The Modern Masters
Greetings and jamutations! We are back with another round of The Tin Foil Spec! First off, I want to give a huge shout out and lots of love to everyone who enjoys my writings. When I joined this group, I never thought I’d be a contributor. I’ve usually always been a spectator. However, this group has allowed me to flex my writing muscles, let my creative juices flow, and make tin foil hats a thing again! Expect some crazy speculation with some grounded writing every now and then. Without further ado, let’s kick off with this week’s Tin Foil Spec! A look and journey into the 4 Modern Italian Masters of Comics!
Over the past few years, comic book covers have exploded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Yes, stories are important, but within the last 10 years or so, we’ve come to expect amazing covers to go with awesome stories (in some cases, books are selling more for covers than for the story).
A very recent example is Middleton’s Batgirl #23 cover. I use that book as an example as it was an open order variant cover, and while print run is also taken into account, this is the only cover that exploded. His other Batgirl covers have similar print runs, but this is the one (and it wasn’t even his first one) that was a homerun upon release. But enough about him.
This week’s article is about artists that come from the lands of FIAT, Il Colosseo, spaghetti westerns, and the unknown. I’m talking about Francesco Mattina, Gabriele Dell’Otto, Mirka Andolfo, and Francesco Francavilla, a fearsome foursome that I will call The 4 Modern Masters. Will their names eventually be used for a team of anthropomorphic sewer reptiles? Yes, but for now, they are the Italian masters of their generation.
Starting off in no particular order, we have the youngest of the 4 Masters: Mirka Andolfo. I’ll be very honest, I had not heard of her until earlier this year. I was watching a ComicTom video, where he was going over his experience at an Image get-together during Emerald City Con, and he name-dropped her and her book. He admitted that he thought (as most of us probably would) that she was a new artist on the scene.
After some quick Google-fu, he realized she had been drawing for a while, and she had drawn one of the most important new characters of 2017, The Batman Who Laughs. Capullo may get the credit as co-creator, and Šejić may have drawn the first cover (excluding store variants), but Andolfo was the first to bring the character to life. Her mixture of sensual and pin-up characters that don’t back down is put to the test on this male figure that is covered up.
How can one express a character’s sensuality when he’s covered up from head to toe? By giving him gimps of course! Haha, although Snyder and Capullo probably (probably) didn’t intend The Batman Who Laughs to be an overtly sexual character (they probably did), Andolfo’s drawings make him exactly that. A lean, slim figure, covered in latex and bondage, carrying around servants that are chained by the collar as one of them covets his leg (anyone else getting Channing Tatum flashbacks).
It was a perfect introduction, and I feel like they strayed away from it in his subsequent appearances. I hope they bring this aspect of his character, whether intentional or not, back. Aside from doing artwork for DC, Andolfo has also published her own work, Contro Natura, published as Unnatural by Image Comics. In here, Andolfo’s pin-up style is brought in full force. She makes her characters equally sensual as awkward, and hides a great story in her background drawings.
I’ll be honest, I know absolutely nothing about Andolfo’s upbringing, but I imagine a good portion of her life must have been during Silvio Berlusconi’s reign as prime minister of Italy. For those unfamiliar, Berlusconi is a politician who started off in the construction business, before moving on and becoming a massive media tycoon and subsequently running and serving as prime minister.
He very much modeled himself after Mussolini, using great speeches to rile up supporters and priding himself on his physical prowess and overall man’s man attitude. As such, most of his views were conservative while also showcasing scantily clad women on television. The concept of women being madonne while also being sexual was constant clash and taboo during his reign.
I bring all this up because it helps when reading Unnatural. Many of the concepts and criticisms have a strong relation to Berlusconi’s Italy. A heavily conservative government that’s reached the point of controlling who you end up with sounds like a Black Mirror episode, but for Italians throughout the 90s and 00s, it was a scary possibility. Political and critical, yes, but what great book isn’t.
No matter where you identify, Unnatural is a must to read, as it brings us cultural insight to a generation that lived under a somewhat oppressive regime. Sexy animals with boobs and butts? Yes, it has that, but it’s simply art exploding out of 20 years of taboo and frustration. Andolfo has a long great career ahead of her, so make sure to pick up her works before they become hit TV shows on Hulu.
We jump from the sexual realization to the downright pulp, the man who brought back color, Francesco Francavilla. This man is a personal favorite of mine, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him last week at his Schermoscuro gallery opening at Mondo. The man bleeds horror, and if you ever get a chance to meet him, tell him to see Upgrade! That aside, this man can sell his thoughts as art. Anything he sees, imagines, references, becomes a masterpiece.
