‘People said I didn’t have enough talent’: the graphic novel appeared in Italy Gonzo | Italia

MEichel Resch is uncomfortable with success. The shy 38-year-old comic book artist, who works from a modest apartment on the outskirts of Rome, doesn’t use the word “fame” but instead refers to his rise to national prominence as “something” he struggles to manage.

In the art world, he is known as Zerocalcare which is the equivalent of cartoonist Hunter S Thompson. Feather’s graphic novels are a form of gonzo journalism – inspired by his adventures as a protester on the front lines of police violence in Italy, and in Syria, where he was part of Kurdish forces.

This year, Netflix released an adaptation of his most beloved cartoon, in which Rech struggles with grief and job insecurity, all while a giant armadillo represents his imaginative conscience. Last month, the series topped the streaming charts in Italy, ahead of the successful South Korean show Squid Game.

Rich’s career began in 2001 when he chronicled the bloody riots during the Genoa G8 summit, in which Italian police hit anti-globalization protesters hard. He was only 17 years old and was among the protesters.

Zerocalcare people wait to sign books in Rome. Photography: Massimo Falecia/NoorPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

“That experience was overwhelming,” Rich says. I felt like anyone in a uniform would want to kill us all. A year later, they arrested 25 protesters on charges of vandalism. Brutality was not enough. They wanted to put those who participated in the protests behind bars. You need to find out what happened. This is where it all began.”

The goal of Feather’s first short comic book, La Nostra Storia alla Sbarra (Our story is in the dock), she was using her sales proceeds to offset the legal costs of young Italians arrested during the Troubles in Genoa. He first used his pseudonym Zerocalcare, which means “zero limescale,” inspired by a catchy song for a television advertisement for a descaling solution. He hastily chose the name – it was the first thing that came to mind.

“I never thought being a comic artist could be my main source of income,” said Rich, who was an after school teacher. “Also because a lot of people told me I didn’t have the talent to become a cartoonist.”

In 2010, Rich began work on his first graphic novel, The Armadillo Prophecy. In it, Zerocalcare recounts mourning the death of a classmate, permeated with Italian cultural stereotypes, in the presence of a giant armadillo. It was rejected by dozens of publishers, but one startup, Bao, believed in the concept and in 2012, 500 copies were printed. The book has been reprinted 24 times and has sold over 150,000 copies. This was Rich’s first step towards fame among Italian cartoonists.

The second was a 3,600-kilometre journey, when the Islamic State launched an offensive in northern Syria in 2014. Rich, a supporter of the Kurdish cause, made several trips to the northern Syrian city of Kobani to chronicle the female fighters’ resistance against ISIS. The result of those experiences culminated in 2015 in his book Kobani Calls: Greetings from Northern Syria.

Michel Rich signs a copy of a fan's book.
Michel Rich signs a copy of a fan’s book. Photography: Massimo Falecia/NoorPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

His success has continued to build and now on Netflix there’s an offbeat animated series, Tear Along the Dotted Line, which follows the existential upheavals of a socially awkward cartoonist (Rech’s avatar) with an armadillo and his conscience reflecting the trajectory of his life.

“I was obsessed with the idea of ​​creating an animated series,” Rich says. “First of all, for the music. I’ve always mentioned my music suggestions in my comics, but I knew a lot of people would never listen to it. So I wanted people to listen to my stuff. I sent hundreds of emails to Netflix, until they finally gave in. They let I am free to decide on the content as I please.”

The series, in which Rech performs the voiceover for all of his characters, except for the armadillo, performed by Italian actor Valerio Mastrandrea, has become the most watched show on Netflix in Italy. The Turks did not like the inclusion in the series of the Kurdish flag of the PKK, which Ankara considers terrible, and which considers the organization a terrorist group.

“These are the flags of the people who liberated northern Syria from the Islamic State, who gave their lives to fight Islamic fundamentalism,” Rich says.

Today Zerocalcare is one of the most popular hashtags on Italian social media. The crowds that gather at his book signing are like queues outside of concerts and can last for hours.

“The last time I signed copies of my picture books lasted 14 hours,” he says. “It’s watered down, but I want my relationship with readers to be as transparent as possible. Some people say I have to hire an agent who says ‘no’, and that I only have to sign the first 40 copies. I feel like I’m going to delegate the dirty work to someone else. But it would be unfair and I would feel guilty.”

Michel Rich at the Film Festival Show Tear Along the Dotted Line in Rome.
Michel Rich at the Film Festival Show Tear Along the Dotted Line in Rome. Photography: Maria Laura Antonelli/Rex/Shutterstock

Rich follows a strict subculture of hardcore punk music called “Straight Edge,” whose followers abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, which he says helps him deal with a recent barrage of success.

He’s happy things are going well, but adds, “I just have to learn things weren’t what they were a month ago. And maybe it’s not easy for someone like me.”

To better understand the character of Rich, there is a scene in the TV series that represents the artist’s philosophy on life. Returning home after a night out with his lover, Zerocalcare finds an armadillo, his alter ego, sitting in a chair while sipping herbal tea. Before Zero closes the door, the armadillo asks him if he’s had sex. “No,” the hero answers.

The armadillo answers: “You are a black belt in evading life.”

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