Star Comics, BAO Publishing, Coconino Press, J-Pop and many other comics publishing houses participated in the 33rd edition of the Turin International Book Fair. This year’s program contained numerous events about comics along with a dedicated conference room. It was supervised by MUFANT (the Museum of Fantasy and Sci-fi of Turin), Cultural Association Leiji Matsumoto and the Social Cooperative AltraMente.
The latest jump in the number of comics readers in Italy during the pandemic is just the latest part of a steady increase that started around the 2000s. From manga to graphic novels, comics are now sold not only in comic shops but also in bookstores. Italian comics fairs like Lucca Comics & Games or Napoli Comicon have been events of international interest for a while now.
This goes some way to illustrating that comics are not only a legitimate form of art but also that there is a vast and always growing audience interested in them. Having an area dedicated to comics within an eminent cultural event like the Turin Book Fair is for sure a step forward in the process of comics validation as an artform, partially comparable to literature or cinema.
On the 18th of October, the last day of the event, Hypercritic interviewed Silvia Casolari, CEO of the MUFANT, asking her to explain how a Comics Conference Room at Turin Book Fair became possible and what conclusions she could draw from this experience.
How did the idea start of having a Comics Conference Room at the Turin International Book Fair?
It was the result of a long and patient collaboration between MUFANT, represented by Davide Monopoli (the other CEO of MUFANT) and I, and Salone del Libro, represented by journalist Federico Vergari (curator of SalTo Comics&Games). Then, Davide and I planned the 30 ca. comics-related events. Half of them were curated by us, while Salone del Libro, C.A. Leiji Matsumoto and S.C. AltraMente took care of the other half. It was a very satisfying partnership. By the end of the fair, I can say it all went very well.
Why bring comics inside a book fair?
Because they are a complex media relevant for all age groups just as much as books. Comics are often mistaken for something fit just for children, something pointed out also by Andrea Cavaletto, comics artist and curator of the Italian section of our temporary exhibition Women of Wonder (an exhibition about female characters in movies, TV shows and, most of all, comics). This belief is just simply false, there are comics for all ages, all entailing various genres. Finally, in March 2021 the Ministry of Culture validated comics as an art form activating some public invitations to tender. This is an unprecedented event, which officially places comics among other art forms. Together with plenty of aficionados, we already knew that, but it is good to have some political support at last.
Aside from this, what happened in the last decades in order to allow comics to spread so much in Italy?
A lot of it has to do with the works of some renowned artists, which attracted a vast audience. The long lines to get Zerocalcare’s autograph is a clear demonstration of that. However, I believe it has been equally important that comics, as much as fantasy and sci-fi genres, spread among the popular imagination in the last 20 years. They left their condition of niche products to enter the mainstream market, also affecting advertising and communication media. Thus there was a shift to the general public.
Talking about the MUFANT, how did it start?
The project behind MUFANT starts in 2002 with a cultural association, Immagina, a group of enthusiasts of fantasy and sci-fi. So, we have been focusing on these cultural fields for a while now. The museum was born later on, in 2016 here in Turin, it has an exhibition space of 1000mq. Since the opening, we have had a fixed schedule with permanent and temporary exhibitions.
What about these temporary exhibitions?
We like to offer different kinds of incentives to visit the museum as many times as possible. The temporary exhibitions are a way to explore different topics and trends. They also encourage people to come back even if they already visited the museum. At the moment we have the afore-mentioned Women of Wonder, which will last until the 27th of February. Anyway, it’s just the last of many. We previously arranged an exhibition about Sailor Moon, it was a real success which attracted plenty of visitors, and before that, there were ones about Back to the Future and Captain Harlock. This double offer proved itself successful.
Does MUFANT also promote comics as means of education?
By the end of December, MUFANT will launch a comics class addressed to children and teenagers. The focus of the course will be on the creation of a comic book. It was the result of a collaboration with Associazione Italiana Fumetto (Italian Association for Comics). It has several branches throughout Italy and we decide to become one of them, hosting this comics course.
What can still be done to promote and spread comics as a valid art form?
It is important not to participate only in industry fairs, but also in wider events like the Turin Book Fair. International networking is crucial as well, i.e. we are very happy to have organized several events about Chinese sci-fi, here at Comics Conference Room, involving conference calls with authors from Beijing, Chengdu and Xi’an. It proves once again that we are not talking about niche products, but works receiving worldwide interest.