the American representative, succeeding Maurice Horn and David Pascal; often sitting on the International Jury. 

Of those days I can share much that will be interest to readers (maybe decade-by-decade here in A Crowded Life sometime) about those guests and those awards (plucking a couple myself) and those debates and those lectures and those side-trips and those restaurants… and those friends. It got so that I anticipated every Lucca largely because the cartoonists, the “experts” from all over the world, and special fans, formed the core of a true family reunion for me. 

[4] John Prentice, Mordillo, and de la Fuente looking over a Rip Kirby reprint book.

The “community,” now since dispersed or expired, felt the same way. Conventions endure, but “Luccas” are no more. In the golden days of Lucca, crowds would fill the Opera Theatre to listen to lectures about the most obscure aspects of comics history and theory; and once upon a time there were no costume events or laser-fencing on the streets. Readers will know what I mean.

For this column I will share some photographs from the first couple of Luccas I attended, and some sketches that were drawn… often late at night, at the bar of the Hotel Napoleon (built as the Hotel Mussolini in the 1930s) or the lobby of the Universo. Talking (as best we could), sketching, laughing, drinking, Hugo Pratt playing the guitar and singing… but there I go. More stories later. Here, visual memories.


The first Lucca I attended was 1978. I was still editor at Marvel (I convinced Stan Lee to send me and scout for talent for EPIC). Harry North, the British cartoonist for MAD, said he would do a sketch if he could take my book to his room overnight. Here is what met me at breakfast –

Harry North sketch

Jaroslav Horak, cartoonist of the James Bond strip

Hugo Pratt’s classic Corto Maltese

The great Guillermo Mordillo, Argentine cartoonist


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