Managing to exchange a few words with Zerocalcare — the pseudonym of Michele Rech — surrounded by fans of all ages who want to shake his hand and get a signed copy of his latest book, is a victory in itself, but in the end the effort is rewarded: he is self-deprecating and makes small of the fact that he is among the most eagerly awaited guests of the fair ‘Più libri e liberi’ (More Books and Free). 2023 is full of news for the cartoonist: not only will he turn 40 but he has a TV series coming out on Netflix. After the success of Strappare lungo i bordi (Tear Along the Edges), we are now counting down to the most hotly-anticipated online show of the coming season.
He welcomes me with a smile, and is taken aback when I jokingly call him a 'rock star'.
“This success is just an impression, because since I do drawings and since it takes more time to finish a drawing, a queue forms and people think there is a crowd waiting. In reality, I am slower than those who just sign their books, and therefore this success is just one big illusion.”
Yet there are lots of young people here and all with a book in hand. You certainly have the merit of having brought an entire generation closer to comics, of strengthening its role of communication in the age of the mobile phone. Since 2011, with La profezia di Armadillo (The Prophecy of Armadillo), the road traveled has been long and fruitful…
“I was really lucky because I caught a time in which the comics market was changing radically in Italy, in the sense that people were beginning to realize that comics are not a genre but a language and that you can do everything with comics, from cookbooks to love stories and science fiction. So I was lucky enough to arrive exactly at the moment of that change and I clung onto it very tightly, because I simply don't know how to do anything else. That is, I didn't have a plan B, and when I realized that that what I did worked, I invested a lot of energy and a lot of time into it. In fact, it went very well for me, and I have had an amazing response from the public.”
And the new TV series, Questo mondo non mi renderà cattivo (This World won't Make me Bad), what can you tell us about it? Is the story autobiographical?
“The title doesn’t refer to me but to someone who will be better explained by the series in terms of who and why. I can't say anything else except that the work will be more organic than the first, the episodes will be longer — half an hour — with a more structured horizontal plot. So potentially much more difficult, which inevitably makes me very anxious.”
Right, let's talk about anxiety. We are all a little anxious these days. How do you manage anxiety?
“I don't manage it, I'm all over the place. I trudge along and try not to think about things too far ahead and just focus on the anxiety of the next 15 minutes.”
In 2023 you will turn 40, an important age, which is often seen as a milestone. In short, it's a time for taking stock, will you be doing so?
“Mine is a positive balance from a professional point of view, in the sense that my job has gone great, I'm doing very well from what I love to do, so from this point of view, I'm lucky. All the rest of my life, on the other hand, is all over the place, in the sense that, all around me, people are starting families, they are developing in all different areas, and I have a lot of gaps in which I struggle precisely because I have dedicated the last 12 years so intensely to my work and, in everything else, I feel extremely behind. So, on the one hand, I reach 40 really well, and on the other, I’m crawling on all fours…”.
Let's get back to your work, then. Your latest book, entitled No sleep till Shengal, covers a very interesting topic. Why did you choose it?
“It is a travel diary made last year in northern Iraq, in the land of the Ezidis. These people were massacred by ISIS in 2014 and have since returned in arms together with the Kurds to take back their land despite having suffered a genocide in which more than 6,000 women and girls were kidnapped, raped and sold as sex slaves and many of them have never been found.
These dramatic events led them to decide to defend themselves from that moment on, and to rebuild a radically different society with women at the center and with the coexistence of all religions. Right now, this people are threatened on the one hand by Iraq, which wants to regain control of the area, and on the other by Turkey, which is now fighting them on a daily basis because it considers them friends of the Kurds, and therefore terrorists and the idea from which we started is to try to tell people what is happening.”
We all need a good wish for next year. What's yours?
“To hang on in there…”.
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