His Afterlife with Archie covers tell a greater story than the comic itself, and his Inktober posts during October were simply mesmerizing. The man knows color, and he wants his art to be for everyone. He admitted he dislikes ratio variant covers as he doesn’t like to see his covers being sold for high prices at local stores. He wants his collectors and fans to easily be able to get any piece they like. Although this probably doesn’t bode well for aftermarket prices, that is his intent. Either way, having a Francavilla collection doesn’t hurt.
One of my favorite pieces is the Venom variant he did for X-Men Blue #25. Here, we only three main colors, red, white and black. The clouds, moon, and sky are all shades of red as well as Venom’s tongue. The symbiote is black of course with the white spider symbol. Francavilla makes Venom a fearsome monster, reminiscent of The Blob or The Thing.
This is where Francavilla always shines, making monsters fearsome but full of wonder. Another set that’s fun to complete are his variants for Monsters Unleashed. Each one can easily be placed in the 1960s as a horror movie, and no one would think it’s not a real movie.
Francavilla is not slowing down, and his art will be here for many years to come. Although it’s readily available for the most part, don’t wait too long to pick up your favorite covers. Chances are it could end up in a collector’s box with no intention to sell.
From one Francesco to another, we go to a more painting-like atmosphere. For a time, Francesco Mattina had his detractors, as there were strong rumors he was stealing other artists’ work. However, it looks like all is right in the world, as we now readily lap up all of his covers. Out of all the crazy Batman Who Laughs #1 store variants that have gone up within the past week, his variant was one of the few (if not the only one) to completely sell out in a flash.
Every single one of his covers is a work of art (my tin foil says that McFarlane got him to draw covers to increase Spawn sales as it heads to issue 300), and some of his covers end up as highly sought after and extremely valuable. Owning some Mattina’s is not a bad idea for any collector.
While the debate of the importance of store variants will continue, there is no denying that they have a place in the current market. Mattina’s Dark Nights Metal #3 was a grail the moment it dropped. It sold out within minutes! Of course, being based on a very controversial cover that was eventually pulled probably helped.
We may never have Batgirl #41, but we will have Dark Nights Metal #3. (Interesting that The Joker doing this to Batgirl stirred up controversy, but nobody batted an eye at a Joker-Batman doing this to what could be a child.) Mattina has also done amazing variants for DC’s not-virgin B covers; his Deathstroke covers are insanely popular. This man is a force to be reckoned with.
While the previous Francesco wishes to make his covers available to everyone, this Francesco has no qualms of making his covers rare and extremely sought after.
I started by saying this list was in no particular order. However, with the greatest of all respect to the previous 3 artists, if there was a Master among the masters, it is this man: Gabriele Dell’Otto. He is practically the embodiment of all of these artists: sensual, colorful, painter, and most of all, highly sought after. I think it’s fair to say that he started the store variant craze.
Although store variants may have been around before him, it was his Pink Harley variant that made everyone start clamoring and looking to repeat the success. But I mean, look at that cover. A menacing Harley Quinn with the appearance of “It’s fine.” Almost beckoning you before she smashes your face in. Amazing art and limited availability has easily spiked this up to the hundreds of dollar.
However, out of all his variants and covers, there is perhaps one cover that must be mentioned. Let’s just get it out of the way. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dollar bills and credits cards, I present to you:
Just take a quick moment to reel it all in. Guaranteed to only be about 500 copies or so in the world. This is the modern grail of all modern grails, and it seems divine that it bears Dell’Otto’s name. Not everyone is a fan of this cover of course, but I believe it is a masterpiece of color usage. What can be attributed as a bland background actually helps our hero pop out.
It is Spider-Man, in his red and dark blue (almost black) glory, ready to leap out of the cover. 3D art with no gimmick. Many store and con variants have attempted to get Dell’Otto to emulate this specialty, and while some may get close, I think Dell’Otto holds back on purpose. Even without the rarity, this is a special cover for him. And, can you blame him? Why would you want to make something special less special by regurgitating it years later?
I imagine Dell’Otto knows this all too well. It is why his art has survived for so long, and it is why shops are happy to pay him the big bucks in the hopes of simply getting his name attached to them for a brief period. Dell’Otto is the Renaissance of comics, the one who opened the door for his brethren to walk through.
The main goal for many of us is to sell comics. Buy, flip, sell, and get closer to owning that grail book. These 4 artists have helped us get closer to our goals, but they are also cementing themselves as the artists that will be sought after in the 2020s. We have lived in the Modern Age for so long, I believe we need to coin a Renaissance Age.
The age where comic art became art, where computer-like covers and cartoony covers were replaced with realism, and comic covers became a major selling force, sometimes more so than the stories themselves. This is the age of these comic masters. Whether you are stashing them away in your personal collection, or buying their variants to sell, these 4 are guarantee money makers for speculators and years to come.
In bocca al lupo!